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Harley's premier bagger - FLHX Street Glide

Review by Sean Coker, photos by  Bruce Hansen, Sean Cokers' napsack by Helly Hansen

Thundering through the Columbia Gorge on a 2008 Harley Davidson Street Glide, I was bobbing and weaving through turns until the Sex Pistols' "Holidays in the Sun" begins playing over the Harmon Kardon stereo. Then I decided to cruise.

At slower speeds my thoughts drifted to Harley Davidson's blend of new and old technologies. Cradle frames matted with air-cooled, pushrod engines with two-valve, hemi-combustion chamber heads are nothing new. At the same time the Street Glide's fly-by-wire throttle linked to sequential port fuel injection and monitored by a Delphi engine management system are revolutionary.

Up ahead, a series of chicanes erases moto-philosophy from my mind. Braided lines and 4-piston brakes slow the bike an appreciable amount before accelerating through the left hook corner; floorboards scratching the ground.

The Street Glide is a luxury model of Harley's touring line and pulls like a Massy Ferguson tractor from off idle to the bike's 5500-rpm rev limiter. Hard acceleration being crucial to maximize inadequate ground clearance.

Despite a 63.5-inch wheelbase, the Street Glide counter-steers effortlessly as we tack back and forth like a sailboat in low wind while cartridge front suspension and an air rear shock soak up the rippled pavement. My 155-pound frame didn't compress the suspension enough to establish a proper ride height and I was always riding on top of the bike's 4+ inches of travel. Granted, the suspension is adjustable but I had little time to delve into personalizing the suspension and instead headed right for the desert.

A loitering deer necessitated pulling in the cable-actuated clutch and I was surprised by the ease of the clutch pull. The doe dives back in a thicket of junipers and I heal-toe shift back into sixth gear. A dash light illuminates signaling sixth gear and the 96-cubic inch (1584 c.c.) engine sings a sweet note into an intermittent breeze.

Conifer tress and wild sweet peas pixelate the hillside in hues of pink and snippets of Mount Adams are found in the distance. In the bright midday sun there is little glare on the gas gauge reading half full and I decide to break for gas before continuing through eastern Washington. After filling the six-gallon tank with premium gas, some quick math reveals the bike was averaging 35 mpg.

Plucking a canteen from the low-slung saddlebags, I sit on a curb and stare at the denim blue bike. Harley emblems are spaced inches apart from each other; clustered on the gas tank, mirrors, all six of the gauges and saddlebags. The bagger bike has a cropped/bat style windscreen, swept pipes and long saddlebags that would be a pleasant sight to see in the garage every morning but at a $20,000+ price tag, I'd be forced to get legitimate, gainful employment.

Tossing my canteen in the waterproof saddlebags, I fiddle with a trunk-style locking mechanism that requires some getting used to in order to latch properly. The keyless ignition system requires that I only have the key on my person and when I tap the starter, the bike snarls and shakes to life. Primary and secondary imbalance issues smooth out as I begin riding and regain the use of my mirrors.

The Street Glide's 92 ft. lbs. of torque mean these ponies want to run and when I look at the stereo face reading 3:30, I remember an employee saying I was going to be charged if the bike was brought back after 5:00. Stomping on the rear brake I slow before U-turning and head back toward Paradise Harley.

It's going to be close, as I have 90-minutes to go 90-miles and there will be traffic around Portland. Keeping the stereo screaming and the motor singing like a sewing machine on high, the Street Glide and I race against time in a desperate effort to avoid paying a small fee.

Crossing over the Hood River Bridge, the rear wheel chirps when traction is broken and regained atop the metal grading. I pay the 75-cent toll before using my right turn signal switch located on the right handgrip and heading west onto Interstate 84.

The sweating sun stares me in the face while I test the bike's high speed maneuvering through traffic. Having spent too long in California, I pull out the lane-splitting card when traffic gets too viscous; the large, balanced bike is narrow enough to filter through beneath clotheslining mirrors and automotive fissures.

I am enamored with this bike; it's big and nimble yet still feels comfortable after a 350+ mile ride. My only real concern is the price. Twenty large is a lot to spend on any bike, but if you are in the market for a modern bagger then the Street Glide is the bike to ride. Brembo ABS brakes are available as a factory-installed option for $800, and while my model lacked the feature, anything that can make a 786-lbs. bike stop quicker is welcome.

Pulling into Paradise's parking lot at 5:10, if I am going to be assessed a late fee then I'm taking the bike another day down to California, if only to pay sales tax at some Mexican restaurant and keep on cruising to a Sex Pistols soundtrack...


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