We took every dimension of a great motorcycle and made it better,” says Harley-Davidson’s President and Chief Operating Officer, Matt Levatich. He’s talking about the new Street Glide Special and its FL-category cousins, all key players in Project Rushmore, a massive program that he describes as the “most significant product launch in the entire 110 years of the company’s history.”
Project Rushmore is, ahem, a mountain of enhancements made to eight 2014 models: Road King, Street Glide, Street Glide Special, Electra Glide Ultra Classic, Ultra Limited, Tri Glide Ultra and the CVO Ultra Limited and CVO Road King. Collectively, these bikes have received more than 100 renovations, many of them major, including new High Output versions of the Twin Cam 103 engine (some liquid-cooled, some not); a sophisticated, linked ABS system; upgraded suspension; a state-of-the-art infotainment system and a complete makeover of fairing, fenders and luggage systems.
Yet the bikes are still utterly recognizable. And herein lay the brilliance, and the challenge, for America’s most beloved brand. No one hates it when a new Harley looks and sounds like a Harley “should.” No one says, “Oh, I wish those new Harleys looked a little more contemporary.” Yet modern technology rushes headlong, and its advantages are not to be overlooked.
Project Rushmore exemplifies Harley’s long-standing commitment to honoring its core customers by knowing what’s important to them. But it’s also about knowing what’s good for them. At its root, this program is about quietly infusing useful features and sophisticated technology into motorcycles that loudly celebrate tradition and the beloved heritage of Harley-Davidson.
Because the Street Glide is The Motor Company’s perennial best-seller, and the new “Special” edition is the world’s favorite bagger with a couple bonus features, we wanted it to be the first Project Rushmore bike examined under the microscope. My first days were spent riding the Street Glide Special in the Colorado Rockies, where the model-year 2014 bikes were introduced.
Naturally, we wanted to investigate the promise of additional oomph supplied by the new High Output Twin Cam engine, which isn’t liquid-cooled in the Street Glides. While liquid cooling allows higher compression and more sustained performance for heavier bikes such as the Ultra Limited, all the 103s benefit from a new camshaft and a high-flow airbox that are most responsible for the added power. When I blasted onto the freeway, the Street Glide’s 103 felt its usual grunty self, charging heartily through quick shifts and comfortably settling into higher-than-average middle-of-the-country Interstate speeds.
Harley engineers tuned the new engine specifically to deliver more passing power, which they feel is key to rider confidence. On the CW dyno, the Street Glide Special’s Twin Cam mill delivers 95.6 ft.-lb. peak torque. That’s a gain of 6.7 ft.-lb. over the last pre-Rushmore 103 we tested. Horsepower for the new engine is also better, peaking at 76.0 versus 69.4. It’s a solid gain, and technically enough to get you back in the right lane faster, but I can’t say that it translates to a huge difference in the real world. You’ll still run out of top-end, you’ll still find yourself downshifting to pass. The 103’s output, even dialed up a notch or two, simply isn’t ideal for such a heavy motorcycle at high altitude. It feels more lively at sea level but how about Twin-Cooled 110s all around?
Other appreciated performance enhancements include a new hydraulic clutch, a hand-adjustable shock (one side only) and a jumbo 49mm fork, which replaces the previous 43mm assembly and adds stiffness up front to enhance the already solid feel of the FL chassis. There are also new wheels, designed to be lighter and stiffer; a 19-in. front for the Special and an 18 for the standard.
The Street Glide Special also comes standard with Harley’s new Reflex linked ABS brakes (optional on the base Street Glide). The system is unusual in that it electronically adjusts the overall proportion of linking, both front to rear and vice versa, based on how the rider is using the brakes. If you’re an expert braker and applying appropriate amounts of front and rear pressure, Reflex will assist you very little. If you have poor technique, Reflex will assist you by adding brake pressure where it can most effectively be used, shortening stopping distances and enhancing safety. If, for example, you stand on the rear brake in a panic situation, the system keeps the rear from locking up and automatically applies front pressure. The computerized system disables linking at speeds below 20-25 mph so that maneuvers at parking-lot speeds can be conducted using the rear brake only.
For people who don’t like the feel of linked brakes—typically experienced riders—this system is not overly intrusive. The only potential bugaboo I found happens when you’re entering a corner or braking aggressively to a complete stop. As you pass through the programmed 20-25 mph disengagement mark, the brakes will stay in linked mode, which is great, but if you feather or let off, then reapply the brakes, you will suddenly be in non-linked mode, which doesn’t aid smoothness.
On the style, comfort and amenity side of the revitalization, Harley hit it out of the park. We were reminded of Willie G. Davidson’s words: “Form follows function, but they both report to emotion.” The Rushmore team was ever aware of how the engineering and style changes would translate to how the customer feels about the bike.
The Batwing fairing, for example, first on the scene in 1969, remains completely recognizable, just slightly more menacing with an extended brow and forward vent that lets you know you’re looking at a Rushmore model. More importantly, that “splitstream” vent addresses one of the most common complaints of FL riders: wind buffeting.
“It was one of the most asked-for things, and we took it very seriously,” says Chief Project Engineer Ben Wright. The splitstream doesn’t blow the air at your face like an air conditioner. “That wasn’t the intention,” says Wright. “It’s really intended to push that turbulent air up and over your helmet.” It’s easy to measure the effect by closing the vent, something you’ll rarely end up doing, except maybe in the rain. We love that the engineering team took the core customers’ needs so close to heart they even addressed the dreaded “beard lift” often associated with fairing ventilation. “When we went into the wind tunnel we strapped on beards.” says Wright. “We literally tweaked the fairing shape and lower vents to minimize beard lift.”
Another unprecedented step taken by the development team was to take turns riding “cupcake.” “None of us had ever ridden as passengers before,” says Levatich. So, after making a pact not to post any photos on social media, the crew spent two days riding two-up, not just on Harleys, but also on competitors’ touring bikes, “so we could feel the voice of the passenger, too.” The result is wider, deeper, much more comfy seats for rider and passenger, as well as more ergonomic back- and armrests.
All the Rushmore models received new luggage: a much-improved Tour-Pak for the tourers and sleek new saddlebags all around. The best feature of the new Street Glide saddlebags is a sweet one-touch, thumb-operated latching system that’s effortless, closes securely and allows the rider to access saddlebag contents while seated on the bike.
Both Street Glides feature a new dual halogen headlamp and Project Rushmore’s much-touted Boom! Box infotainment system and dual thumb-operated toggle system, though the Special comes factory-equipped with the top-shelf 6.5GT system, which really is a must-have.
“We left nothing in the tank this time,” say Levatich of Project Rushmore. “And our customers are going to be blown away.” Indeed. But because the improvements are so subtle, yet so profuse, we suspect that customers might not even know what they’re blown away by. This new Street Glide, for example, feels like everything we’ve always loved about H-D’s best-selling bagger, only with some magic beans thrown in the tank that make everything on the bike feel just that much better.
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