Article By: Rob Keller
Photos By: Riles & Nelson
Originally Published In The May 2012 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
It’s no longer a secret that the Harley-Davidson Road Glide is the best handling touring bike that the Motor Company has to offer. In years past, the Road Glide was looked upon as the ugly duckling by many because of its fixed fairing design that has a bulky look which no doubt has hampered its popularity. When you sit on the bike, the wrap around dash has the appearance similar to the cockpit of an airplane and stretches out like the beak of a bird away from the rider. I think that this makes the bike feel longer than it really is and has been the only reason that it has taken so long for the Road Glide to finally be appreciated for its incredible handling characteristics. Harley-Davidson has made this secret even more evident with their launch of the 2012 models which included three different versions of the Road Glide: the Custom Vehicle Operations (C.V.O.) version, the Road Glide Custom and the Road Glide Ultra. This is the third time in the last four years that there has been a C.V.O. version of the Road Glide. Those that have ridden this model already know how well it handles. Now the word is definitely getting out about the red headed stepchild, and this unique machine is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
The principles behind the fixed fairing go way beyond its looks. Just throw your leg over the seat and you will truly understand the concept of the design. When you move the handlebars, the fixed fairing doesn’t turn with the front forks because it is mounted to the frame. This transfers the extra weight of the fairing back to the frame and allows the front suspension to float without the preloaded weight of the fairing. This design also helps to even out the braking of the front wheel because there is less weight pushing directly on the front suspension. When you mount the fairing to the front forks, hard braking will cause the frontend to dive or compress much more leaving you with less control. Another advantage to this weight displacement is the fact that there is no weight added to the front wheel when you turn the bars. This keeps the Road Glide much more balanced when turning the front wheel when you are stopped or performing slow speed maneuvers. It helps tremendously when you are riding Article By: Rob Keller Photos By: Riles & Nelson a passenger. The other unique feature of the fixed fairing is its ability to cut through the wind with very little pressure on the driver’s chest and arms. The energy from the wind is absorbed by the frame, allowing the bike to be ridden long distances with very little fatigue to the rider. We have had the opportunity to take the 2012 Road Glide Ultra through the mountains in Park City, Utah. This is a beautiful place to ride. The elevation ranges from 4,000 ft to over 9,000 ft above sea level. The mountain roads provided us with the perfect place to put the Glide through the paces of a Cycle Source road test. We have already ridden many Harley Davidson touring bikes that come equipped with a completely redesigned frame that is now robotically welded to ensure exact tolerances. This method of assembly has been in place since 2009. I personally love the way that the new frame performs in the corners and the added stability it gives on the highways. All of the touring bikes for 2012 are powered by the 103 cid Twin Cam which puts out 100 ft lbs of torque at 3250 rpms by changing the cylinder bore from 3.875 in to 4.38 in. Each bike also comes equipped with an oil cooler to give some added protection to the air-cooled engines. The C.V.O. version is powered with the 110 cid engine. Other standard features include: cruise control, anti-lock Brembo brakes (A.B.S.), and the factory security system. The stock seat height is 29.1 in.
As we have already mentioned, slow speed maneuvers are easily mastered on this bike. With just a little practice you can turn the handlebars in either direction up against the fork steering stops making it possible to turn a very sharp radius with confidence and control. The torque from the 103 cid engine provides smooth power to the rear wheel and makes it easy to pull away at slow speeds without over slipping the clutch. The gear ratio has a good match to engine power throughout the gear box. Holding up a passenger at these slow speeds is also easier on the Road Glide than any of the other Harley fiberglass fairing bikes. There is no flop in the frontend while turning the bars full left to full right so balancing this 888 lb. motorcycle is predictable. Having the ability to shut off the spark to the rear cylinder when you are in traffic is an option I really like. The oil cooler is also a good addition to help keep the engine cooler during operation. Traffic is always a bummer but at least this bike is easy to maneuver while switching lanes and navigating through the tight spots that pop up along the way. The Brembo anti-lock brakes also work well and have plenty of stopping power. If you have antilock brakes on your motorcycle, I strongly suggest that you practice panic stops so you know how your bike will react in these conditions. I also really like the 180 /65 Dunlop dual compound rear tire. The contact patch of this tire allows you to have great traction for many miles and still gives excellent stick in the corners.
Whether you are ridding the Road Glide on back roads, two lanes or interstates, you’ll come to find that this model has great handling characteristics. There is plenty of ground clearance so the 32+ degree lean angle enables you to ride the Glide deep into the corners with plenty of room to maneuver without dragging the floorboards. There is plenty of room to pack your things and you can ride from tank fill to tank fill all day long without punishing your body. This bike is a true long runner and I strongly recommend that you give the Road Glide Ultra a try. You won’t be disappointed and who knows, the comfort of this bike may be the only reason you need to take off and see this beautiful world we live in. We here at Cycle Source would like to thank the good people at Harley-Davidson for inviting us to ride this motorcycle, and for giving so many people a dream to chase. Finally, we would all like to thank Willy G for everything that he has done for motorcycling as well as the Harley- Davidson motorcycles over his long career. May the motorcycle gods smile upon you, your family and bless your retirement with good health and a long life. Now it’s time to ride!