Road Glide fans glad Harley bike is back

Road Glide Ultra

(MCT) -- Jay Johnson has been on many journeys with his Harley-Davidson Road Glide, including a 600-mile round trip to Marquette, Mich., for a Big Boy hamburger that he couldn't find any closer to home.

On another road trip, in the South, Johnson and his bike were soaked by Hurricane Katrina.

"I don't get that wet in the shower," he said.

Attracted to the bike for its comfort and unique styling, Johnson - who works for a Harley-Davidson dealership in Oconomowoc, Wis. - is a hard-core Road Glide fan. So when Harley-Davidson Inc. earlier this month said the popular touring machine was returning to its motorcycle lineup this fall, after a year hiatus, Johnson said he's confident it will be a success.

"It's the only thing I will own, as my main bike," he said.

Harley reintroduced the Road Glide and Road Glide Special weeks before the company's full 2015 model-year lineup comes out later this month. The company took the Road Glides out of the 2014 lineup in order to do a full makeover that included many features from its Project Rushmore touring bikes, such as an integrated audio and navigation system with touch-screen controls on the Road Glide Special.

The new models come with a modified version of the shark-nose fairing - a protective piece that wraps around the headlamps and the front of the bike - that's always been associated with this bike and gives it a distinctive look and, some say, more riding comfort.

The bikes come with dual headlamps and new LED lighting, and the premium model comes with integrated front and rear anti-lock brakes, hand-adjustable rear suspension, and an exclusive painted inner fairing and hand-applied pinstripes.

Touring features include one-touch hard saddlebags, electronic cruise control and new ergonomic hand controls.

Before it was taken out of the 2014 lineup, the Road Glide represented about 10 percent of Harley-Davidson's motorcycle sales. The bike has been popular for its frame-mounted fairing that many motorcyclists say results in less rider fatigue when spending hours in the saddle.

"You don't have to fight it as much in the wind," said Dan Stalheim, a Road Glide owner.

So when Harley decided to give the bike a makeover for 2015, the company faced the challenge of keeping features riders liked, including the shark-nose fairing and dual headlamps, while infusing the motorcycle with new technologies such as integrated anti-lock brakes.

Harley began redesigning the Road Glide when it began work on the Project Rushmore touring bikes that were unveiled a year ago.

Eight models were retooled and enhanced under Project Rushmore, making it the largest new model launch in Harley's history. New features included the first liquid-cooled engine for a Harley-Davidson touring motorcycle.

"We learned a lot with Project Rushmore and then took it up a notch with the Road Glide ... but we needed another year to get things nailed down," said Michael Goche, product planning manager.

Harley used a wind tunnel at Wichita State University to improve the bike's aerodynamics and increase rider comfort. Through a variety of new methods, the company has cut product development time by about 30 percent.

"We can go through several different design iterations fairly quickly and then validate changes on the road once we feel that we have it narrowed down," Goche said.

Harley didn't use the new liquid-cooled engine from Project Rushmore on the Road Glide because it wasn't a good fit with the bike's design.

"We wanted a more clean look, more minimalistic," Goche said.

The company spent hundreds of hours on the new fairing, still keeping the shark-nose look, while adding vents aimed at reducing buffeting from the wind and increasing rider comfort.

All the while, Road Glide enthusiasts were speculating on the design changes.

"People were actually voting online whether the Road Glide should have these (fairing) vents. I kind of chuckled at that, knowing we were already well into the design," Goche said.

The Road Glide's 2014 absence cost Harley-Davidson sales earlier this year when the company and the rest of the industry also was dealt a blow from poor weather that kept many from purchasing bikes.

"In hindsight, I think it was a mistake for Harley to take the Road Glide out of the lineup because it was already a popular bike," said Victor Padilla, a Road Glide owner from San Diego, Calif., who has blogged extensively about this particular motorcycle.

"I think Harley could have done a better job of planning the changes earlier, so they didn't have to skip a model year," Padilla added.


The Road Glide has been popular with motorcycle customizers, partly because of its unique frame-mounted fairing that many people love but some others think is ugly.

"We looked at what customizers had done to make the shark nose look more aggressive, and we kept that in mind as we worked through the wind tunnel testing," Goche said.

Nancy Buege, a Road Glide owner, customized her 2013 bike with a Grim Reaper theme and won "best paint" award at a car show. She also changed the windshield, handlebars and more.

"It's my bike for the rest of my life. I have done everything I want to it besides install a new sound system," Buege said.

Was the 2015 Road Glide, with a retail price of $20,899 for the base model and $23,199 for the premium version, worth the wait?

Probably so for many of the bike's enthusiasts, given they had an online clock counting down the days, hours and minutes until the new model was introduced.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there was significant pent-up demand. The second purchase by Road Glide owners is almost always another Road Glide," said Jeff Haig, director of a Wisconsin chapter of the Harley-Davidson Owners Group.

"It was a pretty good marketing ploy if you ask me, taking the old bike out of the lineup for a while," said Jerry Nichols, founder of the Road Glide Association, based in Muskegon, Mich.

Some people probably won't like the changes, including the touch-screen controls and fairing vents.

But don't complain about those things until you try them, said Johnson.

"The first time I was on a Road Glide I absolutely hated it because I was used to a bike that didn't have a fairing or windshield. Then I borrowed one from the dealership in 2003, rode it for a day, parked it in my garage, and said that's the bike for me. I am a single guy. There's always room for another bike in the garage."


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