Harley-Davidson never really discontinued the
Electra-Glide Sport, they merely created two models from one. First came the
Road King, a stunning model resplendant in chrome and classic styling touches.
Now we've got our hands on the second spawn from the Sport's demise, Harley's
FLHT, or Electra Glide Standard.
The FLHT is less expensive than its Road King
cousin, for it lacks that model's extra chrome and optional fuel injection.
But if you're worried that your Electra Glide might come up short when
compared to The King, fear not - for this bike is much more than just an Elvis
Differences start at the front where our
Standard wears a wide touring fairing in place of the Sport's smaller
windscreen. Instruments have moved from the original tank-mounted location and
are now fairing-mounted. Our only complaint with the layout was a gaping hole
left in the dash where a stereo should be. We don't have a problem with Harley
lowering its price by not fitting a stereo, but surely they could place a
little plastic door over the area so owners might get some extra storage space
for small items.
Besides the stereo, other cost-cutting areas
include chrome. While some FLHs have chrome engine covers and saddlebag trim,
an Electra Glide does without and instead relies on the appeal of its basic
black paint and real steel.
But while you don't get fancy chrome or a
stereo, you do get that wonderful 80 cubic inch lump of Milwaukee iron. I'm
sure lab tests would show that rumblings from a Big Twin send alpha waves
directly to your brain and cause the release of endorphins.
Normally we lean heavily towards bikes that
lean heavily, but when we rode the Electra Glide, we always found ourselves
taking the long way home or getting up just a little earlier on Sunday to go
for some wandering day trip. This bike has a way of doing that to you.
Contributing to that relaxed feel is a frame
that has been redesigned for all '97 FLHs. Seat height has been lowered to
just 28 inches, nearly a full inch lower than previous models. That lower, and
heavier braced, frame enabled Harley designers to create a seat that was
narrower at its front, meaning your legs don't have to splay as wide to reach
the ground. Other advantages of the new frame include a repositioned fuse
console and larger battery. Previously there was little room under the seat,
so fuses were stored in the fairing. Now they've found a home under the left
panel, where they can be accessed without tools. Increased under-seat room has
also meant an increase in battery size, with amp-hours jumping 50% from 20 to
30. A final bonus is that just 11 fasteners are now used to hold the luggage
and rear fender assembly together, as opposed to the older design's complex
array of nuts and bolts.
One cost-cutting measure that we don't care for
is the lack of fuel injection. Harley impressed us with their injected Road
King and Electra Glide Ultra Classic and their easy starting and clean
response. The only downside was that FI chips weren't programmable for riders
who wanted to make modifications, something that has been changed this year.
We'd like to see fuel injection offered as an option.
Fuel injection or not, our Electra Glide
started easily and soon settled into that familiar its-gonna-stall idle.
Vibration is almost non-existent thanks to the rubber-mounted engine and
floorboards. Power is just what you'd expect - piles of torque and bottom-end
grunt. Hell, you can leave traffic lights in fifth gear if you want. That same
stump-pulling torque makes for easy cruising around town and on the highways.
There's power everywhere, so shifting is an option rather than a necessity.
Just roll on the throttle and let the engine do the rest.
Despite its portly 742-pound (336kg) dry
weight, corners can actually be enjoyed. Ground clearance is respectable for a
heavyweight, although grinding floorboards is still easy. The new frame's
lower center of gravity makes parking lot manouevering easier than you'd
expect. Soft suspension allows some wallowing in quicker corners, but not so
much as to put you in a panic. Our only complaint came from the suspension's
lack of response to larger bumps, which rock the bike hard. Removing the right
saddlebag and adding air to both front and rear suspension is easy and helps
somewhat, but rough pavement will still jolt you.
When you get away from torn up urban pavement
the Electra Glide's soft springs make for a comfortable cruise. Highway miles
roll by with no complaints of buffeting, crappy seats or tiring vibration.
Just click it into top gear, twist the thumb-operated friction cruise-control
and enjoy the view. However, in cooler weather you might want to wear chaps or
at least heavy pants as the Electra Glide leaves your knees in the breeze.
On crowded two-lane highways, the lack of
passing power is a problem. This engine clearly doesn't enjoy speeds over
85mph, although it will huff and puff its way to 90. Another complaint is
saddlebags that look great and remove quickly (just two Dzus fasteners), but
aren't practical for carrying once off the bike. Optional pull-out liners
would be a wise purchase.
Riding a Harley, particularly a Big Twin, is
somehow different than other bikes. No, we're not falling victim to all the
marketing hype that says "Things are different on a Harley." Your life won't
change, at least not dramatically. Your dog is still stupid and your cereal
will still get soggy. What you will get when you buy a Harley is a truly
satisfying bike that holds its value. An Electra Glide Standard has everything
that makes Harleys great: Classic styling, a torquey motor and easy
maintainence. At $12,495, it's almost $2,000 cheaper than a Road King and a
whopping $5,255 less than Harley's Ultra Classic. With those extra bucks you
could have a lot of fun customizing an Electra Glide to fit your own touring
personality. But even if you leave it as is from the factory, this Harley is
anything but standard.