2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special

Road Test Review

Earlier this year, Harley-Davidson released the entry-level, liquid-cooled Street 500/750 cruisers and unveiled the Project LiveWire electric bike, making clear its desire to attract a new breed of young, non-traditional customers. But H-D’s shot-callers know that the company must never alienate, and should always strive to satisfy, its core audience, those dedicated folks who bleed orange-and-black and collectively spend billions of dollars every year on motorcycles, accessories and apparel. That was the motivation behind Project Rushmore, Harley-Davidson’s ongoing “customer-driven product development effort.” Project LiveWire may have electrified the media and the general public, but Project Rushmore will have a lasting impact on people who actually ride motorcycles.

Project Rushmore culminated in what Harley-Davidson called its “largest scale new model launch in the company’s 110-year history,” with extensive updates for 2014 to eight Touring models, everything from more powerful engines and linked brakes to upgraded styling, ergonomics and entertainment (Rider, November 2013). Notably absent from the 2014 lineup was the Road Glide, with its distinctive frame-mounted Sharknose fairing. After a year off, its back for 2015, and, like its Batwing-faired sibling the Street Glide, is available in two versions: the base-model FLTRX Road Glide ($20,899) and the options-laden FLTRXS Road Glide Special ($23,199) tested here. The Special’s higher sticker price includes an upgrade from the Boom! Box 4.3 audio system to the 6.5GT system with color touchscreen and navigation, hand-adjustable rear suspension, Reflex Linked Brakes with ABS, Smart Security System with proximity based fob, a painted inner fairing and hand-applied pinstriping. The Special’s base price is for Vivid Black paint; color options such as the Amber Whiskey on our test bike cost an extra $500.

The most striking change on the new Road Glide is the look and function of its fairing. According to Michael Goche, Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Product Planning Manager, “Improved aero comfort, especially reducing head buffeting, was at the forefront of customer feedback regarding the Road Glide.” As with changes to the Batwing fairing last year, extensive wind tunnel and on-road testing influenced the Sharknose’s sleek, aggressive shape, which is less bulbous and 1.4 inches narrower from edge to edge. In front is a wide opening—like the maw of a big catfish—that houses the Dual Daymaker Reflector LED headlight (replacing the previous model’s twin halogens) and two large scoops that draw air into the cockpit through Slipstream vents. A third Slipstream vent is located between the top of the fairing and the 9.5-inch tinted windscreen. All three vents can be closed during wet or cold weather, but they’re designed to stay open in most conditions, all but eliminating the low-pressure area behind the fairing and directing airflow around the rider.

On the road, the new Road Glide punches a smooth, quiet hole in the atmosphere. A steady stream of air flows through the cockpit, but wind noise and turbulence are modest at speeds up to 75 mph—quiet enough to jettison my earplugs and enjoy the music pumping out of the speakers. The inner fairing was moved two inches closer to the rider, making it easier to read the gauges and access the infotainment system’s touchscreen. Reach to the handlebar was reduced by a whopping 5.5 inches, which, along with a more natural grip angle, results in a comfortable, relaxed riding position. With my back straight, plenty of slack in my arms and my feet perched on rubber-insulated floorboards, miles rolled by with relative ease, my weight supported by a wide, dished seat.

Like other Touring models, the Road Glide’s handling benefits from a beefier 49mm fork (up from 43mm), stiffer triple clamps, larger steering bearings, revised damping rates and lighter, stiffer cast-aluminum wheels. Rake is just 26 degrees, helping the bike maneuver easily around parking lots and tight curves, and cornering clearance is ample. Suspension compliance is fine on smooth roads, but irregular pavement can be jarring. The 4.6-inch-travel fork soaks up bumps well enough, but the twin rear shocks have just 2.1 inches of travel, necessitating stiff springs. Using the adjuster knob behind the left saddlebag to crank up rear spring preload helps, but only so much can be done. Baggers like the Road Glide and Street Glide—essentially the same motorcycle but with different fairings and handlebars—trade some long-haul comfort for slammed style and low seat heights (27.4 inches). Black-and-chrome Enforcer wheels (19-inch front, 16-inch rear) are shod with Dunlop tires designed exclusively for Harley-Davidson, and triple 300mm discs clamped by 4-piston, ABS-equipped calipers provide excellent stopping power, with the proportional linked function engaging above 20-25mph.

Rubber-mounted within the steel frame is Harley’s air-cooled High Output Twin Cam 103ci V-twin, which compresses fuel and air at a ratio of 9.7:1 and uses pushrods to operate two overhead valves per cylinder. Hydraulic lifters are self-adjusting and final drive is via belt, both of which reduce maintenance costs. The big-jugged twin shakes heavily at idle but is smooth under power, turning a mellow 2,300 rpm when the 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission is in its top cog. On Jett Tuning’s dyno, the Road Glide maxed out at 72.8 horsepower at 4,600 rpm and 92.0 lb-ft of torque at 3,700 rpm, with more than 80 percent of peak torque available from 2,200 to 5,100 rpm. Ample grunt means gear changes can be done less often, though the transmission shifts easily and quietly (except for clunks when dropping into lower gears), thanks in part to the new hydraulic clutch. On hot days and when riding in traffic, the engine radiates a fair amount of heat, especially on the right side. The 6-gallon tank must be filled with premium, and we averaged 41.3 mpg during this test (248-mile range). With standard cruise control, 2.3-gallon saddlebags and a 525-pound load capacity, the Road Glide is ready for the long haul.

In addition to the new fairing and improvements to the engine, suspension and brakes, Project Rushmore upgrades include dozens of changes to the rider-motorcycle interface. Buttons were reshaped for better feel, gauges are larger and easier-to-read, and latches have a One-Touch design—the Slipstream vents, fairing compartments, fuel door and saddlebag lids can be easily opened and closed with one finger. Front and center is the Boom! Box 6.5GT infotainment system, which integrates audio, navigation and communications. The system, which is controlled by a full-color touchscreen and joysticks on the switchgear (or via voice commands with an optional headset), is comprehensive, easy to use and offers Bluetooth connectivity. Useful features abound, like when the low-fuel light comes on and the touchscreen brings up a message that says, “Low fuel detected. Navigate to nearest gas station?” There is a USB port in the right fairing compartment (which cannot be locked) for connecting/charging a smartphone or media device, as well as a power outlet below the left fairing compartment.

Harley-Davidson’s Touring models have always been about traveling in style, surrounded by sumptuous paint and acres of chrome, the rumbling V-twin falling into a sweet-spot rhythm when the pace is unhurried, the scenery is savored and the journey is the destination. The new Road Glide looks and works better than before, elevated, refined and advanced by Project Rushmore. Its frame-mounted Sharknose fairing offers lighter, steadier handling than bikes equipped with the fork-mounted Batwing fairing, and the fairing’s new shape and triple Slipstream vents, along with the reduced reach of the handlebar, have transformed ride comfort. More rear suspension travel would be a plus, and we’d love to see the return of the Road Glide Ultra with a Tour-Pak, fairing lowers and the Twin-Cooled 103 V-twin (a CVO version with Twin Cooled 110 is new for 2015). But for now, we’re just glad the Road Glide is back.