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2002 Harley-Davidson FXDXT

Friday, November 29, 2002
2002 Harley-Davidson Superglide
2002 Harley-Davidson Superglide
Soul Stirring Dyna Super Glide

Cruising the local strip has never been so much fun.

There's one motorcycle company that ranks alongside brands like Coca Cola and McDonalds for worldwide recognition - Harley-Davidson. The Motor Company, as it is known, has been building motorcycles since 1903 and is one of the world's most successful manufacturing firms. This fame and recognition means that you'll never ride anywhere on a Harley without stirring some kind of reaction. Fellow bikers on all-out sports bikes might snigger and sneer, but ignore them - they're just jealous. Why the jealousy? Simple, it's because they know that the Harley-Davidson motorcycle is the biggest fanny magnet in automotive history! We got a chance to jump on one of Harley's newest models, the FXDXT, to test the pulling power of that big V-Twin.

I have to start this article with a confession I am totally biased toward the Harley-Davidson marque. I'm an H-D apologist. While my colleagues in the UK press slate the big Hogs for their lack of speed and unsporting handling, I've written reams of praise directed at the near 100-year-old factory and it's products. I've even been on the BBC's Top Gear motoring program alongside Steve Berry sounding off about the soul-stirring attraction of the Harley-Davidson. Why is it that I am almost alone in praising these machines when the rest of the press castigates them? Perhaps it's because I understand the attraction of the Harley - they have soul, Harleys are the motorcycling equivalent of James Brown. Okay, I admit it, they also pull the birds big time. Any bike that can make picking up totty so easily has to be applauded. The bike tested here, Harley's version of the sport-touring motorcycle, the FXDXT or Dyna Super Glide T-Sport as it's more clumsily known, proved the point.

I rode the T-Sport down to Brighton, for no better reason than to cruise the strip, or promenade, on the big ballsy twin. After an hour of riding up and down basking in the attention that the huge, throbbing 88 cubic inch engine (1449cc) and the rakish looks attracted, I parked up for a choc ice. As the bike sat there cooling down a constant stream of admirers filed past, occasionally firing a question at the apparent owner. How fast is it? How much does it cost? Is it new? Then a tall, drop-dead gorgeous blonde walked straight up to me and asked for a ride on the Harley.

"I've always wanted to ride on one, I've got about an hour before I meet my boyfriend," says the beauty. "Have you got a spare helmet for me?" she asked, giggling suggestively. And in case I had any doubts about the effect that this motorcycle was having on her libido she added, "Let's take a ride to a quiet spot on the beach, and I'll make it worth your while…" Sadly, I didn't have a spare helmet, at least not one that she could wear on her head while riding pillion! She looked crestfallen and I rode home cursing the UK helmet law. Bugger!

2002 Harley-Davidson Superglide
2002 Harley-Davidson Superglide
Pulling power is fine, but if you're going to spend $14,900 of your hard earned cash on a motorcycle you're going to want to enjoy riding the bike, as well as the women that it pulls. Unless you are completely addicted to the thrill of riding a hyper sports bike the Harley isn't going to disappoint. The latest version of a very old theme, that big 45-degree V-Twin, four-stroke, air-cooled engine is a peach. The 88 Twin Cam power plant pulls like a train from zero revs. Just wind open the throttle open in any gear and the motor responds instantly, firing the bike forward with a degree of urgency that only tuned Harley's could manage in the past. It won't feel fast to anyone used to a Fireblade, but to the average Mondeo driver it'll feel pretty damn exhilarating. The key to the feel is the low-revving nature of the engine, and the massive amount of torque pumped out by those huge pistons. It produces its peak torque of 109 NM at only 2,900 rpm. This low down power is the signature of the Harley-Davidson. It translates into a bike that is lazy and yet surprisingly quick.

In the past, stopping all this motive power has been something the Motor Company have struggled with. But that's mostly changed on recent models, which are fitted with modern specification four-pot brake callipers. In the case of the T-Sport, there's two of them up front and one on the rear. This triple-disc brake system is a great improvement over previous models. You still need to give the massive front brake lever a good squeeze to get the best out of the brakes, but the result is far more dramatic than in the past. The combination of all three will pull the T-Sport down from the 100-mph plus speeds it's capable of without drama.

Style-wise this Harley is quite unusual. It doesn't have a lot of chrome to polish, as its designers have specified black chrome and polished aluminium for a sportier look. Of course, the Harley-Davidson accessory catalogs are simply bursting with goodies, chromed or otherwise, to add to the bike. That's part of the appeal of Harley ownership - the bike is more of a bare canvass than a finished machine, and it invites personalization.

As befits its sport-touring role, the T-Sport comes with detachable saddlebags and a small windscreen. The bags hold a decent amount of baggage for those trips down to Brighton, or better still the Cote D'Azur. But the bike is more suited to the hotel and credit card style of touring I'd hate to try to squeeze luggage for two and a tent and sleeping bags onto it for a camping trip to France. The relaxed riding position is well suited to long distance riding but the screen wasn't right for me. I'm a tall guy and I sit high in the saddle, which meant that the airflow rushing over the top of the screen was buffeting my head I felt like I was doing a spell in the ring with Tyson at anything over 60 mph. To be fair to the Harley, I always have this problem with bikes with shorter screens; riders under six-feet tall might find life quieter behind the screen than I did.

2002 Harley-Davidson Superglide
Unless you are completely addicted to the thrill of riding a hyper sports bike the Harley isn't going to disappoint.
The T-Sport is fitted with fully adjustable suspension, something you normally wont' find on a Harley. I suspect the typical H-D owner wouldn't have a clue what to do with the knobs and valves on offer. The idea is that you can stiffen up the suspension if you have the bike loaded up with a passenger or touring gear, or both. You could also use the adjustment to tune up the suspension if you plan to ride the Harley hard. The T-Sport can't hold a candle to the massed ranks of modern sportbikes in the handling department, but nevertheless it handles well enough for even fairly spirited riding.

The main problem with any bike of this type is ground clearance. The pegs are set low for comfort and style, and the trade-off is that if you ride the T-Sport hard you'll drag those pegs along the Tarmac on sharper turns. Twiddling with the suspension can buy more ground clearance, but you'll sacrifice some comfort. When set up right the ride is very compliant and deals with humps and bumps in the road extremely well, doing a commendable job of insulating you from most of the jolts handed out by shitty British roads.

The Harley experience won't suit everyone. If you're really in a hurry and care more about high average speeds and angles of the dangle around your favorite stretch of twisties, then don't visit your local Harley dealer. But if things like soul, character and the ability to effortlessly pull women on Brighton Prom count, then it's time you considered a Harley. They are expensive, but they also hold their value far better than any other machine on the market. Maybe the best compliment I can pay the marque is that it's probably the only make of motorcycle that I would spend my own money on  and that's after years of sampling almost everything on offer from scooters to Grand Prix race bikes!
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