As a motorcycle icon, the Harley-Davidson (H-D) brand is somewhat polarising. A recent campaign to increase the model count – 120 ‘new’ models by official accounts – along with forays into new market segments like adventure-touring with the Pan American and a street fighter called “The Bronx”, and the release of the Livewire electric motorcycle, seems to have all gone quiet with the change of CEO at H-D.
What has happened is the Milwaukee 8 V-twin, which has seen itself installed in a series of updated, the author hesitates to call them “new”, bikes over the past few years. Case in point is the 2020 Harley-Davidson FXDR 114, which retails at RM116,400, excluding insurance, road tax and registration.
We have had previous experience with the Milwaukee 8 in both 114 and 117 guises, in Malaysia and abroad. While we have our own opinions about the engine’s design, the H-D V-twin, in its current form, is a good one, showing a lot of potential in terms of power delivery.
In the meantime, local distributors Didi Resources, who manage Harley-Davidson PJ at The Gasket Alley, recently brought in a current model FXDR 114. This is a bike we’ve been wanting to ride, considering its more than passing resemblance to the V Rod VRSC model from 2001 before being unceremoniously discontinued in 2017.
With the arrival of the FXDR 114 in Malaysia, the author received a message from the general manager of H-D PJ, asking if he was free on a certain date. An affirmative answer brought the response, “great! The boss brought in an FXDR and wants you to ride and get your thoughts on it.”
Assembling for the ride on a hot, sunny Friday we were surprised to know the FXDR would be accompanied by a Ducati Diavel S. Not quite the correct comparison as the FXDR is more properly compared against the X-Diavel with its belt drive and foot forward riding position but it would be interesting to see how Bologna’s 1260 Testastretta V-twin sacked up against the Milwaukee 8 mill.
Getting into the saddle of the FXDR, the immediate reaction was, “it’s a long way to the pegs and bars,” the author not being particularly known for his length of leg. While seat height is a reasonable 720 mm, allowing most riders to flat foot the bike, the width of the FXDR, with the exhaust run on the right side, will make many a rider have to splay their legs.
That the saddle is somewhat long is a good thing, because you can scoot forward to paddle the FXDR around while parking, then stretch back into a cruising position. As it is, riders below about 175 cm in height will find themselves having to move around to reach the controls and pegs rather than having everything fall easily to hand, as it were.
This issue is compounded by not having the foot pegs adjustable for position, unlike the Diavel and X-Diavel, which give the rider several placement options to suit. For the FXDR, you can install a handlebar of a different bend and reach to make yourself more comfortable or to give better control, of which more later.
Which does not make a lot of sense, because in 2001 H-D had a motorcycle that did all that and was cutting edge tech for a power cruiser to boot. This was the V-Rod and Harley purists killed it saying it was “not a Harley Davidson.”
The author will not make comment about stuck in the mud riders who refuse to accept the march of technology like the V Rod and mumble something about “heritage” at every opportunity but it is what it is. In some cases, H-D was ahead of the cruiser game, two decades ago, but bowed to customer pressure and refused to incorporate real tech and engineering improvement into the range. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Coming back to the here and now, the FXDR, with the 1,868 cc Milwaukee 8, has an engine that, while not being the most powerful in its class, nor the most up-to-date, is refined over the previous Evo V-twin. In terms of numbers, 90 hp at 4,500 rpm and 160 Nm of torque at 3,500 rpm are acceptable but pale before current competition coming from the likes of the Triumph Rocket 3 and BMW Motorrad R18 as well as the Diavel.
But, a Harley is a Harley, and there is a certain inestimable attraction to the way a Milwaukee twin delivers its power. In the case of the 114 version installed in the FXDR, we found the fuelling to be almost perfect, no hint of a stumble or stutter and a seamless torque delivery in any gear you care to choose.
The one thing we did like was the roll-on torque available, coming in from the moment the throttle is rolled open in fifth gear, all the way to… Ok, the Head of Content does not allow the author to publish top speed numbers, ever, or actual horsepower figures from the dyno runs, but let us say the FXDR will pull all the way to twice the national speed limit, give or take.
In real terms, the ‘clamshell’ riding position with feet forward and arms outstretched, coupled with the lack of wind protection, meant the FXDR felt best at around 140 km/h, plus or minus 10 km/h. This is, from experience, a comfortable cruising speed on the open highway for most Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
That long wheelbase, some 1,735 mm worth, makes the FXDR stable as a locomotive while barrelling down the highway at extralegal speeds, and the massive weight, 303 kg ready to go without the rider, means nothing shifts the FXDR from its line. Well, maybe an earthquake might, but in all other circumstances, the FXDR stays where it is and goes where you point.
A point about pointing. The ‘new’ H-D machines definitely have much better handling manners than those of a decade or so past. That wallowing, wobbly feel going into and coming out of corners is gone and during the time we had the FXDR, we managed to shred the rear tyre super bike style, cornering well heeled over.
A sprightly jaunt up north on the highway put the FXDR in its element, the miles being munched at a good rate with no hint of saddle soreness. Apart from the fact the reach to the bars and pegs was a little much for author, adding a flyscreen to the FXDR’s binnacle would actually make it a nice light tourer if a pair of saddle bags were added.
But, with no ergonomic mods, the FXDR is pretty much a motorcycle designed for those standing above 175 cm tall. The good news is H-D has the components you need in its catalogue to move the foot pegs to mid-mount and a set of risers that replace the clip-on handlebars. The bad news is it costs approximately RM4,000 to do so.
Taking the FXDR a little further into the pressure cooker of bike testing, a couple of rides up the author’s usual loop of Ulu Yam and Karak was undertaken, both ways. With some 32 degrees of lean angle left and right on the FXDR, scraping the pegs required a fair amount of commitment and effort with the 240 section rear tyre needing some force to get heeled over.
The FXDR’s long wheelbase, a plus point for long distance, straight line cruising, now works against it. Taking the left-right-left transition for corners, the rider needs a very firm hand to keep the FXDR under control.
While the FXDR’s handling manners are good, they are certainly not sports bike sharp, so bear that in mind when taking corners, plan your move and stay committed. In return, the FXDR will behave and make you giggle inside the helmet.
You’re not going to beat the sports bike boys but it is certainly amusing for the FXDR rider to see them glance in their mirrors and look at 300 kg of American iron bearing down. So, in the handling stakes, with the right rider and the correct amount in skill in the saddle, the FXDR will perform.
There are several negatives for the FXDR though, and the flaw comes in the design. The Milwaukee 8 mill in the FXDR is good, we have no complaints about things like tractability and fuelling, but engine heat at slow traffic speeds is an issue.
The heat coming off the rear cylinder will raise questions about eggs and cooking. If you’re going to ride the FXDR any length of time in traffic jams, leave the shorts and sandals at home and put on proper riding gear.
Another bug bear is the engine design itself. We can understand the issue H-D has with ‘heritage’ but push rods and a separate gearbox, along with only liquid-cooling the cylinder heads in the name of ‘identity’ is something that needs to be addressed by H-D corporate.
300 kg for a motorcycle in these days of computer-aided engineering and advanced materials technology is something of an engineering disgrace. Bringing weight down to about 250 kg with a more upright, ‘normal’ riding position but still using the basis of the Milwaukee 8 V-twin is something we would look forward to riding, and it is coming in the form of the Bronx.
But if it ever gets here is another issue, considering current market conditions have been less than kind to H-D’s financials. Saying that, one thing we have noticed over the past four years is a definite improvement in the way H-D’s perform, we cannot deny that.
The brakes on the FXDR, twin hydraulic units on the front wheel, haul the FXDR to a stop in timely fashion. We had enough confidence to only use one finger for most braking needs.
Rear braking was something we didn’t get to try simply because the author, at 168 cm in height, couldn’t get his right foot far enough forward to stomp on the pedal. A chat with the lads at H-D basically gives the short inseam FXDR rider two options – mid-mount controls as mentioned earlier in this review or Fat Boy style floorboards with car-like brake pedal.
On the suspension side of things, as detailed in an earlier paragraph, improvements have been made. Many improvements, including the non-adjustable upside-down forks.
Where previously taking a (very) high speed corner on a Harley would have been an exercise in faith and trusting the laws of physics, this time around it becomes a matter of just steering where you need to go. The unfortunate thing is the high moment of inertia due to the FXDR’s weight and wheelbase but a good rider soon learns to compensate for it, as did the author.
The pre-load adjustable monoshock actually does the job and while the range of adjustment is somewhat limited, enough of a difference is made from the low, mid and high positions that the rider can feel it. On the first ride with the FXDR, there was too much spring rebound, so the pre-load was slacked off to the point where the rear wheel started wallowing, then tightened up a little.
This made an immediate improvement in the FXDR’s handling while at the speed limit. All bets are off when speeds head into illegal velocity territory though as the FXDR is not a sports bike, although the rider who knows what he or she is doing can wield the FXDR in rather more than a perfunctunory manner.
So, who needs the Harley-Davidson FXDR? As a highway cruiser, the FXDR performs admirably well, though shorter riders will need to do a little changing to the ergonomics to suit.
For the H-D fan, the FXDR does what it says on the box for a Harley-Davidson, but is this the model than might change H-D’s flagging fortunes? Probably not, because, at its essence, the FXDR is still the same Harley under the clothes, that well-sorted Milwaukee 8 V-twin notwithstanding.
For the author, while the FXDR could conceivably find a place in the stable, the market also offers other alternatives that are lighter, faster and more comfortable, though not necessarily cheaper. It looks like it’s going to be a wait for the 2020 Harley-Davidson Bronx before the trigger is pulled for a cruiser in the stable.