2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special Review

Just a few minutes after I took off on the 2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special, it started. I was waiting at a red light in the rugged industrial town of Gardena, Calif. when I found myself in the middle lane between two vehicles.

On the right, a young Latino man in a roughed up Ford F-150 eyes the Amber Whiskey bike, and gives me an approving nod and smile. I give him a quick appreciative wave and look to my left. There, a tiny Asian grandmother is in the passenger seat of a Honda CR-V. She looks at the bike and nudges her well-grayed husband. He looks over at me, smiles broadly, and gives me a thumbs up.

And so it went as I headed north on Main Street toward downtown Los Angeles. A black man in an LA City Department of Water and Power truck informs me at a stop light, “Nice ride.” A bowed lady sitting on a bus stop bench in front of Hubert H. Humphrey Comprehensive Health Center eyed the Glide with a wistful smile on her face as I rode by—maybe it’s the hand-painted pinstriping on the Special version.

There is something cross-culturally appealing about the Road Glide Special to the urban audience. It may be the unapologetically large frame mounted shark-nose fairing — it projects power. Re-designed for 2015 with Daymaker LED lighting to give it an even more aggressive countenance, the Splitstream fairing is its own fist in the wind.

Harley-Davidson sales figures tell us that buyers have long-preferred the fork-mounted fairing on the Street Glide. Yet you wouldn’t know that in South Los Angeles, where Road Glides are a common sight, popular with a wide range of riders and customizers. After a year’s absence so it could absorb the Project Rushmore improvements, the Road Glide is back and it’s an instant hit with the local denizens

Marketed as part of Harley-Davidson’s Touring line, the Road Glide is not shy about its alter ego as an urban occupier. Ruling the streets with the low-slung look and aggressive 19-inch front wheel on an Enforcer cast aluminum rim, the Road Glide profiles as well as any bike that is marketed as strictly a cruiser.

Aboard the Road Glide Special, I have an additional statement-making feature in town —the new Boom! Box 6.5 GT audio system. Via Bluetooth or the USB port, and when appropriate, I can crank out “Radicals” by Tyler, The Creator with the best of them. Well, okay, not with the best of them, as there are some pretty loud accessory sound systems out there, including the upgraded version on the CVO Road Glide Ultra. Still, for a stock unit, the Boom! Box 6.5 GT creates plenty of distortion-free decibels.

The High Output Twin Cam 103 motor offers plenty of power inside the city limits. On warm days, the left side of the motor does throw off quite a bit of heat at stops, though this diminishes once progress resumes and the air flows through and around the Splitstream fairing. Fueling is perfect, as is the shifting; the Road Glide Special is a fantastically smooth ride.

No one would describe the 849-pound (claimed wet) Road Glide Special as an agile bike. Being a tourer, it is taller and heavier than most pure cruisers, yet it’s not a particularly fatiguing ride. The buckhorn bars are a great choice, sweeping back to put you in a comfortable position. Running through a half-tank of gas in city traffic without taking a break is fully doable.

As great as this profiling bagger is in the city, the Road Glide Special’s true calling is a touring bike. Sporting the Project Rushmore features introduced last year to the rest of the H-D Touring line, the Road Glide is as impressive as its brothers.

The big change is up front, where new triple clamps and 49mm forks make the Road Glide a secure handler at touring speeds. Previously, you wouldn’t take Road Glides much above the speed limit, as the front end never felt confident. Things are different now.

Pushed along by the new High Output 103 motor that has impressive roll-on power for passing, the Road Glide Special does not flinch at triple-digit speeds, even if they involve big sweeping corners.

Lock your line into place and the Special delivers you to the apex with authority. The Dunlop Harley-Davidson tires have good feel, though the 19-inch doesn’t have nearly the planted feeling of the 17-inch front tire on, say, a Road King or Electra Glide.

For touring, the Reflex Linked Brakes with ABS, which are part of the Special package, are outstanding. For almost all your braking requirements, the easily accessed foot pedal is all you need. Push down lightly and the Special reduces speed slowly; get some pressure going and it stops in a hurry, even with the 19-inch front wheel. The Brembo calipers have a fantastic touch.

The frame-mounted fairing is excellent when touring, though we would opt for a taller windscreen for longer trips. Part of the new Splitstream fairing system is a closeable vent just under the smoked windshield. Run it open most of the time, as it smooths out the flow of air to your head area. In cold conditions, you may want to close it, of course.

When getting hit by the blast of an oncoming 18-wheeler on a high-speed two-lane road, the Road Glide Special’s fairing earns its keep in stability.

As part of the Boom! Box system, GPS is standard. Oddly, it is tilted too far up for straight-on viewing, it doesn’t like direct sunlight, and the interface is substandard. On the bright side, it looks amazing after dark, and the Dual Daymaker Reflector LED headlights blaze away.

Harley-Davidson’s One Touch system makes it easy to get into the hard bags, as well as the two cubbyholes in the gloss- black painted fairing. The new gauges are easier to read than before, and we like the gear-position indicator. However, we would rather know what time it is than how many volts the battery is running.

Ergonomics are absolutely spot-on. The floorboards are well positioned (highway pegs are easily installed), the organically shaped switches are a pleasure to use (though the loud horn could be more accessible), the 103’s lower-profile oval air-filter cover doesn’t force your right knee into contortionist positions, and those swept-back bars are an absolute winner. The seat cradles you nicely, so you can put on serious miles without interruptions.

As a package, the Special is a nice upgrade from the standard edition. The sound system is great if you like to listen to tunes while you ride, and GPS seems to become more and more indispensable as time goes on. Plus, the linked braking system makes riding just that much easier.

We missed the Road Glide last year, so we are pleased to see the bike return with the Project Rushmore enhancements. Not everyone buys into the frame-mounted fairing, as either a stylistic or practical implement, though we think the 2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special is an enviable alternative for those who appreciate its attributes.

Riding Style:

  • Helmet: Arai Defiant Jolly Roger 2
  • Jacket: Harley-Davidson Street Canon Triple Vent
  • Gloves: Harley-Davidson Valve Full-Finger
  • Jeans: AGV Sport Malibu Kevlar Rust Wash
  • Boots: Harley-Davidson Performance Tyso

Photography by Riles & Nelson

Story from Ultimate MotorCycling magazine; for subscription services, click here.