Common Tread

2018 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide first look

Nov 07, 2017

Sometimes luggage is great. Sometimes.

2018 Sport Glide
2018 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide. Harley-Davidson photo.

If the thought of having more-or-less permanently installed bags on your bikes gives you the same cold sweats as a marriage proposal, Harley-Davidson’s new-for-2018 Sport Glide might be to your liking. Short of adding something to a bike after the fact, Harley has generally designed dresser motorcycles to stay dressed. The Sport Glide is a light tourer that easily strips down to become a regular cruiser.

1983 Sport Glide
1983 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide. Note this one is stuffed with an Evolution, but the first ones off the line had Shovel-power. Harley-Davidson photo.

The Sport Glide was originally conceived as a light tourer in the Reagan era. It rolled out late in 1983 as an FXR model, powered by the outgoing Shovelhead due to delays in the release of the Evolution engine. But once the new engine was nestled between the frame rails, the bike was a heavy hitter in the light-touring category. Today’s model, of course, follows in its footsteps, being powered by the 107-inch Milwaukee-Eight. (There is no 114 option.) It’s the other light-touring alternative to the Heritage, a perennial favorite that’s always been rather traditional in appearance.

2018 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide. Harley-Davidson photo.

The Sport Glide now (just like the original) has small hard bags and a modicum of wind protection for the rider’s upper half. Vaughan Beals said of the original FXRT, “We introduced the RT specifically because we were trying to get Japanese riders into our camp. Later, when we got a decent engine and belt drive, we had some luck at this. When we decided we would use the aerodynamic fairing from the Nova on a new V-twin, we also thought that might attract a guy to Harley who didn’t want to look like a bad guy.”

2018 Sport Glide
2018 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide. Harley-Davidson photo.

That may partially explain the more conventional appearance of this version of the Sport Glide. The original FXRT was derided for its appearance, owing largely to the exposed frame triangle under the seat, clamshell-style luggage, and Vetter-esque fairing. Today’s model has flowing bags at the back and a svelte, minimalistic fairing that calls to mind the batwing found on its larger Touring brethren. Like the other Softails, this one has an LED headlight as standard, as well as keyless ignition. At 671 pounds, the “light” in “light touring” will be debated, but it’s not an insane figure, either. The five-gallon fuel tank, though, should keep riders clicking off miles without an offensive number of fuel stops.

Left side
2018 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide. Harley-Davidson photo.

The bike’s built upon the freshly redesigned Softail chassis. This bike received the external preload adjuster shared by the Fat Boy, Fat Bob, and Breakout, but it uses the shorter rear suspension. (The taller shock is found only on the Heritage and Fat Bob.) The Sport Glide also has an inverted front end — the only other bike in the lineup to use one save the Fat Bob. Internal valving is different, as is the length, and the right lower stanchion casting must be different, too, as it has a single disc brake. It rolls along on a new style of wheel Harley is calling the Mantis. There is a 16-inch Mantis at the rear and an 18-inch at the front. Note also the split-finish black-and-chrome exhaust system. The Sport Glide runs $18,599, and you can kick in four hundred more bones if you want a color other than Vivid (Gloss) Black.

The Sport Glide is a bit different from the Switchback Harley discontinued a few years ago. That was a Dyna that came with miniature painted hard bags and a windshield. (The bags on the new Sport Glide are hard-molded plastic.) That Switchback was similar to another bike not that far into the past: the Softail Convertible. That motorcycle used rigid soft bags and a Softail chassis.

Lemmy’s hot take on the Sport Glide

Now you see 'em...
Now you see 'em... Harley-Davidson photo.

Molded hard-plastic Samsonite-looking luggage has gone away, and that’s a shame. It’s the type I personally like best. It holds up well to beatings and disguises the rigors that life on the road chucks at it. Quick-release items are also really nice; nothing beats modularity and being able to quickly change the configuration of your bike. The minimal evidence of the bags and fairing are also a testament to the thought that went into this bike.

Now you don't.
...Now you don't. Harley-Davidson photo.

With that said, I would have been more excited about a Fat Bob that looked like a Dyna Defender with a bikini fairing. The shorter rear suspension and single front disc on the Sport Glide are perfectly appropriate, but I also jam a little harder than most of the people who would take money out of their wallets to buy this motorcycle.

Action on Sport Glide
2018 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide. Harley-Davidson photo.

I think Harley makes a fine bike and I don’t find the pricing offensive, per se, but this is a no-bullshit bike, and the no-bullshit shoppers who are examining it are going to want big bang for the buck. I had hoped for some additions and riffs on this line in the lower end of the price range, but this bike should still shift consumers a little farther south of H-D’s current demographics.

To be honest, I will be most curious to see what Spurg and Lance say about it. They’re both light-touring junkies, and yet their preferences are pretty different from one another. Stay tuned — perhaps one (or all) of us will be on top of one of these.