My road to the new Harley Sport Glide started with a motorcycle safety course in late summer of 2012 and a multi-year tenure on a faded bandanna red 1990 Honda Elite 80cc scooter. It weighed about as much as I did (a little over a buck fifty) and wobbled dangerously if I so much as sneezed or shivered on the cold ride home from the closing shift at our local café. I got used to cracking the throttle on this fully automatic, ridiculously light vehicle, unknowingly letting my motorcycle skills drip away the longer I rode it.

Heading to Sturgis
Early August brought ideal weather for riding in the mountains. No rain, little RV traffic, and several happy riders heading east to Sturgis.Gaz Boulanger

Eventually came my first motorcycle, a black and gold 1982 Suzuki GS650G (500 pounds with a full tank). The clutch felt like pulling back a bowstring and balancing the beast, while trying to park filled my head with visions of horizontal machinery. I had to relearn how to ride, even going so far as to retake the safety course with my dad, who needed to take it to get his California license. It felt like being thrown in the deep end after spending the seasons splashing in the shallows. Engine-braking? Shifting? Friction zone? No wonder they just hand out scooters to tourists in the Mediterranean. No fuss and off you go.

The mechanics of riding came back to me fairly quickly, but confidence in the turns took a long time. Trusting the bike underneath me felt like a trick I’d never quite master. I moved a few times, selling my current motorcycle to fund the next. Every chance I got to ride a new bike seemed to triangulate my sense of fit and started filling in the blank edges of the map in terms of feeling comfortable in the saddle. A Honda XR250R: tall but maneuverable. A Moto Guzzi V11 Sport: fun and aggressive. A Honda CBR-RR: precarious and too touchy for my taste.

Although I ended up buying an SYM Wolf 150 Classic, the modern equivalent of the old Honda 125s, it was strictly for my most frequent trips: work and school, both in a close radius to home. The longer I rode my dad’s Moto Guzzi California Stone, however, adventures beckoned: day trips to San Francisco from the South Bay where I live; 80-mile round-trip journeys to the coast and back over the Santa Cruz Mountains; a visit to a friend in Santa Rosa 100 miles away. The same way time heals all wounds, it did wonders for my new rider jitters, particularly the all-too-common worry about weight. I stopped fretting about how heavy my motorcycles were when I finally realized that it’s only one factor of a bike’s handling.

In fact, the heft the Stone (584 pounds with a full tank) is part of why it feels so good on a curvy road. The Stone was the first cruiser I’d ever ridden and the first bike I ever dropped. Fresh off safety course number one I took it for a spin and dropped it in a slow, tight turn. The gut-wrenching feeling as a bike’s critical mass tips past the point of no return is one of the worst, and the adrenaline-induced righting of your father’s fallen motorcycle can only be compared to a mother lifting a car to save her trapped young (“not today, dammit!”). This traumatic episode is likely what kept me riding my dinky scooter for far longer than I wanted to and was in the back of my mind for years as I rode.

A whirlwind, 560-mile journey through the Mojave Desert in 115-degree heat brought me to Las Vegas to watch Travis Pastrana recreate three of Evel Knievel’s jumps in early July. An exhausting, challenging, and hugely rewarding 540-mile ride back through Nevada and Yosemite got me home and also got me to that place I hope every rider finds themselves: where saying “yes” to an adventure is only limited by schedule.

So when my dad asked if I wanted to ride Harleys with him from Milwaukee back home to Mountain View, California, I said yes.

Green Bay
Our adventure began in earnest from Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Thursday, August 2.Gaz Boulanger

Enter The Harley-Davidson Sport Glide

Smooth, effortless, fun. Not the words I expected I’d be using to describe my first major Harley experience, but every time I stop in a new town the inevitable envious passerby approaches with the now-familiar admiring grin and some variation of the phrase, “That’s a beautiful bike. How’s the ride?” And after 1,500 miles I know how to respond.

Before this trip I’d only ridden Sportsters, and while I’m no stranger to motorcycles, I kept a pretty wide berth between me and the motorcycle brand born in the same town I was. Chrome? Not so much my thing. Loud pipes? I’ve been known to apologize for sneezing too loud. Cruisers? I get around on a Moto Guzzi California Stone, but the further my feet go forward, the less interested I become. Harley has been off my radar for a while now.

Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine
Six speeds, 1,746cc Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine with 108 pound-feet of torque.Harley-Davidson

Harley enthusiasts have had a hard time classifying it. It’s got bags, but it’s no bagger. It has classic looks, but feels fresh and modern. I didn’t hesitate when my dad asked if I wanted to ride Harleys from Milwaukee back home to Northern California, but I also wasn’t sure what I was going to be swinging a leg over. As if meant to be, Harley came through with a new model that seems almost tailor made for me.

From the second I sat on the Sport Glide and pulled it off the sidestand, it felt good. The bars were high enough to be relaxed and no higher. The footpegs were farther forward than I was used to, but the shifter felt natural and, after the 2,600 miles it’s gonna take to get home, I know I’ll feel strange planting my soles in any other position. It feels right. In motion the bike feels balanced and ready. It’s steady and solid in the turns, and I can almost hear the bike saying, “I got this. You got this. We got this.” It truly makes me feel like a better rider.

HD fuel tank
Five gallons of gas can take you nearly 275 miles if you’re gentle on the throttle.Harley-Davidson

One of the first things I notice when firing up an unfamiliar bike is the relationship between the clutch and the throttle. Every bike’s feel is different, and that’s good. It adds character and, in special circumstances, seems to conform to that golden ideal of “how a bike should feel.” With some bikes the clutch doesn’t bite until the lever’s nearly all the way out. Some bikes demand a hearty twist of the throttle right away. The Sport Glide is pretty close to my “perfect.” A smooth, electric-feeling throttle and an easy-to-pull clutch lever make shifting, passing, and feathering through the hairpins an afterthought, so I can enjoy the ride rather than fight the bike.

“All my fears about my Harley being fearfully heavy and a bear to handle vanished within the first mile of riding.”

The saddlebags are enough to carry everything I need for the trip, with a little extra room for souvenirs, and there’s plenty of room for customization when it comes to extra baggage. Not bad for a bike I’d happily take down to the local café.

Harley saddlebags
The Sport Glide’s saddlebags hold everything one needs for a two-week trip, and keep the rain out.Harley-Davidson
Sport Glide Saddlebags
Saddlebags are removable with an internal quick release. Photo: Harley-DavidsonHarley-Davidson

That’s the other thing: I hardly notice a difference between cruising around town and cruising across the country. The Sport Glide handles itself just as well in the city as it does on the open road. Hard to classify? Maybe. Versatile as hell? Absolutely. All my fears about my Harley being fearfully heavy and a bear to handle vanished within the first mile of riding.

HD Fairing
The 5.5-inch front mini-fairing is easily detachable, but leaving it on makes more sense when riding across the US.Harley-Davidson

Speaking of busting expectations, I gotta say: The chrome looks good. My bike has the Vivid Black paint job, and the details pop, kinda like a two-wheeled tuxedo. They say black looks good on everyone, and I’m inclined to agree. Highlights include the black and silver directional Mantis mag wheels, blacked-out cylinder heads, and blacked-out Milwaukee-Eight 107 powertrain.

HD wheels
An 18-inch Mantis cast-aluminum front wheel (a first for Harley) with a Michelin Scorcher 31 performance tire.Harley-Davidson

That Milwaukee-Eight 107 feels good, and that’s no accident. It’s smoother at idle (thanks to clever engineering in the form of dual counterbalancers) than I expected from a Harley, but you can still feel the growl of all 1,746cc when passing.

The 2-into-1 pipe looks sleek and sounds fantastic. It has the signature Harley rumble, but stops short of what I think of as the “slap” that turns some riders away from other Harley models. I chalk this up to some of Harley’s more recent efforts to court the younger generation whose ideal bike isn’t necessarily the Road King.

I’m still getting used to the split Harley turn signals, and it feels strange to operate anything other than the throttle with my right hand while in motion, but the mechanism makes sense (and it’s self-canceling). Magic! Finding cruise control our third day of riding felt like a gift from above. It saved my hand a lot of tension on our longer days, and I’m going to miss it on every bike from here on out.

Beartooth highway
Beartooth Highway starts in Montana and ends in Wyoming, cresting 10,947 feet. The Sport Glide ate it up like leftover pizza.Gaz Boulanger

I met some of the bumpiest highways I’ve ever experienced north of Milwaukee, and I’m happy to say the Sport Glide eats up gnarly roads and spits out a smooth ride that does justice to its name. I’m no suspension expert, but I’d wager the new Softail monoshock rear suspension and 43mm inverted fork has something to do with that.

While planning the trip we agreed that avoiding any night riding would be wise, but a late night watching flat-track racing at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip TT meant 55 miles of night riding through elk county to get to our next stop in Wyoming, and I can safely say the Sport Glide’s LED forward lighting is brighter than anything I’ve ever ridden with. This exceptionally far-reaching field of visibility meant I had no occasion that night to test out the Sport Glide’s ABS, but a few touch-and-go moments on the road confirmed: This party can stop when it needs to.

Frankly, I’m blown away. I feel humbled, empowered, and equipped for the epic journey I find myself on. The Sport Glide delivers on so many fronts that it’s hard imagining this cross-country adventure on anything else. Once again, Milwaukee delivers.