Sampling three new Harley-Davidsons at the 79th annual Daytona Bike Week
Words by Kali Kotoski
Photos by Kali Kotoski, Brian J. Nelson and Joy Burgess
On a straight flat stretch of Highway 314A on the southwest edge of the Ocala National Forest — the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi — it was easy to feel lost within the vast surrounding swampland. Locals consider this part of Central Florida to be a “bit scary” in a Twilight Zone or X-Files sort of way. The Spanish moss-lined dirt roads are home to potholes and sand that can eat a small car for lunch, locals with guns are wary and potentially hostile to strangers, and nobody dares to trespass passed the no trespassing signs.
Luckily, I was riding with a Harley-Davidson press fleet comprised of four veteran journos and two corporate types riding lead and chase to ensure proper behavior.
This was the second year in a row I was invited to test Harley’s mid-year bike releases, which for 2020 comprised the new Softail Standard, the CVO Road Glide and the 30th Anniversary Fat Boy — the infamous model designed by Willie G. that debuted in 1990 and is known for its massive presence. If you don’t know what I am talking about, check out the bike’s cameo in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Instant American icon!
The plan was to give each model a go by making frequent stops and playing musical chairs. So, given that I was the tallest of the journos (and had never had the opportunity to enjoy a top-shelf bike from Harley’s Custom Vehicles Operations program), I opted first for the luxurious CVO Road Glide. And with a base price of a cool $40,999, the bike certainly delivered. With a Milwaukee-Eight 117 powertrain — the largest factory-installed displacement offered by H-D — it went comfortably fast with a rated 125-foot pounds of torque and took the rare Florida curve as elegantly as an Olympian speed skater.
The Glide hosts Harley’s suite of technological advancements, including the Reflex Defensive Rider System (RDRS), the Boom! audio system, heated grips and also exclusively features the Knockout 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels. The CVO Road Glide is the only touring model fitted with the 21-inch front and has re-tuned suspension and ABS. Speaking of braking, I had the opportunity to try out the ABS in a very real yellow-light/intersection incident and appreciated its awesomeness fully for the rest of the week. The CVO Road Glide is deceptively beautiful with its premium Sand Dune monotone finish and pearl topcoat.
Next came the Softail Standard. I was very much looking forward to this one simply because of my status as cash-strapped, debt-drowning Millennial who is willing to put motorcycle ownership above home ownership. Some in the motoverse have called it a gateway drug for those uninitiated to the Motor Co. But I would call it more of a mid-concert bump in the bathroom stall. One thing certain is that it is a blank canvas, just itching to be customized. At $13,599, it may shed that loud and proud, look-at-me style Harleys are known for, but with the Milwaukee-Eight 107 powertrain it doesn’t sacrifice the performance we all lust after. And plus, there are four bolt-on kit options that allow for an array of customized options. Day Tripper, Performance, Coastal and Touring packages are designed to fit a rider’s needs and wants.
I would have loved to try the Day Tripper package that replaces the mid-controls for forward-set ones, because honestly, as is, the bike isn’t for anyone over 5’11”. But it is still one hell of a spunky machine and wonderfully light. Just don’t release the clutch too quickly because there is nothing to hold back the punches. I remain optimistic that if marketed correctly, instead of just being a mid-year release that gets lost in obscurity, the Softail Standard could prove to be a panacea to Harley’s corporate woes, maybe not in the U.S. but surely in Europe and Asia. It is the bike I have been craving for — simple elegance, lean Bobber attitude, 110-foot pounds of torque and those 14 letters on the tank. Just move the controls, please.
The last of the mid-year releases I rode was the 30th Anniversary Fat Boy — a dark-finished ode to an icon. It retains all the sex appeal of the original, just adapted for present appetites. Only 2,500 of these are set to be manufactured, each serialized with a number plate on the gas tank. Powered by a 114 Milwaukee-Eight it had plenty of power and felt sporty and light, and it was easy and comfortable to keep up with the CVO Road Glide. A bit pricey at $21,949, but it is a collector’s bike and well worth it, in my opinion. If you’ve ridden any of the new Softails, you would recognize the taut, lightweight and agile feel. The 30th is just darn good looking and sure to get the street praise it deserves.
While Daytona Bike Week is great for “work,” it is also great for the “work fun” of watching the bikes cruise down main street, drinking a few too many and shaking off the clinical hopelessness of the winter months. Problem was that on day two, temps barely broke 55 degrees and that is just plain wrong. But as it warmed the crowds grew and I was glad Harley loaned me a Low Rider S to zip around the sights.
The Iron Horse Saloon in Ormond Beach is probably my favorite destination for a beer, live music and some sirloin tip and potatoes. And it is one of the best places for people watching; despite the cold there were a couple of bare, glittery ass cheeks on show with torsos covered by a hoodie.
I met an older woman there who told me her name was Sunny. “I am always somewhere,” she said.
This was Sunny’s first time to Daytona in five years. Previously, she and her husband and son would ride down every year. Lifting her portable oxygen tank with one hand and holding a Bloody Mary in the other, she made it clear she would murder me if I stole her stool. We talked about the recent confirmed case of coronavirus in Volusia county and then she unabashedly educated me about her support for the incumbent president.
“The only thing I will say, though, is with me having four back-to-back heart attacks and no longer on the transplant list, free healthcare would be nice,” she said. “I am not even that old. Luckily, I have my son to support me.”
According to her, Daytona Bike Week is getting better and better, mainly because the economy is good, bringing out the less greasy greasers.
“People come out here because it is nice and not a shithole,” she said.
As Thunder Press goes to print, Daytona Bike Week is still happening, so we do not have any firm numbers on attendance or crime stats. Local reports claim the coronavirus has been a non-issue, hotel occupancy is on par with previous years and there has been little crime besides drunk brawling, according to Daytona Beach Police Department Information Officer Messod Bendayan, who I reached by phone.
“There was four-person motorcycle accident on Monday night right in front of the speedway. Three died on the scene,” he said. “That is all the info I can give until the sergeant signs off on the press release.”
So, folks, we are all for partying hard, just party smart and stay safe and don’t mix downers with downers, or downers with uppers unless it is a vodka Red Bull shot. Or maybe just stick to the booze and leave the candy for another time. We want to see all of you down there for the 80th next year! There’s bound to be new Harleys to ride, too. And we’re lovin’ that.