The last three years have been a product blitz from the evolutionary norm of Harley-Davidson. The new RUSHMORE line of touring motorcycles, the Livewire electric motorcycle and the Street 500/750 have barnstormed the industry. However, 2016 sees a return to evolving key models of the product line to keep existing customers happy with some simple but significant improvements.
For 2016, every step of the Harley line, from entry-level to the highest end, received tweaks. We went to Portland to experience all the changes made throughout the line.
The Sportster and Street 500/750 are absolutely critical to Harley-Davidson’s success. Both are entries into the brand, expanding the brand in overseas markets and responsible for bringing new customers into the fold. Key changes were made to improve refinement and riding quality, but very little revolutionary changes were implemented.
The Sportster Forty-Eight, a stalwart of their Dark Custom Line, and Iron 883 both received new, more comfortable seats, revised paint and cast wheels. The Forty-Eight also received 49mm front forks.
These changes made them markedly more friendly to ride on the pockmarked roads of Portlandia. When the going gets twisty, the lowered rotating mass of the wheels has a minimal but appreciated improvement in turn-in, and the seat makes bouncing around a bit more comfortable. Still the same Sportster, now with a bit more comfort and value added.
The Street 500 and 750 have crushed it in international markets and had reasonable success in the States, but to fire it up, Harley instituted changes heard from both existing and prospective customers, namely aesthetic changes to bring it more in line with the rest of the family. This means more metal trim, rerouted wires and an overall cleaner routing scheme to decrease the frump. We didn’t have a chance to ride this one, so a verdict will have to wait.
Bringing the Boom
The next rung on the Harley ownership ladder is their midsize cruiser family – the Dynas and Softails – and this is where the biggest changes were made. With intense competition from other OEMs, Harley brought out the hot rod approach for 2016: stuff a big motor in it.
Now, for the first time ever, customers can get the Dual Cam 110 Cu In. motor out of the touring family in the midsize bikes. These aren’t necessarily lithe, but the added shove makes passing on the highway easy. These new models are designated with an “S,” and the first ones are the Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S.
Compared to the last Softail we tested several years ago, the extra gumption was awesome to have in the higher altitude of Mt. Hood and behaving like a goon around town. The motor is not available in all trims, but if you want the most shove, step into the Softail Slim and Fat Boy S. The Softail Slim, in particular, is striking in Captain America-ish olive denim paint.
The alpha stage of Harley ownership is the heavy-duty Touring and Bagger families. One of the most popular models, the Road Glide Ultra, hasn’t been available in the U.S., and as the bike of choice for Harley’s most loyal and mile-hungry contingent, this was a glaring omission. But the big boy is back for 2016.
With a revised fairing, RUSHMORE water-cooled motor, and dripping in the new gadgets from the rest of the line, the Road Glide Ultra is a bruiser of a touring machine. Fans that have been holding out will be excited for this one.
Wherever you find yourself in the Harley family, the raft of improvements has filled critical gaps in the lineup, improved areas that customers wanted, and made incremental improvements across the board for these models. Which one is your favorite?