Driven rides Harley's latest tourers in America
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DRIVEN IS IN WASHINGTON STATE THIS WEEK TO RIDE HARLEY-DAVIDSON’S 2017 TOURING MOTORCYCLES
Harley-Davidson has heavily upgraded its range of touring motorcycles for the 2017 model year, and there's no better place to start than with the new heart of the range, the Milwaukee-Eight engine.
Driven was in Washington State this week for the global launch of the new bikes, powered by a new range of technically advanced and sophisticated engines.
The Milwaukee-Eight (MW8) is the ninth in a long line of engines Harley likes to refer to as its “big twins”, and the MW8 is the biggest yet. Coming in two sizes, 107cu (1745cc) and 114cu (1868cc) for CVO models, the MW8 is 50cc larger than the engine it replaces.
After arriving in the city of Tacoma, we were briefed on the new range by Harley-Davidson director of core product planning Paul Jones, and the chief engineer for the Milwaukee-Eight, Alex “Boz” Bozmoski, two of the key men behind the new range.
They explained that Harley talked to 1000 riders from seven countries to find out exactly what riders were looking for in a Harley. The feedback identified as priorities the discomfort caused by heat generated by the motor, and the unquenchable thirst riders have for more power.
As a result of the consultation, the new MW8 motors come with the more traditional oil cooling, but some versions use a type of water-cooling system that Harley refers to as “precision” cooling. Unlike most water-cooling systems, which have galleries around the entire engine to cool it overall, the “twin-cooled” Milwaukee-Eight has water galleries only around the exhaust valves where engine temperatures are the highest.
It’s a clever system, that’s also mimicked in the oil-cooled version and means that Harley has managed to maintain its old-school principles, while still managing to sneak in some modern tech under the noses of its harshest critics — Harley owners.
The Milwaukee-Eight isn’t the only major upgrade to the MY17 Harley touring range. The suspension system has also had a major hit with the upgrade stick.
When most people think of big Harleys, they tend to think the heavy behemoths must be a horror to ride around corners. In the past that might even have been true but not anymore. The forks have been upgraded with new internals and the rear shocks have been swapped for two new units with easy-to-use pre-load adjustment.
Harley has made it easy for owners to adjust rear shocks to suit with the twist of a knob, hidden behind the easy to remove left pannier. With multiple points of adjustment, and a handy guide in the owner’s manual, the new suspension has been vastly simplified.
With the formalities of the press event over, we headed out to live what most motorcyclists would call a dream — two days of riding Harley-Davidsons around the stunning Olympic National Park in rural Washington State.
Leaving our base in the middle of one of the rainy periods so common in the American Northwest, we rode out over the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which thankfully is much sturdier than its historic counterpart, which collapsed in the 1940s.
With plenty of bikes to choose from, I started the day on the 107cu Road Glide Special ($40,495). It has plenty of bells and whistles, including cruise control and a stereo hidden within the big fairing. I quickly found a radio station that was playing classic rock (can you listen to anything else on a Harley?) and settled in for the ride.
Without a pillion there was no need for me to tweak the adjustable suspension and, as I soon found out, the Road Glide was quite at home in the twisty roads found outside the city limits, feeling very stable as we carved corners at the legal limit, of between 45 and 50 mph.
The new engine has had a lot of work put into reducing vibration and it is definitely noticeable on the highway where the bikes roll along with very few vibes making it to the rider. But Harley haven’t totally smoothed out the iconic V-Twin feel. Sitting at confusing American stop signs you still get that old “paint shaker” feeling as the engine throbs between your calves.
After lunch at a classic roadside burger bar I swapped bikes with a colleague and jumped aboard the imposing Ultra Limited.
The Ultra, with its big top box incorporating a backrest for the pillion has always given the impression of being a wallowing behemoth on the roads just by its sheer presence. In reality the Ultra was a simple joy to ride, with its 425-plus kg revealing itself only at very low speeds.
I rode the Ultra for the remainder of the 282km ride to Port Angeles, our stop for the night. There we made our way up into the clouds along the long and winding Hurricane Ridge Rd. As the weather worsened the higher we rode, the conditions required careful riding. With no traction control on the big Harley tourers, throttle control out of the wet corners was key.
On reaching the top of the road at 1500m we stopped, this time to snap some photos in the mountain mist.
With perfect weather on day two, I grabbed the popular Road King model, the lightest and therefore most nimble bike in the touring range. Coming in at $37,495 also means the Road King is also the most affordable tourer. With its classic look, thanks to the trio of headlights and removable windscreen, the Road King is one of Harley’s best sellers.
Before we left for our final stop, the incredibly scenic Lake Crescent, I had to throw a leg over one of Harley’s big Freewheeler. Unlike our mates across the Tasman, we can buy the $43,495 tricycle, but don’t assume this is a bike for older blokes who can’t handle two wheels anymore. Nah-uh. Unlike a normal bike, when you turn using the counter steering method you have to actually steer the big trike, which takes a a lot of physical and mental effort.
This means completely changing your riding style.
With plenty of open freeway on the ride back to Tacoma we had many opportunities to open up the Milwaukee-Eight for passing manoeuvres, with each twist of the throttle unleashing that unmistakable Harley-Davidson exhaust note. With the stereo turned up loud and some of Seattle’s finest grunge blaring away it’s safe to say the riding came pretty close to motorcycling Nirvana.
Harley-Davidson has truly arrived in the modern era.
2017 HARLEY-DAVIDSON TOURING PRICING
Road King — $37,495
Road Glide Special — $40,495
Street Glide Special — $40,750
Ultra Limited — $43,750