Milwaukee Eight

It’s that time of year when the Harley Davidson Motor Company and to be honest most of the other manufacturers, roll out their new motorbikes for the coming season. To be honest, I only normally only pay passing interest to the latest shiny stuff, but every now and then something really grabs my attention.

This year it was Harley’s launch of the new Milwaukee Eight engine.

OK, I admit, it did come about in a roundabout sort of way….

When I saw that Harley Davidson had unveiled a 107cubic inch capacity engine, that’s about 1750cc in metric terms, the thought crossed my mind, “Why?”

Let’s face it, Harley Davidson’s aren’t noted for being the fastest and sexiest handling motorbikes on the street, but what they do they do pretty well…in a rather idiosyncratic Harley way that you either love or hate.

The current “Big Twin” engine is the 103cubic inch, 1690cc, which has been around since its launch in 1999 and has equipped the Touring and Cruiser models since then. All of these engines have been air-cooled, apart from those fitted to the bigger Project Rushmoor Tourers, such as my big blue Ultra Limited, which enjoy dual air/liquid cooling. To my mind the 103 with its simple twin cams has been pretty much fit for purpose and certainly pushes out enough power for my needs!

So what’s the deal with an even bigger power unit?

Well, according to H-D, the customer wants more power and an engine that runs cooler. So that’s exactly what they have delivered!
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The new engine may at first glance look the same as the 103, but that is really where the similarity ends. Yes, there’s the familiar 45° V-twin shape but look closely and things are subtly different. Inside it’s all new. To start with, the two new cylinder heads each have four valves – hence the “Milwaukee Eight” tag, eight valves in total. The exhaust valves are liquid cooled as standard, quite an innovation for Harley Davidson, but also making life much more pleasant for the rider by assisting in reducing exhaust temperatures by around 100°. The compression ratio is pushed up to 10:1 with thin “low-tension” rings fitted to each piston, Harley claims that these rings will reduce drag inside the engine and hence improve efficiency. To ensure complete combustion each cylinder is fitted with two spark plugs. Engine management is facilitated by knock sensors, that keep everything running smoothly by very cleverly keeping the bang just far enough advanced to prevent pre-ignition. All this leads to an increase in torque of around 10% over the old engines and better compliance to ever demanding emission regulations.

Interestingly the new engine has only a single cam shaft, Harley claim that this reduces mechanical engine noise, though as most owners will probably slap after-market road-rumbler pipes on their bikes, I find the claim that this is important to be somewhat strange!

Cut away view of the Milwaukee Eight. Photo: Harley Davidson.

Cut away view of the Milwaukee Eight.
Photo: Harley Davidson.

Like the old 88inch Evo engine fitted to Softails, such as my Harls, the 107 is counterbalanced to reduce vibration, though rubber engine mounts certainly play their part too; riding proved the point beautifully!

Which leads me to Plymouth Harley Davidson, who very kindly gave me the opportunity to test ride one of the new models.

Now being an engineer by nature, I worry when presented with a brand new bike with only 169 miles on the odometer and the instruction to “Go ride it!” I just can’t let myself get too carried away, but Kevin at the Dealership assured me that I was in for a treat….

Looking around the Demo bike, a Street Glide Special in Hard Candy Custom Hot Rod Red Flake (honestly!) there were one or two nice little improvements; like new manually adjustable rear suspension, improved stiffened front forks and better pannier fixing. The new engine nestles nicely in the frame and the modified exhaust pipes both look and sound superb once the 107 burst into life.image

Drawing away I was struck by the new clutch, it feels crisp and usable, but that could be because it was hardly broken in. Like all Harleys, the gearbox has a reassuring clunkiness – something I like, but I know many folk hate; you’ll never please everyone! Out on the road I got caught at a set of lights and immediately noticed just how smooth and vibration free the new engine was at idle, really nice.

Then things got better, a whole lot better!

I swung the Road Glide onto the dual carriageway of the A38 and accelerated up through the gears. Now allowing that I had ridden to Plymouth on my Ultra Limited, which weighs in at nearly 500kg with a full tank plus me on board and the Road Glide is over 50kg lighter, the acceleration was more than impressive, it was fantastic…particularly at the higher end where Harley’s traditionally fade. This is an engine that gives its best at higher revolutions!

At speed the bike felt nice and “planted” on the tarmac and certainly had power to spare. Leaving the main highway and onto more twisty roads I was impressed with the new suspension, the front end was nice and firm whilst the rear sat nicely on the road without any wallow, though I must confess to not fiddling around with any settings. The linked, abs fitted, Brembo brakes give a feeling of confidence, this baby can stop in a hurry too!

Riding the bike a couple of nice little tweaks were noticeable. On the left hand side the new slimline clutch cover gives more room to the riders ankle whilst on the right the air cleaner case has a nice taper at the rear which allows your knee to sit snugly against the tank happiness on both sides of the body which on a long trip can make the world of difference!

When I returned the bike, Kevin, unsurprisingly, asked me what I thought of it?
“It’s something special!” I replied. “Very special.”

It’s clear that Harley Davidson have thrown plenty of resources at the Milwaukee Eight project and have trod a difficult path between the outright modern and the “Harley Tradition.” I feel that they’ve more than got it right, this evolution of the marque must surely be a winner.

So yes, I like the Milwaukee Eight a lot, an awful lot!

Enough to chop in one of my existing stud, or even splash out on a new one to join them?

Baby and Harls, going nowhere without me on board! Photoshopped by Ninja Alba.

Baby and Harls, going nowhere without me on board!
Photoshopped by Ninja Alba.

No, I’m not ready for that yet. I’m still enjoying getting to know my Rushmore Ultra Limited and as for Softail Harls….well she’s part of the family! Longer term, when I decide that the big Ultra Limited is just too big, I may be tempted with one of those lighter Street Glides, but not just yet.

I have seen the future though and it’s written “Milwaukee Eight.”

With massive thanks to Kevin, Chris and all at Plymouth Harley Davidson for the loan of their bike which made this review possible.

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Testing! Testing!

As regular blog followers will know, I’ve been banging on for some time about how nice the new “Project Rushmore” Harley Davidson touring motorcycles are.

‘Very,’ is a word that seems to comes to mind.

One slight problem… I’ve blathered on about the bikes, but had yet to ride one.

Driving home across a foggy Bodmin Moor last Tuesday, the hands free phone in my car burst into life with a call from Kevin Tomlinson at Plymouth Harley Davidson. I pulled over into a convenient lay by and Kevin told me that the Dealership had just taken delivery of a new Electra-Glide Ultra Limited Low model, it was road ready and would I like to test ride it?

Does Pinocchio have balsa bollocks?

Dead right I’d like to ride it!

Arriving at the Dealership this morning, I reported to Salesman Tim Williams, filled in the requisite paperwork and was led to a gleaming Ultra Limited Low.
“Feeling excited?” asked Kirk, the Service Manager.
“Nah!” I lied. “It’s just another bike.” Oh boy, I was telling whoppers!

I could hardly wait to get out on the road.

Tim took me through the niceties of the ‘Low’ as the engine warmed up.

imageThis baby had only four miles on the clock and was absolutely pristine, literally just out of the box!

I threw my leg over the saddle, kicked in first gear, let out the clutch and off we went. As I moved onto the A38 and headed West my first thought, “This bike feels…lovely!”

True, the machine was new and understandably a bit stiff, but she was throttle responsive and rode beautifully. I headed towards Dookes H.Q. on roads I know well and which would give me a good comparison to my beloved Softail.

As the miles rolled by, I became more and more impressed with the lovely machine that I was riding. On the twisties, she was nice and stiff; the front end stayed true to the road, though I wasn’t trying anything extravagant as the tyres were brand new as well! Throttle response was more than impressive, it was bloomin’ amazing! This is a big bike weighing in at nearly 400kg, but it felt light and crisp.

After covering about fifty miles I thought it would be good to pull over, take a breather and evaluate this neat machine.

Now just a word to explain this “Low” tag that Harley Davidson have given the model. The bike is based on the standard Electra-Glide Ultra Limited, but to make it more attractive to, shall we say more ‘vertically challenged’ riders, a number of modifications have been applied. The suspension has been lowered and likewise the seat has also been modified to lower the riding position, all this making the machine about 55mm lower than it’s bigger stablemate. The handlebar has also been moved back, to allow for shorter arms and the grips are a tad thinner, actually H-D have just simply omitted the heated grips which is a bit of a cheat in my view. The primary drive cover has also been slimmed down, which begs to question why on the standard size machine it has to be so big? Unless of course the ‘Low’ has something different inside there that I don’t know about.

So what do I think of it?image

Well, for me it’s a tad small, which might seem a bit bonkers for such a big bike!  The low seat modifications push my knees a bit high and it all makes things quite cramped around the foot controls. The close handlebar is just that for me, too close. In addition, the low seat has less padding and these days so does the Dookes derrière, which made it a tad uncomfortable! The pillion seat is, however, just about as plush as you can get on any motorcycle. Final downside is that as a tallish chap the screen is a bit too low, leading to some wind buffeting at mid-range speeds, but this could be fixed as different screen sizes are available.

On the plus side, which to be honest far outweigh the fit issues, it rides beautifully. Cornering is precise and feels like you are on rails. Acceleration, wow, just breathtaking for such a big bike, but then with a 103cu inch (1690cc) engine it should be! Power is, however, tractable, right through the range and the sixth gear a delight for highway cruising; talking of which, the cruise control is superb and so simple to engage and manage. Incidentally, the engine is twin cooled, air with liquid around the valves ports. The hydraulic clutch surprised me by being light to use, yet also still having that undefinable ‘feel’ that to me is so important. Brakes are the best I’ve ever experienced on any touring motorbike by any manufacturer; they are linked above 25mph and really sit the bike firmly on the road when applied, ABS is standard. Twin disks on the front wheel and a single disk on the rear. The LED head and auxiliary lights are nice and bright, although I didn’t ride after sunset they certainly lit up the Saltash Tunnel quite well!

The bike is fitted with a super Satnav/Information/Entertainment module that Harley have dubbed an ‘Infotainment’ system. I never thought I’d like a stereo on a bike, but I loved this! Good clear sound, that cleverly increases the volume as engine noise increases! I’m not a great fan of SatNavs, but this seemed ok and I could get to use it in addition to the legendary Dookes sense of direction! The system will also link to mobile phones, iPods and other USB devices, neat. Supplied as standard are in helmet speakers and microphones. These enable rider and pillion to talk on the move, as well as using the stereo system without the external speakers and utilising voice recognition for SatNav commands. Dials for speed, engine revs, fuel and volts are well laid out, clear to read and light up effectively. The various switches and controls are placed logically on the handlebars and soon become instinctive to use.

As you can see in the photos, there is bags of luggage space…bad pun! Two hard panniers and a cavernous top box, which will itself hold two full face helmets and more. All are lockable, which will give extra security to the touring rider and all are made to be opened and closed when wearing riding gloves, a nice touch, well done H-D! Finish is top quality.

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By the time I got back to the Dealership I had ridden nearly 120 miles and had a big stupid grin on my face. This is one fantastic motorbike!

To conclude, I loved this bike and I really feel that Harley Davidson have made a good move by identifying a potential market and going for it. I am sure that they will sell a lot of this model by taking that chance. At a tad over £22k for the two tone colour version that I rode these bikes are not cheap, but I believe that they do return very good value for money and H-D used prices always remain high. If you want a comfortable, stylish, yet performance minded mile muncher and you stand somewhere below six feet tall, this is the bike for you!

Many, many thanks to Dealer Principle Chris Iris, Kevin Tomlinson and Tim Williams at Plymouth Harley Davidson for the opportunity and loan of the test bike.

Now where can I get my hands on it’s bigger brother???

Dookes