I was highballing north on US 395 along california’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Harley’s cruise control doing most of the work, when the slow-moving tractor-trailer up ahead forced me to reduce speed. I should point out, too, that this was no ordinary Harley-Davidson. I was riding a 2017 FLTRXS Road Glide Special, and its electronic odometer revealed that the Milwaukee-Eight engine had only recently been broken in by the crew at Harley’s West Coast fleet center. The big 107″ V-twin was loafing along at about 85 mph, the bike’s standard cruise control feature subbing for me while I relaxed and rested behind the RUSHMORE-inspired fairing. Life was good—until the big rig impeded our headway.
I gently applied the Reflex Linked brakes to cancel the cruise control command, hauling the speed down to about 60. A few cars approaching from the opposite direction prevented me from overtaking the slow-moving rig right away. Moments later an opening in the traffic set me free, so I purposely twisted the right grip, feeding raw gasoline and fresh air into the eight-valve engine’s thirsty combustion chambers. The single-cam engine liked that, and our speed increased proportionally until the Road Glide Special quickly found its new place on earth ahead of the lumbering big rig. Life was, once again, good for me.
Let me be clear about another point: I didn’t downshift to fifth gear while overtaking the truck. This new engine has torque (I almost feel guilty about not spelling that with a capital T!) in spades, making downshifting optional under most riding conditions. Harley claims 111.4 ft-lbs. at 3250 rpm, a figure that’s actually only a few ft-lbs. more than what the Twin Cam 103″ generated. What the 2017 figures fail to reveal is that the new Milwaukee-Eight’s torque curve is much broader than the 103″ engine’s. And I like the new torque curve. A lot.
AIM’s editor, Steve Lita, pointed out the technological highlights of Harley’s new engine in issue 341, and in issue 342 he gave a glimpse of what the new baggers that cradle the engine in their RUSHMORE frames are like. Now I’m going to tell you about what I consider to be the best bargain among those baggers: the Road Glide Special.
This bike has it all, and the marketing folks at Harley pretty much pegged it with the FLTRXS’s mission statement: “Long on features, comfort, and attitude.” Indeed, and beyond the standard RUSHMORE and new Milwaukee-Eight features, the Special sports Harley’s big Boom! Box 6.5GT touch-sensitive screen that’s positioned between the inner fairing’s two large speakers and right beneath the easy-to-read analog instruments.
Truth be told, though, I rarely use the infotainment feature. Oh, I’ll dabble with the navigation option now and then to save myself from being totally lost during an adventure, but otherwise I prefer to enjoy the drone of the engine’s exhaust note while racking up the miles. And what a sound the 2017 Road Glide Special’s new mufflers produce, a deep, rich, mellow tone, one that bikers have enjoyed for years. Harley engineers were able to attain this new, throatier sound by exorcising some of the mechanical-noise demons from the engine, primary drive, clutch, and transmission. Less clanging noise there creates a vacuum of sorts that can be filled with more decibels from the exhaust system, the end result a motorcycle with a noise factor that, in addition to complying with federal decibel regulations, sounds genuinely cool. Welcome to the 21st century of motorcycle engineering and marketing; the Road Glide Special clearly stands at the forefront of this new philosophy.
Enough about the features, let’s talk about the Road Glide Special’s comfort. I’m on record in past bike reviews stating that I love touring aboard Electra Glides. I still like those batwing fairing bikes but, in truth, when it comes to absolute comfort, this RG Special fits me like the proverbial glove. My 5′ 8″ frame and 30″ inseam are well-matched to the bike’s ergonomics. I can flat foot stops at traffic lights thanks to a claimed seat height of 25.9″ (laden), and the reach to the handgrips is relaxed and natural. The seat’s bucket shape is form-fit to my derriere, and the tinted stub windshield mixed with the fairing’s RUSHMORE ducting allows just the right amount of wind blast to entertain me without pounding me. The small winglets at the base of the aerodynamically shaped shark-nose fairing help with that, and because the High Output engine doesn’t have the Twin Cooled liquid-cooling option, there are no fairing lowers to further isolate me from the elements so I don’t feel like I’m wrapped fully in a cocoon. I’m on a motorcycle.
Now let’s discuss the Special’s attitude. There are two key elements to a bagger: it must be capable of toting a reasonable amount of gear for extended rides, and it must look cool in carrying out its mission. The RG Special’s two lockable saddlebags boast a claimed 2.3 cubic feet of storage capacity, and while I can’t exactly describe just what that equates to in real-world gear, I can say that I was able to pack three days worth of personal inventory plus my camera gear for the blast up US 395.
And the FLTRXS looked cool—you know, attitude— while making the run up 395. Start with the paint. Vivid Black remains the standard color for the base model, which places MSRP at a rather cool $23,999. Our test bike sported the Hard Candy Custom paint option (three new color choices are on tap for 2017, two of which are Hard Candy Custom colors), which boosts price to $26,999. Yeah, it ain’t cheap, so determine just how much attitude you want, and then set your budget.
No matter the color option, though, all Road Glide Specials ride with the same cool chassis features, giving each bike a stance that shouts Attitude! The parts mix includes the 19″ (front) and 16″ (rear) Enforcer cast aluminum wheels with Brembo calipers and Dunlop Harley-Davidson Series tires. The bike’s stance is further set by a lowered suspension that features Harley’s updated specs. Claimed front suspension travel is 4.6″ front, 2.1″ rear.
New for 2017, the 49mm fork legs are filled with Showa Dual Bending Valve (SBDV) technology to smooth the ride up front. Out back you’ll find a pair of coil-over spring shocks with hand adjustability to set preload. As a unit, plus the low-profile tires (130/60-19″ front, 180/65-16″ rear), the suspension sets the Special nice and low, the way a bagger should be. There’s a small price to pay, however, as shortened suspension means there’s less up-and-down travel to absorb some of the bumps in the road. To be sure, the new suspension technology works well over smaller road holes and frost heaves, but a series of repetitious bumps challenges the damping rates; expect some chatter or jack hammering at times.
For the most part, though, the ride remains controlled and rather refined. Moreover, after spending all day in the saddle, I never felt fatigued or beaten. I always looked forward to the next day’s ride. And for me, that and the attention to detail and attitude are what make the FLTRXS so special for me as a bagger enthusiast. AIM