Common Tread

2016 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special first ride

Mar 25, 2016

The 2016 Street Glide Special slid to a stop on the loose dirt slightly less impressively than Lemmy’s Sportster Iron 883. With the weight advantage and lack of ABS, Lem was having a lot more fun sliding around in the sand and gravel than I was. 

“Looks like we found out why Google said this route would take us an hour to tackle 13 miles,” Lemmy shouted as he grinned inside his helmet. I just nodded as I wiped off my sunglasses.

Harley Street Glide Special
As the paved highway turned to dirt, we just hammered down and motored on. RevZilla photo.

Lemmy and I sat on the side of the road at the edge of Goodsprings, Nev. While only 40 miles south of Las Vegas and 15 miles from the California border, Goodsprings is from another place in time. It is a sleepy desert town with a great bar and no cell reception, the antithesis to the hustle and bustle of Vegas, where we had been lying low to escape the cold of Philadelphia while testing two new Harleys.

Riding the Harley Street Glide Special

We spent a few days logging miles on a variety of roads. We tackled the open freeway while duking it out with tractor-trailers, plowed down dirt roads where we had a better chance of seeing wild horses than other humans, and took a few passes down the Vegas strip like proper tourists. (Getting to hear Lem’s reaction to seeing the Strip for the first time in my Sena unit was a treat in itself. “Spurg, look!! A giant golden lion! He’s majestic. Oh my God, is that the Statute of Liberty? The Sphynx? Are you kidding me? Where am I?") Just two guys on Harleys out having some fun while logging as many miles as our schedule would allow.

Lemmy Harley Sportster 883
While most people will use cruise control to give their hand a rest on the highway, I used it to capture a few shots of Lem riding through The Valley of Fire on the Sportster. RevZilla photo.

The Street Glide Special preferred the highway while the Sportster ate the Big Twin’s lunch on the dirt roads. Both bikes were more at home on the winding desert roads leading through Valley of Fire State Park, around the north shore of Lake Meade, and out to Red Rock Canyon. 

While RevZilla’s self-proclaimed “Good Harley Guy” is more versed with the ol’ “Bar and Shield” brand than yours truly, over the past year I have laid down some serious mileage on a variety of Street Glides. While no considerable changes have been made for 2016, this was my first experience with Harley’s Street Glide Special, so I was curious to see if it lived up to the name.

The bike

In 2014, Harley introduced their Project Rushmore bikes. For the Street Glide, this meant a new camshaft and airbox to improve low-end torque from the 103 cubic-inch Twin Cam powerplant. In a good old-fashioned seat-of-my-pants test, I could not immediately tell the difference between the 2013 we have sitting in RevZilla’s personal collection and the 2016 I blasted around on in Vegas, but what my butt did determine was that this bike has plenty of scoot in her. 

Harley Street Glide Special
Vegas rises like a Phoenix in the distance from the inky blackness of the desert sky. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

An available linked-ABS system is standard equipment on the Street Glide Special and is available as an optional add-on for the base version. I found the brakes slowed the Street Glide to a halt impressively well. Even with a 150-pound passenger in the form of our cameraman Ryan hanging onto the back, the brakes performed flawlessly. ABS kicked in smoothly when needed without any abrupt jolting to the rider.

I prefer the revised quick-release saddlebags found on the new Rushmore bikes. It is much easier to use the new trigger release on the backside of the bag than the old hinged handle design. While there have been documented cases of these new bags falling off while riding down the road for the 2014 and ’15 models, I had no issues with this on my ‘16. For the record, Harley issued a recall and fixed all defective bags under warranty.

Handling is improved with larger 49 mm forks replacing the old 43 mm tubes found on pre-Rushmore bikes. In addition, the Special gets a revised coil over shock rear suspension with an adjustable pre-load dial located under the left saddlebag. This is a must have upgrade over the air ride suspension on the base version. Having ridden the Street Glide in all stock suspension configurations, I can say with confidence that the Street Glide Special with Harley’s “Premium Ride Touring Shocks” is the way to go if you are going to stick with factory options for suspension. This bike hugs the road through corners while the base version has a tendency to wallow through them, at best.

Harley Street Glide Rear Shocks
The upgraded rear shocks of the Street Glide Special are a must have. RevZilla photo.

Other upgrades you'll get with the Special include the BOOM! 6.5GT stereo system that offers the rider a larger, high-res screen. In addition to the base features like smartphone connectivity and Bluetooth touch-to-talk technology, this upgraded version includes Harley’s full-color GPS system with varying points of interest and of course the location of every Harley dealer in the country. You'll also get a security system as standard equipment to ward off any would-be criminals eyeing your bike.

What I liked

What's not to like about a powerful big twin engine offering up gobs of torque? No changes have been made to the Twin Cam 103 engine that has been a mainstay in Harley's lineup for years. The brakes were impressive and the ABS worked flawlessly at slowing the whole package down, fast. As far as going and stopping is concerned, you can click a check mark off in that box. 

Harley Street Glide Special
This was taken just past the entrance for the Red Rock Canyon National Park as we prepped for the Harley Sportster 883 review. RevZilla photo.

If you have never ridden a Rushmore-edition Street Glide, the upgrade to the front fork is most likely the first thing you’ll notice. Harley completes the package with the Street Glide Special by abandoning the rear air-ride shocks and replacing them with a more traditional setup featuring improved handling and an easy-to-use preload adjuster. The problem I have with Harley’s air-ride suspension is that in the corners the bike acts like the rear end has no idea what the front end is doing. The effect is a less than confidence inspiring cornering experience. Unlike the base model, the Street Glide Special feels like one solid unit. I had a blast traversing Arizona 167 as it twisted along the western bank of the Colorado River.

Reaching the preload adjuster was a breeze with the new quick-release bags. In a matter of seconds, I was able to pull the bag off, adjust the preload, and have the bag back in place. The bags did a great job of carrying all of my gear on this trip, which included a full-sized tripod for snapping photos.

Spurgeon Lemmy Valley of Fire
Lem and I taking a rest for a photo opportunity. RevZilla photo.

When I wasn’t using a tripod to capture shots of Lemmy and me sitting on the “Valley of Fire” sign, I was using the Street Glide's cruise control to hold the bike at speed while I captured shots of Lem-Lem acting up on the Sportster. While I am sure most of you riders out there will utilize the cruise control button in a more traditional way, you will be impressed nonetheless. Unlike my personal Triumph Tiger 800, which has to hit a certain speed and gear before the computer will allow cruise control to engage, Harley allows me to set cruise control at low speeds and in low gears. Unlike the old pre-Rushmore bikes, the new cruise control is simplified to one button located on the left handlebar control.

Street Glide Special Batwing Fairing
The vent opens and closes with the push of a button. RevZilla photo.

The upgraded Batwing fairing found on all Rushmore Street Glides includes a slipstream vent that the rider can open and close with the push of a button. This is one of those features you hear a manufacturer talk about and you immediately dismiss as marketing fluff. You’d be wrong to do so with this piece. The vent works. It drastically cut wind buffeting whether I was wearing a half helmet or the full-faced Shoei RF-1200 I had on this trip. It made burning down Interstate 15 at 75 mph an absolute breeze. Lemmy was not quite as comfortable on that little ol' Sporty.

What I didn’t like

The electronics package as a whole did not work as easily as I had hoped. I had trouble getting my iPhone to integrate with the system. There were a few times where I was rolling down the road serenading Lemmy with my best Bon Scott impersonation and singing along to AC/DC's "Sin City" when the audio would cut off. The phone was plugged in directly to the bike's USB port as opposed to utilizing a Bluetooth connection. As I had none of these problems with the radio, it didn’t seem to be a problem with the stereo itself.

AC/DC Harley Street Glide
When the iPhone plug-in worked, it worked great. And when it didn't, Lemmy was stuck listening to me ramble on until he would kill his com system. RevZilla photo.

In addition to iPhone integration, I didn’t like the GPS system at all. In fairness, I much prefer to use Google Maps on my phone over a traditional GPS to begin with. Harley’s system did nothing to change my mind. It seemed to have trouble showing the correct orientation of the map and inputting coordinates was a pain. If you’re a hardcore GPS user you might find this to be more functional than I did.

The stock seat held me in one position and didn’t leave me with much comfort or room to move around. In addition, it put a tremendous amount of pressure on my crotch, which caused a special type of discomfort. Swapping out the seat with a Saddlemen Explorer Seat solved this problem. While the Saddlemen seat didn’t help me with the issue of being locked in one place, it adds comfort for you and your passenger. It’s the seat we use when shooting bike reviews to give our cameraman a bit of relief when he is operating from the pillion.

While the engine provided arm-wrenching torque, I found the fueling to be spotty in certain areas. It was especially noticeable right off of the line in the lower rpms, but I had a few stumbles when cranking the revs up, as well. I have never personally played around with a Vance & Hines FP3 on a bike, but Lem has and he tells me great things. I would love the opportunity to install one on the Street Glide to see if a slightly richer fuel-to-air mixture would solve some of the inconsistencies in the fueling.

Street Glide vs. Street Glide Special

Considering the Street Glide Special’s $23,199 MSRP in Vivid Black (fun fact: “vivid black” looks a lot like “regular black”) will set you back $2,300 over the base Street Glide’s MSRP of $20,899, you should do some quick math to see if the upgrades are worth it for you.

Spurgeon Dunbar Street Glide
"Vivid Black" looks suspiciously like "Regular Black" to my untrained eye. Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

For example, if the ABS package ($795) and Premium Ride Touring Shocks ($549.95) pique your fancy but you have no use for the upgraded audio system, GPS, or security features, then a base Street Glide would be a better bet. However, if you like the idea of having a built-in GPS unit with access to the quickest route to every Harley-Davidson dealership in the country at the push of a button, the Special is the way to go. It really comes down to your intended use of the bike and what extras are important to your unique riding style.

Final thoughts

The Street Glide Special is a big, powerful cruiser. It gets you down the road in comfort and style. If hauling a passenger is your thing, it has you covered. Solo treks with the buddies on the weekend? No problem. Looking to tackle the daily commute while still listening to NPR on your way to the office? It can handle that too. Hell, it even got me down some bombed-out dirt-road sections where it was never intended to go.

As we sat staring out at the desert and the disintegrating road in front of us, Lemmy asked if I wanted to turn around. “Absolutely not,” I replied.

While the Street Glide Special is a far cry from a lightweight ADV bike, all motorcycles should be able to handle an adventure. And taking an 810-pound cruiser down an unknown desert trail is a recipe for adventure. Luckily, I had someone else with me to help pick up this big boy if need be.