The stormy winds of change
Milwaukee, Wis., Sept. 24–27—What strategy do you devise after playing two of the biggest hands to be dealt from the Motor Company’s table in the last 10 years? With the unveiling of the revolutionary Milwaukee-Eight for 2017 followed by the demise of the Dyna line and total revamping of the Softail models last year, some serious decisions had to be made in the company’s desire to remain the leader in American motorcycling and continue to develop a new generation of riders. Couple that with the dramatic announcement that three unconventional new models (including an adventure touring and street fighter models with proprietary powertrains) were being developed for 2020, the stakes in this game were even more crucial. So we were all surprised by Harley’s release of only one new model for 2019, the FXDR 114. But even though the quantity of new models was limited, the quality was not.
The DR is in
This year’s media launch began in Minneapolis with a two-day ride aboard CVO and Touring models into Milwaukee to celebrate Harley’s 115th anniversary. Once in Milwaukee, with high anticipation we were handed over the controls to the new FXDR. While this bike is a great successor to the recently-retired V-Rod, aside from a few cursory similarities, the FXDR is no V-Rod. Despite its imposing stance with large rear rubber, exaggerated fork rake and stretched wheelbase, where a V-Rod was perfectly at home going in a straight line, the FXDR’s nimbleness and lightweight agility make for an enjoyable ride while both cornering and jamming stoplight to stoplight. The bike’s rake is 34 degrees, the same as Harley’s Breakout model. But the trail is 1” less through the use of specifically-designed tripe trees that bring the forks closer to the headstock resulting in surprisingly stable handling despite a 240mm rear Michelin Scorcher II (I guess that’s why motorcycle engineers get paid more than motorcycle journalists). This race-strip inspired bike (the “DR” stands for “Drag Racer”) uses a one-piece cast aluminum swingarm, saving more than 10 pounds over the standard steel Softail swingarm. The FXDR 114 maintains the Softail monoshock rear suspension positioned at a revised angle to offer optimized response and travel. A sub-frame constructed of welded aluminum tubing supports the seat and tail section resulting in increased rigidity and a weight savings of about seven pounds bringing the FXDR wet weight to just under 670 pounds. And that weight savings is matched to a much more rigid frame resulting in the best-handling Softail ever. A nifty rear shock preload adjustment knob located near the rear exhaust pipe allows for customizing your ride experience to accommodate various road conditions.
I’d blush if I told you that the M-8 engine is not the best powerplant to ever come out of Milwaukee. I love this engine especially when it is presented in a lightweight performance package like the FXDR and even more so when it is offered in its big brother muscle displacement of 114 cubic inches pumping out 119 ft/lbs of torque. The futuristic snorkel air intake is reminiscent of NHRA competitors while the beautifully-crafted 2-into-1 bronze-coated exhaust system could easily find a spot on any European sport bike. The power-to-weight ratio is perfectly packaged in a chassis with geometry that actually embraces handling capabilities.
Additional niceties include weight-saving composite fenders fore and aft, inverted 43mm forks featuring single internal single-fork dampening, dual 300mm front rotors with 4-piston calipers providing stoppage to a 19” 120mm Scorcher II up front, while a lightweight 18” diameter aluminum solid disk wheel is coupled with a 292mm 2-piston caliper out back. All braking is full floating with ABS and linked braking is standard. The stretched gas tank will hold 4.4 gallons but, with the forward controls and abbreviated handlebars placing the rider in a pinched position over the tank, you will probably be stopping for a leg and back stretch well before you need to refuel. Instrumentation is minimal as it should be for a performance machine. A Daymaker LED headlamp shrouded with a mini nacelle, LED taillight and turn signals, keyless ignition, H-D’s Smart Security System and a USB charging port round out the electronics. The rear fender is attached to the swingarm and moves with the wheel in the style of the Harley Rocker and devised so the fender would appear to be invisible. A forged spar on the left side of the swingarm carries the rear lighting leaving the right side clean. The solo seat comes in at just under 28” under load and is comfortable enough for the short hauls for which it is designed. The tailpiece has a hidden compartment that is just big enough for a wallet or small sandwich—but not both.
Seeking a younger consumer base, the FXDR 114 may be the very bike to compel riders to give Harley-Davidson more than a passing glance. But Harley is sure to piss off more than a few diehards that long for classic looks and styling. And that’s the dilemma, with those who feel the Harley brand is merely rehashing previous successful models and needs to reach a new audience versus those who want to retain the traditional attitude and iconic styling—a reality that has many clamoring for change, while others cling to the past. You cannot please everyone.
Our two-day ride from Minneapolis to La Crosse and then into Milwaukee aboard a small fleet of CVO and Touring models turned into an unexpected adventure. We left Minneapolis in the rain with high expectations of clearing skies. But the weather simply got nastier as we neared La Crosse. I’m sure we rode through some beautiful countryside but I was more concerned with following the journalist in front of me and getting a $40,000 bike parked and secured in one piece. The following day the weather was perfect. Unfortunately many of the backroads we had planned to ride were washed out and several detours found us on dirt roads littered with rocks and deep gravel in the corners for miles. The group took it in stride, joking that this was apparently a primer for the upcoming release of Harley’s adventure touring bike, the Pan American. But despite the conditions, these bikes handled exceptionally well even though they were well out of their element on several occasions.
The 2019 CVO Street Glide, CVO Limited and CVO Road Glide all feature the Milwaukee-Eight 117 engine that is exclusive to the CVO line. And this engine is a giant performance leap over the 107; with a hot rod cam and a compression ratio of 10.2:1, it produces up to 125 ft/lbs of torque—usable torque you can feel.
Being heavily promoted by the Motor Company for 2019 is the new Boom Box! GTS Infotainment System on all three CVO and select 114 c.i. Touring models. This new system uses a Corning Gorilla Glass touch screen that is treated to minimize glare in bright sunlight, a common problem in the past. When compared to the Boom! Box 6.5FT system that it replaces, the GTS has more memory with start-up time being cut in half and route calculation reduced from 10 seconds to 2.5 seconds. Superior optics provide a 100-percent increase in resolution and a four times higher contrast ratio than the 6.5GT unit. Installed standard on the CVO models is a Wireless Interface Module that allows the use of a wired headset connection or a Bluetooth wireless headset for operating Apple’s new CarPlay feature. The new GTS system also displays current tire pressure and issues an alert if either front or rear pressure is low.
The 2018 CVO Limited and CVO Street Glide both feature the new Kahuna Collection of pegs, muffler caps, floorboard trim, covers and grips. The 2019 CVO Tour Glide features the exclusive Knockout 18-inch rear and 21-inch front wheel. (The Road Glide is the only Touring model to have a 21-inch front wheel which performed admirably in the gravel during my adventure ride.) The ABS and Linked Braking System working in tandem proved to be a lifesaver (literally) during a high-speed freeway ride when a stopped van jumped two lanes to the left and directly in front of me—handful of front brake, no lock-up, no skid, total control. But one of the most impressive innovations announced was the Daymaker Adaptive LED Headlamp. Along with low beam, high beam and side LED lenses, it also has 12 adaptive lights. Patented sensors that are integrated into the headlamp measure the lean angle of the bike when cornering and the adaptive lights are engaged to provide additional lighting in those dark corners.
The 2019 CVO models are stunning, a dream to ride, and an easy choice for those with additional disposable income. And while there may be many naysayers condemning the FXDR, it is my favorite in the Softail line. Time will tell if the cards Harley has dealt produces a winning hand, bringing new players to the table. Head over to americanrider.com/h-d_my2019 for pricing and additional details on all models.