By Art Hall
Basic English composition says when writing a story you should have an introductory paragraph – that is tell what you are going to talk about, then the body of the story where you say what you are talking about and then a conclusion where you say what you said and make the final wrap-up. In this story I am going to tell you about my impressions and opinions of the new 2014 FLHXS, or more commonly known as the Street Glide Special.
The first impression is made by seeing the bike; forming an opinion as to its appearance. You see an aggressive slimmed down profile with great fit and finish colored by meticulously applied paint and quite well appointed with just the right amount of flash. Next you get in the saddle and feel the ergonomics of the designed engineering for rideability. Lastly it is time to hit the road and form some opinions of how it handles and the functionality of the machine in total.
The first thing I do when I pick up a new bike for a test ride is to go over the entire bike inspecting all surfaces for any damage that may be left behind by previous riders, which covers my behind. This also give me the opportunity to check out the fit and finish in detail, and as usual with all Harleys as of late it is as close to flawless as humanly possible. I have yet to find a manufactured cosmetic blemish. The attachment of all parts have seamless appearance lacking any awkward look of afterthought, except for the recent (2009) front motor mount which was necessitated by the new frame and relocation of parts under the gas tank. I am surprised that after 4 years of production some aftermarket engineer hasn’t devised an attractive solution for this bit of, what is in my opinion, an anomaly. This lack of alternative engineering seems to support the proposition that Harley did in fact solve the dilemma in the best way possible. Here is where I get to also notice the obvious visual changes made in design or controls.
From afar what strikes me immediately is the newly designed cast aluminum front wheel and matching rotor which really looks good having a 19 inch diameter and matching low profile tire. Form over function – while the form of the larger wheel looks really good the function is compromised by a bit harsher ride of the low profile tire while assuaged somewhat by the larger 49MM forks and stout triple tree fork assembly. This would be an opportune time to mention the new rear shock system which is spring loaded and easily adjustable (personal experience) taken from the CVO models.
Next I see a small item which for years has puzzled me, The locking gas cap. I always questioned why the motor company thought it was necessary for the cruiser line to have locking gas tanks in general, but I guess I never questioned the proper person. Anyway this year they addressed my issue and fitted a pushbutton latch which does away with the inconvenience of fumbling with a key to open it. Another of my pet peeves was the archaic saddlebag latching system which hadn’t been substantially redesigned IN DECADES. It frequently led to the car beside me waving frantically that my bag lid had flopped open due to my negligence of laboring over the not so easy task of securing it properly. The new one-hand foolproof (even for me) mechanism is a brilliant, long needed improvement and includes a more streamlined redesign as well.
Lastly is the inner faring and gauges which I always thought could use some tweaking providing better visibility of the gauges for taller people, replacement of a useless air temperature gauge and odd increments of measurements on the dials in general. All that was done in one clean sweep of major fairing redesign both in and out while embracing entry into the digital world of electronics in a large way.
OK – so I’ve previously read about these improvements which helped me spot them, now lets get on and see how they all feel and work together. Immediately the seat feels good, THANKS TO SOME NEW PADDING AND CLEVER STITCHING, sitting in it and not ON it even though the height is the same as last year at 26.1 inches.
For me and my arms length I have always felt the stock bars could come back about an inch for the most comfortable upright posture. The foot controls and floorboards feel familiar. The six speed transmission still feels the same and I still had problems finding neutral with the toe shifter. This caused me try something different which I have rarely done in the past and use the heel shifter for neutral, it worked every time.
The standard gloss black inner fairing has four automotive like gauges, tach, speedo, gas and volts all being larger gauges with larger numbers for easy reading. On the left hand controls the odometer switch provides an A & B setting and remaining range information but is a bit close to the left thumb and easily activated in error. There is a “Juke Box” compartment with a USB plug for your phone, or other electronic gadget you might like to plug in to operate with the new Boom Box Infotainment System with integrated GPS center. An upgraded 6.5 inch display screen is included in the Special package plus a premium radio with more watts and bigger speakers. Also the infotainment center switch is here and the cruise control. On the right side is the switch for oil pressure, ambient air temperature read on the touch screen and the EITMS function. Of course the turn signals, starter, shutoff, hi beam for the dual halogen headlight are all still present which leads to a quite busy set of controls WITH NEW JOYSTICKS that need some getting used to before they are second nature in selection, and operation.
I would still get new longer grips before taking delivery as the stock one’s are now too short for my hands with the clutch side most notably irritating the heel of my palm. Speaking of the new hydraulic clutch, it is surprisingly a bit of a hard pull and quite grabby which requires some getting used to for smooth starts and shifts. My demo developed a leak in the clutch lever plunger which could have been part of the recall for the master cylinder problem. The Reflex Linked Brakes have a 30% rear and 70% front apportioning system combined with the CURRENT anti-locks, giving superb stopping control that can really be felt.
The 103 High Output engine is said to be more powerful and without horsepower ratings its hard to know exactly how much more powerful, but it still is very smooth and yes feels like it is quite strong. What they do talk about is the new airbox giving better flow, a new cam design and lightweight pistons working together to give more torque in all ranges. All this translates into the practical experience of quicker acceleration to 3000 rpm’s on the freeway. In sixth gear this puts you at about 80 mph or within the range of a speeding ticket, while cruising at 70 the math calculates 2625 on the tachometer for a very relaxed and comfortable ride.
The newly designed fairing has a “wind tunnel” air scoop which reportedly works very well on the full sized windshields to reduce helmet buffeting significantly. I tried desperately at all speeds but could not feel any noticeable difference as the Glide comes with a four inch stock wind deflector rather than a full windshield.
In conclusion my opinion is one of a vastly improved touring bike that still looks like a customized streetster AND It was very well received and liked by all those who saw it . The changes have made for a noticeably superior vehicle with better handling, using integrated modern technology while still keeping the styling that makes it distinctively a Harley-Davidson. Everything worked as designed and my objections are far fewer and much less significant than those of the previous models. A 4-inch wind deflector, and a bit harsher ride may just be the feel of “ being in the wind” that you are looking for. We all have our druthers.
Thank you Larry and Lucky at Westminster H-D for your great input.