As a self-proclaimed motorcycle enthusiast, a weekend at Africa Bike week made me realise how little I know about the model lineup of Harley-Davidson. Even though I do have a passing knowledge of the company, it is when you talk to the riders and aficionados, that my lack of knowledge becomes glaringly obvious. So when the opportunity to ride back from East London to Pretoria, a distance of just over 1000km, presented itself, I said yes immediately. A day before I was to depart, I got handed the keys of a Street Glide Special. I took it for a short shakedown run of about 160km and realised that I was in for a treat.
This particular model is the most popular in the stable and it is fairly easy to see why. Finished in black as the test unit was, it does look mean. Very mean. With the slammed look your entire posture is laid back. But the real difference lies in the new Milwaukee Eight engine. The engine is a big thing for Harley. It now features four valves per cylinder, and it is a lot smoother than the older Harleys, while still retaining that character that makes Harleys what they are. Unmistakable lines will leave even the casual observer in no doubt that this is nothing other than Milwaukee’s finest.
With Keyless start, you still have to turn a clunky metal bob to start the Glide. The starter cranks the massive 1700cc engine and once life has been breathed into the brute, it settles into that unmistakable Harley rumble.
In front of you are four analog dials for fuel, speed, revs and a volt meter. Below that sits a comprehensive entertainment system. With built in radio and GPS it also has a USB input to listen to your favourite tracks through your helmet audio or the built in speakers. Wearing a full face helmet does not work well with the latter. The system can be used by the touch screen, or by the surprisingly intuitive controls on the handlebars. On that front, I could not get used to the indicators being a split unit. The left indicator is activated from the left handlebar, and the right one on the right. In my opinion it is a silly configuration that BMW tried at some point too, but in the end succumbed to the peer pressure of having everything on one side.
Once you roll the power on you feel what this massive engine is capable of and it is almost as if the guys at Harley rode the bike, and then came up with the name ‘Glide’. My initial plan was to split my ride up into two days, but once I got close to my destination, I made the decision to just keep going. The bike is not only comfortable to ride, but it is no slouch either. This was one of my misconceptions. This bike can maintain high speeds, barely breaking a sweat. In the corners it can feel a bit wallowy, but on the straight bits the bike was completely unfazed by the road surface.
I doubt I would have completed the 1000km journey in one day, had it not been for the effortless Street Glide. Yes it is heavy, and expensive, but touring for miles on end, you will be hard pressed to beat the Glide. Add to that the close brotherhood that exists among Harley riders and you have a life changing motorcycle. – Words and pictures Brian Cheyne