not as we know it. Harley
Davidson, purveyors of fine motorcycles since 1903, aren't
exactly renowned for their revolutionary mechanical changes.
And while they've got the sort of customer loyalty that lesser
brands (and by that I mean any other brand) would
kill for, you have to accept that as being perfectly reasonable.
And yet there are still the occasional grumbles, usually from
the press, about the necessity for that much 'character' being
retained in a bike which was supposed to be a twenty first
You can argue the rights and wrongs
of traditional character versus modern engineering until the
cows come home, but it seems that normally there's no place
for the two to live side by side. Until now, anyway. Because
with the 2007 range Harley Davidson has taken the established
rule book and thrown it out of the window.
Now before you start getting all agitated,
let's look at what hasn't changed. Harley Davidson haven't
got to where they are in the marketplace by being daft. And
it would be daft indeed to alienate their core customers or
to turn their backs on the very qualities that have put them
where they are today. So Harleys are still big, they're still
vee twins, they still have acres of deep, quality chrome and
they are still the benchmark against which all other bikes
in their sector has to be judged. In fact a casual observer
would be pressed to notice any difference at all between a
2005 and a 2006 model, because cosmetically there's not much
to see. And that's a Good Thing, because cosmetically there's
not much needed changing.
So what has changed
a lot, actually. There's something we need to establish first,
though. In essence there are three flavours of Harley Davidson.
There are Sportsters, which have a 1200cc or 883cc unit drivetrain,
there are VRSCs - the V-Rod and Street Rod range - with their
totally different liquid cooled engines and there is the Dyna,
which covers everything else. But as the changes mainly apply
to the Dyna rage, so we'll stick with that for the moment
and look at the others later.
The Dyna Harleys all share the same
engine and drivetrain. A separate engine and gearbox, linked
by a primary drive chain and essentially unchanged in decades.
But now there are major changes across the range, starting
at the induction end and finishing at the back wheel. All
Harleys are now fuel injected and have an ingenious valve
in the inlet system which is part of their active intake and
exhaust. More on that in a bit. Engines have grown from the
previous 88 cubic inches to 96 cubic inches. That's 1584cc
in real money. It may look the same but there are 700 new
parts inside, despite the fact that the extra capacity is
just gained through an increased stroke. There are actually
two versions of the engine, both externally identical. The
softails get a rigidly mounted engine with balance shafts
while the others get the unbalanced engine in elastic mounts.
It seems that customers who buy the softail prefer a rigidly
mounted engine. The exhaust again has a valve in it to complete
the active exhaust part of the system, and the whole thing
is Euro III emissions compliant. Which is quite an achievement.
The active inlet and exhaust is a neat
idea. At first you'd think it was a power valve but in fact
that isn't the case. No, the valve is controlled by a processor
which notes your speed, throttle position, revs and gear and
decides when you're probably in town. At that point it closes
a couple of flaps and makes the bike quieter and so less intrusive.
Outside those parameters the valves are open and you get the
full Harley experience. I'm simplifying, but that's the general
principle. It's a neat way of addressing the complaints people
make about noise while not robbing the owner of one of the
biggest features of Harley riding.
the biggest change is the gearbox. New for 2007 is a silky
smooth six speed unit. Yes, I did say silky smooth and no,
my tongue is not in my cheek. In a full day of riding a variety
of bikes I suffered not one missed gearchange. I also got
used to changing up and down without the clutch. The box is
easily as good as anything from Japan, and is frankly a revelation.
Ally it to a clutch which feels as though it belongs on a
2 stroke moped and you get a machine that's ever so easy to
live with in town. The sixth gear gives a 1:1 final drive
ratio and has a little indicator light on the speedo to tell
you it's engaged. It isn't really an overdrive but it is quite
Right at the back there's a new carbon
fibre based drive belt which is 30% narrower yet stronger
than before, while numerous chassis tweaks have been brought
in to further improve the experience. To help you hang on
to your Harley, there is a new handsfree security system which
relies on proximity of the keyfob to arm and disarm. It's
about as simple as you can get and seems to work quite well.
Right, enough of the presentation and
on with the riding. The test route was an
inspired selection of sweeping A roads and tight, twisty country
lanes. Mother Nature and Leicestershire County Council had
conspired together to liberally scatter gravel, animal droppings
and bits of tree around the route while the local farmers
kept things interesting with hedge cutters and tractors a-plenty.
Choosing a route with at least two hairpin bends was a brave
choice by Harley as getting large, heavy and somewhat slow
steering machines round slow tight bends is never going
to show them at their best. But perhaps that was the idea.
I rode just about every model in the Dyna range over the same
fifteen mile or so test route (I chose to stick to the same
route so I could compare - there were options) and not once
did I find myself wishing I was on something else. Yes there
were places where a sportsbike would have been quicker or
where a supermoto might have been more appropriate. Having
got lost the first time out (one of the signs had blown down)
and ended up in town, perhaps a scooter would have been better.
But the overall experience was fabulous.
The new engine feels strong and revs
out nicely, though to be honest I didn't really manage to
spot that much of a difference over the 2006 model available
for comparison. Not because the difference isn't significant,
but because the new gearbox masks almost everything else.
You see before I'd get the bike into gear and rely on the
engine to do the work, the gearbox being so intrusive. But
now it's no chore at all to hop up and down through the box,
so although there's noticeably more power and torque than
before, you're using the box better as well so the overall
result is little short of spectacular. The chassis revisions
help, too. Though ground clearance is still an issue when
pressing on - I ended up scraping footboards and pegs on almost
everything I rode - there was none of the wallowing that sometimes
accompanied spirited riding before and the scraping didn't
seem to be about to upset anything. Brakes are better though
definitely not up to sportsbike standard and planning ahead
is the order of the day for enthusiastic riding as steering
is slow but stable.
I'm not a great fan of feet forward
riding positions - it feels utterly unnatural to me - but
despite that I found the bikes to be immensely comfortable.
There are bikes in the range with a relatively normal riding
position which suited me better, but it's fair to say that
anyone will be able to find a Dyna Harley to fit them.
we finish we ought to take a look at the other models
in the Harley range. Particularly the Sportster, because that
may well be the most important bike Harley make. 75% of Sportster
owners are new to Harley Davidson, but an astonishing 80%
of them trade up to another Harley with eighteen months. That
says a great deal about just how good an introduction to the
brand the Sportster must be. And it's going to be even better
now as the entire range gets fuel injection and various other
tweaks to make them all Euro III compliant and to make them
more rideable. The 883, for example - the real entry level
Harley - gets a whopping 15% torque increase which will easily
address any criticisms that may have been levelled in the
past regarding a lack of grunt.
There are a lot of changes that have
been made to the entire Harley Davidson range, and it's pleasing
to notice that they have been done without sacrificing the
core elements of what makes a Harley a Harley. They haven't
added weight, either. The new engine weighs a pound more than
the old one, but the new drive belt weighs a pound less. Overall
there's virtually nothing in it. Not, I suppose, that the
odd hundredweight really matters on a Harley anyway. But the
real achievement is that these improvements have been made
without an accompanying hike in price. In fact, on average,
a 2007 bike will cost just £300 more than an '06. Some
models have no price rise at all.
We're going to be testing specific
models in depth throughout the year, so I'll sign off by saying
that first impressions were very, very favourable