My recent review of the 2018 Harley Davidson Sport Glide (review here) left me unfulfilled searching for a sport touring offering from the “Bar and Shield”.
Despite that disappointment, I didn’t hesitate to swing a leg over the brand new 2019 FXDR while at AimExpo. No one wants to be disappointed twice in a row and I especially don’t want to seem like someone who just piles on undeserved criticism. For the record, I am a fan of every motorcycle brand and Harley does build some nice bikes.
Happily, the FXDR didn’t disappoint me. It made me just as happy as I was with last year’s Fat Bob 114 (review here). I compare the two bikes quite a bit in this review. You may think the V Rod would be a better comparison point, but it’s discontinued and was liquid cooled etc. Certainly, I do admit there are some similarities between the two designs, but why dwell on the past?
The Significant Numbers
The FXDR uses the fuel injected Milwaukee Eight, 114 cubic inch engine coupled to a six-speed transmission. Since it’s the same powertrain setup used in the Fat Bob, the power and performance numbers are basically identical between them.
1868cc Air Cooled Oil engine putting out 90 hp and 119-foot lbs of torque @3500 rpm
Seat Height 28.5 in
Ground Clearance 5.3 in.
Steering Rake 34 degrees
Front Tire 120/70ZR-19 60W, Rear Tire 240/40R-18
Michelin Scorcher 11 tires
Fuel Capacity 4.4 gal.
Weight full of fluids 668 lb.
Max lean angle 32.8 degrees
Fuel Economy 46 mpg
Brakes: 300mm dual disc, 4-piston fixed front and single disc 2-piston floating rear
Price Vivid Black $21,349 or other premium colors for $26,949
Distinctive & Stretched
The look is modern and sleek. Very “un-Harley” from a traditional standpoint. Devoid of chrome and somewhat drag bike-esque with dual staggered exhaust openings housed in one canister. The outside edge of the can is tapered noticeably to prevent dragging in the corners.
The raked out front end with inverted forks for whatever reason reminds me of the Livewire electric prototype. I think it’s the triangular signal lights protruding from each side of the daymaker headlight that is constantly glowing orange while the bike is running. They look similar to the ones on the Livewire and might even be the same ones.
This bike looks like it has a much longer than average wheelbase (68.4 inches). It’s only about 5 inches longer than the somewhat squished looking Fat Bob, in reality.
It stands out markedly in amongst the crowd of other demo units from the 2019 Harley lineup.
My eyes are drawn to the unusual air intake on the right side of the engine. It looks nothing like a Harley Davidson I would dream up and that’s a good thing. Whether or not this will affect performance isn’t known to me, but It’s another indicator HD is moving out of the “Harley box” and their comfort zone. They probably realize that’s where we experience the most growth as people and hope it holds true for a bike builder too.
Other reviewers have noted this intake flows more air than the one on the Fat Bob and so allows for faster acceleration when coupled with the lower weight. For me, it wasn’t noticeable enough on my test ride, but it’s been a year since I rode the Fat Bob to be fair. At best I would say it’s marginally faster off the line than the Fat Bob.
Here’s a link to a terrific review from Matt Laidlaw showing the FXDR vs the Fat Bob worth watching.
Aluminum & Carbon Fiber
The forks and rims are aluminum billet and the fenders are carbon fiber in an attempt to keep the weight down on this muscle bike. Harley was somewhat successful because this FXDR comes in 8 lbs lighter than the Fat Bob when fully fueled.
At 668 lbs it’s certainly portly compared to some other bikes on the market the FXDR would line up against from Japanese and European builders.
Dash & Display
The dash is unlike the other Softails in the 2019 lineup.
It’s similar to the Breakout, but not quite. I like the large banner badge below the display proclaiming the FXDR model with the R in red. It suggests this is the Racing model of Harley and they aren’t wrong.
The 2.14-inch viewable area LCD with a dark grey background and lighter colored digits wouldn’t be my choice compared to the vividly bright tones available on full TFT displays currently on the market. I would have preferred Harley go that way with their modern muscle machine instead.
There’s a lot of unused space in the area covered in plastic that easily could have been omitted in favor of a flat TFT.
I found the dash hard to use on the fly because of the small size, but I was much happier having it on top of the handlebars as opposed to a tank mounted dash as it is on the Fat Bob and basically every other Softail.
Having said that subtlety appeals to many people and nearly everything you’d want is available there on the display:
Speedometer and tachometer
High beam, turn signal indicator, neutral and gear position indicator
Low battery voltage warning, low fuel, odometer, fuel level gauge, clock, trip, range remaining
What happened here? What a brutal choice.
This is a sculpted machine of modern making, but Harley decided to dismissively toss on a pair of standard style mirrors that you can find on any other Softail model?
Frankly, it smacks of a case where the designer actually forgot to put mirrors on the bike! Almost like no one noticed until it hit the assembly line where a sharp-eyed veteran assembler pointed it out and quickly saved the day by screwing on a set from the Heritage Softail parts bin.
A Total Miss
Even worse than the out of sync mirror styling is the fact they don’t perform. The vibration at anything above 45 mph makes them almost unusable.
Please remedy this next year by putting on some aluminum framed, wind tunnel tested mirrors with integrated turn signals.
The single seat on the FXDR is surprisingly comfortable. I’m not a big guy being 5’7” tall and about 175 lbs with an athletic build so take my opinion with those figures in mind.
I felt like my backside was cradled in a butt-shaped dish for lack of a better description. It’s firm foam but accommodating in a way that I experienced zero discomfort or pressure points during my 45-minute test drive.
There’s no passenger seat as standard, but an optional one is available from Harley for $209.
The style is great and all, but how does this machine do out on a test drive?
Viva Las Vegas!
As I mentioned I got to ride the FXDR while attending AimExpo in the beautiful October weather Las Vegas is known for. A motorcycle-centric day of 80 degree temps with bright sunshine beaming down and nary a cloud in the sky to be found framing the scene of me being let loose on Harley’s new muscle bike. Left far behind was my Canadian home where my bikes had been winterized and put into storage due to snow and cold arriving early this year even by our standards.
I was in a near dream state of mind as I climbed aboard the pearl white colored, big bruiser cruiser in the parking lot of the Mandalay Bay convention center.
Typical Transmission Clunk
The FXDR fired up and I dropped it into first gear with the familiar “BANG” I associate with all Harley transmissions. To be fair, my Kawasaki Ninja H2SX is just as rough going into first gear.
All other shifts came smoothly and without missing a beat. It makes me wonder how only first gear is noisy.
Rolling out of the parking lot onto Las Vegas Blvd I gave it the opportunity to thrill me by shifting aggressively into second and third gear while whacking open the throttle.
It didn’t disappoint whatsoever. That 119 ft lbs of torque made by the 114 engine are almost enough to make your fingers numb trying to hold on during full out acceleration. Not even my Ninja pulls this hard off the line and that’s saying something being that it’s supercharged and tuned for mid-range gusto.
I like the 114 engine so much more than the 107 that I can’t even be bothered with it anymore. Harley should just shelf the smaller engine and put the bigger one in every bike they have.
This bike loves the road. That’s immediately obvious as I fly down the asphalt and watch the scenery in my peripheral vision blur while the speedo digits ascend. Oh, look there’s the Welcome to Las Vegas sign… and it’s gone as I roar past curious onlookers left in the snarling wake of this road hungry motorcycle. There’s no jiggle, wiggle or shimmy even at higher speeds. Why didn’t they call this the Sport Glide???
The Michelin Scorcher tires stuck like glue to the road and made me happy with their performance. The rear 240mm tire is a real beauty with how wide it is. It gave lots of confidence in the tight corners. I wanted to use every inch of the sidewalls in each turn.
Loads of fun!
The numbers from Harley say the max lean angle is just over 32 degrees on either side meaning it should corner slightly better than the Fat Bob.
I found it easy to turn tight corners without having anything drag, including the heels of my boots (which was a problem with the Sport Glide).
The exhaust was louder on the FXDR I demoed than the Fat Bob even though it was just the stock can and intake. There’s a beautiful tone to it without being obnoxious and it purrs like a tiger at cruising speeds just as I want it to. Well done Harley! Nailed it.
One interesting difference is a high pitched whine coming from the engine I noted. I would guess it’s from the unusual air intake or the throttle body valves constantly adjusting. It’s not annoying, but worthy of note since I don’t remember hearing it on the Fat Bob.
Other than that, there weren’t any clanks, clunks or other annoying sounds to distract from the terrific performance I experienced on the FXDR.
Brakes & Suspension
Wow, is all I can say about the 4 piston caliper, twin disc setup on the front end of the FXDR.
I had the “opportunity” to test the brakes in an emergency stop. Many thanks to the woman in the white Kia who decided to brake suddenly well before the red light we were approaching. I may have been going a little too fast at the time I admit, so I’ll take half the ownership of the situation.
For a 668 lb motorcycle, it stopped in nothing short of what I would rate record fast! I actually chirped the tire and felt the back end getting a little light. I didn’t hear the standard ABS feature kick in or notice it if it did in any way.
The front forks didn’t dive much during any braking maneuvers but did their job soaking up faults in the pavement well. The rear was adjusted perfectly for my weight as well and was mainly unremarkable during my ride.
Very impressive work on Harley’s part. I would say
Feel The Burn
Whenever I stopped at red lights and put down my left leg the hot primary drive cover became a nuisance. My short legs need to stay in close to the bike in order to reach the ground and so my inner calf muscle would touch slightly on the cover. The heat didn’t leave a scar or anything, but it was noticeable.
My First Time In Vegas
The planned route for my test ride was to circle McCarran International Airport ending back at the Mandalay Bay.
The people from Harley let me loose for an unguided test ride which I would normally appreciate in a city I’m familiar with. Las Vegas isn’t one of those cities for me, though. I actually asked them to send someone with me to help navigate, but none of them were local to Vegas either, so I was on my own!
Wandering Through The Desert
My route got pretty convoluted thanks to me enjoying the performance of the FXDR instead of paying attention to where I was going. As a result, I got some extra seat time along with the opportunity to see how the bike performed at almost all speeds. This included heavy traffic, very slow speeds (while trying to read unfamiliar street names) and riding over several speed bumps in the airport parkade I accidentally entered looking for a way back to the hotel.
In the end, I gave up on trying to remember key street and highway names and instead decided to just landmark the tall Mandalay Bay hotel and try riding towards it. That worked, but I ended up circling most of the south end of the city in the process before making it back in one piece much to the relief of the Harley event staff.
The unexpected benefit of getting lost in an unfamiliar city while test riding is that I feel well acquainted with the FXDR now. I really like it a lot. I didn’t want to get off it when I got back. I asked them if I could ride it to California because I was traveling there after AimExpo ended to tour the Motoport USA factory in San Marcos. More on that later.
Which Would I Buy?
The FXDR is still going to play second fiddle for me to the Fat Bob, but mostly because the Fat Bob fits my short frame better than the stretched out FXDR. Look at how far I had to reach in the photo above. I find I’m not reaching for the pegs and bars as much on the Fat Bob and as a result, I feel more confident going into the corners on it than the FXDR.
Dollars And Cents
Add to that the MSRP on the FXDR is $26,949 for the fanciest paint scheme while the Fat Bob tops out at $21,499. That’s quite a significant difference. The paint available for the FXDR is undeniably way more impressive and all that aluminum and carbon fiber might add up to $5000 more I suppose.
If I stood 5 inches taller it would be a lot harder not to opt for the newer and marginally faster FXDR if I could find the extra money.
Dress It Up
There are many optional accessories available for the FXDR as you would expect from Harley. This is something they are second to none in providing and a huge part of the brand’s appeal.
I would definitely get the windshield and Screamin’ Eagle exhaust for the FXDR and hope for a different dash with a larger TFT display and better mirrors to come available down the road.
As always I’ll gripe there’s no cruise control and especially loud because it would be easy to include as an option on the FXDR and the Fat Bob for that matter.
All in all, Harley has got a great handling and powerful bike that is greased lightning off the line. Other muscle bikes will definitely be faster further down the line, but HD has always been about massive torque numbers more than horsepower ones after all.
The FXDR is a winner.
Above average torque
Can corner well for a cruiser
Lighter than other Softails
Dash is too small
No passenger seat
Long reach for short riders and primary cover burns your leg
Building custom motorcycles can be a tough game. And the Swedish builder Fredrik Pål Persson was ready to throw in the towel, just before the commission came in for this rather chic Honda café racer.
His shop, Malmö-based PAAL Motorcycles, has been operating for five years now. But last year, the business almost closed down. “We basically hit rock bottom,” Fredrik admits.
“We were paying for costly mistakes we made, and we had to downscale everything. We sold everything we could sell, and held our breath to avoid going bankrupt.”
“When a client asked us to build a CB500, I was standing on a pivot. I could say no and close the shop—or say yes, while knowing that all profit had to go back into the company, and I wouldn’t be able to take out a salary.”
Fredrik decided to say yes. He also decided to sell his home and invest the profit into the company: “I was basically buying one more year to follow my dreams.”
Since Fredrik was going all in, he knew that the CB500 would have to be one of the shop’s best builds to date. “A bike that truly represents what we stand for as a brand here at PAAL,” he says. “Design, craftsmanship, quality and performance.”
The donor—a 1976 CB500—was liberated from Fredrick’s own cache. It was a bike that he’d customized years ago, but he was never quite happy with it. It was a candidate for a complete makeover.
So the PAAL crew stripped the motor down (again), building it up with new valves and reworked cylinders. The engine also got a new coat of paint, and the carbs were refreshed, and tuned to run with pod filters. Ancillary bits like cables, bearings, seals, and the chain and sprockets, were all replaced.
PAAL then ripped out all the wiring and started over with a Bluetooth-enabled Motogadget m.unit Blue module. The setup includes a Lithium-ion battery, and a new digital ignition.
They also installed LED turn signals, a tiny speedo and switches from Motogadget, along with Motone control buttons and an LED taillight.
The taillight’s neatly embedded in the back of a new, custom-built subframe. Up top is a custom-made seat in a classic café racer style, complete with a removable rear cowl. The fuel tank’s a one-off too, and includes PAAL’s signature upholstered indents on the sides.
The effect’s carried through to the gorgeous tank and cowl straps, and even to the custom leather grips. The actual bars are a set of KustomTech clip-ons, matched to Tarozzi rear-sets on hand-made brackets.
PAAL rebuilt the front forks, installed new rear shocks, and overhauled the brakes. The wheels were refreshed too, with new stainless steel spokes, a fresh powder coat, and a set of Firestone Champion Deluxe tires.
The four-into-one exhaust system was fabricated in-house, and terminates in a chunky, low-slung muffler. The frame and a bunch of other components were powder coated black, while the bodywork was shot in a tasteful light grey.
“We didn’t take any shortcuts on this bike,” says Fredrik. “Everything was done by the book, for the best outcome possible. It basically ended up being a brand new motorcycle, with modern performance, combined with some of our signature design features. Still keeping the retro vibe but bringing it in to the 21th century.”
Around the time PAAL were wrapping up the CB500, they were also turning screws on a Kawasaki KZ650 and a Honda CB750. And while Fredrik went into the projects with a weight on his shoulders, he came out the other side freshly invigorated.
“A lot has changed now,” he says. “I found new partners and investors, and we’ve been able to slowly turn the ship around with a lot of hard work. We are now excited about the future and the path we’re on.”
“I know that I can write pages about all the parts we used on the bike. But the story of this bike represents a lot more then material things for us.”
We’re glad to hear it: we hope to see many more bikes rolling out of PAAL’s doors in the future. And there’s a little more good news for Fredrik: his Kawasaki KZ650 is one of the stars of the 2019 Bike EXIF wall calendar.
It is no secret that as we get older, our bodies change. And in most cases, we do not get better with age. That only happens in the movies and with fine wine.
As motorcycle riders, we need to be aware that the changes that we are facing certainly do not mean that we need to give up our passion for riding, but as mature riders, we do need to understand these potential changes and address them in a manner which will keep us safe and on our bikes as long as possible. Taking a few extra precautions and add a few more key pieces of gear is a small price to pay to keep enjoying bikes and the freedom that they offer.
Low Light & Darkness
As described in the March 2006 issue of the Harvard Health Letter, your eyes slowly change as you age. To adapt to low light or darkness, your pupils widen to let in more light and improve your ability to see. But that adjustment is made by the tiny muscles in the colored part of your eye, the iris, which surrounds the pupil.
As anyone who is getting up there in years knows, older muscles just don’t respond as quickly or a well as they once did. So as we age, we just need to accept the fact that it can be more difficult to see in low light such as on a ride at dusk or in the early morning before sunrise.
One option is to limit the time of day that you choose to ride, but to me, that seems like giving in to old age and letting it control my ability to enjoy my bike. A better solution is to use an amber visor or shield in your helmet. This helps to intensify the minimal amount of light and provides a crisper, clearer view in low light. If you do not have the capability of dual visors in your helmet, then amber glasses are an option if you do not wear prescription glasses.
Decreasing Reaction Times & the Consequences
According to a study of 3,305 people ages 16 to 44 conducted by PBS for the show NewsHour, the human brain’s reaction time peaks at age 24. After 24 the decline in reaction time is slow but constant.
As mature motorcycle riders, we need to also embrace this bit of information and learn to extend our vision. This larger scope of vision is going to allow that short extra instant that we need to react to something around us. It could mean the difference between dodging a car backing out into traffic and high siding over a trunk and landing on hard asphalt.
And that brings me to the next fact that we, as older riders need to grasp. And that is the fact that we just don’t heal as quickly as we did in our 20’s or even our 40’s. Again, I am not advocating hanging up the helmet and gloves, I am just saying that mature riders need to take advantage of all of the amazing protective gear that is now available.
Time To Gear Up
Not too many years ago, a leather jacket was all the protection that you could get. But today’s jackets offer things like:
Integrated PE padding on the chest, torso, and back
Removable CE protectors in the chest, back, elbows and shoulders
Exterior friction protectors on the shoulders and elbows
Kevlar panels for abrasion protection
Mesh or perforated leather for ventilation and added comfort and safety in warm weather
Accordion stretch inserts and gussets to allow full range of motion and superior protection
Optional lumbar protection
Waist connection zipper to attach to riding pants to eliminate a back full of road rash
And that connection zipper is the perfect segue to the next piece of gear that has made some huge strides in providing protection. Riding pants used to be a very constricting, stiff leather garment that only belonged in MotoGP. But that is no longer the case.
Riders can select from textile, leather or even denim pants that offer almost as many safety options as today’s jackets such as:
Internal hips pads and knee pads
External knee pucks if you are really going to push some curves
Kevlar panels for abrasion protection
Mesh or perforated leather for ventilation and added comfort and safety in warm weather
Accordion stretch inserts and gussets to allow full range of motion and superior protection
Optional lumbar protection
Waist connection zipper to attach to a jacket to eliminate a back full of road rash
But if you are not ready to give up the gear that you already own to invest in a new jacket and pants with extra safety features, consider just adding some armor under your existing gear. There are several reputable companies who are selling back protectors that fit under a jacket or shirt, elbow and knee armor and even base layers with pockets for soft or rigid armor.
As an over 50 rider, I completely understand that many riders my age do not want to feel like they have just suited up in an Ironman costume to go out for a ride. I must confess, I was right there with you thinking that same thing until I tried out a few new pieces of gear thanks to the great folks at webBikeWorld and some awesome manufacturers who offered up some gear.
I had always ridden in jeans, some type of sneaker or gym shoe and a jacket. And in the heat of a Phoenix summer, I was not religious about the jacket on occasion. The only thing that I was a little bit smart about was wearing a helmet, but that was due to the endless supply of rock flying through the air out here.
First the Jacket
The jackets are the first piece of gear to really win me over. I have tried a lot of different brands including Joe Rocket, Icon, Motonation, Dainese and Alpinestars. And what I discovered is that as long as I get the correct size, most of the newer style jackets are very comfortable. Again, it will come down to personal preference and fit, but even with all of the added safety features and armor, these jackets are flexible and move with you rather than restricting your motion.
Anyone who had one of the older leather race jackets knows that you felt protected but only because it was like having a nutshell around you. Your movement and flexibility were severely limited. That is no longer the case.
Then the Pants
This year I also discovered that motorcycle specific pants are not as bad as I imagined them to be. In fact, they can be more comfortable than the jeans that I spent a lifetime wearing. As I mentioned before, I live in Phoenix and the summers can be pretty unbearable with temps hitting 115 and sometimes higher. So after a ride, my jeans looked like I had just gotten out of the pool and not off of my bike.
I tried out a pair of textile pants that offered some great ventilation and even better armor and padding. While wearing the pants this summer, I had a rather unfortunate incident on a corner with a gravel spill. Fortunately, the hip and knee protection did its job as did the textile. I escaped with no burns or cuts and just a little bruising.
But I would hate to imagine the outcome if my hip had hit the asphalt with nothing but a layer of denim to protect it. I consider myself fortunate to have discovered the importance of good riding gear without getting a ride in an ambulance to go along with my epiphany.
A Little Consolation
First of all, I hope that you are still with me here and did not see this as all doom and gloom and click away. My point is to provide mature riders, like myself, with some real information that we all need to hear and understand. Getting older is not all bad. I consider myself to be much smarter than the little smart ass I was in my 20’s and I plan to use that added insight to stay safe and stay on my bike for a few more decades.
The fact is that there were more motorcycle accidents in 2016 than there were in 2007 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and it is not just because riders were getting older.
There are a lot of other factors that increase the potential for motorcycle accidents today including more vehicles on the road, more road rage incidents and maybe the worst of all is the number of distracted drivers. Cell phones, navigation systems and all of the other gadgets in today’s cars give drivers way too many things that can demand their attention when they need to be watching the road.
As an older and wiser rider, it only makes sense to take advantage of the safety gear that is out there to help avoid an injury that could make riding nothing more than a memory. There are a lot of great manufacturers and types of gear out there. Invest some time to research and even test fitting to find the best gear to give you the added protection you need to be safe and keep riding.