Harley-Davidson Sports Glide: Jack of all Harley's
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We all know the cliché, a Jack of All Trades is a master of none, but in the case of the Harley-Davidson Sports Glide and where it sits in Harleyland I think we’ve finally got something that proves the age-old adage wrong.
This isn’t the first time Harley have tried to make a mass appeal bike from their big twin range. The idea dates way back to the FXR of the 1980s and more recently to the Switchback. Both it could be argued were in their time the most mass appeal HOGs, but not particularly great at mixing up riding tasks.
Thankfully with the massive changes going on behind the scenes at Harley-Davidson and their mindset that they finally have to get with the times is resulting in the motor co. producing bikes that aren’t just the heavy highway cruisers we normally associate with the brand.
Sure, big heavy cruisers like the Fat Boy, Heritage Softail and Road King are still the company’s bread and butter, but slowly they are moving forward by introducing bikes that appeal to a younger demographic and not just to the core group of riders who have ridden Harley’s since Ronald Reagan was known as a movie star.
While the release of The Bar and Shield’s first electric motorcycle – possibly a road going version of 2014’s Project Livewire – is scheduled for next year, it’s bikes like the very cool and highly versatile Sport Glide that are really going to keep the brand relevant.
When it comes to Harley’s big twin engines, the Milwaukee-Eight is a gem, as it should be considering the R&D that went into producing it.
While I’ve recently ridden 114cu incarnations in the form of the Fat Bob and Fat Boy, the Sport Glide comes with the smaller 107cu version of Harley’s latest and greatest engine. And you know what? I think it’s actually the better pick of the two after riding the Sport Glide.
While the 114 is an absolute torque monster ready, and devastatingly able, to smoke rear tyres at will, the 107 – especially in the Sport Glide – feels like a much more sporting choice.
While I did notice low down in the revs at town speeds – roughly 2200rpm and below – the bike wasn’t particularly happy off the throttle, as soon as you got about 2500rpm the Milwaukee-Eight comes alive and heads at full noise to the rev limiter. It really does feel genuinely sporty befitting a bike with a name such as Sport Glide. A good move by Harley as I doubt prospective riders would be lenient if the Sport Glide didn’t have that sporty feel to it.
The Glide aspect of course comes from the new Softail family chassis, which when combined with a thin – by Harley-Davidson standards – 180 section rear tyre really makes for a bike that is as easy to tip in as it is to sit on and look cool.
Sure, it is still a foot forward American cruiser – meaning cornering clearance does dry up much faster than a bike with centralised pegs – but that is what you buy in to when you opt for the image associated with those forward controls. With about 28-degrees of lean each side, you’ve still got more than enough to truly hustle the Sport Glide about, even on our more twisty routes.
But it isn’t its handling or rather lovely engine that makes the Sport Glide special in the Softail range, or in fact entire Harley-Davidson family for that matter. It’s the bikes ability to rapidly switch between personalities with a seemingly impossible speed.
The trick to it is in its mini-fairing – well, that’s what Harley call it – and saddlebags. While detachable saddlebags are nothing new, a detachable fairing isn’t something we’re used to, but all it takes is undoing two clamps on the big USD forks and it pops right off exposing the traditional cool that is an exposed circular headlight.
The saddlebags are similar in their ease of use, and while off the showroom floor they are only 25-litres in capacity, they pop off in a matter of seconds leaving virtually no sign that they were ever fitted. Nobody really likes riding a bike about with empty luggage racks and no luggage, do they?
All this versatility is great when you’re flicking through the brochure, but it really does come into its own when you hit the road and start to soak up the miles.
Once the rather cool “Mantis” wheels start rolling, you can almost forget you’re riding a Harley-Davidson.
It truly does straddle more classes than any of the other Harley-Davidson machines currently available on the market and will continue to do so until The Bar and Shield hopefully rebirth of the Buell Ulysses in some form in the coming years as part of their 100 new models before 2027.
Until then, if you want a Harley that can comfortably do a bit of everything out on the road, the Sport Glide is the bike you really are looking for.
2018 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide
Engine: 1745cc Milwaukee-Eight 107
Pros: Looks good, rides very well, plenty of features
Cons: Only comes in 107cu engine configuration, you'll need somewhere safe to store removable luggage and fairing.