It was a blistering-hot summer night, and the streets of L.A. were aswarm.
The gleaming, burgundy-and-rose Harley FLHTC was parked on Hollywood Boulevard,
a couple of blocks down from Vine and just over from the Chinese Theater. Even
in Tinsel Town, the Harley drew a lot of attention. One motorcyclist loitered
longer than usual, before he faded into the shadows of a nearby tavern. A short
while later, he reappeared, and moved down the long row of motorcycles to his
own. It was a large outfit, we won't tell you which, all set up for touring. He
eyed the FLHTC again, this time for only an instant, and then glared at his
"Damn," he grumbled to it. "You haven't turned into a Harley yet."
As we said, it's that kind of bike. And no wonder.
By now, you've heard all of the rumors and read all of the speculation. Stop
the presses, it's true.
Harley-Davidson has a new big engine for 1984, the company's first in 18
years. It's still a V-Twin, still 45° between the cylinders, still 80-c.i.,
still ohv. Still unmistakeably a Harley. But with more power, more torque, less
weight. The V-2 Evolution Engine, the Harley folks call it officially.
Unofficially, they call it the Blockhead, in keeping with a tradition of
nicknaming the different generations of the big Harley engine. That family tree:
the Knucklehead, which begat the Panhead, which begat the Shovelhead,
which begat the Blockhead.
One of the five 1984 models that gets the new engine is the FLHT, the
long-haul tourer that was crossbred from the faithful old FLH Elec-tra Glide and
the three-year-old FLT Tour Glide. When it appeared last year, the FLHT came
with the frame, rubber-mounted engine, five-speed transmission and enclosed rear
chain drive of the FLT, and the fork-mounted fairing and luggage of the FLH.
Essentially, it was an up-to-date Tour Glide wearing classic Electra Glide
clothes. The new FLHT is equipped with all of the above, plus new brakes, a new
seat, and an air-suspension/anti-dive system.
Oh, and it gets a new letter, C, to distinguish it from the previous,
Shovelhead-powered model, so make that the 1984 FLHTC. Comprende? Or you
can forgo the mouthful of letters and do as Harley does: simply call it the
Electra Glide Classic. (It has a sister model, the FLTC, or Tour Glide Classic,
which comes with a frame-mounted fairing. But since we don't want to hopelessly
confuse matters, we won't deal with that here.)
As its official name suggests, the new engine isn't so much, revolutionary
as it is evolutionary, the fourth carefully planned, major updating
of a Harley design-cum-tradition that's been with us since the days of FDR and
the fireside chats. Like the Shovelhead that preceded it, the Blockhead has a
bore of 3.498 in. (88.8mm) and a stroke of 4.250 in. (108mm), for a displacement
of 80 c.i. (1340cc). And the same crankshaft and basic bottom end. But that's
about it, for the similarities.
From the base gasket up, is where the Blockhead is really different.
Cylinders and cylinder heads are aluminum alloy; liners are cast-in iron. Valve
angle is narrower, and the heads have smaller, "straighter ports, smaller
valves, and angled combustion chambers. There are lightweight rocker arms,
hollow, one-piece pushrods, and hydraulic lifters. A new-profile cam gives
shorter valve duration but greater opening. With new pistons and new combustion
chambers, the engine to runs a 8.5:1 compression ratio, up from 7.4:1, without
detonation. Connecting rods are thicker and stronger*
To combat excessive top-end oil consumption, a problem which plagued all but
the recent Shovelheads, the Blockhead has more oil return paths. Oil drains from
the cylinder head down through four bolt bores, the tappet blocks and the
pushrod tubes. No longer is it allowed' to pool around the valve guides until
it's drawn into the intake port and burned.
(We really shouldn't have to say this, since it's become the rule, not the
exception, for the Harleys we've tested in the last few years. But since old
stereotypes die hard, we'll run through it again. Read carefully: No oil leaks,
period. No oil puddles, period.)
Carburetion is by the usual 38mm Keihin, but the mixture is fed into a new
bolt-on rubber intake manifold. Self-sealing compression screens take the place
of copper washers in the exhaust ports. Two bolts secure each exhaust pipe to
the head, a change that will be applauded by Harley owners who've had the old
one-bolt pipes slip off while riding through a hospital quiet zone. Or past a
cop. The electronic ignition has two stages of advance: one stage contributes to
improved fuel economy at low, steady speeds while the other provides
detonation-free power under acceleration or while carrying a heavy load.
So what's the result of all this? According to Harley: a 10 percent increase
in horsepower (71.5 bhp at 5000 rpm, compared with 65 bhp at 5400 rpm), a 15
percent increase in torque (82.5 lb.-ft. at 3600 rpm, compared with 67 lb.-ft.),
improved gas mileage, and an engine that's lighter by 20 lb. You'll notice that
peak horsepower has moved down the rpm scale; most of the newfound power and
torque is in mid-range, where Harley engines are most often run.
The Blockhead has a new primary drive sprocket, which utilizes fewer, but
heavier, springs. There've been no changes, though, in the separate, five-speed
gearbox. Primary drive is by double-row roller chain, and the clutch is a dry,
multi-plate unit. The rear chain is enclosed in a flexible housing, and
constantly lubricated by a one-pint oil bath.
The FLHTC uses the steel-tube frame from the FLT. It was novel when it
appeared in 1980; in 1984, it still is. The steering head and the rear-set forks
are not parallel; instead, the head is mounted at a steep 25° while the forks
are raked almost 30°. The diverging offset results in 6.2-in. of trail, and
reduces steering effort without sacrificing stability and balance. The frame has
a huge, welded-up, rectangular steel backbone, with two downtubes, no centerpost,
and a square steel swing arm.
Engine vibration is isolated by a system of soft-rubber engine mounts,
similar to the old Isolastic set-up used by Norton. The
engine-transmission-final drive unit is held by adjustable locating links
connected to flexible, biscuit-type rubber mounts. The system allows the engine
to move up and down, back and forth, but positively restricts lateral movement.
The air-suspension/anti-dive is a version of the highly effective system
introduced with 1983's FXRT. Other manufacturers battle braking dive with
damping-delay circuits that increase damping and slow the rate at which the
front forks compress. The front-brake hydraulic system closes a valve in the
damping circuit, restricting the flow of fork oil; "that delays the dive, but
doesn't eliminate jt. Harley's air-assisted system, however, does; it increases
the fork spring rate, and, well, it's goodbye dive.
The heart of the system is a two-stage air reservoir, built into the engine
case guards. A valve connects one of the chambers to the forks. For normal
riding, the forks are pressurized to 4-6 psi, and the reservoir to about 25 psi.
When the forks compress and air pressure rises above 25 psi, the valve opens in
the reservoir second stage, which expands against the first chamber, increasing
fork volume. By changing the pressure in the second chamber, a rider can adjust
the point at which the valve opens, and adjust the front suspension for ride
height, travel and softness. During braking, a solenoid connected to the brake
light switch prevents the valve from opening. Without the extra volume, fork air
pressure builds more rapidly, and travel decreases. That, by anyone's
definition, is real anti-dive.
Unlike the FXRT, which had adjustable air shocks, the FLHTC's rear suspension
is handled by plain Jane shocks. There are five adjustments for spring preload;
damping is not adjustable. If that doesn't seem adequate, the factory offers a
set of air shocks as an accessory.
New, dual 11.5-in. front discs, like those used on the XR1000, replace the
old 10-in. discs. The rear brake is a single 12-in. disc. With the new discs and
calipers, brake swept area is 322 sq. in. Dun-lop MT90-16 K101 Touring Elite
white-wall tires are mounted on the 16-in., 16-spoke cast wheels.
Details.The instrumentation (85-mph speedo, tach, odometer/trip odometer,
neutral indicator, high beam light, oil warning light, turn signal indicator and
fuel gauge) resides in a massive handlebar/fork-mounted pod. There are toggle
switches for flashing emergency lights and a pair of auxiliary lights. The huge
ignition switch, located at the steering head, includes an integral fork lock.
Hand controls are typical Harley stuff: big and sturdy. The push-they're-on,
let-up-they're-off turn signals are still with us. As are the floorboards, the
brake pedal inspired by a GMC half-ton, and the heel-and-toe shifter; the
floorboards (which have rubber-mounted, shock-absorbing inset rubber pads), the
passenger pegs, and the two-piece shifter all are adjustable. The new seat is
wide (15 in.) and fairly low (30.5 in.), with a large passenger backrest. A
locking panel hides the filler cap for the 5-gal. gas tank. The sidestand is
big, and locks in the down position.
The classic Electra Glide fairing, with adjustable-height windshield,
incorporates the single 55-60w quartz-halogen headlight. There's a new, tiny,
updraft deflector plate at the bottom of the lower triple clamp. The turn
signals and auxiliary lights are affixed to a fork bracket. The hard luggage —
saddlebags and King Tour Pak (read that as trunk) — is detachable. The luggage
comes with plug-in running lights, and there are chrome tube bumpers for the
Those are the nuts and bolts of the new FLHTC. Now, for how it works.
Switch on, side-mounted choke out, throttle cracked and starter button
pressed, the big Twin starts right up. Not much noise, just a nicely muffled,
big-Harley chugga chugga BOOM, chugga chugga BOOM. Unless there's ice on the
ground, the choke can be pushed in after a few seconds, and the bike ridden
away. There are no real flat spots, but the engine will stumble briefly
if it's suddenly rolled on under 2000 rpm. Other than that, it pulls eagerly
from idle to the 5500-rpm redline.
Until the Blockhead performs in front of the stopwatch, it just feels like a
good running Harley, maybe a little quicker and more responsive. At the
dragstrip its performance demonstrated all the good things the new engine does.
Quarter-mile times are a second quicker than the Shovelhead dresser. Elapsed
time was 14.9 sec, trap speed was 86.62 mph. Top speed is an even 96 mph,
measured in our usual half-mile radar run. That's 5 mph faster, which takes a
lot of additional horsepower. Keep in mind, though, that the FLHTC is very much
a specialized, single-purpose bike — its home is on the open highway, not the
boulevard, not the go-for-pinks street drag, not the Kenny Roberts replica
canyon road. There's power here, but it's the real-world, pass-that-semi kind of
power. Predictable, reliable, useable, waiting for you in every gear. If you
were to consider performance as a measure of how well a bike does what it's
meant to do, then the FLHTC is a high-performance bike.
The gearbox rows through the five gears smoothly, surely, with the usual,
resounding Harley clunk, and finding neutral is a snap. Even riders new to heeljand-toe
shifting grew quickly accustomed to the task. One oft-repeated complaint: clutch
pull is very stiff, so stiff that some of our riders avoided routes through
stop-and-go urban traffic.
Gearing is ideal for long, open-road hauls, letting the engine lope at
freeway speeds; in fifth, 2650 rpm'll get you 60 mph, and that's exactly where
the engine seems the happiest. The tall gearing contributes to fuel economy. On
the Cycle World test loop, the Harley was good for 47.4 mpg. The FLHTC's
abundant reserve of torque means there's rarely any need to downshift for power.
The FLHTC is not especially maneuverable. Leaned over and turned, the FLHTC
wants to straighten up and go all-ahead full. Like a two-wheeled gyroscope, the
bike requires a real, conscious effort to keep it heeled over. What it is, is
marvelously stable — not surprising when you consider the long wheel-base (63
in.); the self-centering fork geometry; the heavy steering; the fat, near-flat,
automotive-like profile of the Dunlops; and the low eg of that hefty weight (762
lb., with a half-tank of fuel). In its element, on a straight, deserted, country
road, the FLHTC is an effortless delight to ride.
Braking is a surprise, a pleasant one. The FLHTC actually stops, and stops
well, gracias here to the new front brake set-up. The Harley stopped from 30 mph
in 39 feet, and from 60 mph in 138 feet. Not spectacular, maybe, but it's an
improvement over some previous models. Lever effort is the lightest of any
Harley in memory, and it's possible to lock the front brake, Scout's honor. The
high-mounted rear brake pedal takes something of a time-consuming Texas two-step
to operate: you have to Slide your foot along the floorboard from under the
pedal, before you can kick up and use the brake. A bit hairy in panic stops,
At idle, the V-Twin still quakes as much as ever, but once the FLHTC begins
to move, the vibration disappears, soaked up by the engine's rubber mounts, the
shock-absorbing floorboards, the rubber-mounted handlebars and the generously
padded seat. The bike simply does not vibrate. What's there to say about the
mounting system, except that it works? Ditto, the anti-dive.
The new seat is firm, but not hard, just right for long-distance riding. The
rider sits in the usual knees-up (right one against air cleaner), legs-out,
arms-raised position peculiar to Harleys. The handlebars sweep up and back, the
grips bending to a lazy, reach-out-and-they're-there angle. The instruments are
easy to read, and the controls (except for the turn signal switches, see above)
are convenient to use. The excellent quartz-halogen headlight throws a bright,
wide beam, and the auxiliary lights are just icing on the cake.
The FLHTC is genuinely comfortable to ride, for any distance over almost any
sort of road surface. The one exception seems to be urban freeways, at least the
kind with regular expansion joints. On that kind of choppy surface, the bike
sets up a hopping oscillation that's irritating and wearisome. We made all the
suspension adjustments we could think of, but never completely tamed the
The fairing provides excellent protection, and buffeting is nonexistent for
both the rider and the passenger. Behind the fairing, the air is still, calm.
Ridden through a downpour, it's dry. The height of the windshield is easily
adjusted. The luggage has more cargo room than some small cars; two full-face
helmets will fit in the trunk with room left over. The bags and trunk are easily
and quickly detached. With the trunk removed, there's a nifty, chrome luggage
rack. Our one gripe with the luggage had to do with the latches. The lids close
and latch easily and securely enough, but they're almost impossible to open with
one hand; they must be pushed down and the latch buttons depressed at the same
time. A small thing, but maddening.
The FLHTC is available in black, candy red, indigo blue, and two-tones of
tan/cream and claret red/rose metallic. Our test bike was the red/rose two-tone;
the paint was deep and lustrous and rich. The chrome shone like jewelry. It was
a pretty sight, in motion or parked. The bike caused a commotion wherever it was
ridden. Down to the abundance of alien screws and the sheen of expanses of
polished metal, our FLHTC represented the finest of fit and finish.
The 1984 FLHTC is a number of things. First, obviously, it's a comfortable,
reliable, durable, well-performing touring bike, one you can pack with a
passenger and a lot of gear, and ride to the end of your rainbow. Then, it's a
thoughtfully conceived, carefully executed, major overhaul that manages to blend
the tradition of the past with ideas of the present, to come up with something
that's both modern, yet familiar.
Most important it's proof the Eagle is still soaring.
Source CYCLE WORLD