The big news is that Harley-Davidson’s new Milwaukee Eight engine is set to feature on all the motorcycles in the company’s touring line up-for India. This includes the Road Glide, the Street Glide and the Road King. Now when a company builds an all-new engine that is “a brand-new motor, tip to tail,” as Alex Bozmoski, Harley-Davidson chief engineer of new products, puts it, it is big news – even more so when it’s just the third all-new Big Twin in 80 years. In fact it’s just the ninth Harley engine when you consider all the different motors in their line-up.
Harley-Davidson’s engines have sort of run parallel to the evolution of the highway system. When road were dirt and gravel and speeds were low, the Knucklehead’s iron cylinder heads and cylinders handled heat adequately. As roads became better and the demands on motorcycles increased in terms of speeds, time and distance, better cooling became a necessity as power increased, and hence the cylinder heads and then the cylinders themselves were replaced by aluminum that dissipates heat better. The cornerstone of the design upgrade of the last generation of the Twin Cam was improved cooling capability.
The new motor gets its name from the fact that it is born in Milwaukee and it features eight valves; two inlet and outlet valves per cylinder as compared to the single inlet and outlet valves of the previous engine. The Milwaukee Eight seeks to be an engine that is better in torque and power delivery, which it does via a new 55mm throttle body and improved air flow into the cylinders. And while doing this it also meets emission norms, feels far more refined and is more fuel efficient. It even idles at 850rpm as compared to 1,000rpm of the older engine. This not only saves fuel but also brings back a faint ‘potato potato’ burble that disappeared when Harleys went from carburetted to fuel injected.
2017 Road Glide
So, how does this spec sheet of brand new features and extra valves and lower revs translate into the way these bikes feel to ride on our roads. Let me start you off with the Road Glide. I first swung a leg over it when it was parked on the gravel in the courtyard of the imposing and historic Deogarh Mahal which is now a luxurious heritage hotel. My calves at once cried out in complaint against the weight of this monstrous motorcycle as I tried to back it up using my feet on the soft gravel surface. Then while navigating the narrow alleys within the Deogarh fort, I realised that the closest bit of road I could see was what lay about four feet ahead of my front wheel. This is thanks to the big infotainment console on the Road Glide. This gives you a 6.5-inch, full-colour screen with digital pages for the radio, your media player, setup and information about the motorcycle and navigation. All accessed through either the touchscreen or handgrip-mounted controls. The infotainment system can hook up to your phone via Bluetooth and the speakers are so well placed and focused, you can hear music from them over the noise of the wind and through your helmet.
While navigation this motorcycle through crowded streets and narrow alleys there is an overwhelming sense of being a whale in an aquarium, but out in the ocean or the open highways so to speak, this bike personifies all things Harley-Davidson. The weight and the cumbersomeness all melt away. The generous seat, the footboards and the ergonomics make it feel like a brilliantly balanced armchair on two wheels. The new engine is definitely more refined with an almost buttery feel to it as it accelerates through the rev range. The distinct Harley burble is still there but it I could hear it rather than feel it, and that is quite an indication about how much smoother this engine really is. And the bags of torque and rapid acceleration for what is essentially a 387kg motorcycle are very creditable. This bike is on song cruising at about 120kph and on an open stretch of road, opening the throttle up will have the speedo sweep on past 160kph.
I was riding the Road Glide on that section of NH8, between Ajmer and Udaipur, where the road goes through a series of delightful corners and it became at once apparent that on this bike that is meant to cruise on straight highways there is a knack to tackling corners. You can really lean into a corner hard as long as you continue smooth throttle input into, through and out of the corner. The first few times trepidation might strike mid-corner and cause you to lift off and brake but the ABS is in its element precisely for moments like this and there are no surprises waiting for you around the corner so to speak. While the torque on this engine lets you be lazy about gearshifts, the new slip and assist clutch also allows rapid yet smooth gear changes with no jarring thunks or false neutrals.
The new suspension (featuring Showa dual-bending valves in the front forks and an easier preload adjustment system in the rear suspension) is good for fantastic handling of this behemoth, though I found it a little too stiff especially on sections of highway where tar has creased into ripples thanks to the hot Rajasthani summer. Big potholes do cause a jarring thud. This is also partly due to the low profile tyres featured on the bike.
2017 Road King
I hopped off the Road Glide and jumped onto the new Road King with the Milwaukee Eight engine, and within a few kilometres I was convinced that I would pick the Road King over the Road Glide. Even though the Road Glide featured a Screamin’ Eagle pro-tune package that made it sharper in acceleration and quicker in pace than the stock Road King, the latter feels like a more sorted motorcycle over long distances. The suspension is a tad softer, I liked the unrestricted view since there was no infotainment console, and the Plexiglas windshield largely reduced wind buffeting. Besides that, I prefer that sense of barebones long-distance motorcycling that the Road King exudes. Comfortable seat, a good smooth engine, well positioned handlebars and two wheels – no other complexities.
In tune with its tradition of staying away measuring 0 to 100 runs in seconds, Harley claims that the Milwaukee Eight Road King will beat the older Road King by 2 to 3 bike lengths in a 0 to 100kph dash.
Buying a Harley-Davidson has always been about not just buying a motorcycle. It is in fact, more about subscribing to a certain lifestyle that features the call of the open road, camaraderie on road trips and riding with friends. You would almost certainly never buy a Harley-Davidson motorcycle if your primary need were just a bike for your daily commute. You buy a Harley-Davidson for the joy of motorcycling and with the company adding more models to its fleet, you have plenty of options to choose from, depending on whether you want to do a quick Sunday morning breakfast ride or just swing a leg on the saddle and ride away into the horizon.
Rishad Saam Mehta