2021 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special
Whether you are in a mid-life crisis, or want to have a cool-looking bike, or just want a comfortable touring motorcycle for long trips, Harley-Davidson got you covered with the latest Road Glide Special. It may not be the go-to bike for many riders, but for riders who are into cruisers, or touring machines, it is one of the ultimate motorcycles to have in your stable.
When it comes to cruisers and customization, Harley-Davidson is the first brand that comes to mind, and the Road Glide series has been on the road for more than 20 years. It was first introduced in 1998, and it was using the same frame and motor assembly as the Electra Glide. Of course, it had a completely redesigned fairing back in time.
Harley Davidson kept that redesigned fairing the same even in the 2021 model bike. It still has dual headlights with a shark nose. Even though it has modern body lines, it still keeps traditional design elements including the headlights, fairings, handlebar design, engine layout, side bags and pretty much the whole bike. Of course, 2021 Road Glide comes with much more modern features making it a modern-day classic.
Customization is one of the strongest selling points of any Harley Davidson motorcycle, as many high-tier models come with several different colour options. Though many old-school riders may prefer black or darker tones, Road Glide models come with 10 different colour combinations. You not only choose the colour but also engine and exhaust colours may either be chrome or matte black. Our tester had the unique Billiard Teal colour matched with matte black exhaust.
Personally, I love this colour combination and apparently I was not the only person that like this colour combo. It’s definitely a head-turner and having a Cruiser/Touring bike with rare colour makes things much easier for you, if you like to draw attention. Yes, I am bored of seeing blacked-out cruisers, and I am very glad Harley Davidson has different colours other than black.
It’s not only colour options in terms of customization, but the Road Glide family has three different versions. The first one is the Road Glide base version, our tester is the middle trim called Road Glide Special with more features, bigger engine and stretched side bags, and the top trim is called Road Glide Limited that has even more features and with better rear passenger accommodation.
In the front end, it has beefy front forks that can handle the overall weight. It comes with a 19″ front wheel with 4 piston dual calipers in the front, which is adequate for this type of bike. There is only one engine option with the Road Glide, which is the Milwaukee Eight engine. Regular Road Glide comes with a 107 cubic inch engine, whereas our tester “Special” has a 114 cubic inch version. Although they have different displacement, it is essentially the same engine.
There are three different Milwaukee-Eight options, those are 107, 114 and 117. 114 sits right in the middle but it is more than adequate for a touring machine like this. The Milwaukee-Eight engine lineup is also used in many other Harley models and there is a reason for that. It is a solid tried and true platform. It’s a classic American V-Twin with pushrods, air cooling, shotgun-style exhausts on both sides, pretty fun to ride on a daily basis.
Harley Davidson would not give any details about the horsepower, but it has 118 lb-ft of torque which is quite high for motorcycle standards. Most importantly, the torque comes as low as 1500 rpm and available till you hit the 5000 rpm mark, it dies down a bit after 5000 and it redlines at 5500 rpm, which is expected from a pushrod engine.
I enjoyed the Milwaukee Eight 114ci engine just because of the fact that it makes slow riding fun. As it has tons of torque pretty much everywhere, it does not force you to rev higher rpm, or you don’t have to do gear hunting to find the optimal rev range, as long as you are above 1500 rpm it accelerates effortlessly. It does give the bike pretty decent roll-on power despite its weight and size.
I was expecting this engine to have calm characteristics even before riding it, but what I was not expecting is that how smooth and easy to ride it on a day-to-day basis. The throttle response is super smooth, there is no jerkiness. You get typical American V-Twin vibration at idle RPMs, but that’s what gave its unique character. It is definitely not a buzzy engine, and once you start moving, it is perfectly smooth. The clutch feeling is very predictable but it is heavy for a cable clutch.
Another surprising fact is that how good this engine is in terms of fuel economy. In our tests, we get 5.5L/100 KM, which is pretty impressive considering how massive is the engine is and the overall size/weight of the bike. We were able to go more than 430 km with one tank of gas (6 gal – 23 liters). This is an 853 lb. (386 kg) motorcycle and 5.5L is in the same league with middleweight naked bikes that weigh almost half of Road Glide Special.
At 6’1″ I found it extremely comfortable as it comes with floorboards, your legs are not cramped at all. The seating position feels like you sit on a comfortable chair, and floorboards give you a lot of flexibility in terms of placing your foot. Seat height is 25.9 inches (66 cm) which is quite low, making it easier for shorter riders. If riding comfort is your priority, it can’t get any better than this.
Day-to-day riding the 2021 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special is pretty easy and fun, but it depends on what type of rider you are. If you are in a lot of stop-and-go traffic or lane splitting, it may be hard to handle excessive weight as it is not easy to keep the bike upright at very low speeds. You must have a lot of leg muscle to manhandle the bike when you stop or back it up. Once you start rolling, it hides its weight due to its lower center of gravity.
It is really fun to ride the Road Glide Special on longer trips, it has nice wind protection thanks to the fairing and windshield. You get a little bit of wind on top of your helmet, but there is no wind buffeting at higher speeds. If you are a taller rider, you can always get a taller aftermarket windshield, but the standard one is adequate for riders up to 6’1″. Though you get adjustable vents, the windshield is not adjustable.
The seat comfort is nice, though you don’t get a lot of passenger accommodation with the Special trim, I see no problem riding it for long distances without a passenger. If you are planning to take passenger for long trips, you should consider Road Glide Limited as it offers a passenger backrest as well as more bottom cushion for both passenger and rider.
The standard handlebar is pretty large, which makes it easy to handle the overall weight of the bike. It has a lot of buttons on each side, you not only have essential buttons like horn and typical Harley Davidson indicators, but also you can control the infotainment system through these buttons. Of course, you get a stereo system that has two powerful speakers.
Road Glide Special comes with a special 5.25″ TFT screen with Harley’s latest infotainment system that first came out in 2019. The screen is very easy to use, touch-sensitive and you can still use buttons on the handlebar while on the move. You just need to take your time to understand the menu and button layout, as you have infotainment buttons on both sides of the handlebar, but once you get the hang of it, it is pretty easy to use.
Overall, the 2021 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special has a nice balance of modern features and practicality makes it a great option for daily riding and long trips. It comes with Cruise Control, side glove compartments with USB connectivity, and a power outlet that you can plug in your aftermarket charger in case if you need to charge more devices. Of course, you get the stretched side bags which are good for small items, but your helmet won’t fit.
Of course, no bike is perfect. There is room for improvement in terms of features, especially for the price range. First of all, for over $30000 CAD, I would expect to have a heated grips standard. It is available with the Road Glide Limited, but not with Road Glide Special. Considering this is an expensive Touring bike meant to be ridden on long trips and all types of weather, it should have been standard with the Special.
Another missing feature is the electronically adjustable windscreen. Granted, the stock windscreen is good even for a tall rider, but you still get some wind towards your helmet. Harley-Davidson decided to use a manually adjustable vent system, but still for the price range electronically adjustable windscreen should be standard.
The handling characteristics of the Road Glide Special are surprisingly good. The lower center of gravity helps a lot in terms of cornering abilities. At the end of the day, it’s a touring-oriented cruiser and it has a limited lean angle of 31 degrees, so it’s definitely not a corner carver. The bike feels lighter than its actual weight and gives you confidence in the mid corner as it feels very stable.
Suspension tuning is also important to factor in handling characteristics. Cruisers are known for having lower stances, and as a result, you get limited suspension travel. That’s why most cruisers have firm suspension settings to avoid bottoming out, and Road Glide is no exception. You can adjust the rear suspension for your weight, but the factory settings are on the firmer side. It absorbs small bumps well, but you’d ask too much if you want it to handle big bumps as it’s an almost 900 lbs cruiser with short suspension travel.
Brakes are a mixed bag. When I first started to ride the Road Glide Special, it only had 71 kilometers on it, and the front brakes were not good. After riding it for a while, it started to feel better. I think they are still not excellent, but adequate for daily driving. The initial bite is not great, but once you pull the lever hard, it stops the bike well after it’s broken in. Harley Davidson decided to use the same size brakes in the front and back with 4 piston calipers, so rear brakes are also quite capable of stopping the bike.
Safety features are not only exclusive to sport bikes, modern cruisers like the Road Glide have most of them available. Harley-Davidson calls it Reflex Defensive Rider Systems (RDRS) which is an IMU system. It’s a combination of ABS, Cornering ABS, Electronic Linked Braking, Traction Control System, Slip Control System, Vehicle Hold Control and Tyre Pressure Monitoring System working together.
Customization is a big part of Harley-Davidson riders and fans, as there are millions of accessories and aftermarket parts for Road Glide and Milwaukee-Eight engine. If you are a fan of having a unique motorcycle, Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special is a nice baseline to start, as it is already looking good right off the bat.
Last but not least is the pricing. In the ecosystem of motorcycling, $35000 CAD is a lot of money to spend for a motorcycle, so this is definitely not for a mainstream rider that is looking for a cheap alternative. 2021 Harley Davidson Road Glide Special is more for riders that prioritizes riding comfort, heritage, overall looks, build quality, extra comfort and safety over the price tag.
2021 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special starts at $33,599 and our tester had the optional Billiard Teal colour with matte black finish, which sets you back $1,800. If you don’t need additional features and extra power of the Special version, base Road Glide starts at $26,999. For more details – please visit Harley-Davidson’s website.