The least expensive motorcycle I could rent from EagleRider in Orlando with any cargo capacity whatsoever was any of a number of different Harley Davidsons. (The only less expensive rentals were a Sportster and a Triumph Bonneville and Thruxton.) At first I was disappointed to see that I couldn’t rent something like a Honda ST1300, or even a BMW K1200GT, which some of EagleRider’s other locations offer. But as my friend Kate, who recently took a trip to Florida herself, pointed out, Florida is flat and straight. I wouldn’t be going there for my usual kind of riding – I’d be going there to cruise around on a motorcycle in warm weather in January, and for that purpose, a Harley would actually be a decent fit. I’d never ridden any Harley before in my life, so I decided why not see what this Harley thing is all about. All available Harley models except the Sportster were the same price, so I chose the Street Glide based on it having hard bags, a “batwing” fairing, and good looks.
As I said in my trip report, the folks at EagleRider were great. I told them up front that though I’ve been riding for years I’d never ridden a Harley before, and they took the time to point out the differences between the Hondas and Suzukis I’ve always ridden before and the Harley. The controls were pretty straightforward, with the exception of the turn signals. Rather than a single switch on the left handlebar for both directions, there’s a button on the left handlebar for the left signal, and a button on the right handlebar for the right signal. This is actually a bit more intuitive than the normal switch, I think. It’s too bad that the push-on, push-off buttons didn’t seem to notice my pushes half the time, and left me either not signaling for turns or going around the world to the left after the turn. There is a self canceling feature, but it never worked consistently, and I could never figure out its algorithm. Other than that, it had the typical cruiser seating position, foot boards instead of pegs, and the extra shift lever that you push down with your heel to upshift instead of pulling up with your toe. Pulling up with your toe also works, but with the shifter so far forward I found it easier to use the extra lever with my heel.
Being fuel injected, there was no choke to worry about, which made it super easy to start. The hydraulic clutch engaged instantly and smoothly, and I was on my way. The first thing I noticed about riding this bike was how heavy it is. It weighs in at nearly 800lbs, compared to my 600lb PC800. Between that and the cruiser setup, it sort of lumbers through the turns. The streets and traffic of Orlando weren’t exactly the best place to get a feel for how to get this thing to turn, but I managed.
Once clear of city traffic, the engine torque was what I noticed next. I’m still used to downshifting for turns from my lower powered 500cc motorcycles. This was a 103ci motor, which translates to about 1700cc. That’s more displacement than some of my cars have had! And with a fraction of a car’s weight, it would get up to speed very quickly, and hold highway speeds effortlessly. It would turn barely more than 2000rpm at 65mph in 6th gear, and if I needed an extra burst of speed to pass someone there was no need to downshift. If I did, it would take off that much more, with a very satisfying roar. At idle, the whole bike shook, as you’d expect on a Harley, but once I started moving there was very little vibration at all. It felt like they specifically engineered the bike to shake like a Harley at idle, but smooth out at speed for comfort. And it worked.
The exhaust note was, of course, that stereotypical Harley rumble. With stock pipes, it was pleasant, particularly when taking advantage of its acceleration capability, but it was never excessively loud. During highway cruising (which was the majority of my riding in Florida), the wind noise was louder than the motor. I expect this on my PC800, but never expected it on a Harley, even with stock pipes.
The size, weight, and cruiser riding position took some getting used to. But once I was used to it, I had to agree with Kate – this bike was a good fit for cruising many miles up A1A along the Florida coast. And I really like the bright yellow color. The pictures I saw were of black bikes, which looked very cool, but I actually like the yellow better, both for style and for visibility. During my two days with this bike, many people told me to be very careful of inattentive Florida drivers who cut bikes off without looking. I’m from Massachusetts, and fairly accustomed to this. In fact, I had an easier time with traffic in Florida than Massachusetts. That might be partly because I ran with the high beam on as EagleRider suggested, and because the bike is so freaking bright all by itself.
I did run into one problem with the bike. There’s a dashboard indicator light that turns on when you’re in 6th gear. This was intermittent. By itself, that’s no problem at all – I’m used to keeping track of what gear I’m in all by myself. The problem, however, is that this indicator is also linked to the cruise control, which will only work in 6th gear. If it doesn’t detect that you’re in 6th, the cruise won’t work. I’d never ridden a bike with cruise control before, so I really had no problem managing my own throttle. But there were many long, straight sections of highway where I would’ve liked to set the cruise at 60 to give my wrist a rest, and I couldn’t. The throttle muscles in my right wrist felt it for a few days afterward. Nothing against Harley’s throttle control – it was perfectly comfortable, and I’d just done 513 miles in two days after months of not riding at all. I wasn’t used to it. But the bike had only 3432 miles on it when I picked it up, and already it was having this problem. Insert the obligatory dig on Harley reliability.
The aerodynamics were also an issue for me. Between the low windshield (more like a tinted strip of plastic on top of the batwing) and the brain bucket helmet they gave me, the wind blast hit me pretty much right in the eyes. At higher speeds I found myself hunching down a little to get my eyes out of it. I understand that on the 2014 models they’ve reworked the batwing to include an air vent to push that wind blast a bit higher, which would clear my face and make it more comfortable. Of course, this wouldn’t have been an issue with a full face helmet, but who rides a Harley and wears a full face helmet except when it’s cold?
This bike is not made for going around corners. It’s big, heavy, cumbersome, and with the cruiser style it’s simply not designed for twisty roads. I didn’t find any twisty roads, so this wasn’t a big deal, but I certainly felt it at intersections when I needed to make a turn, especially at low speeds. I just sort of slowly picked my way around the corner, then gave it a satisfying burst of throttle once pointed straight again.
All in all, it’s the motorcycle version of the American muscle car. It looks good. It’s comfortable. It makes fun, rumbly noises. It has way more engine than it needs, and goes quite fast in a straight line. Just don’t ask it to turn.
Would I buy one? Absolutely not. I’ve never spent $20,000 on a car, let alone a motorcycle that I can only use half the year, and that doesn’t go around corners, which are some of the most fun parts of riding for me. If I was going to spend money on a serious bike, it would be a sport tourer like a used ST1300 or BMW of some kind, for a fraction of the price. But I have no regrets about renting the Harley for two days. It was the right tool for the right job in Florida. It worked for what I needed it to do, made fun noises, and looked good.
A friend of mine likes motorcycles, Harleys in particular, but doesn’t own one. He has a busy life and doesn’t have much time to ride. He thinks it’s easier and less expensive to go rent a brand new Harley for the day or two each year he does have time to ride than to buy and maintain one of his own. I completely see where he’s coming from now, and have to agree with him.