It's about time we got around to this motorcycle. The Super Glide is the Original Cruiser, after all. Back in 1970 it was the first example of what was possible when the factory styled a bike to reflect what customers had been demonstrating they wanted their motorcycle to look like. It's the ancestor of all Harley-Davidson's custom-style big twins.
At age 36, the Super Glide has gone through a number of iterations with a succession of engines and frames over the years. Though it retains the look and attitude of that 1971 model, the 2006 Super Glide shares virtually no parts with the original FX. For one thing, it is no longer based on the touring frame. These days the Super Glide, which started out as a converted Electra Glide, is built on the Dyna platform, which features a narrow "internal" frame and dual external shocks bracketing the rear wheel. Instead of using the counterbalancing system employed by the Softail family, the Dynas rubber-mount their engines.
For 2006, the Super Glide and the rest of the Dyna line were revised again. The old 39mm fork legs were replaced with stouter 49mm stanchions. All Dynas except the Wide Glide get 29-degree steering heads, and though some of them use offset triple clamps to change the fork angle, the Super Glide's fork is also set at 29 degrees. A wider, burlier swingarm offers a more rigid mount for the rear wheel, which like the front spins on a stiffer 1-inch axle. A 160/70B17 rear tire replaces the 150/80-16 of the 2005 model. The rear fender and battery cover were restyled to adapt to the wider rear end, and the seat was reconfigured slightly, as well. The Super Glide's standard saddle is now a solo seat, though our test bike came with a dual saddle and passenger pegs.
The big news, however, is down in the engine room, where a redesigned drivetrain has brought six speeds, a lighter clutch and a new engine/transmission interface. Peak clutch effort was reduced by a third with a new ball-and-ramp mechanism mated to a redesigned diaphragm spring. The new gearbox features a redesigned shifting mechanism that uses sliding "dog rings" instead of heavier moving gears, and beefier helical gears instead of the old unit's smaller straight-cut gear pairs. The primary ratio is taller, and the new gear ratios provide taller overall gearing in the new sixth gear than the old fifth gear, reducing engine speeds on the highway. The new tranny also gets beefed up with bigger bearings, improved seals and a stiffer housing that dispenses with external oil lines. The new primary-drive housing comes with an automatic chain tensioner, eliminating adjustments and the related inspection cover. All these improvements were supposed to offer greater durability and increased load-carrying capacity, but something didn't work out as planned because there is currently a service bulletin calling for owners to have a primary-drive bearing replaced every 15,000 miles. Harley has really stepped up in the matter and will pay not only for all the parts and labor, but also to have the bike taken to the dealer. Some owners see this as a nuisance, but others regard it as a free primary-drive service and an opportunity to get the bike to the dealer for regular service, as well.
The Twin Cam engine got upgrades in addition to its new transmission interface. A revised oil pump delivers improved flow and scavenging. Oil-filter and oil-cooler adapters are now integrated. A revised cam plate brings new plain bearings and a new hydraulically actuated automatic cam-chain tensioner. Fuel injection is standard.
It is impossible to appreciate how much these changes have improved the whole bike until you ride one of the new Dynas. The revised clutch is so much lighter and easier to control that it's almost startling. It makes the bike much easier to ride at low speeds, in stop-and-go situations and when getting under way. It's not only lighter than other Harley big twins, it's lighter and more controllable than all other big twins. Since many of Harley's customers are reaching an age where they encounter problems like arthritis and carpal-tunnel syndrome, having the lightest, most controllable clutch in the class has to be a significant attraction.
With its smoother, quieter, reduced-effort gear changes, the new gearbox also imparts a sense of heightened quality and precision. Closer ratio choices and the reduction in top-gear rpm are also welcome changes. Your choice of engine rpm is widened at almost any speed, so you can have more power on tap or simply slow the engine down with a shift or two. Our shifts were smooth and precise, the lever throws were noticeably shorter, we didn't miss any shifts (even though the lever was positioned a bit high) and neutral was a cinch to locate. As with the clutch, the new transmission moves to the top of the class, challenging Harley's competitors to match it, and that will not be easy. We suspect that the primary-bearing issue will keep this drivetrain from being deployed in the rest of Harley's big-twin line, which is a shame because it is otherwise an exceptional piece of work.
With fuel injection now standard (with tighter emissions standards bearing down, virtually all new or redesigned cruisers will be fuel injected), the Dyna engine starts immediately, hot or cold, responds crisply to throttle changes, and maintains the brand's reputation for great fuel mileage. Though it can't claim the massive displacement of other brands' latest cruiser flagships, the 1450cc air-cooled Harley mill still makes plenty of power, delivered over a broad curve. With the additional transmission ratio and taller gearing, it is more flexible than ever and more relaxed in top gear. We sometimes found ourselves running down the highway in fifth gear, thinking we were in top, so even fifth gear doesn't seem busy.
In terms of feel and chassis performance, the new Super Glide does not depart radically from Dynas past. This motorcycle was a bit smoother than other recent Dyna models we have sampled, with the rubber mounts insulating the rider and the mirrors from the shakes at virtually all speeds. The handlebar on this bike is a good all-around bend, with enough width (28.9 inches) to keep the handling light, but not enough to spread you out like a sail in the passing wind. Our bike's accessory seat was adequate around town, but started feeling hard after a couple of hours. Set back farther than most cruiser footrests, the Super Glide's pegs let you shift some of your weight from your butt and create a position that offers superior comfort and control than a feet-forward configuration.
Most of our recent experiences with Super Glides have been on Super Glide Sports, the sporting variation of the genre. That bike has been discontinued this year (see sidebar), so this is about as close to a sporting Harley big twin as you'll find. In comparison to those past Sports, the 2006 Super Glide steers just noticeably slower and has less cornering clearance, although there is still more than with most cruisers. It feels slightly more solid and stable, too. This bike seemed more inclined to bottom out lightly in the rear, mostly in long, deep dips, but the ride under most conditions is the same or slightly smoother. Some of that may be due to the fact that this motorcycle has just one disc brake on the front wheel and therefore carries less unsprung weight than the Sport with its dual discs. We had no complaints about the current machine's braking power or control, however. In fact, buyers looking for a cruiser with a sporting flavor should consider the Super Glide.
Those 2006 updates have subtly shifted the Super Glide's appearance. With the external oil lines gone, the transmission looks cleaner than ever. The engine is finished in a silver powdercoat with polished covers. Perched above the handlebar clamp, the speedometer and warning lights are easy to scan without taking your eyes far from the road. However, the fuel gauge set in the middle of the tank requires you to drop your head to see it. The ignition lock on the right side of the steering head does double duty as fork lock and uses the barrel-style key of other Harleys. The gas cap doesn't lock, something we have always appreciated because it simplifies fuel stops. However, as gas edges toward $4 a gallon, 4.8 gallons may look pretty attractive to someone with a siphon.
The Super Glide comes in four solid colors-black for $12,195, or red, silver, or the blue of our test bike for $12,480. That makes it price-competitive with Japanese bikes of comparable displacement. Unless they are already sold out, you can also get the functionally similar 35th-Anniversary Super Glide in the "Sparkling America" (as it was known in 1971) white, blue and red paint scheme for a suggested $16,795.
Six-speed drivetrain performs exceptionally
Most affordable Harley big twin
Primary-bearing replacement every 15,000 miles
No passenger seat
Add passenger pegs to bring a friend
Harley's newest Dyna manages to look and sound just like its immediate predecessor, but it's actually a more ridable rig (though the FXDX from a few years ago was infinitely sportier).
Our '06 Super Glide felt more nimble on bends and my fillings stayed put at higher revs this time around, plus fuel injection comes standard. All this and six speeds, too! I just clunked 'er down into the overdrive gear on the freeway and grinned, leaving all but the squidliest riders in my belt-driven dust. Minimalism is the order of the day at the instrument cluster, but I wasn't sure if I liked the speedo stuck out alone in the breeze or felt oddly uninformed by it. And some things never change-like the dated buckhorn bars, so-so front brake and an acute riding position. The forward cant and high pegs didn't make a great ergonomic combo for me, thanks.
Even with the technological upgrades, though, the Dyna was still more about the visceral kick of an old-school ride (especially now that I can actually engage the brake lever with one hand). And that's not a bad thing.
- Andrew Cherney
I had recently tested the Dyna Wide Glide for a feature on our Web site (see http://motorcyclecruiser.com/roadtests). That motorcycle is much more about style than function, so it was a pleasure to ride the Super Glide, which combines the impressive new Dyna powertrain with a chassis and riding position that also work well. Although the Super Glide is the least expensive Harley big twin, it's also as much fun to ride as any of the more expensive 1450s. Some people will be put off by the primary-bearing issue, but I tend to view it as a positive (unless I had to stop in the middle of a trip to have it done).
The Super Glide makes a great case for itself-the most affordable Harley big twin with superior powertrain performance and a great chassis.
2006 H-D Dyna Super Glide
Suggested base price: $12,195
Standard color: Black<
Optional colors: Silver, blue or red, add $285; 35th-Anniversary version, add $4600
Standard warranty: 24 mos.,unlimited miles
Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Air-cooled 45-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: 1 intake, 1 exhaust valve, operated by pushrods with hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1450cc, 95.2 x 101.5mm
Transmission: Wet clutch, 6 speeds
Final drive: Belt
Seat height: 27.6 in.
Wheelbase: 64.2 in.
Wet weight: 665 lbs.
Overall length: 92.8 in.
Rake: 29 degrees
Trail: 4.7 in.
Wheels: Cast alloy, 19 x 2.50 front, 17 x 4.50 rear
Front tire: 100/90-19 Dunlop D401F tubeless
Rear tire: 160/70B16 Dunlop D401 tubeless
Front brake: 4-piston caliper, 11.8-in. discs
Rear brake: 4-piston caliper, 11.5-in. disc
Front suspension: 49mm stanchions, 5.0 in. travel
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, 4.1 in. travel, adjustable for spring preload
Fuel capacity: 4.8 gal.
Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging output: 439 watts
Battery: 12v, 19 AH
Forward lighting: 5.5-in. 55/60-watt reflector-optic headlight, position lights
Taillight: Single bulb
Instruments: Speedometer, fuel gauge, LCD odometer/dual tripmeters; warning lights for high beam, left and turn signals, neutral, oil pressure, low fuel, engine failure
Fuel mileage: 38 to 47 mpg, 44.6 mpg average
Average range: 214 miles
Quarter-mile acceleration: 13.52 sec., 97.9 mph
60-80 mph acceleration: 7.6 sec.
What Became of the Sport-Cruisers?When Harley rolled out its new-for-2006 Dyna line last summer, the absence of the FXDX Dyna Super Glide Sport was barely noticed, except by those of us who once hoped the sport-cruiser concept would catch on. Back in April 2000, we here at Motorcycle Cruiser believed we saw a trend and arranged a comparison of seven bikes, which we thought fit the sport-cruiser profile. They were the BMW R1100CE, the FXDX, the Honda Magna and Valkyrie, the Moto Guzzi Jackal, the Triumph Thunderbird Sport and the Victory V92SC SportCruiser. (You can read the results on our Web site at www.motorcyclecruiser.com/ roadtests/sport_cruisers_comparison/).
We believed that as increasing numbers of aging riders switched from sportbikes to the more relaxed ride of cruisers, many of them would still want some corner-carving competence, and we thought those seven bikes were just the beginning. Apparently we were wrong. Six years later, all of those bikes have disappeared from the new-model catalogs, mostly to our dismay. Though buyers who sought them out were glad for their extra sporting capability, many more simply bought them for other reasons, and apparently the two groups combined weren't enough to keep any of those bikes in production.
A Harley rep commented that the FXDX Super Glide Sport frequently sold just because it was available. Customers searching for a new Harley often learned that they could have an FXDX now or wait (and often pay more) for a model that more suited their sensibilities. As a result, you often saw FXDXs sporting ape-hangers or other mods that indicated that their owners had no appreciation for their sporting abilities. The owners who wanted the Super Glide Sport's improved suspension and brakes may have actually been in the minority. It made sense, then, for H-D to devote production to models in greater demand.
Although no one dares mate the words "sport" and "cruiser" these days, the concept isn't completely dead. Harley's Sportster 1200 Roadster keeps it alive, as do the Street Rod and Night Rod. And though it lacks the sport-spec suspension and braking of the Super Glide Sport, the Super Glide can still turn a series of switchbacks into a whole lot of fun. Moto Guzzi's Aluminum and Titanium models uphold both sides of the sport-cruiser equation with aplomb. With its aluminum frame, high-performance suspension, and sportbike-spec brakes, the Yamaha Road Star Warrior also does a good job of fulfilling the sport-cruiser promise.
The idea of a sporting cruiser isn't dead, it's just a secret.-- Art Friedman
Birth of the Factory Cruiser
For 2006, Harley also offers a 35th-Anniversary version of the Super Glide. For an additional $4600, you get passenger accommodations, special badging and a red-white-and-blue paint scheme that harks back to the first rendition of the Super Glide.
When unveiled in 1970 as a '71 model, the FX Super Glide was a revelation. For the first time, a factory had styled a production-line motorcycle to mimic what owners were doing to their own Glides when they got them home. Instead of the bulky, wide style of the touring-oriented Harley 1200s, the new FX lightened up with the uncovered front end of the XL Sportster including its narrower 19-inch wheel, briefer fender, and little headlight. Mated to the big FL touring-style frame, the lighter front end created the impression of a very powerful, dynamic motorcycle. Harley's then-new VP of styling, Willie G. Davidson, also came up with the bike's most distinctive piece, the long seat base and tail section with its recessed taillight, sometimes called the "boattail." Although it proved unpopular and was discontinued, we have heard from many readers who think it should have been revived for the 3500 35th-Anniversary bikes. Some are even making their own versions.
With or without the boattail, the commemorative versions are sure to be much nicer motorcycles than the original. I remember being almost disappointed in 1971 when I discovered that my 350cc Kawasaki twin could easily outrun the big, tough-looking Harley. When I rode one a couple of years later, it occurred to me that if you could somehow harness all the energy that went into making it vibrate and use it to drive the rear wheel, it would be much more fun to ride. Literally everything on the current Super Glide works much better than on the original, though smoothing out the vibration with rubber engine mounts would probably top my list. I kind of like the single muffler of the original, though.
The success of that first Super Glide paved the way for all the Dynas and Softails of today. Though the 2006 Super Glide, like other Dynas, has been completely divorced from the Touring chassis, the 2006 model is obviously the ancestor of the 1971 machine. As additional "custom" models were introduced and saw strong acceptance, the whole cruiser idea took wing and eventually became the bulk of Harley's model line.
Harley wasn't alone in its realization that styling its bikes to follow what American customers were doing to them might have some showroom appeal. That same year, Norton rolled out the Hi-Rider, a variant of its 750 Commando, featuring a very high handlebar and a banana seat that climbed up the short sissybar at the rear. However, while the Harley cruiser looked long, strong and relaxed, the Norton managed to appear short, tall, and awkward-more like a parody of a Schwinn Sting-Ray than a streetwise motorcycle. It probably didn't help that Nortons were regarded as sporting machines and tended to attract buyers who viewed such non-functional changes with disdain. Few Hi-Riders were ever sold, though it stayed in the line for a while. (Maybe it was the name; Harley Low Riders would have done much better.) However, it outlasted another Commando model, the high-piped Scrambler, which was introduced about the same time, but quickly disappeared. Norton itself went under in 1976.
It would be a few years before the Japanese, starting with the Kawasaki 900 LTD of 1976, began to show interest in the "factory custom" (a self-contradiction if there ever was one). By that time, though, the idea was already regarded as "copying Harley," even though Harley had largely taken its styling ideas from customers. After trying on several other terms, the "cruiser" name was universally adopted by the early 1990s.-- Art Friedman