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Harley-Davidson Road Glide

Is that a Hondley-Davidson?

Most of us could write the article; “The Dangers of buying a used Motorcycle” with conviction. Perhaps the young dip stick in love with a Suzuki TS 250, examined in the dark basement of a disreputable retailer. Or the treasure hunter who finds a worn yet intact 1970 BMW R75/5 adorned with a Vetter Windjammer amidst a back yard of clunkers for $400.00? Enter the enthusiast who has a financial set back and lives without a bike for 7 years. Finally solvent at age 56, he pays cash for a bike that is to many a Lemon, relying on make’s reputation. That would be Me. After an 1/8 mile ride and minutes of illogical deliberation, I own an ’04 Honda VTX 1300S. Half the initial and maintenance costs of a HD Road King? Read on.

The comparison subject, an 2008 96 c.i. 6 spd. Harley-Davidson Road King translates to boulevard presence and highway dominance. The 2004 Honda mimics, but is an infant in the parade. On the road, this HD is light years ahead of a ‘69 Sportster I rode. Both VTX & HD claim close to identical seat height of 27+”. My Road King rides included the beautiful curvy owner as a passenger. The Harley has crash bars, a good item on a 740 lb. bike. Reaching the ground from the Harley-Davidson’s seat was a challenge with my 30“ inseam, but the ergonomics get my preference over the Honda. It settles lower, and it’s ‘beach bars’ and the stretch to the floor boards is a slouch.

Honda VTX1300 and Harley-Davidson Road King

The controls of both bikes are “easy to find and fall readily to hand”. The Road King’s “key” is passed over the tank mounted switch and activates the ignition, cruise control, power outlet and self canceling turn signals. Honda put the VTX’s ignition key atop the tranny’s plastic left side cover. I did say plastic, and the cover is easily marred by any keys attached. Both bikes start with a right hand button and the injected Harley-Davidson has the familiar shake at idle. The Honda is counter balanced, but a tingle in the tiller hints at the “1, 2, Nothing” crank timing. Both these mills are ‘V Twins’, but that similarity ends in how the two connect the rods and crankshaft.

The Honda sprints through it’s lower, closer gears on boulevards, and in contrast the Harley-Davidson leisurely clears intersections in 1st. HD MoCo newbies puzzle over silent 1st to 2nd shift of veteran Harley pilots. A properly timed, slightly premature clutch release works, but practice is required.

My ‘Lemon Fresh’ 2004 Honda rolls on a 17“ front rim and 32 degree castor; nice in low gear, but a lack of “rake” affects stability. Later models have a 1 degree increase in castor with 18 & 19“ rims. Less noticeable on a new tire (masked by tread squirm?), many VTX1300 riders grieve about a “wobble”, noticeable between 35 & 45 MPH and an appetite for front tires. The dealer quoted Honda Corp. thusly; “Keep your hands on the bars.” Despite complaints on Lemon Law pages, the Highway Transportation Safety bureaucracy said; “No action unless an injury has occurred”. My VTX was cured with a properly balanced new tire and by dropping the rear suspension to the softest pre load, minutely increasing the rake. Others cite steering head bearings, improper assembly and front wheel “off center” as causes.   The way I see it, the bike wobbles all the time, shredding the tire. At higher road speed, traction and velocity overcome physics and cannot transmit the instability to the handlebars.

Honda VTX1300

The Honda eats highway like any 80cu.in. motorcycle. The short gears and engine’s torque spell traction surprises with curved on ramps and painted cross walks. Ridden aggressively, this bike will eat back tires too, and No, this model has no room for more rubber. Honda’s 80 cu. in. mill revs like my Yamaha 650 twin. At indicated 75 MPH (more like 69 – the speedo is noticeably off ) the middle of the power band awaits and a big twist gets you to 100, close to my observed top speed. The wide and short 4.8 gallon tank yields close to 150 miles before reserve. Heavy throttle makes a big difference on this carb. model. Both companies claim 40-45 mpg for these scoots.

On the highway, the Road King lives up to the name. 96 cu. in. laughs when passing or on inclines, and the 6 speed transmission beckons 85 MPH cruising. HD is “not new at this” and the Road King testifies. Japanese road bikes I’ve ridden have no soul, a sterile distant connection. The bike says; “You know what you are doing. Enjoy.” Harley’s ‘mystique’ for me is a gut level connection that hit me in less than 100 miles. In contrast, when a Harley speaks, it’s more like; “We know what we’re doing and we don’t just build and sell bikes. We ride them.” The past allegiances of Harley owners excused oil leaks and issues with Made in U.S.A. A retired CBS Executive on a dealer serviced Road King claimed 90K miles on the original bore and cylinders. Synthetic oil works. HD’s separate gear and motor design differ from the wet clutched Honda, mandating no synthetics.

Harley-Davidson Road Glide

Harley Trophies:

  • Solid on Freeway & back road cruises with inspiring curve attack in a 740 lb. bike
  • 6 gallon fuel capacity in a narrower, taller tank than Honda
  • Ergonomics wins hands down.
  • Intimacy with passenger easy.
  • Durable, practical hardware everywhere. Steel fenders. Impressive dual disc front brake. Quiet, clean belt drive. Fit and finish top rate. After market Rinehart pipes a bit quiet. This bike’s air horns generate shock waves. Tall windshield works fine.

Harley Takes:

  • Initial Price (‘08 Road King bought 2-14-09) $20K
  • Current approximate retail $11,565 Kelly Dealer Blue Book
  • New Battery $234.63
  • 10K mile Service $669.80
  • Saddle bag latches stymied by chrome trim.
  • Harley weighs 740 lbs. on 63.5“ wheelbase & holds 6 gallons premium fuel

Honda Trophies:

  • Power train reliability reputation and shaft drive
  • Low initial, parts & maintenance costs
  • New Battery $140.00
  • 16K Service $329.86 out the door

Honda Takes:

  • Initial Price New 2004 VTX 1300 ‘S’ $9199.00
  • Current approximate retail $4000.00 Kelly Dealer Blue Book
  • 150 mile range is so-so, and the tank is wide at the seat so spread your legs
  • Tall back rest on Honda requires a bent knee saddle up process for driver. Passenger sits much higher than pilot. Seat height and tall back rest make passenger mount and dismount a gymnastic spectacle. No intimacy. Replace both seats.
  • Low overall gearing with tight ratios. Wrung out at 100 MPH
  • Plastic chrome on Honda engine & side covers is cheesy
  • Passenger pegs MUST be moved forward for long rides
  • Floorboards drag when leaned over; could go up an inch
  • Longer wheelbase than the Road King, but carries it’s weight differently
  • Honda weighs 670 lbs. on 65.7“ wheelbase & holds 4.8 gallons


From the Sidewalk.

Sold on the Harley Road King, eh? You should also look at the Indian and Victory bikes. Arlen Ness endorsing Victory says plenty and the owners concur, also citing good reliability. New cost of Victory vs. new Harley is very competitive.

Honda in this case likely decided to change later models rather than recall the problem bikes. In public view, a recall would question overlooked engineering, quality control of parts, assembly and prototype testing. Lawsuits predictable.

About the Author:

Word Monger A.K.A. Tazatator – Originally from western Pa., my ‘enthusiasm’ began as woods/enduro rider when Huskys had metal tanks & Hodakas won desert races. Dirt bikes were HARD to ride fast. Dirt Bike magazine moment: Lost 1 cowboy boot in Sepulveda Basin sand wash whilst retrieving XL 350 of equal value. Conservative Estimate of So. Ca. miles logged commuting: 100K

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