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Harley-Davidson 2010: Return of the Wide Glide

Here’s something I learned last week in Denver, Colorado while attending the 2010 Harley-Davidson new-model press introduction: no matter what happens, life goes on.

Yep, everyone seems to be struggling in this industry. The Motor Company, though still profitable, is struggling with declining sales, profits, and troubles with its financing arm. Honda finally stopped building motorcycles at its Marysville, OH plant, the nascent AMA Superbike racing organization is having a hard time establishing credibility with fans, and the owner of Rossmeyer’s Daytona Racing, the most successful Buell racing team in recent memory, Bruce Rossmeyer, sadly passed away while riding to Sturgis.

And yet, the beast must be fed. We in the moto-press have to keep shoveling content into the demanding maw of the moto-press-reading public, and H-D has to keep moving forward, introducing new models to its fans and prospective buyers. And that’s the good news: despite adversity, despite tough times, H-D is still busily cranking out new models and new styles, working hard to open new markets.

But more about that later. Drum roll: meet the new-make that the renewed-Wide Glide. Chief Styling Officer Willie G. Davidson himself created the original Wide Glide back in 1980 (“I just started taking parts off,” says the beret-wearing icon). The bike was produced until 2008, but Willie decided it was time to bring it back with a fresh re-style.

2010 Wide Glide
2010 Wide Glide

Willie G. is all about the art of motorcycle design, and to him that means proportion. So he took the old Wide Glide (named for its wide-spaced forks) and made it lower and darker. The 40-spoke laced wheels, a 21-incher in front and 17-incher in back, get black powder coat. The 41mm fork is lowered, but retains its 34-degree rake. The ape-hangers go back to the monkey cage and a lower bar is bolted onto a four-inch riser. The seat and rear suspension also get lowered, resulting in a bike that’s a full inch lower (at a 25.5 inch seat height) than the other Dyna models. “Seat height is a number-one item” that buyers (particularly women) talk about, according to Willie.

Black is his favorite color, and the Wide Glide gets lots of it, along with other cosmetic touches. The battery box, fender mounts and the 96 cubic-inch motor’s cases get a black crinkle-finish, the mirrors and bar clamp are blacked out, and paint is a glossy black (or deep red) with optional flame job. The turn signals double as stop and taillights, and the chopped rear fender is shorter than the old bike’s. Even the sissy bar is an abbreviated “wire” item. The exhaust is a Fat-Bob-style “Tommy Gun” 2-1-2 with staggered mufflers. It’ll be priced at $14,499; the 2008 was priced (in 105th anniversary two-tone livery) at $17,620.

Speaking of low and black, the Softail Fat Boy gets new clothes this year too. It’s been a hot seller since it was introduced in 1990 (a mere spring chicken!) so why mess with a good thing? Well, they didn’t: the standard Fat Boy is unchanged, but there is now a special Fat Boy Lo, with lowered suspension (by 1.5 inches) and seat, resulting in a lowest-for-Harley-Davidson seat height of 24.25 inches. Cosmetics changes include lots of blacked-out parts, new aluminum 17-inch wheels and a leather tank panel. Pricing is $16,299 for the matte-black paint, $375 for the glossy black.

2010 Road Glide
2010 Road Glide

What’s the best-selling H-D? No, it’s not the Sportster. Surprisingly, it’s at the other end of the price spectrum, the big touring Electra Glide. All the touring models were revamped for 2009, resulting in much improved handling and carrying capacity, but there was still a hole in the lineup between the $20,999 (more for color options) Ultra Classic and $35,999 CVO Ultra Classic (also new for 2010; we’ll provide a separate report on the CVO models soon). Enter the Electra Glide Ultra Limited. It gets a 103-cubic-inch engine, new aluminum wheels, two-tone paint and special badging, along with heated grips, a special power-equipped trunk, luggage rack and luggage liners, and unique instruments with LED lighting. Priced at $24,699 (add $1200 for custom colors), it should be a good way for Ultra buyers to get more power and a little exclusivity without opting for the big-bucks CVO.

Do you get your gliding done on the road or on the street? Yes, this is a confusing question, but to avoid embarrassment among a group of Harley faithful you have to know the difference between a Street Glide and a Road Glide. Both get updates for 2010. They’re lower, hipper versions of the Ultra Glide, but the Road Glide gets a frame-mounted fairing and the Street Glide uses a chopped handlebar-mounted batwing unit. The 2010 Road Glide Custom has a new 18-inch wheel (with new lower-profile 130/80-18 tire), a 2-1 exhaust for a sportier look, and those combined stop/turn/tail lamps. The Street Glide gets similar changes, and both bikes are priced at $18,999, more for two-tone or custom colors.

2010 Electra Glide Ultra Limited
2010 Electra Glide Ultra Limited

Part of H-D’s road to financial wellness is developing product lines to appeal to new markets, as well as to keep their traditional-or “core”-buyers riding for longer. To do that, the company started building its own line of trikes, rather than let aftermarket builders feast at that table alone. We showed you the Tri-Glide Ultra Classic last year, and now it has the pornographically named, $26,999 FLHXXX Street Glide Trike to join it. It’s just what it sounds like; the lowered Street Glide chassis mated to a factory engineered-and-built trike platform. Just the thing to “follow the Baby Boomers for 10 to 15 years,” as marketing man Bill Davidson (yes, he’s Willie’s son) said.

Enough talking, it’s time for riding. We got two days to ride all the new and existing models in rugged canyons and mountains west of Denver. I spent some freeway and twisty-road time on the Wide Glide, and it gets the job done with heavy emphasis on style. The 96 c.i. motor was as smooth and torquey as I remembered, and the seating position was good, with decent cornering clearance from the forward-mounted pegs and a natural reach to the bars. The lowered suspension and extreme rake mean it’s not the first choice for backroad fun; there isn’t a lot of travel from those shocks and the front wheel kind of skips over bumps, but put 20 motojournos on bikes behind a V-Rod-mounted Paul James (communications man for H-D and Buell with a secret life as an AMA racer) and every two-wheeler gets ridden like a sportbike, revealing its flaws. Your mileage may vary, but my guess is that at the pace this bike was intended to ride, it’s more than capable.

2010 Fat Boy Lo
2010 Fat Boy Lo

The Fat Boy was similar; low, solid, stable, but with even more limited cornering clearance. Still, it’s a great-looking ride, with styling refreshed by the sinister-looking matte-black finish and aluminum mufflers. And the motor on all the big Twins is very satisfying, with enough torque to make shifting mostly optional, even at a mile or two above sea level. The FI on all the bikes was also flawless. An important update for 2010 is a helical-cut fifth gear, resulting in less gear noise. And thank God: I’m sick of being woken up by those noisy fifth gears when the bars close.

The new Touring bikes didn’t surprise-or disappoint. The Street and Road Glides did what they are supposed to do; cruise in style and offer wind protection, luggage capacity and even tunes pumping out of the 80-watt sound system. But for serious comfort, style and protection, the Ultra Limited was the hot ticket; there was a lot of competition to get on it and enjoy the heated grips and extra wind protection on a cold July day. But heated grips weren’t the only benefit; that 103 motor is perfect for an Ultra, essentially the motor from the CVO models just a few years ago. Why not put it in all the bikes, I asked the marketing guys. They didn’t roll their eyes, but I know they wanted to. A disappointment was not being able to ride the trikes, but they didn’t have any for us to ride; stay tuned.

There was a lot of new and pricey hardware, but I have to admit my favorite ride of the two days was the lowly $7899 883 Iron. Sure, it’s a very bare-bones bike, rudimentary in a lot of ways, but it has something lacking in that price range: cool. It is an undeniably cool bike, with its fork gaiters, flat-black paint, combined stop-and-turn lights and side-mounted license plate. It’s also nice and low, but doesn’t feel like a watered-down “chick” bike. And even though it’s a claimed 565 pounds wet, it feels light and flickableā€¦at least compared to its 660-pound-plus Dyna and Softail cousins.

That speaks to The Motor Company’s quest for new markets and new customers. One segment the marketing crew mentioned-frequently-was the “young adult” demographic. “Every ‘core’ rider was a young adult at some point in time,” said Bill Davidson, referring to the notion that H-D’s models appeal mainly to older, more conservative riders. But in fact, 30,000 bikes were sold to younger buyers (which H-D defines as under 35) in 2008, more than 10% of total sales, and Davidson seemed proud of how H-D was able to maintain its average customer age of 47 for more than a few years. The marketing team is reaching out to young guys with its tough-looking Dark Custom models like the Cross Bones, sponsoring youth-oriented phenomena like the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and utilizing social networking media like Facebook and Twitter.

There are more new markets than young buyers. Women now comprise 12% of sales, and the Motor Co.’s goal is to train 100,000 new women riders through its Rider’s Edge program, as well as reach out to women at events like the International Female Ride Day and the Women’s Day at Sturgis. There are minorities out there too, like Latinos, and H-D has its “>

And although the overseas market hasn’t taken up enough of the domestic market’s slack, there’s still room to expand there. The XR1200 gets a brother for 2010, the XR1200X. It gets a cool blacked-out cosmetic treatment, but it also gets improved suspension, complete with fully adjustable (and slightly lighter) Showa Big Piston forks that we loved on the 2009 Kawasaki ZX-6R and reservoir-equipped, adjustable rear shocks. We don’t get that model here, but XR fans rejoice: the forks and shocks are available as a kit for just $1500. Sadly, they’ll only work on the XR1200.

Twenty-Ten won’t be The Motor Company’s best year, but it won’t be its worst. After 107 years, it’s still giving its customers what they want while maintaining a distinctive brand identity. And these new models may not be stunning revelations, but they will keep on with that tradition. Nothing wrong with that.