A clean break with tradition
Putting a fresh face on an old favorite
I stopped off for fuel one last time before the final push to the house. It was cold and pissing rain and had been for the last 75 miles since topping Altamont Pass and diving down into the early afternoon commute traffic of the East Bay. I topped off the tank, flipped down my face shield, promptly fogging it up with the first breath, and rode on half-blind the remaining distance, arriving home almost exactly seven and a half hours from the time I’d left Harley’s Fleet Center down in Carson, diving into the late morning commute traffic of the L.A. sprawl. A distance of some 475 miles. In 7.5 hours. A new personal best for that run. It’s one stalwart road buddy, this new Dyna Wide Glide. You might say we’ve bonded.
And that comes as something of a surprise.
The name remains the same, and so does the distinctive wide-set raked-out front fork configuration from whence it derived, but beyond that vestige of its precursors, the 2010 FXDWG Dyna Wide Glide is a thoroughgoing rethinking of the long-running breed, both stylistically and functionally. And I’ve long been enamored of those precursors; big bikes for big riders with a preference for a kicked-back cruising posture and an appreciation for a mechanically refined homage to the outsized choppers of yesteryear. Where once the Wide Glide name was synonymous with a long, rangy, chrome-bedazzled, plush-saddled mount with generous cornering clearance and legitimate two-up touring capabilities, it’s now become something almost entirely different.
And that comes as no surprise.
A dip in the rethink tank
After a final brief curtain call in 2008 when it appeared only as a limited 105th Anniversary edition, the Wide Glide was escorted offstage and sent to design rehab where it abruptly fell in with the Dark Custom Culture crowd. That’s how it goes in Milwaukee rehab these days. With rare exception, everything that issues from the Milwaukee tinkerers of late is flash-seared with the Dark Customtreatment. In 2010 alone that treatment has produced the Fat Boy Lo, Sportster Forty-Eight, CVO Ultra Classic BLK and XR1200X , though in those instances the treatment is largely a cosmetic reworking of existing forms. In the case of the reissued Wide Glide it goes a lot farther than that, and that’s because by the time of the model’s last full-production run in 2007, the FXSTC Softail Custom had reappeared on the scene as a machine with a nearly identical poise and personality, rendering the Wide Glide somewhat redundant and ripe for a repurposing. And once relieved of any dictate to redo the Wide Glide in a fashion faithful to its former self, the Dark designers went ape.
Correction: They went anti-ape, replacing those signature hangers with tall stout risers and a flat handlebar. They proceeded from there to strike the fat wide-consoled 5-gallon fuel tank, long bobtail rear fender, and pillowy capacious seating capacity. In their stead appeared a slim-consoled 4.7-gallon tank raised up in the front Frisco-style, a chopped rear fender wrapping a thick 180mm tire, and Spartan two-piece seating comprised of a shaved operator saddle and minimal pillion.
To those revisions they added a low black “wire” sissy bar and side-mount license plate frame, and they eliminated the conventional taillight altogether, integrating all signaling and illumination functions into the turn indicator pods. On top of all that they went and slammed the suspension, lowering the bike a full two inches in both saddle height and ground clearance. And then they pulled out the Dark Custom palette and applied it liberally on everything from the wheel rims to the headlamp, risers, mirrors, motor, and fender struts.
All of these changes serve the stated “old school chopper style” objective of the Wide Glide’s makeover in the most primal sense of that term, and they do it convincingly. Less convincing, at least in the eye of this beholder, is the exhaust system they chose. The “Tommy Gun 2-1-2” is decidedly new school, having been designed for the thoroughly modern FXDF Fat Bob, and on that model it’s pitch perfect; the stocky, compact headers and mufflers complement that model’s beefy physique, and the slotted heat shield complements the slotted disc wheels. Installed on the lean swept profile of the Wide Glide, it’s something of a mismatch and visual distraction (albeit one easily remedied with, say, any of the staggered dual setups found elsewhere on the Dyna platform or the aftermarket).
With the saddle height of a swayback Shetland, the new Wide Glide is ideally suited to short and shorter riders, and it’s not bad for us tall boys, either. Not when you kick in the forward foot controls and reach-for-’em hand grips. That ergonomic constellation makes the bike well-suited to a truly wide range of body types. The view from the saddle is pretty awesome, too, especially the burly and super-sanitary risers and handlebar with all wiring routed internally. A clean, simple console and dash rise to easily viewable height with a minimum of shiny surface to reflect the sun into your eyes. It’s an easy machine to mount and operate and whip around at slow speeds, and a surprisingly comfortable machine for pounding on the Interstate miles—at least for the operator. It’s also an agile mount for splitting lanes in urban traffic congestion at a lively clip, don’t I know.
Where the Wide Glide doesn’t excel is on twisty back roads. As rakish as it looks, and as user-friendly as it is in most instances, the dramatic lowering of the chassis robs a lot of cornering clearance. The exhaust system robs some more, and it’s the muffler that grounds out first on the right side, which can be unsettling at times. Put a passenger on the back and it’s even more pronounced. That’s assuming, however, that you can get anyone to ride on the back. The pillion is narrow, dense and uncomfortable for starters, but it’s that sissy bar pushing its hard steel right into the sacrum that’s a real pain. I have this on good—and vociferous—authority from My Personal Nurse who, after a relatively short ride along to snap photos, vowed never to return to the perch.
Fine. I wasn’t going to take her along anymore, anyway. Certainly not on the type of long-distance, foul weather, overnight gear-toting duty the bike endured at my hands. For that kind of work you want the whole bike to yourself, and you also want to outfit it with some common-sense accessories starting with saddlebags, which the good wrenches at the H-D Fleet Center obligingly installed. They’re the Leather Throw-Over Saddlebags from Harley P&A, and they’re about as old school as saddlebags get. They require the installation of a set of Chrome Saddlebag Supports, and the whole works will set you back about $500, but no relocation of the turn indicators or license plate bracket is required for the install. These units hang at a jaunty slant on the Wide Glide which is an unusual but not unpleasing look, and they hold a fair amount of gear. They also have a broad leather yoke that serves as a sizeable packing platform across the pillion. Campers take note. What they don’t do well is hold their shape when empty, and they’re also not weather-tight so moisture gets inside when riding on rain-soaked roadways. Packing your stuff in plastic bags is called for.
For the long ride in the wet and cold, I also slapped on a Detachable Windscreen, and resorted to my beloved heated jacket liner and gauntlets. Harley’s Detachables are arguably the most elegantly engineered and lovable accessories you can affix to any Harley model that doesn’t come stock with a windscreen, and it’s practically indispensible for serious road work. With all of the foregoing additions, the Wide Glide proves an able and amiable long-distance mount, and a satisfyingly comfortable one as well. Despite its slender profile, the operator seat is padded enough and roomy enough to provide adequate cushion and weight distribution for all-day occupation. In the event that you want or have to do some two-up traveling, the passenger accommodations of the Wide Glide can be improved measurably with the addition of a $59.95 Slip-Over Passenger Backrest Pad to keep your partner’s spine off cold steel.
As we recall, I started this review with a spellbinding account of my final gas stop on the way to a record-setting dash home from L.A. In fact, that stop was but 12 miles from the house, and I knew as a matter of experience that I should have no trouble covering that distance and then some with the remaining fuel on tap, despite the urgent warning of the low fuel idiot light that had been glowing for a spell at that point. Call me paranoid. Call me a slow learner. Call me tired of carping about it, but in spite of my acquired instinct to ignore the hysteria of the notoriously erratic idiot light, once it’s illuminated and the tripmeter switches over from displaying miles traveled to miles remaining, and the miles remaining count down until just an ominous “Lo Fuel” message appears in the window, I go for gas. I always fall for it. Especially when it’s pouring rain and the prospect of having gotten it wrong this time means sitting soaked and feeling stupid on the shoulder of the road. This time I pumped in 3.8 gallons—meaning I had almost a whole gallon still in reserve.
Pretty funny. “Idiot” light. Get it?