There are few bikes on the market designed for long-distance touring that hit the sweet spot in terms of performance, comfort, and practicality. When choosing a bike to ride from Milwaukee to Mountain View, California, with my son this summer, the Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic Softail made the cut, and with the benefit of hindsight, delivered flawlessly.

Bonneville Speedway
The Bonneville Speedway still lingers in my mind.Henri Boulanger

Riding through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota in early August could mean several things, most of them heat- and bug-related. As a Wisconsin native and Midwest dweller for 40 years, I know of what I speak. One caveat from which bike to ride was the need to equally yoke it to my son Henri’s choice, the new Harley-Davidson Sport Glide, which also featured the 1,746cc Milwaukee-Eight 107 six-speed engine that produced 106 pound-feet of torque on the Cycle World dyno.

Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic and Sport Glide
The Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic and Sport Glide were compatible machines for a 2,100-mile trip across the countryGaz Boulanger

We needed saddlebags to carry everything for two weeks of riding, hotelling, and sightseeing, with no need to wear backpacks. Our ride clothing choices had to be versatile to handle early morning cold, afternoon heat, and the occasional rain shower. And the bike had to be nimble enough to handle the heavy bike traffic at the Sturgis Rally, the serpentine roads over Beartooth Pass, and the stark and mushy Bonneville salt flats. At a claimed 726 pounds full of fuel, the Heritage Classic weighs 111 pounds more than my sportier 2003 BMW R1150RT, which I rode across the country with my wife last June.

The Heritage Classic has footboards, a more upright handlebar position, and a taller windshield than the Sport Glide, three very important features I couldn't do without on a 2,100-mile trip. My 6-foot-1 frame, longer arms, and size 13 boots needed more real estate.

How did it ride?

Many have mentioned that their experience with the new Milwaukee-Eight has been smoother than previous Heritage Classic drivetrains, and I agree. Shifting was less clunky, and the forward controls were much less troublesome for my big feet. Throttle response precise, with a just-right return spring that didn't cause hand fatigue after 400-plus mile days. It also didn't hurt that the bike had cruise control. First gear gets used up quickly after popping off the line at stop signs and stoplights and almost made me feel a bit rushed in the shift to second, but the tall sixth makes this light tourer feel mellow and relaxed at 80 mph.

While ticking off the highway miles was a necessity on the first two days and the last, we managed to enjoy smaller roads with more curves and fun for the majority of the ride. The Heritage Classic was a pleasure. I admit I am not the most aggressive backroad rider, but I never scraped the floorboards no matter how cambered the road was leading up and over Beartooth Pass in Montana and Wyoming.

Engine heat was quite noticeable when we got stuck at nearly single-digit speeds behind RVs through Yellowstone, but that’s to be expected with peak traffic and temps in the 80s.

Bonneville Salt flats
Two days on the Bonneville salt flats was an otherworldly experience, especially on Harleys.Henri Boulanger

The seat was one of the more comfortable I’ve ever ridden, and I’m eternally grateful to the Harley engineer who somehow knew how to anticipate my skinny rear end. A tall bar height and easy reach to the grips lessened my daily road-going fatigue, and there was no peg pressure on my boots because of the footboards. The seat to footboard angle never gave me knee aches or leg cramps, and I only used the passenger seat twice with a passenger with their arms wrapped around my waist.

“The Heritage Classic covers the middle ground between Road King and Sportster, and this Softail won my heart.”

Fuel range was decent; the Heritage Classic is no gas guzzler despite its weight and engine size; I could get 200-plus miles out of the full 5-gallon tank. When we were riding remote roads in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Utah, we’d target stopping for gas every 130 miles or so, but in a pinch we’d squeeze 160-plus miles out of the bikes with a mix of spirited highway and back-road riding.

Suspension was solid, but forgiving when needed. We didn’t encounter too many potholes in the middle states, but when we were diverted onto stretches of gravel and sand in construction zones the bike soaked up the bumps, ruts, and uneven surfaces.The Heritage Classic also never bobbed or rebounded strangely. We discovered that California roads are by far the worst of the nine states we covered. The Heritage Classic got us through the home stretch in Livermore with nary a spine-jarring jolt.

Would I pay $18,999 for the 2018 Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic? After doing the ultimate test ride for the first two weeks of August, I would. The Heritage Classic covers the middle ground between Road King and Sportster, and this Softail won my heart.

What I wore and brought along

I chose unconventional gear compared to most Harley riders (based on the lack of protective gear seen on most of our tour, that's not saying much), starting with the NEXX X.G200 Desert Race helmet ($399) and 100% Deus Ex Machina 17 Barstow goggles ($95). I wanted more ventilation and versatility in hot weather, and my combo choice proved correct. And it was easier for Henri to follow the yellow helmet. I even wore the stock silver mirror lenses on our late-night, 50-mile scamper to Sundance, Wyoming, after leaving the Buffalo Chip grounds, with no nighttime visibility issues.

Boulanger on the fence
Wyoming is vast, and breaks are necessary to slow down the journey and enjoy the passing scenery.Henri Boulanger

On my torso I wore the waterproof Aether Apparel Mojave jacket ($550) with Fuel's Rodeo cowhide gloves ($99). I brought cold-weather Dainese gloves, but only needed them once when it was lightly raining between Green Bay and Bonduel, Wisconsin. My pants were the waxed-cotton Sergeants with protective knee and hip armor from Fuel ($368). Boots were Chrome Industries' Combat ($120), which were great on the footboards and ideal for walking off the bike, which we did plenty.

I packed three pair of Merino wool socks, three pair of underwear, one pair of shorts, flip-flops, four T-shirts, and a string backpack. I stored toiletries and electronics (charging cords, battery pack, Jabra Elite Sport Bluetooth earbuds [$219], etc.) in my Velomacchi Speedway tool pouch ($25) and impact storage case ($39). Everything was divided into three separate dry bags for easy portability, including my Samsung Chromebook. A six-outlet powerstrip to charge electronics each night was essential because most hotels lack more than two outlets.

A few months of bike and gear research and homework paid off. Now all I have are fond memories and hundreds of photos. There wasn’t anything I’d change in my original plan.