Back to Basics: Harley-Davidson FLHTI Electra Glide Standard Motorcycle Test

Harley-Davidson's less-dressed dresser is the perfect choice for a rider who wants to travel in minimalist luxury with a touch of nostalgia. From the December 2005 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine. **By

One nice thing about working for a motorcycle magazine is that you have an almost endless selection of motorcycles to choose from. The world may not be your oyster, but it is your garage. As I prepared for my ride up US Highway 395 in a nostalgic frame of mind, I decided I wanted to ride something that reminded me of the bikes I saw out on the roads in the 1950s. I considered a Harley-Davidson Road King, Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad or Yamaha Royal Star Tour Deluxe. However, we have ridden and written about them all recently. The full-dress tourers were too modern. However, theHarley-Davidson FLHTI Electra Glide Standard—the base model of the Electra Glide series, devoid of radio, trunk, fairing lowers or other modern folderol—seemed perfect. The batwing fairing provides a bit more wind protection and quiet than the windshields of those other bikes, but it was otherwise a similar genre. And we have never tested one.

As soon as it I picked the 2005 model up, I began to have doubts. In the few minutes it took me to get home, the saddle got slightly uncomfortable. I planned to ask for an accessory saddle but never got around to it in the rush to complete other projects before leaving. As it turned out, the seat was never really comfortable but never terrible either. If I bought one of these bikes, that would be my second change—right after I chopped three or four inches off the top of the windshield. The standard FLHT windshield was too tall and presented annoying and dangerous distortion right at my line of sight and became a real hazard in the rain or when if the bugs were swarming, especially at night.

My favorite aspects of the Electra Glide Standard included its good range. Even under my heavy throttle hand in managed 45 mpg or better (dropping to 40 mpg or so when I was running the MTBE-degraded petro-swill sold in California), so I could consistently count on over 200 miles on a tank (officially 5.0 gallons but actually slightly more). Since the filler is in the center of tank, I would straddle the bike and hold it upright when filling to be sure I got that last tenth or two in the tank. There are desolate stretches of U.S. 395 where that range was more than just peace-of-mind.

The fairing does a great job of eliminating wind noise and pressure, but, with no lowers of added wind deflectors, it also lets enough air flow reach you to keep you cool. I was comfortable in my (Triumph) mesh jacket and jeans despite mostly 80-plus-degree temps when I was moving, though engine heat was an issue in stop-and-go traffic. On the highway, spreading my legs would deflect some of the air flow upward, increasing the air flow over me.

When I wanted to shift my riding position, putting one or both feet on the engine guards or passenger floorboards offered a substantial change and acceptable comfort. The basic riding position worked fine for me (though my left boot wants to slowly slide off the floorboard), with the handlebar right where I want it for maximum control. The rubber-mounting system keeps the bike smooth, and the ride over bumps is accepatable but not outstanding.

The absence of the trunk makes the Electra Glide Standard feel more nimble and manageable than the other Electra Glides. Adding my duffel with computer, cameras, etc. etc. raised the center of gravity and negated some of that. However, it was easy to attach the bungees for my duffel, with the passenger grab rail and rear fender rails offering solid perches. I wondered if eliminating the trunk, er, Tour Pak, would end the slight hinge-in-the-middle sensation that Harley dressers sometimes display in fast sweepers, but it was still there (even with my duffel bag removed). The lockable saddlebags—used on all Harley dressers—were easy to access and waterproof.

With my right hand still recovering from surgery, I was occasionally grateful for the throttle lock Harley includes (and a full cruise control is an option). The throttle lock allowed me to rest my hand on flat sections of road if I felt the need. Having ridden the 2006 models, I have to say that the new lighter clutch makes a surprising difference and makes the bike feel generally handier, even though I have no complaints about the old heavy clutch pull of this 2005 bike. However, as Harley reps were touting the benefits of the new clutch for riders with smaller and less strong hands, I had to wonder why they don't offer an adjustable-span front brake and maybe reduced effort there as well. This is likely to be a bigger issue as riders age. The rear brake was a bit too sensitive and slightly awkward to cover.

The FLHTI is intended to be a starting point to build an Electra Glide equipped just the way you want. There is no audio system, but the switches and speakers are there, and there is a slot in the fairing dash to install it. With Harley's new XM radio option, that will be increasingly tempting. (The radio bay a useful place to stuff spare gloves, maps, etc. if you don't get the radio.) You get a bit more than basic instrumentation—tach, fuel gauge, voltmeter—with mounting points for two more gauges, like the clock I wished for. Spotlights are standard. With a 2006 price ($15,395 base) about $2400 less than the Electra Glide Classic and even $1600 below the Road King, the FLHT is a relative bargain, especially if you don't have any use for a radio or trunk. If don't have a passenger, giving up the trunk (which makes a great passenger backrest) is not a hardship at all and makes the bike look less stodgy, though the Street Glide is an even sleeker take on the same idea. The radio, trunk, and other equipment that you add to make an Electra Glide Standard an Electra Glide Classic adds about 18 pounds.

During the more than 3000 miles of my ride, the Electra Glide Standard was a great traveling companion, offering better air management than a bagger with just a windshield but unencumbered by a pile of accessories. It gave no problems, sipped gas, and used no oil at all. That was just the way I wanted it, since my taste for nostalgia didn't extend to roadside wrenching.

SPECIFICATIONS
2005 Harley-Davidson FLHTI Electra Glide Standard

Suggested base price: $15,395 with carburetor, $15,620 with fuel injection (2006)
Standard colors: Black
Optional colors: Red or blue, add $390

ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Engine type: Air-cooled tandem 45-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: 1 intake, 1 exhaust vale; operated by pushrods with hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1450cc, 95.2x 101.5mm
Compression ratio: 8.9:1
Carburetion: 1, 40mm or EFI
Transmission: 5 speeds
Final drive: Belt

CHASSIS
Seat height: 30.7 in.
Claimed weight: 758 lb. dry, 789 lb. wet
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: MU85B16 Dunlop D402
Front brake: 2, 4-piston calipers, 11.5-in. discs
Rear brake: 4-piston caliper, 11.5-in. disc
Front suspension: 4.6 in. travel
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, 3.0 in. travel
Fuel consumption: 39 to 51 mpg, 47.7-mph average

_Additional motorcycle road tests, first rides, and comparison tests are available at the Road Tests section of MotorcycleCruiser.com. For a complete listing of the motorcycle tests available, see the _Motorcycle Cruiser Road Test Finder.

Though not as roomy as some other touring bikes, the Electra Glide is much handier in traffic.
Though it doesn't have an audio system, the spotlights are standard equipment, in the same clearlens reflector-optics style as the headlight. The fairing gives substantially better wind protection than just a windshield and the absence of lowers allows better cooling in hot weather.
The author rode one 1000-mile day at the end of his 3300-mile trip on the Electra Glide Standard and still felt comfortable when he arrived.
With stretches of up to 180 miles between gas stations on Route 395, the Harley's 200-plus-mile range was a huge asset.