By far, my annual ride from LA to Sturgis is my favorite trip of the year! Not only do I get to ride through some beautiful scenery, I get to do it on the new Harley of my choice. Last year’s vaca-, er, working road trip was on a 2011 Softail Deluxe FLSTN. This was the second time I’ve used a Deluxe for this journey, and though the route was different, the bike was just as much a pleasure to ride as it was in 2004 when I picked up a 2005 at the H-D fleet center in Carson, California.
Though I usually start with the powertrain, this time around it must be the chassis, since the Deluxe is all about styling. As you can see, the Deluxe is appointed with 1940s Harley-Davidson design features from its chrome front wheel hubcap to its tombstone taillight. Check out the chrome-laced wheels; wide, whitewall 16″ tires; chrome front fender trim; Wide Glide front end; chrome headlight nacelle; chrome, dual front spotlights; chrome, staggered-dual exhaust; classic Fat Bob gas tanks; pinstriping; and center mounted dash and speedo. Need I go on?
As for the modern tech part of the bike, the rolling chassis and powertrain is all 2011 Softail, complete with a solid-mounted, counterbalanced Twin Cam 96 motor, Cruise Drive six-speed transmission, wet chain-driven primary system, and rear drive belt setup. The engine fired up smooth and easy every time I hit the starter button. And no matter what the temperature or elevation, the throttle response was smooth and even. Not a burble, burp, or cough was heard or felt. The tranny shifted as all Cruise Drives do, a little clunking, but efficiently. I did have some trouble at times finding neutral when the tranny got hot, which is another common trait for this gearbox. The clutch pull is light and smooth, and should not be a problem for small hands or those without a strong grip. The bike’s handling and suspension is right on the money. Slow speed maneuvers in a parking lot are a cakewalk, and the suspension did its job well on every bump and dip I encountered.
Another factor of modern tech on all the 2011 Softails is the new hand control switches and speedo setup. Donny went into this new Harley-Davidson Local Area Network (HDLAN) and Controller Area Network (CAN) system in great detail in his December Techline feature, so I’ll just touch on the main points here. These new handlebar switches do not send 12-volt power to the various devices they control. Instead, the switches merely transfer a low-voltage signal to the bike’s ECM, which carries out the rider’s instructions. For example, flicking the headlight switch from high to low beam no longer sends 12 volts of power through the switch to the other half of the headlight bulb. The switch tells the ECM to do it. However, the changes don’t end there. Toggling the top portion of the horn button now activates the readout window on the lower half of the new speedometer. This window can now display what gear you are in, the engine’s rpm, and various trip and odometer info, as well as how many miles you can go before the gas tank is dry. Thanks to the new tach part of the selectable speedo readouts, I can tell you that the engine spins at 2600 rpm at 70 mph, 2750 rpm at 75 mph, 2950 at 80, and 3150 at 85 in sixth gear. The new switch on the right handlebar that does double duty is the starter button, which now also activates the hazard flashers.
Moving to the comfort department, thanks to its comfy seat design and low seat height of 24-1/2″ with all 170 pounds of me on the bike, I have no problem riding for long distances or being flat footed when stopped. Even with my 30″ inseam, I have no trouble reaching the foot controls or keeping my feet on the floorboards. Those classic pullback handlebars and risers put the hand grips right where I want them. However, I did remove the rear half of the shifter lever, since it prevented me from moving my left foot around on the floorboard on a long trip. For riders with a bigger foot (I wear a size 8 1/2 boot), you will definitely want to take the heel shifter section off.
The only drawback I found on the bike, if you can call it that, is that you’ll scrape the floorboards if you start jamming through some twisties. Personally, I don’t consider it a problem since this bike is made for cruising easy and enjoying the scenery. It’s not a canyon carver, as one look at the bike should tell you. It’s got floorboards, right? The Deluxe is a stylish eye- catcher that’s perfect for graceful cruising and, in my mind, touring. As comfortable as this 5’4″ rider was on the Deluxe, I’d take it across the country in a heartbeat, given the chance.
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Words By Chris Maida, Photos by Bob Feather
Story as published in the July 2011 issue of American Iron Magazine.