The ‘convertible’ Harley returns – and this time it works!
There seems to be a fad among manufacturers at the moment to produce oddball marriages of motorcycle genres. First we had Yamaha with its XT500-styled, XVS960 cruiser-based, retro-trailie-custom SCR950. Then along came Honda with its ‘adventure scooter’, the X-ADV. And now it seems to be Harley-Davidson’s turn, with this ‘sport-cruiser’, the Sport Glide.
But don’t be put off. Despite initial reservations, having now ridden Harley’s newcomer at the world press launch in Tenerife, we can confidently report that, not only is this latest addition to H-D’s revitalized Softail family actually a familiar concept and a reworking of a machine the American firm first debuted in the 1990s, it also works impressively well.
The Sport Glide is the latest addition to Harley’s fully-revitalised and now nine-strong family of Softail cruisers. To recap: H-D’s conventional cruiser family (as opposed to its Touring machines and smaller capacity Sportsters) formerly comprised of ‘Dynas’ – twin shock bikes like the Low Rider and Street Bob – or ‘Softails’, usually more retro-styled bikes with hidden rear suspension to give the classic ‘Hardtail’ look. Classic Softails included the Fat Boy and Heritage.
Now, for 2018, and as a result of what the company claims is its biggest product development programme ever, Harley has combined these two families under the Softail banner and given them all variations of its all-new, lighter, stronger and now monoshock Softail frame, grafted in the similarly updated (and now partially liquid-cooled) ‘Milwaukee Eight’ V-twin (which first debuted on 2017’s Touring range). They have also refreshed the styling and spec of each fully, too, to include LED lights, fancy clocks and more.
The result is an improvement in every way. Harley’s 2018 Softails go better, handle better, look better and are equipped better too.
Which brings us to the Sport Glide, the latest addition to this Softail family with the key word there being ‘addition’. For while those eight other bikes, though 100% new, were replacements for existing models, the Sport Glide is an all new one, which is why H-D chose to launch it separately.
The idea is for a new, more versatile and practical cruiser that combines the best elements of bikes like the Low Rider with the long distance, every day ability of Harley’s tourers.
To achieve that, Harley has revisited a technique it first employed in the 1990s. Back in 1994, H-D introduced its Dyna Low Rider Convertible, which was effectively a Low Rider with the addition of a detachable screen and panniers for added touring ability. In truth, however, although able, that bike wasn’t a sales hit. This was mostly due to looks that only a mother could love, but also because the convertible nature of the bike was limited by requiring tools (and a fair bit of patience) to remove said panniers and screen.
This time round, however, things are reassuringly different – for three reasons. First, the base bike is very much a ‘good ‘un’. As already mentioned, all of Harley’s new Softails are impressive dynamically and the same is certainly true of the new Sport Glide. It uses the middling, 30º head angle version of the new Softail frame, along with the narrower swing arm. This, with a ‘practical’ 18/16inch wheel combo plus the rigid, 43mm USD forks from the Fat Bob, adds up to a cruiser that steers precisely and has a pleasingly plush ride. Yes, the riding position is slightly ‘bum low and feet forward’, but it’s also natural, comfortable and handles well. In addition, the uprated, 107 cubic inch (1745cc) and now 86bhp Harley twin is decently punchy and sufficiently tractable.
Second, the detachable fairing and panniers are classy, easy-to-use bits of kit. The ‘mini-Batwing’ fairing detaches in seconds via two fork leg clips (they’re inaccessible with the steering lock on to prevent thieves) and takes a decent amount of windblast off your chest. If you want more, a higher screen option is offered. The leather-look panniers are rigid and hold just about enough for a weekend away. They lock shut via an easy to use clip and are secured by internal hand-operated clips which, again, means they can be removed in seconds.
And third, and perhaps best of all, far from the dog’s breakfast the old Dyna Convertible resembled in the ‘90s, the Sport Glide is a slick, cool-looking machine with bags of quality touches (cruise control is standard, for example) and an identity all its own. Without the panniers and fairing it’s a classic Harley cruiser. With them, it’s a mini Street Glide or similar – but at a fraction of the price.
Because, yes, I almost forgot, the Sport Glide is great value, too. Sure it’s not perfect. In my view a 114ci engine option, for a bike with ‘Sport’ in its name, would have been nice’; the tank-mounted clocks are a little out of view and the wind protection offered, too, is fairly minimal. But all of those are just quibbles. Starting at just shy of £15K – when even a basic Street Glide, for example, is over £20K – makes the new Sports Glide not just versatile, but great value, too. Welcome back ‘Convertible Harley’, we knew you’d get it right in the end…
|Engine Type||V-twin, pushrod, four-valves, partial water cooling|
|Bore X Stroke||100x111mm|
|Maximum Power||86 hp (64 kW) @ 5020 rpm|
|Maximum Torque||145Nm @ 3250rpm|
|Front Suspension||43mm upside down fork|
|Fuel Tank||18.9 litres|
Insure your Harley Davidson through Carole Nash.