By Sev Pearman

Fewer things in life are better than the very first time you ease out the clutch on a bike. The anticipation…the excitement! All that was going through my mind as I picked up our glorious 2011 Harley-Davidson Wide Glide, robust in gloss black and shiny chrome. I was giddy. Shamelessly thankful for Editor Bruce’s broken toe, I grabbed the keys, fired her up and headed out.

The 2011 Wide Glide traces its DNA to the 1977 FXS Low Rider. Reacting to the customization jobs of their customers, Harley grafted a skinny Sportster front end onto an Electra-Glide chassis. The 2011 Wide Glide, along with its cousins the Street Bob, Super Glide Custom and Fat Bob, is in Harley’s Dyna chassis family. All Dynas feature rubber-mounted engines for enhanced drivability. You can rev a Dyna higher before vibration steals the show.

The Wide Glide is propelled by Harley’s Twin Cam 96 cubic-inch (1,584cc) motor. This is an air-cooled, pushrod motor with 2-valves per cylinder and is the rightful heir to the Harley V-twin throne. But the Twin Cam 96 is no air compressor. It is a fully modern motor that delivers both silky power and meaty torque, all while meeting current EPA and Euro emission standards.

The Twin Cam 96 features electronic sequential port fuel injection. The carburetor now joins carbide lighting and solid tires in the scrap bin of history, and I say good riddance. With a decent F.I. map, even the crappiest scooter will readily fire up at any temperature and at any altitude. Harley has spent some serious R&D time on the fuel mapping, as the Twin Cam 96 has seamless, stumble-free throttle response.

The motor is mated to their new 6-speed transmission. I felt the 6th cog to be overkill. In 5th gear, at an indicated 70 mph, the motor spins lazily, with enough oomph in reserve to pass. If you put her into 6th, the revs drop further. What was a pleasant thrum in 5th now feels like you are lugging in 6th. You will need a downshift to accelerate or pass. It feels like the sixth cog was added to appease marketing types rather than to meet any real need. As equipped, our Wide Glide was at its most relaxed chugging along around 60 mph in 5th gear.

Despite the 6th gear frippery, motor and transmission combine to make a perfect cruiser power train. You turn the throttle and she accelerates. Roll off and she backs down, without any fanfare or drama. Gear ratios are evenly spaced. Snick the lever, open the throttle and she pulls cleanly and smoothly. Despite spirited riding, both solo and two-up, I recorded neither fuel-injection snags nor driveline lash. This is a robust, rider-friendly power train.

The stock seat is a pillowy cushion, with separate pads for both rider and passenger. I had no complaints with the seat, even after two hours. I do, however, have a beef with the seating position. On the Wide Glide, the low, 27-inch seat height combined with forward controls and wide handlebars turn you into a human drag chute at anything over 40 mph. I hungered for a windscreen to deflect the blast.

Passenger X, traditionally wary of the seats on both sport bikes and cruisers, didn’t mind the Spartan rear pad on the Wide Glide. After our initial outing, she asked for another, longer ride. There was more than mild disappointment a few days later when it came time to return the bike to Donahue Harley-Davidson. There wasn’t the same enthusiasm for the other test bike currently in the MMM® garage. Passenger X pronounced the Wide Glide to be, “very fun, fast and speedy-quiet.”

Like most cruisers, the Wide Glide carries its 665-lbs low. Steering effort is surprisingly easy for such a massive bike, both while underway and while parking. Only the lightest input is required on the handlebars. You’ll quickly find the lean limits of the Wide Glide, your scraping boot heels providing a warning beacon. If you tuck your feet in and tighten your line, you’ll start grinding muffler hardware. Lean angle is limited, even for a heavyweight cruiser. I had to consciously try to NOT grind the bike when leaving parking lots.

The stylish chrome fork and shocks look better than they perform. The conventional, damper rod fork has 5-inches of travel and is unadjustable. The twin shocks have 3.1-inches of travel and are adjustable for preload only. At speed, the Wide Glide hops over freeway expansion joints, jarring your spine. When pushed in a corner, the fork waggles and threatens to throw you off line. Most owners won’t push their Wide Glide this hard and will not care.

This is a good time to talk about what this bike is: The Wide Glide is a cruiser and cruisers are built to follow the straight roads of the Midwest, where corners are at right angles and should be negotiated from a stop, and that’s the way we like it here. Sales numbers don’t lie: riders in the Midwest have spoken, and we speak cruiser. If you are already frowning about the crappy cornering clearance and handling, you won’t like this bike. Don’t ride one. In fact, don’t finish this review. Go ahead. Turn the page. Neither the Wide Glide nor I will mind.

We have zero complaints regarding the looks of the Wide Glide. Our tester came in Vivid Black with chrome details. The handlebars and signature wide fork are chromed steel and polished alloy. The chrome heat shield on the 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust has cool ports that recall a WW-II 50-caliber Browning. Other brightwork is sprinkled on the blinkers, headlight bezel, belt guard and shocks.

This theme continues with the motor and transmission. The cases, cylinders and heads are powder coated a soft black. For contrast, the cooling fins are machined and polished. The rocker covers, air cleaner, pushrod tubes and other bits are chromed steel or polished alloy.

I loved all the black paint on this bike. In addition to the fenders and tank, the fender stays, mini-sissy bar, headlight bucket and mirrors are all draped in rich, gloss black. Coolest of all are the black rims, a 21-inch up front, and 17-incher in the rear.

This is not some poncy matte and satin black “design exercise“ on an over-styled Euro twin. This is butch, gloss black and lustrous, triple-plated chrome on solid steel. The Wide Glide in Vivid Black echoes a lacquered ‘49 Merc, gleaming under the neon of a small town drive-in. Toss me a Grain Belt while I light up an unfiltered Camel. America still manufactures cool stuff.

If all black frightens you, the Wide Glide is available in less sinister colors.

I had time to ponder this bike as I piled on the miles and I love Harley’s attention to detail. The oversized 1 1/4-inch handlebar visually fits the wide front fork. I liked the mild pull back and loved the hidden internal wiring. Lest you worry I’m “going cruiser,” I was disappointed in the blacked out mirrors. These were buzzy at best. At some cruising speeds, vibration made them all but useless.

The solo bullet headlamp works for me. I love the black, streamlined nacelle capped by a chrome bezel. Despite the physical limitations of a small, single lamp, the beam does a respectable job of getting you home. Equally cool were the twin combo tail lights/blinkers. A pair or small, red-lensed lamps are hung off the sawed-off rear fender for a super-stripped look. Additional bobber cred comes from the side-mounted license plate frame. This folds out of the way to aid parking. Nice touch, H-D.

At $14,499, the 2011 Wide Glide comes without amenities. Its stripped, custom look means no windshield, no floorboards, no backrest and no bags. You cannot carry so much as a pair of gloves on this baby. The Wide Glide is a “bar bike,” perfect for an afternoon cruise or trip to the roadhouse for dinner. If you want to do more with your new purchase than simply look good, both Harley-Davidson and the aftermarket are more than happy to accommodate you with scores of bags, windshields and other accessories.

My opinion is mixed about the Wide Glide. It is an excellent cruiser that looks and performs handsomely, good for a 500-mile day. I am somewhat put off by its lack of function. Yes, I realize you can throw a windshield and bags on her but by the time you are done with that, you could be on a into Road King. I can’t help it: I’m too German and have ridden too many miles on sport-tourers.

Thanks to Donahue Harley-Davidson in Sauk Rapids for the generous loan of the 2011 Wide Glide for this article. Donahue can be reached at 800.477.6980 or www.donahuehd.com

Knowing nod:
Perfect cruiser motor.
Attention to detail.
Understated, blacked-out styling.

Head scratch:
Zero carrying capacity.
Low-ass ergos limit your speed.
Limited lean angle, even for a cruiser.

Wife’s first reaction®: “I like the handlebars”

By the numbers:
Rider: Editor Pearman 5’-10”/260 lbs/32” (height/weight/inseam)
Total miles driven: 485
Average fuel consumption: 46 mpg

by David Soderholm

The 2011 Wide Glide is Harley-Davison’s bad-boy wild-child cruiser. The Wide Glide gets its name from its beefy, widely spaced 49mm forks. They are raked out to a chopper-like 34º and hold a trick-looking 21-inch satin black front rim. The forks are held in place with equally stout polished triple clamps with satin black 4-inch bar risers. The risers hold a set of thick, polished stainless steel drag bars with hidden, internal wires. All in all, it’s one heck of a nicely detailed and looking front end.

The amazing detailing and styling is clearly evident throughout the entire bike. Our vivid black test unit was a true visual stunner! The beautiful chrome is nicely offset by the many gloss black components. The 4.7-gallon gas tank is accented with chrome gas caps, speedometer and key knob. The speedometer has a great multifunction LCD display which includes a gas mileage range countdown. The tank also has nicely detailed bar and shield logo badges on either side. Paint quality is also outstanding, with a mile-thick clear coat on the sheet metal and much of the polished steel parts.

Sitting on the bike with that gorgeous front end and gas tank stretched out in front of you really makes you feel like you’ve arrived. The first night I had the Wide Glide, I parked it in the garage and just sat and looked at it. I was truly wowed with the quality and detailing of the Harley. My wife even made a comment about how great the bike looked – and she’s no cruiser gal! Everywhere you look on this bike; it is evident that someone put heart and craftsmanship into building it. The Harley appears to be hand-built by someone who really cared about what they were doing.

The ergonomics take some getting used to. Seating position is low coupled with forward controls. The ultra-low, 25.5-inch seat height places all your weight on your butt. You sit down into the bike instead of slinging a leg over and jumping onto the seat. For those that are short of inseam, this bike is going to work great. The seat itself, in a word – sucked. Thanks to the feet-forward, sail barge riding position and the hard, unsupportive seat, I developed sciatic nerve pain from it any time I rode for more than 65 miles at a stretch. It wasn’t comfortable to say the least.

The reach to that sweet-looking drag bar is spot-on perfect, with big, meaty grips and levers. The mirrors are nicely positioned and afford a decent rearward view. Unfortunately, they vibrate. You also get cool, bullet-style turn signals front and rear. The LED rear signals also do double-duty as the brake light. It affords a very clean, custom look to the bobbed rear fender. I really loved the auto-canceling turn signals, with a button for each thumb. I don’t know what kind of techno-wizardry they use, but I was unable to fool the auto-canceling feature – even when I intentionally tried. Very cool stuff!

The Wide Glide is powered by the iconic Harley air-cooled V-twin. It’s their latest fuel-injected 96-cubic inch twin cam design. It’s as nicely detailed as the rest of the bike. Harley has evolved this same basic engine since 1909. Their vast experience with it shows. It is thoroughly developed, high tech, low maintenance and a really fabulous engine. The Wide Glide, like all Dyna models, runs a rubber-mounted engine. The counterbalanced motor is reserved for the Softail line.

Starting the Harley is interesting. The barrel-shaped key looks like the kind you work a disc lock with. To unlock the ignition, you flip the cover back on the tank, unlock it with the “key”, put that in your pocket and start the engine. It’s entirely possible to forget to lock it when you park, and walk away from the bike with the ignition unlocked. At that point, someone would only have to sit down, flip the knob on the tank and start the engine – without the “key”. I’m not sure I like that. The ignition set up affords a nice, clean look but I’d rather have a normal key setup instead. When you do start the bike, be ready! This thing jumps to life like someone hit it with a high-voltage cattle prod. The first morning I was leaving to ride it, my son ran out to hear it start. Upon bringing the beast to life, my son grinned and said, “Dad, that’s cool!”, and gave a thumbs up. I have to agree, starting the Glide always brought a smile to my face too.

Pulling away from a stop shows the refinement that Harley has put into the drive train. The 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission drops into gear with a solid, reassuring thwack. It has widely spaced ratios and sixth gear is a true overdrive – dropping engine revs down very low at highway speed. Each gear pulls for a long time across a large speed range. The clutch has a wide and progressive engagement point and is light in effort. I wished all bikes had clutches like this Harley. The belt final drive works silently and flawlessly. I don’t know why more bikes are not built with belts like this. They are quiet, low-maintenance, lash-free and lightweight.

I was blown away by the engine, that wonderful 96-cubic inch twin cam chunk of American metal that is the heart and soul of the bike. Fuel injection is excellent, with perfect tip in and no surging. It is loaded with torque, anytime or anywhere in the rpm range you want it. The beefy, gut punching thrust gives the engine an invincible, forceful, conquer anything kind of feeling. Pick a gear and twist the throttle – the engine doesn’t care. It also has an easy, loping, laid back, ride forever character to it in cruise mode. Honestly, after finally riding it, I can’t think of a better all around street engine than this twin cam. Call me a twin cam convert, it flat out rocks on the street. It even gets good gas mileage (43 mpg). I’d love to see this engine in the XR-1200X chassis.

Handling is surprisingly competent, if you keep the bike in its role as a cruiser. The Wide Glide likes to roll into corners and isn’t in a hurry to do so. It’s not a quick direction changing chassis – at all. It’s also not a quick stopping bike with the single disc up front. So plan ahead, keep the speed in check and you’ll be fine. When I first saw how low the foot-pegs were, I was plenty worried about ground clearance. And if you do not keep in mind the fact that this is a cruiser, you could run into issues. But at most sane, street riding speeds, the pegs stay off the pavement. Just be careful of dips in the road while going through turns or you will bottom out and possibly pull your feet off the pegs.

Cruising down city streets to profile at the coffee shop or winding around on 55 mph two lane country back roads really puts the Glide in its element. Everything works exceptionally well in those situations. Get it in higher speed freeway situations and it hops and bounds around like a super ball. The suspension is under-damped and over sprung, especially in the rear, where travel is only 3.1 inches. It really deserves better. The raked out front end, combined with the skinny front tire, is also decidedly lacking in feel and feedback at higher speed. Couple that with the sail-like riding position and riding at freeway speeds is no fun at all. Just remember…cruiser…cruiser…cruiser! Ride the bike like Harley designed it, and you’ll have a great time.

It turns out that what they say about assumptions is totally correct. Especially with mine regarding Harley-Davidsons. With a couple of caveats (mostly riding position), I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the Wide Glide. It fulfills its cruiser role exceptionally well. It’s beautifully built and has a drive train and engine that is truly world class. Give me a Vivid Black one, slap on some bags, a windshield, a comfy seat and some rumbly exhaust from the Harley catalog. Then I’m going cruising!

MMM

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *