RIDDEN: Harley-Davidson Model Year 2017 Touring

It’s not every year that Harley-Davidson releases a new engine design. Traditional values are vitally important to the Milwaukee tifosi so the company knows not to get too outlandish with new ideas. But it does happen every now and then – such as with the switch to fuel injection, the liquid-cooled Evolution design, larger capacity cruiser engines and now, a switch to four-valve heads. These are now fitted to some of the Model Year 2017 Touring models.

The move to Milwaukee 8 increases power and torque (over 10% better acceleration) with improved fuel economy and the two newbies have increased capacities over previous engines. Some 107 cubic inches doesn’t sound like much until you convert it to metric units. That’s 1 745 cm3, which in turn gives piston sizes of 872 cm3. Then there is the even bigger 114 engine that translates into 1 870 cm3. This one we haven’t had the opportunity to try just yet.

Cylinder heads are now both oil- and liquid-cooled for the 114, while the standard 107 gets away with just oil-cooling galleries. A single, four-lobe camshaft sends lift to the eight valves via pushrods, a simpler solution than employing four overhead camshafts, with all the drive gear required also done away with. As far as vibration goes, the engineers experimented with full primary balance using a gear-driven counter-balance shaft. This was apparently frowned upon by owners due to the result lacking the character and feel of a V-twin, so they settled on eliminating 75% of the vibes and leaving just enough to get the feel without the annoyance. Rubber mounting of the engine is retained and a lower-profile air-cleaner (for more knee room) and a slimmer primary chain drive-cover enhance the looks.

Other upgrades include the front and rear suspensions, which are easily adjusted via a preload knob. The design uses a dual bending valve setup developed by Showa and it really transforms the handling stability.

We had a pair of old-spec Road Kings on hand for the sake of back-to-back comparisons, highlighting the effectiveness of the 2017 changes. I started off the day on an old-spec Road King and switched to the new 2017 version as late as 4 pm. And what a revelation it was. Some others had indicated that the difference was very noticeable but I did not expect such a big change.

First of all, one notices that the new engine is less vibey at idle. Easy to see this – just look at the horn mounted between the cylinders on the left side. Old-spec dances around in a blur amusing riders of less characterful bikes that might be beside you. The Milwaukee 8 is more subdued. Once on the go, both bikes are just smooth enough, maintaining that lovely feel of a big V-twin. But the 2017 steeds feel a bit more refined.

Then there’s the torque. This is only 10% up, but feels like a lot more. The pull is significantly better. The throttle response is also quicker, so you find yourself accelerating faster than you might have intended.

Then comes the cherry on the cake – the new suspension setup gives the bikes much more stability. The overall stableness of the 2016 bikes at 120 km/h are similar to the 2017s at 140 to 150 km/h. There seemed to be a slightly harder ride too, but with the varying road surfaces that we encountered this is mostly subjective.

The route we took covered the much-admired Clarence Drive from Gordon’s Bay to Kleinmond. From there, we continued on to Hermanus and then Stanford. Then it was back up to the N2 to Swellendam and then we turned inland to whiz through the great Tradouw pass. Hooking a right, we arrived in Barrydale just after 5 pm.

Unfortunately, Diesel and Crème – a restaurant worth visiting – had just closed. The Barrydale Karoo Art hotel, though, is a terrific sleep-over spot. The age of the hotel adds to the character and all rooms have been fitted with clever artwork, like huge lampshades made from shredded plastic coke and milk bottles.

The next morning, it was time to refuel and hit one of the greatest roads in the land: Route 62 from Barrydale to Montagu. With the majestic Langeberg mountain range on our left and the sun trying to chase us from behind, we cruised alongside the grasslands and fruit trees and vineyards with hardly any traffic to contend with and no horrible trucks.

One thing that really impressed me was that on this road there were no roadsigns. Nothing until we were 10 km from Montagu. Why impressive? It told a silent story that this stretch is not about getting anywhere or answering questions like: “how far are we from the next town?” or “how long will it take to get there?”. Just chill and enjoy the wide-open spaces and the journey. Bliss!

So, the new 107 engine plus suspension upgrades and other tweaks is an overall worthwhile improvement to the riding pleasure of the Touring models. We will publish a road test of one of the new models soon.

Thanks go to Harley-Davidson Middle East and Africa (especially marketing manager Aidan Johnson), Harley-Davidson Cape Town, “Greater Than” and George Skaris of Skaris Touring, who did a great job of organising the route and stop-overs.