Bikes we love Test rides

2018 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide – First Ride

Harley’s take on an all-rounder manages to live up to the hype

The folks at Harley-Davidson describe the Sport Glide as a “go anywhere, do anything freedom machine.” There’s some classic HarleyHyperbole® to be found in that statement, but I’d happily agree that the new model comfortably takes the prize as best in the recently overhauled Softail line-up.

READ MORE: Harley-Davidson Listens to TMO, Plans Iron 1200 Sportster

A late-addition ninth member of the Softail family, the Sport Glide was introduced to the world back in November. I take pride in the fact that RA, under my direction, was one of only four publications/sites to be given access back then. I assigned Laura Llovet to the story and she reported that the bike had enough thrill and agility to make her, an intransigent sportbike rider, think that she would, maybe, one day – when she’s old and busted – perhaps consider getting a Harley.

That’s a positive endorsement, I guess, and an important one for the kids in Milwaukee considering Laura is a member of a very tricky-to-reach demographic: female Millennials. The company needs to connect with those riders as it looks to the future. But at the moment, Harley is still getting more money from male Gen-Xers like me, and I wanted to know how the Sport Glide fit into the wider context. How does it fit into the Softail line-up, the overall line-up, and Harley’s vision of where it wants to be? Is it just a parts-bin afterthought? Could you really tour with it?

Lash a dry bag to the bike and you’re pretty much set for a cross-country adventure

Fortunately, Harley got in touch a few weeks ago and asked if I’d like to leave snowy Britain for the warmth of Tenerife to spend some time with the bike. Yes. Obviously. I’ll be honest with you: my answer is always yes when it comes to riding Harleys (same rule applies to Indian’s bikes), but for the opportunity to escape the misery of winter for a few days I would have gone just to clean them.

Had I done that, I probably would have enjoyed the opportunity to spend so much time gazing at the Sport Glide. It is a much better-looking machine in person than in photos – especially in the Twisted Cherry and Vivid Black paint schemes. The Breakout-inspired elements of the bike – most notably the rims and exhaust – don’t feel as OCC-stupid as I thought they would (If you’re new to TMO, I have an extremely low opinion of the early 2000s aesthetic and mindset promulgated by Orange County Choppers, so anything that looks like it might have been used on one of the Teutuls’ bikes gets a big fat “no” from me). Whereas the rest of the bike’s aesthetics offer a modern take on the Heritage Classic formula.

The Sport Glide’s 16-inch rear tire is wider than the Heritage Classic’s, its front is bigger (18 in. vs 16 in.), but thinner, and both tires have a sportier look. Beyond that, however, you’ll find both bikes share the same chassis, suspension, brakes, and so on. They even share the same 18.9-liter (5 US gallons) tank and annoying tank-mounted speedometer that’s nigh impossible to read on the move.

Making the Most of the Milwaukee Eight

Both bikes – like all of Harley’s big twins these days – are powered by the 1745cc Milwaukee Eight V-twin engine. That’s 107 cubic inches in old-man speak, and whereas the Heritage Classic is also available with a 114 cu-in lump (1868 cc), that’s not the case with the Sport Glide. You’ll have to settle for “just” the 108 ft-lb of torque and roughly 80 hp the standard engine provides if the Sport Glide is your weapon of choice. Truthfully, though, that’s all you need.

Harleys always look a bit silly on paper – lots of cc and not a lot of hp – but in the actual world, the modern bikes have plenty of hustle. That’s certainly true of the Sport Glide, which seems to harry down the road with the same enthusiasm as the Street Bob (one of my all-time favorites), despite carrying a good 20 kg (44 lbs) more wet weight. And, as I say, only being available in 107 flavor isn’t a detriment. I spent a lot of time mentally comparing the Sport Glide with the 114-powered Heritage Classic I rode last autumn and the performance difference really is negligible.

Fitting the Sport Glide’s two-in-one nature, its smooth power delivery makes relaxed and urban riding easy, but if you want to hurtle toward the sunset like a maniac all you need do is crack the throttle. That latter style of riding is the most fun. You feel like you’re clinging to a meteor; some part of your brain yelps, “Oh, sweet baby Jesus!” and it is awesome.

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Equally awesome is the engine’s sound: Harley has absolutely nailed it with the Sport Glide. This despite the fact the bike is Euro 4-compliant, which means it won’t upset your neighbors or other road users. In tearing through the mountainous terrain of Tenerife, I didn’t really notice the sound of other journalists’ bikes but I did notice my own. There was a deep, menacing roar when opening the throttle that had me making Titus O’Neil noises in my helmet. Through some kind of dark Milwaukee magic Harley has managed to make the bike sound badass where it counts – to the ears of the rider – while keeping it respectable to the ears of everyone else. Mind blown, y’all.

Meanwhile, I feel like clutch pull on the Sport Glide is lighter than on Harleys of even a year ago. It’s still a good workout compared to the feathery clutch of, say, a Triumph, but not as much of a pain as I remember. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to it. I’m pretty sure that if Harley actually had managed to make clutch pull lighter it would have told me about it – delivering a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation and using nonsensical trademarked phrases like Enhanced Manus FreedomAssist®.

You’ll Only Scrape Pegs When You Want To

Sportbike guys will complain about forks that dive when riding hard into corners and moan that the single-disc front brake is both spongy and inadequate. Sportbike guys are dumb, though. They’re applying a single set of narrow parameters to all situations. Wanna know what else the Sport Glide isn’t good at? Enduro. Using this bike to compete in the Dakar would be a terrible idea. But that’s alright, because THAT’S NOT WHAT IT’S FOR. The Sport Glide is a cruising/commuting/touring bike designed to be ridden on public roads. If you ride even remotely like a normal human being, sharing public roads with other normal (and unpredictable) human beings, you will have exactly zero complaints about the Sport Glide’s handling.

Roughly 28 degrees of lean angle on each side means you won’t scrape the pegs unless you intend to. Though, be careful when you do touch down on purpose, since it’s the heel of your boot that will likely meet the pavement first. A member of our riding group got scrape-happy in a particularly tight bend and ended up catching his heel, then twisting his ankle pretty badly. No permanent damage was done, though, so we spent the next two days making fun of him.

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The suspension is both firm enough to avoid donkeying into stops while remaining supple enough to defend you against most of the road’s slings and arrows. We put in about 150 miles on our ride to Tenerife’s El Teide volcano and I am (very) happy to report that the backaches that used to be part and parcel of the Harley experience are a thing of the past. You really could go far on this bike if you wanted.

Aiding that, of course, are the bike’s relaxed ergonomics and that spiffy removable batwing fairing. I had assumed the fairing would be primarily there for show, like the bullet cowl fairing on the Street Rod, but it turns out to be surprisingly useful. Wind is kept fully off the chest of a 6-foot-1 rider, leaving the helmet in clean, undisrupted air. For those seeking even more protection against the elements, Harley sells a taller accessory touring screen for the fairing.

READ MORE: Harley’s Bad News Could Be Worse Than We Think

The fairing attaches to the bike’s fork via two clamps at the back. It can be attached or removed within a matter of seconds (watch me do it in the video above), which is something that concerned me when I first heard about it. After all, stuff that’s easy to remove is also easy to steal. Harley does not have a lock for the fairing (as is available for the equally easy-to-remove screen on the Heritage Classic), but if you set the bike’s steering lock it makes access to the clamps extremely difficult and removal effectively impossible. Additionally, the clamps are subtle enough that they wouldn’t stand out to the passerby.

The panniers are also easy to remove but hard to steal. That’s because the attachment mechanism is located inside the lockable hard plastic case. Together the panniers hold 54 liters of stuff, with the exhaust side holding oh-so-slightly less. That works out to be enough space for two Kriega US 20 bags, your waterproofs, and a few bottles of water. Lash a nice Ortlieb dry bag to the passenger seat and you’re pretty much set for a cross-country adventure.

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To help you tackle the long spaces between where you are and where you want to be Harley have made cruise control standard on the Sport Glide. It is operated by an unobtrusive button on the left grip – which is where cruise control buttons are supposed to be. ABS and a security system are also standard. The single clock offers all the information you really need. Dominated by an analogue speedometer, it features a small digital display that offers RPM, fuel range, trip meters, time, gear indicator, and so on. However, as I say, it’s not information you’ll really be able to see while riding because the clock is mounted on the tank.

Things I Don’t Love

Related to that tank-mounted clock, the metric by which speed is measured cannot be changed easily. Which is to say, switching between miles per hour and kilometers per hour demands a visit to the dealership. On many motorcycles, including Indian Motorcycle bikes, switching between units is a matter of clicking a button. Not so on this Harley. I realize this is an issue that will affect a very small percentage of riders – basically, British people traveling to Ireland and Europe, and the handful of Americans brave enough to venture into Canada – but I find it annoying. Especially when it’s so easily remedied.

Also easy to remedy is Harley’s silly tradition of placing indicator switches on both sides of the handlebar. Everyone else (including Harley on its Street Rod) places a single indicator switch on the left grip, but Harley’s system is such that you have to push a button on the left to indicate left and a button on the right to indicate right. I have always hated this because it is difficult to hit an indicator switch with your right thumb while also operating throttle and brake. But I hate it even more ever since accidentally hitting the bike’s kill switch in a roundabout. Spaniards are not terribly patient drivers, y’all. If you cut your engine in the middle of an intersection you’re creating all kinds of problems.

Meanwhile, looking at the Sport Glide itself, rather than Harleys in general, my biggest lament is the size of the passenger seat. It’s too small. It’s really more of an in-case-of-emergency seat than actual passenger accommodation. You can use it to give a buddy a lift to the nearest gas station, or as a place to strap luggage, but no one who loves you will do so for long if you attempt to ferry them great distances on that seat.

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Lastly, I’m concerned about the durability of the Sport Glide’s removable fairing. It’s a great feature but I don’t know whether I believe its plastic clamps are robust enough for year-upon-year use. Buying a Harley is very much an act of entering into a long-term relationship; where I grew up (Texas and Minnesota) it’s not uncommon to see folks riding models that are decades old. Will those plastic clamps still be working in 2038? I’m not sure.

Verdict

Gripes and concerns aside, the Sport Glide is the best of Harley’s overhauled Softail line-up. I love the badass simplicity of the Street Bob and the post-apocalyptic lunacy of the Fat Bob, but if it were my money on the line I’d choose the Sport Glide. It is such a good bike, in fact, that I would choose it over the more features-laden (and more expensive) Road King. I’d even go so far as to ask myself whether a Street Glide is actually worth the not-inconsiderable additional cost – perhaps the Sport Glide is all you need. Within the context of a Harley-Davidson, this really is one of the best.

Within the context of motorcycles in general, the Sport Glide manages to hold its own. As Harley continues to try to expand its international market share it will need to be making bikes like this – bikes that are good in and of themselves.

The starting price of £14,495 (US $18,599) puts it in the same company as a number of motorcycles that are more powerful and more loaded with technowhizzbangery (eg, a 140hp Triumph Tiger 1200 XRX costs a few hundred less), but you soon get lost in the Land of Apples and Oranges when doing such number comparisons. The Sport Glide costs a lot of money, but I don’t feel the asking price is outrageous if you accept the bike for what it is and what it’s supposed to be.

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Yes, it would be a more palatable proposition if Harley were to knock a few thousand denarii off the price tag, but the fit and finish is of particularly high quality and the bike delivers intangibles beyond the scope of imagination for some manufacturers. The Sport Glide is fun, useful, pretty damned sexy, and more desirable than a whole fleet of V-Stroms. Truth is, I have never thought more seriously about buying a Harley than I am now that the Sport Glide is on the scene.

The Three Questions

Does the Harley-Davidson Sport Glide fit my current lifestyle?
Yes, actually. I’m kind of surprised to find myself saying that about a cruiser, but this is more than just a cruiser. I don’t own a car, so I rely on my bike to go everywhere – whether that’s an afternoon wander through the Brecon Beacons, a motorway drone to Heathrow, or a pan-European trek to Tuscany. I don’t ever travel off road, however (unless you count the grass parking lot of a National Trust property), so the Sport Glide is functional in all the places I want to be. The fairing offers some weather protection that could be bolstered with heated grips and a heated vest.

Does the Harley-Davidson Sport Glide put a smile on my face?
Without doubt. Ever since Harley-Davidson introduced the Milwaukee Eight powerplant and spent the time to improve its bikes’ suspensions I have enjoyed every Harley big twin I’ve ridden – even the Breakout, which I hate on principle (see above comments about OCC). Sure, I’d still prefer a Road Glide, but the Sport Glide manages to tick a lot of boxes and the fact that its engine sounds so awesome is something I’d never get tired of.

Is the Harley-Davidson Sport Glide better than my current motorcycle, a 2017 Triumph Tiger Explorer XRX?
Apples and oranges, man. The ways in which it’s not “better” are easy to find on a stats sheet, but there’s room to question the necessity of some of those things. Have I ever even used my bike’s 137 hp, let alone needed it? Meanwhile, despite the fact the Sport Glide weighs roughly 700 lbs wet (317 kg), it is easier to muscle around because the weight is low. There’s no denying that it looks and sounds cooler, its keyless ignition makes you feel badass, and whereas I can’t even find a Givi screen for my Explorer the Harley accessories catalog is several inches thick.

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Rider Stats

Rider: Chris Cope
Height: 6 feet 1 inch
Physical Build: Lanky

Helmet: Shoei RF-SR
Jacket: 55 Collection Hard
Body Armor: Knox Venture
Gloves: Aerostich Competition Elkskin Roper
Jeans: Pando Moto Boss 105 Indigo Reg
Boots: Indian Motorcycle Spirit Lake by Red Wing

More photos of the 2018 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide

(Click to enlarge)