2016 Harley-Davidsons First Ride Review

Project Rushmore upgrades include a beefier fork, lighter cast wheels, Reflex linked brakes with ABS, One-Touch latches and more. (Photography by Riles & Nelson)
Project Rushmore upgrades include a beefier fork, lighter cast wheels, Reflex linked brakes with ABS, One-Touch latches and more. (Photography by Riles & Nelson)

Just two years after thoroughly updating its Touring lineup under the Project Rushmore banner, for 2016 Harley-Davidson is launching three new models and bringing several back with some significant improvements. Rider had the opportunity to sample them all on an evening cruise around Portland, Oregon, and on a 200-mile loop from Portland along the Columbia River and around Mount Hood. Here’s a summary of the new stuff, followed by a closer look at the production bikes. Complete details are on our website at ridermag.wpengine.com.

Hidden in the Road Glide Ultra’s fairing lowers are radiators for the Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103, which makes 10.7 percent more torque than the standard 103.
Hidden in the Road Glide Ultra’s fairing lowers are radiators for the Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103, which makes 10.7 percent more torque than the standard 103.

Joining the Road Glide and Road Glide Special is the new Road Glide Ultra, the third model to receive the liquid-cooled Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103 powertrain. Two new limited-edition Softails, the Fat Boy S and Softail Slim S, feature the Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 engine formerly reserved for CVO models, and the High Output Twin Cam 103 engine is now standard in all other Softail models and the Dynas (except the Street Bob, which is the least expensive Dyna and is part of the H-D1 customization program).

For the first time, the CVOs electronic cruise control is available on all Softail models, and is standard equipment on the Softail Deluxe, Fat Boy S, Softail Slim S and Heritage Softail Classic. The low-saddled, touring-friendly Heritage Softail Classic also gets refreshed styling and improved saddlebags in addition to the High Output 103 powertrain. The Sportsters get their fair share of attention, too, with all-new front and rear suspension, improved seats for all models and some cool updates on the Iron 883 and Forty-Eight 1200. Finally, for the production bikes, new front and rear brakes stop the entry-level Street 750 and 500 motorcycles.

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Harley’s collection of limited-production Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) models, aka “big wheels, big paint, big motors” with factory warranties, goes from four to three with the departure of the CVO Softail Deluxe (the only motorcycle not returning for 2016, by the way), but the CVO Limited, CVO Road Glide Ultra and CVO Street Glide are back with new paint, tire pressure monitoring systems and more. You can read all about these bikes on our website.

Road Glide Ultra

The Road Glide Ultra’s Triple Splitstream vents in the sharknose fairing eliminate buffeting, and the 1.9-inch taller handlebar and 13.5-inch windscreen improve comfort and wind protection.
The Road Glide Ultra’s Triple Splitstream vents in the sharknose fairing eliminate buffeting, and the 1.9-inch taller handlebar and 13.5-inch windscreen improve comfort and wind protection.

Harley says that owners of its Road Glide and Road Glide Special models ride the most miles per year of any of its customers. They might put on even more with the cooler-running Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103 engine on tap, which powers the new Road Glide Ultra. A combination of air cooling and precision liquid cooling allows the higher-compression engine to maintain peak performance under higher loads, and contributes to its higher peak torque output over the standard HO Twin Cam. Just as with the Ultra Limited we last tested in August 2015, you can really feel the extra power, and the Twin Cooled V-twin seems to run a little smoother and doesn’t exude nearly as much uncomfortable engine heat.

The Road Glide’s central feature is its “sharknose” frame-mounted fairing, which gives the bike lighter, more precise steering than the Electra Glide’s fork-mounted “batwing.” After a two-year absence, the Road Glide returned for 2015 (November 2014) with an all-new sharknose that is more stylish, aerodynamic and flows air more smoothly with less buffeting due to its Triple Splitstream vent system. The 2016 Road Glide Ultra also benefits from all of the 2014 Project Rushmore enhancements, including a new 49mm fork, Reflex linked brakes with ABS, sleeker fenders, One-Touch bag latches and vents, lighter cast wheels, improved hand controls, instrumentation and comprehensive infotainment systems.

The CVO Limited (shown), CVO Road Glide Ultra and CVO Street Glide are all powered by the Screamin’ Eagle Twin-Cooled Twin Cam 110 V-twin.
The CVO Limited (shown), CVO Road Glide Ultra and CVO Street Glide are all powered by the Screamin’ Eagle Twin-Cooled Twin Cam 110 V-twin.

I spent the better part of the loop ride on a new Road Glide Ultra, which also has new seats and a 1.9-inch higher handlebar than the Road Glide and Road Glide Special. Passenger accommodations are more generous and restyled luggage includes sleeker hard saddlebags and a new Tour-Pak shape that offers 4-percent more capacity than the previous design. With the Splitstream vents open the wind flows smoothly over the 13.5-inch windscreen without buffeting, the seating position is relaxed and comfortable and the bike has quick, easy handling at moderate speeds. When the pace picks up in corners, a bit more stability would be welcome, as the handling begins to feel a bit vague and rubbery. Notably the heavier CVO Road Glide Ultra doesn’t seem to share this trait, though Harley says it wears the same wheels, tires and suspension. The Road Glide Ultra starts at $25,699 and comes in six paint options.

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Fat Boy S and Softail Slim S

New for 2016 are two limited-edition S Series models, including the Softail Slim S (above) and Fat Boy S, which are powered by the Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 V-twin. The Olive Gold paint job with star graphic on the tank pays homage to Harley’s WWII-era WLA military models.
New for 2016 are two limited-edition S Series models, including the Softail Slim S (above) and Fat Boy S, which are powered by the Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 V-twin. The Olive Gold paint job with star graphic on the tank pays homage to Harley’s WWII-era WLA military models.

Given the ready availability of a Road Glide Ultra, I spent just enough time on a Fat Boy S to appreciate the effect of jamming the Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 motor into a Softail cruiser. These limited-edition S bikes really move, and the 110 is surprisingly silky and has a great sound, too. Styled with minimal chrome, the bobber-styled Softail Slim S and fat-custom slammed Fat Boy S have cruise control, ABS and H-D’s security system. The Slim S starts at $18,499 and comes in Vivid Black or Olive Gold with a star graphic reminiscent of the WLA military models. The Fat Boy S starts at $19,699 and comes in Black Denim or Vivid Black.

Dark Custom Sportsters

Powered by the liquid-cooled Revolution X V-twin, for 2016 the Street 750 and 500 models get upgraded brakes, a tidy-looking wiring harness and new colors.
Powered by the liquid-cooled Revolution X V-twin, for 2016 the Street 750 and 500 models get upgraded brakes, a tidy-looking wiring harness and new colors.

Harley thought it would be cool to take its restyled Sportsters and updated Street 750 out on a night ride around Portland’s bumpy, potholed city streets and a winding loop in the foothills, just right for sampling the Sportsters’ new suspension and seats, and the improved brakes on the Street. Harley’s bare-bones urban brawler, the Forty-Eight XL1200X, has a fat 130mm front tire and a peanut tank.

The S Series cruisers are stuffed with the Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 V-twin, which makes a claimed 109 lb-ft of torque and was previously exclusive to CVO models.
The S Series cruisers are stuffed with the Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 V-twin, which makes a claimed 109 lb-ft of torque and was previously exclusive to CVO models.

For 2016, changes include a beefier 49mm cartridge fork with progressive springs, a large fork brace and bigger triple clamps, and emulsion rear shocks with progressive springs and a 50mm range of preload adjustment. The Forty-Eight also has a redesigned seat for more comfort, and new 9-spoke cast aluminum wheels that save 8 pounds of unsprung weight. The look is bulldog tough, and the grunty power of the 1200 Sportster engine is great. I found the suspension and seat combination responsive and comfortable on smooth and winding roads, but the Forty-Eight has very little cornering clearance, and on Portland’s cracked and bumpy surface streets the ride was stiff and harsh. The Forty-Eight starts at $11,199 and comes in six paint options.

The Sportsters’ new suspension shines on the 2016 Iron 883, even though Harley says it has the same internals as the Forty-Eight’s—maybe it’s the Iron’s new solo seat, which has more padding and a new tuck-and-roll style. Although the 883 Evolution V-twin is a little wheezy climbing hills, the power is fine for its intended entry-level audience, and the bike soaked up Portland’s bumps well enough that I could stay in the seat over them. The Iron 883 starts at $8,849 and comes in four colors that complement its blacked-out, back-alley bruiser styling.

Heritage Softail Classic

In addition to the High Output Twin Cam 103, the Heritage Softail Classic gets cruise control and refreshed styling.
In addition to the High Output Twin Cam 103, the Heritage Softail Classic gets cruise control and refreshed styling.

Refreshed styling with a look reminiscent of the Hydra-Glide models of the 1950s adorns the Heritage Softail Classic, which is a nice combo of big twin, low seat, quick-release windshield and saddlebags for cruiser touring. This year it has fewer studs on the saddlebags, seat and backrest, a new tank badge and new conchos on the leather saddlebags. The saddlebags also have a new internal support structure to help maintain their shape. But the best new feature is electronic cruise control, which brings a new level of comfort and convenience to the bike. It could use more cornering clearance for this touring rider, but otherwise the Heritage is a fine long-distance machine. It starts at $17,349 and comes in eight color options.

Powered by the air-cooled, 73ci Evolution V-twin, the Sportster Forty-Eight joins the Dark Custom ranks for 2016, and it gets better suspension, a more comfortable seat and lighter wheels.
Powered by the air-cooled, 73ci Evolution V-twin, the Sportster Forty-Eight joins the Dark Custom ranks for 2016, and it gets better suspension, a more comfortable seat and lighter wheels.
The Sportster Iron 883 is a smaller, cheaper Dark Custom but gets similar upgrades.
The Sportster Iron 883 is a smaller, cheaper Dark Custom but gets similar upgrades.
The High Output Twin Cam 103 V-twin is now standard in most Softail and Dyna models, such as the Fat Bob (shown).
The High Output Twin Cam 103 V-twin is now standard in most Softail and Dyna models, such as the Fat Bob (shown).
With slammed suspension, the Fat Boy S puts the rider just 24.25 inches off the pavement.
With slammed suspension, the Fat Boy S puts the rider just 24.25 inches off the pavement.

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