When I first tested the Harley-Davidson Sport Glide in late 2017, it impressed me as a versatile motorcycle. Yet, it didn’t capture my imagination as many offerings from The Motor Company do. Part of the problem is the name. This motorcycle doesn’t strike me as a “Sport” or a “Glide”, though it does have a recognizable ancestor in the distinctive FXRT Sport Glide tourer of the 1980s and 1990s. So, what exactly is the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide?A little history lesson helps. The “Glide” name debuted in 1950 with the Hydra Glide line. “Glide” referred to the first hydraulically damped fork on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle—a monumental change from the undamped leading-link springer front end. While it’s a stretch to give this model the Glide name because it has a new 43mm inverted fork with triple-rate springs, well, that’s the best justification I can come up with. That same higher-performance fork and Michelin Scorcher 31 rubber can be used to rationalize the Sport prefix.
I would have preferred Harley-Davidson dip into the more recent past and resurrect the Convertible or Switchback names, as they better describe the Sport Glide’s mission. However, as usual, the H-D marketing department did not consult with me first. So, Sport Glide it is.The most intriguing feature of the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide is that it is four motorcycles in one. The standard setup has a bikini fairing and hard side cases. That’s not unusual for a bagger, but the ease of removing all three pieces and installing them is what makes the difference. It takes literally less than one minute to remove the two cases and a few more seconds to pull off the fairing. Installation might require two minutes, as you’ll have to monkey with wires getting in the way of the fairing clamp. No tools are needed, and not much fiddling—the design is outstanding.This gives you the option of a touring style, with a fairing and cases. Or, you can pull the fairing and leave the cases on for an around-town commuter special. If you’d like, the bags can be left off, and you can leave the fairing mounted for a sporty look. Finally, you can remove the cases and fairing for a naked cruiser. All four are legit options that change the character of the Sport Glide. Perhaps it could have been called the Harley-Davidson Quadrophenia.Although swapping the pieces on or off changes the utility of the Sport Glide, the ride doesn’t change much. The fairing noticeably blocks the wind from your lower torso,and you’ll feel it when it’s gone—especially on a hot SoCal summer day.The Sport Glide isn’t much of a tourer, though. The bikini fairing directs wind to your upper body and helmet. At the same time, the wide handlebar and upright seating position make extended freeway travel unappealing due to the windblast. You won’t notice it around town or for relatively short freeway jaunts as much as you will if you try to drone on some miles. It’s a fine weekend tourer if you’re sticking to backroads over Interstates, and why wouldn’t you?The relatively neutral seating position makes it an all-day city cruiser. The pegs are forward, though not excessively so. The wide bar gives you have leverage to spare, so there’s no wresting the Sport Glide around in urban and suburban environments. Plus, the seat is very comfortable.If your city has some canyons to test the “Sport” in Sport Glide, as Los Angeles does, you’ll quickly find out that the inverted fork and meaty 130/70 Michelin Scorcher 31 on an 18-inch wheel provide great confidence in the front end, and plenty of feedback. The 180 rear, on a 16-inch wheel, is wide enough for good traction and good looks, yet not so broad that it makes the raked-out chassis difficult to turn.Fun canyon rides are a piece of cake, and there’s a bit more performance built-in so you can make use of the Milwaukee-Eight 107 should you feel the need. You won’t find any handling differences with the cases and fairing on or off.The suspension is more than adequate for cruising, light touring, and friendly canyon carving. With a generous five inches of travel in the front and the Softail rear allowing a 3.4-inch swing of the wheel, plus the decently high-profile tires, you aren’t jolted at every turn. The 2021 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide absolutely exceeded my suspension expectations on the rough and tumble Los Angeles freeways.We’ve written about the Milwaukee-Eight 107 plenty of times, and what we’ve said before still stands. It’s a great motor, with plenty of torque over a wide rpm range—it peaks at a muscular 108 ft-lbs at 2750 rpm. Because you’re encouraged by the name to get some aggressive riding in, you can hit the rev limiter during exuberant rides. The rest of the time, the redline is meaningless—you will shift long before it arrives.Shifting is typical for the 6-speed Cruise Drive in a Softail chassis—very nice. There are no missed shifts and engagement is sure. Of course, when you come to a red stop, neutral is virtually impossible to find. Eventually, you might get lucky, and then the light immediately turns green.With a name like Sport Glide, you’d expect to see a couple of discs up front. That’s not how it works, though, as the front machined cast-aluminum wheel has just a single 300mm disc. Braking is more than adequate, though not impressive. The rear brake is quite good, and if you want to give your right hand a break around town, the pedal will take care of deceleration as long as there’s no emergency. ABS is standard and unobtrusive.For me, I liked to strip the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide down for cruising around town. With everything off, it feels a bit like the dearly departed Deluxe, though not nearly as stylish and lacking floorboards. Still, the Sport Glide got its share of thumbs up, nods, and the occasional “Nice bike” on my rides—this is with the up-market Stone Washed White Pearl paint. While the tank-mounted speedometer looks good with the bike parked, its position is “out of sight, out of mind” when underway. I rarely looked at the speedo or scrollable info on the LCD panel.When the Sport Glide first arrived, I envisioned it would have a short life, like the Dyna Switchback before it. When the Softail Purge of 2021 happened, I was more than a little surprised to see that the Sport Glide was one of the survivors, and that is what prompted me to reevaluate it. I’m glad I did, as I have a better appreciation of its adaptability this time around, and it’s just plain enjoyable to ride. Any rider who wants a multi-purpose cruiser will find a kindred spirit in the 2021 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide.Photography by Kelly CallanRIDING STYLE
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This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena gives us his impression of the outrageously cool-looking new Indian Scout Rogue. The Rogue features a larger front wheel among several other changes, and the bobbed-looks and excellent 100 horsepower motor make the Scout Rogue an interesting—and very real—competitor to the offerings from Milwaukee.
In the second segment Neale Bayly brings us the third and final segment from Brian Slark—the man who helped bring Norton motorcycles to America. Having spent 27 years and counting at the Barber Museum in Birmingham Alabama, Brian talks us through the final part of his career, that of course includes how the museum got started and where it’s going.
From all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!