For the greater portion of motorcycle riders in America, “sport” touring looks a lot like the 2018-and-a-half Harley-Davidson Sport Glide. This is mostly because cruisers and particularly Harley-Davidsons are mainstream motorcycling in America, owning half of large motorcycle sales. The Sport Glide is the ninth new bike in the redone 2018 Softail lineup, and it combines touring elements like those used on the Heritage and Heritage 114 (bags and a windscreen) with performance elements found on the Fat Bob, primarily the inverted single-cartridge fork.
“There was a great lineage and predecessor of motorcycle to build on when we think about the middleweight or light-touring space it falls into,” said Kirk Rasmussen, styling manager of the Softail platform. “The Dyna Convertible, FXRT, FXDXT, CVO Softail Convertible, and even most recently the Dyna Switchback. It solidified in our minds that there truly is a space and customer need to deliver a cruiser riding experience but with some touring capability.”
The “cruiser riding experience” comes with the 30-degree-rake frame and the quick-detach mini fairing and locking, clamshell-top saddlebags. The company says it just takes a few seconds to remove the touring equipment with no tools required.
But the Sport Glide is also about expanding customer appeal. Its low 26.5-inch seat height and, more importantly, reduced “standover height” made possible by narrowing both the primary drive and 2-into-1 exhaust system allow more riders to fit on this 107ci Milwaukee-Eight-powered motorcycle.
“The clutch bump is one of the big visual features and generally we try to get that almost concentric,” Rasmussen said. “This time we cheated it and moved it way up. Not only did we tilt the transmission up on all the Softails for better lean angle, but we put that clutch bump up higher and that enabled us to bring that bump in from a surface-development standpoint, and there is almost 3/4-inch extra clearance.”
Added Product Portfolio Manager Paul James, “It’s a really significant impact for the rider, particularly in standover height. It enables us to fit a shorter rider. That was part of the intent of this bike and the whole Softail line was to be able to fit more people.”
The change to the primary required new castings, which is an expensive thing. Expect the narrow primary to be applied to other models, but this underlines the dedication and investment Harley-Davidson is putting behind getting more people on motorcycles.
The bike is also an attempt to expand overseas markets. “Sport Glide gives us a really unique opportunity to expand our footprint internationally,” James said. “This is a bike that will appeal to a customer who has twistier roads where they live and someone who wants the nimbleness of a cruiser but also the ability to carry some things with you and some light-duty wind protection. We’ll offer taller windscreen and other luggage. It’s been tested with Tour-Paks [top trunk] so that you can have even more touring ability should you choose that direction.”
If you recognize the fairing, that is of course no accident. The Batwing fairing is a styling icon in the touring segment, so the team worked hard to preserve the Batwing DNA but make a small, effective fairing for the Sport Glide. “We generally haven’t put fairings on non-touring platforms,” said Dave Latz, senior product planning manager. “There are very few exceptions. We talked to the engineers and said we wanted to provide that cruiser, wind-in-your-face, nothing-between-you-and-the-road riding experience but we want some wind protection, something to break the wind off their chest on long rides. We don’t want them to feel fatigued when they get off the bike at the end of the day.”
The goal of providing “clean air” for the rider’s helmet but relief from pressure at the chest was worked on in the Wichita State University wind tunnel and through computational fluid dynamics software modeling. And road testing, of course.
The development team spoke highly of the ride and chassis dynamics of the the bike, and with a name like Sport Glide, it will have to be a capable cruiser. The 30-degree rake is sort of the middle ground for the 2018 Softail and the same as that used on the Heritage. The sporty Fat Bob runs 28, while the Fat Boy has 32 and the Breakout is 36. Given Sport Glide's intent, the steeper rake was tried during development, but there were issues with fitting the desired 18-inch front wheel. “As we were playing around with different fork angles in the early development of the project we found that with the front wheel size for Sport Glide we had some clearance issues using the 28-degree rake and 30 was actually a really nice balance," Latz said. "It also benefited us with a linearity in handling.” Testers who rode all the bikes during development at Illinois' Blackhawk Farms Raceway rated the Fat Bob and the Sport Glide consistently as the most fun to ride. Available lean angle is about 28 degrees using a testing standard that requires the the measurement to be taken with suspension compressed 75 percent of its travel. This is slightly less than the Road King, for example, which has 32 degrees, measured by the same standard.
The inverted fork is like that used on the Fat Bob, with a single cartridge for damping (versus the Dual Bending Valve conventional fork used on the other Softails and Touring bikes), though the Sport Glide fork is longer and deletes the brake-caliper mount from the right lower casting since the Glide uses a single front disc (ABS brakes are standard). Rear suspension is by single coil-over shock and the Sport Glide gets easy, knob-adjustable spring-preload adjustment. Given the sportier intent and 180/70B-16 Michelin Scorcher rear tire, the “narrow” Softail swingarm is used here, versus the wider one used on fat-rear-tire bikes like the Breakout and Fat Boy. Cruise control is standard.
Claimed weight for the bike in “running order” is 689 pounds and GVWR is 1,160, so load capacity is 462 pounds. The Sport Glide, says Harley, is 25 pounds lighter than the 2018 Softail Heritage and 137 pounds lighter than the 826-pound Road King, Harley-Davidson’s lightest bike in the Touring line.
Harley-Davidson is one year into its 10-year plan to introduce 100 “high-impact” motorcycles and is clearly investing in the goal of trying to get 2 million new motorcycle riders in the market. The Sport Glide starts at $18,599 (in Vivid Black; Twisted Cherry, and Silver Fortune are $18,999) and plays to that notion as it expands the Softail lineup and makes for a high-utility lighter weight cruiser to appeal to American riders and those overseas. Whether it’s a worthy successor to similar bikes from the company’s past like the 2001–2003 Dyna T-Sport (a personal favorite) will have to wait until we get a testbike. But it looks good in photos and on paper.