Initial Impressions: 2006 Harley-Davidson FLHXI Street Glide Motorcycle

New for 2006, the FLHX Street Glide, a lower, sleeker version of Harley-Davidson's full-dress touring motorcycle, provides some surprises. By Art Friedman

I like Harley's Touring machines. They are comfortable, have good range, and handle more responsively than the average dresser when the road begins to undulate. The audio quality on those that have radios and CD or tape players was substandard, but I have always believed that the ride road always makes it own music. Of course, I hadn't paid extra to get those audio features.

The latest Touring family member, the FLHXI Street Glide, sounded to me like a step in the wrong direction, though with some nice features. In my mind, touring bikes are first of all functional. The Street Glide includes some traditional Harley touring features— the batwing fairing, an audio system (more about that below), hard saddlebags, air-adjustable rear suspension, covered fork tubes, full fenders, engine and saddlebag guards, extensive instrumentation, and rider floorboards. But then it gives away some cornering clearance with low-profile suspension, which drops the custom bucket seat to just 27.3 inches off the street (or 26.3 inches with the rider aboard). A short, tinted wind deflector replaces the full windshield.

There are a number of unique cosmetic features on the FLHX. The spotlights and front fender trim are gone. Fairing-mount mirrors are used instead of the usual stalked items mounted on the handlebar. Rear fender "ground effects" fill the space between the saddlebags and fender and add LED lighting to the bottom edge of the fender. Slotted black cast wheels and "slash-down" mufflers reinforce the down-low profile. Custom-style details include a stretched chrome tank console, smoked-chrome tank emblem, a perforated insert on the seat, streamliner floorboards, passenger pegs and brake pedal, a low-hung license plate mount with hidden lighting, and color-matched latches on the saddlebags. That latter touch makes a surprising difference in the bike's appearance.

The Street Glide also gets all the upgrades fitted to the entire touring line. They include a New low-effort clutch system and a 50-amp/650-watt charging system. For 2006, Harley has introduced a completely new 40-watt-per-channel (double previous models) audio system by Harman/Kardon. The AM/FM/XM/WB/CD-MP3 system provides improved sound quality and speaker fidelity and will integrate new and future electronic accessories.

The first of these extra-cost add-ons is a fully integrated XM Satellite Radio module. When installed, the XM system uses the standard audio system display and controls. Also ready to go is a hands-free cellphone module that utilizes Bluetooth to wirelessly send and receive calls through the audio system, preferably with a headset. Although it apparently requires the trunk, the system allows you to use a Bluetooth cell phone while riding. Calls can be sent and received via the standard radio hand controls, and names and numbers can be viewed on the audio system screen to place outgoing calls. Full voice-activation can also be used to place outgoing calls. A GPS system is also in the works.

While I don't believe that cellphones should be used by operators of any vehicles except in an emergency, if you are going to use one, it's probably better to have a system that integrates as well as the new Harley audio system apparently does (though I have not used it). The new audio system finally provides sufficient volume and clarity to make it useful at highway speeds, even with the limited wind protection of the Street Glide. The bike I rode was fitted with the XM Radio option, and that provides excellent sound quality, stations for almost any taste (like 150 choices), and the ability to keep listening to the same station almost anywhere you ride in North America. The exception is when you ride though a place where something blocks its view of the southern sky, as happened a few times when I was riding in canyons in Colorado.

As with the 2006 Dyna models, my first impression when I climbed aboard the Street Glide was how easily the clutch lever pulled in to disengage the clutch. My next impression was how smoothly it engaged. This made the bike feel more controllable and manageable at low speeds, pulling away more smoothly. That feeling was furthered by the Street Glide's lowered center of mass. Unfortunately, being low also meant that the FLHXI dragged more easily in corners than other members of Harley-Davidson's Touring clan, though it was pretty close to other cruising-styled tourers. In fast corners, there was a hint of that wallow that we have experienced on other H-D tourers. Otherwise The Street Glide was pure fun to ride. Since it's a bit lighter than the other dressers, it feels a bit quicker than they do.

What surprised me most was how comfortable it was. The saddle looked thinner than the Electra Glide Standard I rode for the weeks before and after the 2006 model intro rides, but it was actually more comfortable, even after several hours in the saddle. Though the front end has the same 4.6 inches of travel as the Electra Glide Standard, the Street Glide's 2.0 inches of travel at the rear is an inch shorter than the Electra Glide's. One th Colorado roads that were used for the intro ride, I didn't encounter any bumps that hit me especially hard, but I may have some complaints when I ride one on the mean streets of Los Angeles. The riding position worked perfectly for me and left enough room for me to vary my posture and where the pressure was.

Those fairing-mounted mirrors are a big improvement too. They are nice and smooth and better shaped than those backward-shaped mirrors on other Harleys. I hope they will turn up on the rest of the family.

Harley's cosmetic changes have also created a great-looking bike, in my view. Combine that with good handling, great comfort, and the cutting-edge audio system, and you have a pretty—and pretty functional—traveling bike. I eagerly await the opportunity to take it on a longer ride.

SPECIFICATIONS
2006 Harley-Davidson FLHXI Street Glide

Suggested base price: $17,795 (black)
Optional colors: Black pearl, black cherry, blue, add $390
Seat height: 27.3 in.
Claimed wet weight: 776 lb.
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal.
Wheelbase: 63.5 in.
Rake/trail: 29.3o/6.2 in.
Front tire: MT90B16
Rear tire: MU85B16
Front brake: Dual 4-piston calipers, 11.8-in. discs
Rear brake: 4-piston caliper, 11.5-in. disc
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 4.6 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 2.0 in. travel

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Good-looking and comfortable, though with limited cornering clearance, the Street Glide rides are good as it looks.
The new audio system's display provides easily scanned info about the system and options like the XM and the Bluetooth cellphone module.
Color-matching those big saddlebag latches cleans up the bags considerably.
The fairing-mounted mirrors not only look good, they are more effective than the usual handlebar-mounted mirrors.
The familiar 1450cc V-twin engine gets a black-and-chrome finish treatment.
Harley has put a lot of attention into styling details of the FLHX's back half.