The author's ride on the Road...
The author's ride on the Road Glide took him from Harley's York, PA facility down to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a ride with Motorcycle Cruiser readers.
I was actually hoping for a Road King when I asked Harley if I could borrow a bike for our ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, as the date approached, Harley asked if I could take a Road Glide instead. I agreed, though when I'd ridden a Road Glide briefly a few years before, it hadn't impressed me much one way or the other. Although it's build on the same platform (same frame and engine) as othe Harley Touring models, the Road Glide is unique among Harleys, the only one with a frame-mount fairing instead of the handlebar "bat wing" used in the Electra Glide series. This fairing style was introduced in 1980 on the Tour Glide.
At least initially I didn't like the looks of the big fairing with its dual headlights, especially since the bike seemed to need an Electra Glide-style trunk (or "Tour-Pak," in Harleyspeak) to complete the statement that the fairing begins. The trunk is available as an option, and the bike begs for it, in my eyes, since the big fairing just suggests long rides on the open road.
However, after a week and a bit over 2000 miles, the Road Glide thoroughly changed my opinion. Other than some differences in the wind protection from the larger fairing and the welcome stereo system, I didn't expect there to be a noticeable difference between it and the Road King I had been hoping to ride. The frames are essentially the same and so is the general layout Harley's hard saddlebags, rider floorboards, triple disc brakes, and so on. However, the Road Glide surprised me.
Despite the extra weight of its fairing, the Road Glide seems to have more cornering clearance than the Road King, giving it surprising lean angles. It pitched around just a bit on the suspension during hard cornering but never did anything exciting. The brakes were adequate, though, as always the handlebar levers are not very handy for smaller hands. Some riders find it uncomfortable to cover the big brake pedal in traffic, though my size 13 boots don't have any trouble keeping the toe hovering over the pedal.
The fairing provided good wind and weather protection in the areas it covered, and its lack of lowers was actually welcome in the warm weather that mostly blew through my ride. Though the short windshield (yeah, you can get a tall one) didn't completely divert the wind from my helmet, there was no buffeting and it never interfered with my view ahead, even in the rain or when I encountered those evening bug swarms. The presence of a tachometer in the fairly complete instrument array was welcome too. So was the audio system built into the fairing. The dual headlights provided a bit more illumination out front than the normal single headlight of the same wattage.
The Road Glide uses Harley's usual hard saddlebags, with their seemingly complex but actually quite simple and effective closure system. I heavily stuffed the saddlebags, but they kept their contents dry when the Great Deluge struck. They are a bit narrow and won't swallow some larger items, and their capacity is just modest by the standards of other brands hard bags. They are easily removed with two quarter-turn fasteners each when you want to clean the bike or reach the wheel.
The riding position suited my five-foot-ten frame quite well, and the handlebar bend was comfortable. The rubber mounts for the 1450cc V-twin thoroughly snuff vibration. In terms of comfort, my only possible complaint was the saddle, which seems softer than the Road King's and bottoms out too quickly on all-day rides. However I'd replace either bike's seat if I bought one of these two Harleys.
The Road Glide consistently turned in better fuel mileage than Road Kings I have ridden (and any other touring bike in memory), perhaps due to better aerodynamics provided by the fairing. Every tank turned in over 50 mpg (although I never did much riding in traffic), providing more than 200 miles on a fill-up of the 5.0-gallon tank. Harley's 1450cc big twin does consistently turn in great mileage. It also makes good power, despite only middling displacement and just two pushrod-operated valves per cylinder.
Otherwise, the bike was about what I expected: smooth, pleasantly powerful, easy to manage, and a comfortable ride. It did not give me any surprises or things to complain about. In fact, I may have a new favorite Harley traveling bike.
2003 Harley-Davidson FLTRI Road Glide
Suggested base price: $17,450
Standard colors: Black
Optional colors: Gunmetal, add $200; Anniversary silver/black, add $1070
Engine type: Air-cooled 45-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: One intak, one exhaust valve, operated by pushros, hydraulic lifters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1450cccc, 95.25 x 101.6mm
Compression ratio: 8.9:1
Transmission: 5 speeds
Final drive: Belt
Seat height: 29.5 in.
Claimed dry weight: 723 lb.
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal.
Wheelbase: 63.5 in.
Overall length: 93.7 in.
Rake/trail: 26o/6.2 in.
Front tire: MT90B16 Dunlop D402F
Rear tire: MT90B16 Dunlop D402
Front brake: 2, 2-piston calipers, 11.5-in. discs
Rear brake: 2-piston caliper, 11.5-in. disc
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 4.6 in. travel
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, 3.0 in. travel