Harley-Davidson has rolled out their 2017 bikes. Oddly, they didn’t release a single new one.
I expect that will change shortly. Here’s what today's Dealer Meeting has yielded so far: Touring bikes are getting a new suspension. (Hydraulic preload adjusters! Cool!) New paint colors exist. Say goodbye to the Seventy-Two, Switchback, Fat Boy Lo, Electra Glide Ultra Low, and the Road Glide Ultra CVO. Why is Harley knocking off a few models? The MoCo is really good about killing off bikes before they get stale. I'd say this is actually pretty standard for the MoCo.
On to the big news, which is a fresh Big Twin engine called the Milwaukee-Eight. I would like to smugly point out I suggested the possibility of this engine's debut in a previous article. Wait, make it two previous articles.
The last time a new Big Twin was offered, Bill Clinton was still living in the White House. You probably did not have a cell phone, and if you did, it had a green screen. You paid rewind fees to Blockbuster, and burning CDs was an integral part of the music-stealing process. Oh yeah, remember disposable cameras?
Considering exactly how long ago that really was, it’s not surprising that Harley-Davidson, the motorcycle manufacturer of choice for luddites worldwide, updated their Big Twin engine for 2017. Harley’s press release was loaded with a bunch of blather about the “voice of customer research” and “staying true to our legacy and respecting the defining elements of a Harley-Davidson V-Twin.” Let me paraphrase: They needed to make it bigger and faster to keep selling units, and they needed to make it more modern to stay compliant with changing emissions laws. It looks like they may have accomplished all of those things. And, begrudgingly, I will admit they may have also respected what customers think the defining elements of a Harley actually are.
The Milwaukee-Eight resides only in Touring models at this point. It’s available in three flavors currently: First, a 107-inch version with oil-cooled heads. This will be installed in Touring bikes with no fairing lowers. The next iteration, the 107-inch Twin-Cooled Milwaukee-Eight, features liquid-cooled heads, and will be installed in Touring models with lower fairings. The final incarnation is a 114-inch unit with liquid-cooled heads, which will be installed in CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) bikes, H-D’s fanciest, upmarket motorcycles.
Which engine goes in which bike? H-D's press release states that the bikes “feature a precision cooling strategy based on the specific demands of the motorcycle model.” Let me interpret that for you: “We used liquid cooling if we had places to hide the radiators. We used oil-cooling where we couldn’t.”
Now for a quick gander into my crystal ball. (Man, this thing is getting a workout this year.) The Milwaukee-Eight engine will almost certainly be available in larger displacements coming down the pike, and you’re also gonna see it in other Big Twins, but that won’t happen immediately — probably not even this model year.
Harley claims each engine weighs the same as its predecessor, but makes 10 percent more torque than the engine it replaces. (The 107-inch is replacing the old 103-inch mill, and the 114-incher is taking over duties from the previous 110-inch unit.) Word on the street is that the 107 is pumping out 82 horsepower and 102 foot-pounds of torque, and the 114 ups the ante to 89 horsepower and 124 foot-pounds. The new engine has an internal counterbalancer and rubber mounting. The number of riders who like blurry vision and fasteners that fall off all the time is dwindling. I’m not there yet, but I can sort of see the appeal.
Other changes from the outgoing Twinkie engine include use of lighter valves (but more of them, hence the name “Milwaukee-Eight,” referencing the number of poppet valves in the engine, which doubled). The new powerplant features a different air cleaner and muffler, which are sure to A) choke the engine down far enough to make the EPA happy and B) be placed lovingly outside for curbside pickup when aftermarket units are fitted. It’s also got dual-plug heads, and a single camshaft. And, in a truly impressive move, I guess Harley beefed up the stator in the Milwaukee-Eight. They’re claiming a whopping 50 percent increase in charging system output.
I’ll replace marketing speak about the “richer exhaust tone” engineered to “allow the unmistakable rumble of its exhaust note to resonate” and instead use plain English: The exhaust sounds good, probably because they were able to quiet down the engine.
Smaller notables are nothing to sniff at, either. The throttle body is larger. The rear header tucks closer to the bike. The starter offers higher output. (No doubt that’s due in part to that beefy charging system upgrade.) Oil venting (“breathing”) is “improved.” They moved the cat farther back. (Thank God. I can’t stomach the idea of one more minute on the house Street Glide frying my thighs.) The engine holds more oil. And the primary has also been skinnied up a little bit, too. And finally, the idle speed was dropped.
I’m going to give you my quick synopsis on this engine in a second, but Brad Richards, H-D’s Director of Styling, waxed prosaic enough about the new engine that I snorted audibly, much to our cameraman’s delight. (He sits next to me.) This guy is giving the people over at Confederate a run for their money.
“The Milwaukee-Eight engine is styled to project power. I compare it to the back of a swimmer, lean in the waist but broad and muscular in the shoulders. The rocker covers look like skin stretched taut over muscle, like the rocker arms are about to burst out of the engine,” said Richards. Interesting. That possibility sounds like it would make for a very picturesque warranty claim.
What do I think? I think we’re moving towards a fully modern Big Twin powering H-D motorcycles. Harley-Davidson does not have an easy task. They need to sell bikes to people who have all different interpretations of what their bikes should be. They were able to make a bike that has a single cam once again. That’s pretty admirable. History, plus 10 percent more torque. Sounds good so far.
If this engine is accepted by The Faithful, odds are excellent we’ll see H-D have the latitude in the very near future to build a fully liquid-cooled powerplant that cranks out some ass-kicking horsepower. I’m sure they’ve done their homework on this, because like Porsche, they need to really start hammering home the benefits of liquid cooling to their customer base, or they’re going to die. Tradition is great, but it doesn’t sell motorcycles. This engine looks like a step in the right direction.
I also think it’s interesting that they didn’t jack up the displacement too much. It’s pretty obvious that there’s an upper limit to the practicality of how big a piston can be made, and training customers now that displacement is not the only measure of an engine’s power is a good idea. (I mean, better late than never, right?)
I’m excited for the engine. Coupled with the Rushmore re-design, I imagine this is going to feel very much like a new machine. Though I'd like to see this in a lighter bike, I am sure that's on the docket soon. Touring bikes make Mrs. Lemmy happy, and more torque makes me a little less cantankerous. Right now? I’m cautiously optimistic. I might not be in line in front of a salesman this week, but I’ll be at the rental counter as soon as I am able.