Monday, June 9, 2008

The wrap up - The Bike

I'll break this wrap-up down into several posts, eaching being topical. Let's get the simple stuff out of the way on this first one: the bike.

Note: Any posts I make are solely and wholly from my perspective, based on my experiences and should not be considered the opinions of the group as a whole. I'm still hoping the other guys post up soon.

The bike I took on this trip was my 2008 Harley-Davidson FLHX Street Glide. I've already explained ad-nauseum why I bought the bike in the first place, so honestly... I'm getting sick and tired of hearing "you sold your FJR for a Harley? Are you nuts?" Piss right off, ok? Thanks.

The FLHX is a variant of the touring-frame Electraglide model. It's got less chrome and fewer appointments than the full on touring models and doesn't come with a tour-trunk stock. It's meant to be the more stripped-down, "hot rod" version of the Electraglide. From the factory it's really meant to be a 1-up "sporty" touring bike (but Harley's idea of 'sporty' doesn't exactly match a lot of peoples' idea of sporty). While it's got floorboards up front, the FLHX has pretty chrome pegs for the passengers rather than floorboards, and the passenger seat is less than optimal for anyone who will ride more than 1/2 hour at a pop.

The Street Glide is powered by the same air-cooled, 96" 'Big Twin' engine as is in the other Harleys and remains to this day, completely stock in that regard. I'm not one for loud pipes, performance engine mods and trying to eke out another 4 horse power for THOUSANDS of dollars on a touring bike. That's just plain stupid. There are way faster bikes that do things way better if that's your thing. Often for far less money, too. Ya know... like an FJR for instance.

The features I added or changed on the bike include are completely for comfort and features, including:

  • Full 2-up touring seat
  • Passenger floorboards
  • Full tour-pack (vs. the "chopped" tour pack which looks nicer but holds less)
  • GPS & Autocom communications system
  • Better fork internals
  • Better-than-stock tires

My goal was to make the bike a full-on 1-up or 2-up distance tourer with all the available storage space, while improving the ride and handling. The bike had close to 5,000 miles on it before the trip (all my miles), and now sits just shy of 11,000 miles total. The trip was just under 6,000 miles from Portland to my driveway via the routes we chose.

Ride Quality & performance

I did not weigh everything I had strapped on the bike, but I'll run through a list of what I was carrying, more or less, in the Wrap Up - The Gear post. If I had to guess, I'm going to guess I was carrying just over 100 lbs of tools, luggage, provisions, spare riding gear, optional riding gear, etc.

Both saddle bags were full, one with a carry-out bag containing my clothes and daily-use items, the other containing rain gear, heated gear, extra gloves, first-aid kit, tire kit, spare batteries (Autocom & SPOT). The tour-pack held the stuff I used every day, or mostly every day, including bottles of water, my jacket shell (Joe Rocket Alter Ego), crash-bar lowers, sweat shirt, camera bag, sneakers, GMRS radio & charger, Autocom, clear/spare visor, misc. paper work, etc.

A back seat bag held the main tool kit, my Camelbak and a spare set of rain gear in case anyone needed it (these belonged to Keith).

From a power-delivery perspective, the bike had no idea that extra weight was back there. But without air in the rear shocks, the front end was wallowy and wandered quite a bit. Once I arrived in Portland, the first order of (bike) business was to find a gas station and top off the shocks with 35 PSI of air. Once that was done, the bike leveled out and handled and rode fine. It tracked true and felt confident in the turns. I really couldn't feel the weight in turns and such, but the bike felt pretty harsh on severe road bumps.

The bike made for some rough going on the dirt, wash-rutted roads on the Day-4 Off Road Excursion. I bottomed out both ends of the bike several times and once or twice I thought I might have actually compressed the tire and banged the rim. But, I saw nothing on the rims, so perhaps not.

But on the road, "it's all good". The bias-ply tires seemed a bit more sensitive to road conditions with the extra weight, but nothing bad. Just a bit more feedback and hunting in the grooves.

Comfort - heat, cold, buffeting & body position

The seating position on this bike is ridiculously neutral and inert. If it wasn't getting a little sore from sitting stationary for so long - which would happen on any bike, chair, car or plane seat - I have NO issues with the seating on the 'Glide. Super comfy for chewing up the miles. I did find it helpful to put my feet up on the passenger boards, or up on the crash bars, when we were going across the large, open, flat, boring states, to help stretch my legs a little.

We rode in temperatures ranging from the low 30s in the high mountains, to roughly 110 in the plains - in Oregon, of all places! On the very few occasions I actually felt cold, most of that was taken care of by putting on a sweat shirt under my gear and putting on non-mesh gloves. I only had to use my heated gear on two occasions, one of which was the snow-storm up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

As far as the heat goes, riding this bike in severe heat is absolute torture if you're below, say, 25 MPH or worse (worst?), sitting in traffic. The 07s and up run VERY hot due to having to be leaned out so much for the newer CARB emissions standards. And wow, will it cook you. The secret is to keep moving, or pull over and dismount until traffic is flowing again. Idling the bike in traffic above 90-degrees... you deserve everything you get.


Many people find that adding a Power Commander, TFI or SERT module to richen the mixture, then changing the pipes for better air flow, work to help cool the bike down. Considerably, apparently. I might spring for a module, but I am *not* doing pipes. Nope. Not an option.

Buffeting - my favorite subject. I seem to be in that segment of people that falls just outside the bell-curve for body-size normalcy. I'm a little short and I guess I'm short in the torso. Most bikes have me either hiding behind the windshield, or sitting right in the buffeting zone just below the flow of clean air over the helmet. This bike is no exception, but this time, it's not the fault of the windshield. I don't have this problem on sport bikes - they're made for smaller-framed people. Of course, they're also made for people that are about 2/3 my weight, and in much better shape in general. That lean-over seating just kills me these days.

Airflow on the 'Glide is very interesting. Air enters the front of the bike around and between the forks, and flows over the front engine cylinder. From here you might think it would continue back, over the rear cylinder, then down and out the bike to the lower rear area. Ah, wouldn't that be nice? Instead, the air washes around the rear cylinder and the now super-heated air flows up around the sides of the tank and almost straight up. When that air meets what's going up over the fairing and windshield, the buffeting zone is exactly where my helmet sits. I have tried several windshields, including a spare I took on this trip, all to no avail. Unless I put on a 17-inch SAIL on the front of the bike, I seem to only be able to move the buffeting zone about 2 inches on a vertical plane. I always have buffeting. If I were 2-3 inches taller in the torso, or had a longer neck, I'd probably be fine. But, alas... my gargoyle-like proportions fail me again.

If I had to do over again, I'd simply buy the Road King (non-faired version of the same bike) and ditch the windshield altogether. Live and learn. It's a common problem with me. I hate buffeting!

Anyway, I had opportunity to really explore the aerodynamics of this bike, and I think I can make a little farkle to put under the tank to help mitigate, if not elminate, the buffeting. I think some air deflectors and an air channel to force the air to continue past the rear cylinder, rather than flaring out around the tank and upward, will do wonders for me. We'll see.

In conclusion

I dare say I was among the most comfortable on this trip and certainly among the least-fatigued at the end of each day of riding. While you can ride this bike pretty fast and pretty hard, it's a good deal of work to do so and that extra work might have balanced out the fatigue the others were feeling to a degree. Most nights I was dead tired, but on those nights I got a good night's sleep, I was able to get right back in the saddle again and do it all over again the next day, with no lasting affects. It wasn't until day 14 or so that my back started giving me some grief, but it was minor and it did not last. Another week on the trip might have brought more, but as it was, this was a fine-duration trip with the right amount of riding and non-bike time.

I was able to carry everything I needed - and then some - right on the bike and didn't need to rely on anyone else for extra storage space. In fact, a few times I ferried some things for other people because I had a little extra room. I was able to always have extra water, Gatorade, juice, etc., with me for myself or others if they needed it. Awesome!

I was able to stow enough gear for all the weather we were expecting (and hit!) and never worried over stuff I couldn't bring. It all worked out well.

This bike might just be the perfect legal-speed distance tourer. No, it's not a sport-tourer and no, it's not going to win any races, but getting there (where ever "there" is) feeling fit, refreshed and ready to go... this bike EXCELS where others may simply do "well enough". And yeah... you can rock the occasional twisty if you're a good rider and keep your head on straight.

There were times when I'd wished I was on something more sporty, but at the end of the trip, I really have no regrets on my choice to bring the Street Glide. It did its job well.


Anonymous said...

You wrote: "This bike might just be the perfect legal-speed distance tourer."

I respond: "No sir."

You know why I'd say that. :-)

Don in Tucson

Dan said...

Don is very loyal to his Wing.

So Chris, how would this post have looked had the trip been taken on your old FJR?

- Dan

Anonymous said...

Similar, but not the same. More sport. Less comfort. Less storage space. More advil consumed after each day. Less weather protection.

Maverick750 said...

How was gas quality, Chornbe? When you burn and fill so many tanks in so many different locations around the country - if there is some crappy gas, you're going to find out.

Anonymous said...

I ran 89 octane (bike requires 91) across most of the country, and 87 in the higher altitudes. I never had any problems, but the thing runs hot and drives me absolutely nuts in hot weather. I will be addressing that. But as far as fuel quality, the bike always ran fine. I did get CRAPPY gas mileage in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Missouri.