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Harley Davidson FL 1200 Electra Glide
Changes to the big FL models for 1973 were numerous. A second disc brake was added to the layout, providing better braking at both axles. The optional hand shift models were pulled from the catalog, forcing all riders to now shift with their boot. The advent of electric starting had made the kick-start pedal redundant since 1965, and it was finally removed from the machines in 1973.
Road Test Cycle Magazine 1973
The Harley-Davidson FLH has been around for so long that few people take much notice of the yearly model changes. That's because usually not too much is changed; most differences occur inside where you can't see them, to improve and perfect the motorcycle. This year, though, H-D threw everyone a curve. The FLH received a new front disc brake, a change considered major by Harley-Davidson followers.
Other than that, though, the Electra Glide is still the same ol' motorcycle, save for a few minor items. Most guys who have been around the motorcycling scene for a number of years are at least somewhat familiar with the big machine; once upon a time there wasn't too much else around in the way of motorcycles. The new breed of rider, however, who's experience goes back only a couple of years, has probably never lifted a leg over the seat of an Electra Glide.
The FLH rider is a hard-to-explain breed. For him there is no other motorcycle. The Harley-Davidson biggie offers riders a certain something that no other motorcycle on the road has. We cannot tell you what it is, other than the fact that, indeed, the Glide is different than anything else we have ever ridden. There are things about the machine we don't like, and plenty of things about it that we do like. The only thing we can't explain is that Electra Glide mystique. We don't think anyone can, really.
The FLH is impressive for the same reason that the 747 airplane is impressive. It is big. Most people are impressed by big things; one can't help it. But size isn't the only reason that the FLH stands out in the crowd.
Harley-Davidson's use of chrome and bright colors certainly adds to the effect. With the "King of the Highway" group installed, the machine looks complete. Like one Harley-Davidson rider said, "There's nothing worse than a stripped Electra Glide." He's right. If you buy a bike like this, you may as well go all the way.
Our test machine had most of the goodies installed. The only things we were lacking were a radio and a cigarette lighter, and a few incidentals. Equipped as such, the test bike was quite representative of most of the Glides you see on the highway. Fully equipped the machine costs about $3,000 out the door, much too steep for many. "Whew! A $3,000 motorcycle," said the man at the traffic light. "That's more than this here car cost!"
So what do you get for three grand? Is it worth it? Well, there again, t o some people it's worth every last penny. Others laugh at the thought of anyone paying that much for this motorcycle. It just depends on where your head is at.
Contemplating a ride on the big bruiser fills the first-time FLH riders with all kinds of fears. Things like, "Can I hold it up?" and "What happens in a corner?" all go through the mind. And there it sits on its super-strong side stand, just waiting to make a monkey out of you — or at least that's what you think.
So, what the hell, you climb on. Anyone under 5'10" will be up on their tip toes with this baby. That seat is as high as it looks. By throwing the machine's weight from side to side you notice that if the thing got far enough past the center of balance, you might was well step off because there is no way you are going to hold it up. With that fact firmly in mind, you proceed.
Long-legged men will be able to reach the tab welded on the sidestand with their toe to flip it up, but the shorties will have trouble. Now you can worry about the other items. Seating position is straight up in the shock-mounted saddle: the bars are just right for this position. The grips are a hard rubber material, smooth surfaced and nice.
Down in front of you on Chef ive gallon fuel tank is the famous and familiar H-D dashboard. The speedometer looks the same as it always has, and it features an easily resetable trip odometer. A pull handle sits in the center and operates the choke, and warning lights tell you when the machine is in neutral, when there is no oil pressure, and when your high beam headlight is turned on. Green lights blink in sequence with the turn indicators, but to see any of these lights you must take your eyes completely off the road. The same goes for the speedo. It's well out of your line of sight.
Down at the base of the panel sits your ignition switch, a healthy knob that also operates the main lighting system. Unlock this with your key, and you're ready to give it a turn. The fuel petcock rests under the left side of the fuel tank, with the inner valve controlling the main fuel supply and the outer one the reserve. To fire the all-powerful electric starter, you turn on the ignition and hit the handlebar-mounted button with your right thumb, Usually a few revolutions of the starter will have the big V-twin thump-thumping at idle. It's one of the best sounds in all of motorcycling.
Ready to pull away, you notice how light the clutch pull is. Step down on the leftside-mounted shift lever and a resounding "clunk" lets you know that first gear has been engaged. Feed in some throttle and off you go. Two things come to mind as soon as you're underway. One is a surprising slow-speed nimbleness that you wouldn't expect from such a machine. As long as you've got the room there's not the trouble you'd expect in heavy city traffic. The other item is the vibration. At different points on the rpm scale the vibes get worse or better, but they're always there.
Shifting up and down through the gears brings the same "clunk" that you heard when dropping the big Harley into gear for the first time. They say that after a few thousand miles you can get used to the noise. What may bother you is the necessity to lift your foot off the footboards each time you shift gears. The position of the shifting lever is such that it is impossible to work it without major foot movements.
The brake pedal on the right side is much the same, but for some reason it's not annoying. The rear brake is a hydraulic drum unit that works well under normal conditions. We found, however, that it is sensitive in wet weather; the rear wheel can be locked too easily when wet. When dry, you don't seem to notice it until you make a panic stop. A little too much pressure and the wheel locks in an instant. In time you learn the machine's unusual traits; then they don't surprise you anymore.
The new front brake mentioned earlier was one of the changes most needed in the Electra Glide of the past. The new disc unit now makes the machine much safer to ride in any situation, and it looks good besides. The H-D people now need only to fit it into their other big-bore models. They, too, suffer from the fading brake blues.
We put the brakes on the test machine through a very severe testing session to see just how well they held up. Stopping an 800-pound machine is no easy task. In time we got both front and rear units to fade, but it took a long stretch of winding mountain roads to do it. The average rider on the new FLH will never outdo his brakes, we're sure. Not unless he really tries, like we did.
Tractor-like pulling power is what Harley-Davidsons are famous for. With 74 cubic inches under you, it's no wonder. Once you use first gear to begin rolling, it's not likely you'll have to use it again until you stop. Third and fourth gears around town were more than sufficient for chugging along. And at highway speeds, you'll never have to downshift to pass a slower-moving vehicle.
The Electra Glide is reputed to be one of the better touring bikes in existence. After many miles of riding the FLH, we have to say that it is comfortable, but not as nice as it could be with a reduction in the vibration miseries. No matter what type of vibration occurs, with it comes fatigue. That is the problem with the FLH. The vibes got to us after about an hour of riding at cruising speeds.
Suspension has to be termed excellent. Bumps and holes are nearly cancelled out by the combination of large tires (5.10 x 16", front and rear) and good fork/ shock action. Whatever manages to get through is absorbed by the suspension device built into the dual seat. That's right, the seat has its own built-in shock absorber. When riding two-up, a set of coil springs should he employed to help the shock device with the added weight. They fit under the seat and swing down into position when needed. The only complaint about the seat involves a passenger. The unit is not quite long enough for two-up riding, and as a result, the passenger is forced up against the railing that runs around the back of the seat.
Another problem pops up when a passenger climbs on. The folding foot-rests for the second rider are in a position that hits the front rider in the calf whenever he puts his feet down on the ground, as when stopped. They are positioned so far forward, in fact, that the solo rider can use them quite comfortably for his footpegs. They actually proved to be more comfortable than the footboards.
Little has changed in the mechanical innards of the big OH V V-twin. Gradually over the years the people at H-D have incorporated new features, but the traditional basics still remain. It is a well-known fact that the Electra Glide is built to last. Reliability is one reason why this machine has such tremendous resale value.
The huge frame, even though very stout, looks crude and cobby. In fact, some of the bits and pieces used in other areas strike you the same way. While H-D will go out of its way to chrome certain items, others are left in their "as cast" state. We can't understand why this is done. When someone pays three grand for a motorcycle, he expects to have every last part finished to perfection. But perhaps Harley-Davidson riders aren't so particular.
One thing is for sure. Electra Glide riders are an unusual breed. Marching to the sound of a different drummer is what it takes to live with and love the big 74. But we've known that all along, haven't we?
Source Cycle Magazine 1973