Switchin’ to Glide
by Sev Pearman
What is it like to ride a Harley Big Twin? Why should I buy a H-D over another brand? Is a Big FL “worth it?” These are some of the questions I pondered while riding a glorious 2001 Harley Davidson Electra-Glide Classic.
The focus of the new ‘Glide must be its motor. The 88A & B motors are probably Harley’s final air-cooled design. They feature (for the first time) a separate camshaft for intake and exhaust. All FL-series bikes come with the Twin Cam 88A-series power plant, and are rubber mounted.
Our test Glide came with fuel injection and was simply a pleasure to run. Starting, hot or cold, was a no-brainer, as the injection map brought her to life every time. At all tested throttle positions and loads, the big FL never once stumbled, gacked or surged.
The 88 series motors, now in their third year live up to their claims. They make more power-per-liter, run quieter and cooler, and lose less horsepower to friction loss than their Evo predecessor. All bikes should run this great. Period.
The gearbox is a mixed bag. While the 5-speed certainly shifts with greater ease than before, it still requires a long lever throw. And why do H-D traditionalists expect loud “clacks” whenever a shift is made?
Further, I continually found it difficult to find neutral. Whether from 1st or 2nd gear, hot or cold, while stopped or still moving, neutral remained elusive.
Most of the metric cruisers, especially Kawasaki’s Vulcan family, demonstrate that you can have both sweet transmission feel and “traditional” style. While improved over the Evo-era tranny, MMM believes that H-D is capable of better.
The stock seat is a pillowy cushion, with separate pads for both rider and passenger. Our test bike was fitted with an optional H-D accessory saddle. This seat was firm, well-dished and very supportive. The only downside is that you are locked into one position, which while comfortable, can become tiring after a tankful.
Like all Electra Glides, the Classic comes with floor boards. There are isolated rubber pads on their surface, so all you feel is a pleasant thrumming through your feet. In addition, you can move your feet around, which aids in long-ride comfort.
The downside is that floor boards further reduce a cruiser’s already limited cornering clearance. It was all too easy to grind parts on the Classic. During one scary low-speed left hander, I actually leaned her over onto the frame itself, and leveraged the rear wheel out. Yikes! In its defense, the Electra Glide isn’t designed to run like that, and most riders will not push her to that level.
Coupled with the floor boards is a heel-and-toe shifter. For those who haven’t ridden with one, there is a second lever off of the shift shaft that extends rearward. To upshift, you lift your foot from the floorboard, and press down on the rear lever with your heel. To downshift, you press on the front lever with your toe as on any other bike.
I find heel-and-toe setups to be clunky, and prefer to use only the front part and shift conventionally. Traditionalists like the look of them, as it adds another piece of brightwork. You, of course will decide for yourself.
Handling is pure cruiser. The Electra Glide wears its 800 lbs. low, so it steers lightly. The suspension, while improved, is not that of a sport-tourer. The Classic coasts over slow-speed bumps and absorbs minor potholes like a ’78 Chrysler New Yorker. But mass and a long wheelbase work against you in stutter bumps. When pushed hard, the mighty ‘Glide becomes unglued. But hey! That’s not what an Electra Glide is about, right?
One of the many things I loved about the ‘Glide is the fairing. The “batwing” fairing has been around since the 60’s, and is a major element that makes this recognizable as a Harley. At road speeds up to an (accurately!) indicated 70 mph, the fairing keeps wind and road noise away from the rider. Above that, and you start to feel helmet buffeting. Again, not a problem, as extended high-speed droning is not the Classic’s mission.
The fairing comes with an excellent polycarbonate windshield. It was optically clear, and obviously a quality item. One annoying detail was that the top of the shield was at my eye line. A taller or shorter windshield would solve this. Both Harley Davidson and the aftermarket are more than happy to accommodate you with literally scores of options, or you can simply cut the stocker by a couple of inches.
No nitpicks about the instrumentation; it is spectacular. In addition to a big tach and speedo, you get gin-u-wine gauges for fuel level (accurate!) battery voltage, oil pressure, and ambient air temperature. In addition to this was the usual pairing of idiot lights. All gauges are white-on-black, with a conservative, easy-to-read typeface.
Equally spectacular are the mirrors. Always clear, at any engine or road speed, they always provide an elbow-free view of what lies behind. A practical detail done right
The Classic comes with a factory am/fm cassette stereo that really works. All buttons and connections, as well as both speakers, are weather sealed, and should perform under the worst of conditions. One great feature is the speed-sensitive volume. Simply set the audio level and the volume changes with your road speed. No more constant volume adjustments as you ride — no more embarrassing “cranked tunes” at stop lights.
The bike is pre-wired at the factory for additional speakers and/or a CB radio set up. The wiring is a compromise between amenities and price. You can add features later if you wish, without the cost and hassle of a major dismantle.
We at MMM like to ride, and like our bikes to be riders first. Style comes in second, so we weren’t too pleased with the saddlebags. They are made of a thick smooth-finished fiberglass, and are styled in that manner that screams Harley Davidson, but come up short in the practical department.
The hinged lids unlock in an awkward 1-2-3 latch/hinge maneuver that while can be learned, is non-intuitive. They also fail the test of being able to contain a helmet. Is this due to the fact that many H-D riders choose not to wear helmets?
One pleasant surprise in the saddlebag was the small but serviceable toolkit. You can’t rebuild by the side of the road, but there is enough there to do the odd adjustment. Finally, a Harley with toolkit!
The Classic comes with an accurate fuel gauge and a yellow warning light. The petcock operates off of engine vacuum, so there is no reserve. The tank holds a claimed 5.0 gallons, and economy varies with speed. I saw the yellow light at 128 and 153 miles, and ran out at 164 and 191 miles, respectively. It is safe to say that you can run a good 30 miles after seeing the yellow light. As always, your mileage may vary.
Two items that must be mentioned are the build and finish quality. Everywhere you look, each piece seems custom-crafted and solidly built. Gone are the days of cheap stampings and parts-bin engineering. I had to look very hard to notice some spot welds, and that was only after they were pointed out to me. This is one robust machine.
Likewise; the finish of all painted, polished and chrome parts is outstanding. No one can fault Harley Davidson here. The quality of finish work on the Electra Glide Classic is second to none.
This quality doesn’t come cheap. Asking price for this 2001 Injected E-Glide Classic is over $16,000. Is it worth it? That depends on how important your bike’s appearance is to you. There are better daily riders. There are less-expensive cruisers. Again, only you can decide for yourself. Me? I’d take the money and buy a Vulcan and a good used 900 SS Ducati.
Thanks to Donahue’s in Delano for the generous loan of the ‘Glide for this article.
Quality of finish
Now with a (nominal) toolkit!
The Harley Davidson bandwagon
Excellent quality can’t justify
$16,220 price tag
One-position seat (optional on test bike)
Suspension suffers due to cruiser style
Wife’s first reaction: “Oh. It’s just a big fat Harley…Wait! Can I say that?”
Selected Competition: BMW R1200C; Honda Valkyrie Tourer and Shadows; Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Series; Moto Guzzi California Series; Polaris Victory V92C Deluxe; Suzuki Intruder 1500 LC; Yamaha Road Star & Royal Star Series.
by Victor Wanchena
No other brand of motorcycle has enjoyed the prestige or power that Harley-Davidson has in the modern motorcycle market. The lads from Milwaukee have risen from the ashes of their former selves to create the driving force in the American motorcycle arena. They have done this by building a motorcycle that is styled by the company’s history and tradition while still being a paragon of fit and finish.
This month’s road test is one of the all time greats in the H-D family, the Electra-Glide. Tracing its roots back to the days of the Panheads the Electra-Glide was the final version of H-D’s second generation overhead valve motor. For those not familiar with the older H-D motors, the Panhead was the engine used by H-D until 1966 which took its name from the cake pan shape valve cover. The Electra-Glide took its name from two components. First “Electra” denoted the addition of an electric starter. Until 1965 all H-D bikes were kick-start only. The “Electric Leg” was a big enough deal at the time to warrant the name. The second part of the name, “Glide”, refers to the conventional forks. The first Harley with hydraulic forks was called the Hydra-Glide and the name stuck.
Skip ahead 35 years and you have the Electra-Glide as we know it today. Still the large touring model and arguably the flagship of the H-D line it has been updated in all the technical aspects. Yet, from a distance it is hard to distinguish a modern Electra-Glide from a vintage one.
The heart of the Glide as well as the rest of the H-D big twin line up is the Twin-Cam 88 ci motor (that’s 1450 cc metrically). The twin is basically a highly refined version of Harley’s Evolution motor. The engineers went back to the drawing board and tried to address all the concerns and desires of Evolution owners. The end result is the Twin-Cam which gets it name from it use of separate cams for the intake and exhaust valves. It is not only more powerful but quieter mechanically but it had also addressed some cooling and oiling concerns internally. This was done while still keeping a motor which visually has its roots in the Evolution and in keeping with H-D’s tradition based design philosophy.
All their work has produced a smooth running torquey big twin. Turn the switch to on, wait for the fuel pump to spool up and build pressure, then thumb the start button and the motor instantly springs to life. No choke here. The electronic fuel injection handles all the starting chores with ease. Within seconds of starting the motor has settled down into its familiar loping gait. When compared to an Evolution motor the lack of mechanical clicking and clack is apparent. All the work the engineers did quieting the motor was then directed out the back with a louder exhaust, which allow enthusiasts to enjoy more of the mellow flatulence that H-D is so well know for.
On the road the motor pulls smoothly and cleanly from as low as 2000 rpm all the way to redline, which is 5500 rpm. The injection is well mapped providing consistent power throughout the entire rev range and the healthy amounts of torque keep the need for downshifts to a minimum. Among the redesigned aspects of the Twin-Cam is a shortened stroke, which helps the motor rev faster. The down side is you really need to watch the tach until you become adjusted to the low rev limit. When I was purposely trying to short shift was when I was actually shifting about right. Don’t look for a huge top end here just try and enjoy a meaty mid-range torque curve. Also fuel economy was not what I expected from a fuel-injected bike. At normal freeway speeds the mileage was hovering in the mid thirties. Only after slowing on two lane byways did the mileage crack forty.
The rest of the drive train is the standard H-D setup. A non-unit five-speed transmission feeds the power to the rear wheel through a toothed belt. The transmission worked by H-D standards but is still a bit behind the times. It operates with firm clunks from the heel-toe shifter and performed well until worked hard. When running at higher revs or quickly shifting through the gears you could find your self in a false neutral between gears. Also the shift linkage has a fair amount of slop which may account for the false neutrals and the tendency to cause some riders to go on a hunt for the true neutral.
The running gear for the rest of the bike held some surprises and disappointments. First I was rather pleased with the amount of ground clearance that the Electra-Glide had. Only at extreme lean angles (for a touring bike) did the floorboards touch down. This doesn’t mean you’ll keep up with your sport bike friends but rest assured Glide can lean farther than you might think. The downside was the suspension is not tuned very well. On the straight and level everything is fine. But when leaned over in a turn even small bumps turn your glide into a wobble. This doesn’t inspire great confidence in cornering and is evident on harsh bumps on the straight as well. The criticism is the handlebars are far too flexible. They become rather rubbery as you hustle the bike through traffic be it your morning commute or that trip you always take over the Bear Tooth Pass. The brakes are good by today’s standards especially the rear which was formerly infamous for a off or locked sort of feel.
Then there’s the fit and finish. H-D continues to do an excellent job finishing their bikes. From the paint to the chrome and everything in between, the Electra-Glide was a very handsome motorcycle. The attention to detail was evident in the small thing as well. Like the switchgear was on feature a smoothed rounded shape verses the old style which was rather sharp to the touch. The full instrument pack included a speedo, tach, fuel gauge, voltmeter, oil pressure and air temp. All the gauges were accurate including the speedo which I verified with a GPS and the fuel gauge which fellow staffer Sev tested the old fashioned way. Also the idiot lights were nice and bright, visible in even direct sunlight.
For the touring equipment the Electra-Glide we tested was mid pack in the H-D line. Called the Classic it normally comes equipped with a rear trunk. This had been removed by the dealer and replaced with a small rack. The saddlebags were high quality units but their size limited the width of what fit in them. The latch mechanism was an odd setup that would frustrate any would be thieves but could still work open if not locked while riding. Also our bike had the stock seat removed and optional H-D unit in its place. It was firm and comfortable but I did sink through it after a couple hours in the saddle. The passenger pad was a bit on the small side with only 8 inches of butt room. My wife was complaining before we left the driveway.
The radio on the Glide was top notch. It featured AM/FM and weather band as well as a cassette player. All the necessary controls were mounted on the bars and within finger range while your hands are on the bars. The sound was clear at highway speed even in traffic, which has a way of drowning out most other radios. Also the passing lamps did a fine job of filling in around the low beam headlight but were wired from the factory to go out when you switch to high beam.
On the road the Glide is true to its form. It is a very competent touring bike. Aside from a few complaints the Electra-Glide is up to the task of being your guide through as many states as your vacation allows. The insistence of Harley to rely on engineering rooted in their tradition my be the bane of moto-journalists, but the money doesn’t lie. Consumers have voted with their dollars.