A bike for all seasons
Harley-Davidson has a long history of manufacturing bikes that can be converted from around-town motorcycles into touring models. The FXRT was likely the first iteration of this concept, adding saddlebags and a full fairing. During the Dyna years, there was the Dyna Convertible, a typical Dyna platform but with the addition of bags that could easily be taken on and off. The Switchback featured more additions, including a 103” Twin Cam, ABS, removable windshield, floorboards and FL front end, to name a few. I was among the riders who thought these were good attempts at providing a more cost-effective, lighter touring-type platform, and I looked forward to what Harley was coming out with as an addendum to the first round of new Softail offerings, especially when it was touted as a refined, more-modern version of the Convertible/Switchback.
I had the opportunity to log a significant number of miles in the saddle of the Sport Glide. I was not a huge fan of the styling when I initially saw the bike because it seemed stuck between two worlds. The rake of 30 degrees, which is right in the middle of the Softail range, gave it a stretched-out chopper-type look, while the bags and fairing gave it a bagger feel. I believe that was what the factory was after: they wanted to capitalize on the custom bagger trend and give riders the opportunity to have a bike that could be transformed from a commuter to a touring bike. My initial feeling, as I pulled out of the lot, was that the forward controls had me fairly stretched out (I’m six feet tall), and the seat height gave me the feeling of sitting in the bike instead of on it, which I much prefer. As I settled onto the road I noticed the comfortable hand positioning and agile handling characteristics. I had a long ride ahead of me, which I planned to use to get a true read on the new Softail platform and how it related to the Sport Glide, which is the ninth in the model line.
Prior to loading up the saddlebags, I decided to see how easy it was to take them off and put them back on. With a simple twist of a handle they easily came off. Putting them back on was just as easy and left very little room for error. The clamshell-type locking saddlebags are much smaller than standard, with a combined capacity of 14.2 gallons, which is slightly less than one Harley-Davidson full-size touring saddlebag on a Street Glide. It has a nice feel when opening, because it’s on a ram, which allows for smooth operation whether it’s full or empty. Because of the clamshell design, I couldn’t fit my laptop in the saddlebag, or a backpack, but I was able to bring enough clothes for an overnight trip. The saddlebags were what you would expect—functional for an overnight but not what you’d want if you were doing some heavy touring (although with a sissy bar and a tail rack—which are both available—you could convert this into a fully functional touring machine, strip it all off when you get to your destination and have a great-looking bike).
The fairing comes off very easily and is a snap to reconnect. When doing so, potential owners will want to make sure the clamps and the clamp area on the front end are free of dust and debris so as not to inadvertently scratch up the powder-coated tubes. Once the bike is completely stripped of all trappings, it resembles a tough around-town bike, with cast Mantis wheels, short front fender and inverted front end.
Much has been said about the redesigned Softail platform, mostly good. The 107-inch Milwaukee-Eight provides ample torque, which I put to the test at high speeds, passing and accelerating to catch up with the pack. It performed flawlessly and has more get up and go than previous Softail versions. The rigid-mounted drivetrain does register some typical feedback through the handlebars, specifically at low speeds, but once at normal operating speeds the vibration lets up. The 6-speed transmission is as smooth as any Harley transmission and shifts through the range well. The 43mm inverted front end allows for a much stiffer ride up front and, coupled with the knob-adjustable mono-shock in back, it becomes evident that Harley recognizes the need for their bikes to handle well to fulfill the V-Twin fantasy. The standard ABS functions as needed and provides enough braking power to slow down the torque-laden Milwaukee-Eight.
The electronics of the Sport Glide—and all the Softail models, for that matter—have been upgraded with an ultra-bright LED Daymaker headlight surrounded by a ring of more LED lights. The rear brake light gets the same treatment with LEDs, as do the turn signals, front and rear, aiding in visibility and safety. The Sport Glide comes standard with a USB charging port, as well as keyless ignition (which I love), and the Harley-Davidson smart security system. I still locked the neck on mine, which was simple and accessible.
I put several hundred miles on the Sport Glide, taking it up and down the coast of Florida, and, as I settled in, found the 25.7-inch seat height comfortable for cruising. The quick-detach fairing provides a modicum of shelter from the chilly sea air, but I can see the aftermarket providing a higher windscreen for better protection against the elements. The stock suspension provides a sporty feel leaning into turns, and I felt the front and rear suspension dampen the few turns through the loop that I could find. I got used to the stretch of the forward controls, and, as I started on my way back to return it, I pondered who might like this bike.
I can see someone who doesn’t like the styling of other Softail models lean toward this one, because it has so much traditional Harley styling yet offers the modern amenities and drivetrain found in all the Softail models. I can also see it appealing to smaller riders who want a touring bike, but one that’s lighter, with a lower seat height, lower center of gravity and lower price tag than any of the touring models. The last rider I can see going for the Sport Glide is the everyday rider—those of us who like cake but enjoy a good salad as well. The Sport Glide can cater to the duality of those of us who can only afford one bike. We want something cool but practical. It can’t break the bank but it has to have features. It can be taken on longer trips and pack a passenger, but it can also be stripped down and looks great parked in the heat of the summer.
The Sport Glide fills many different needs in today’s demanding modern riding population, but the only way to determine if it’s for you is to go ride one. I’m sure your local Harley dealership would be all too happy to have you throw a leg over one and take it for a spin. But be careful: if you do, you might ride home with one.