THIS TEST MARKS A NEW BEGINNING.
Simply put, Harley-Davidson has engineered the
FXRS into the contemporary world of motorcycling, a genuinely remarkable
accomplishment. The last Harley-Davidson Cycle tested—a 1975 FLH in a
touring-bike comparison test— was a motorcycle that had gone out of date in
categories this magazine could legitimately test. A magazine must have a fair,
accurate and consistent framework for testing; the road test vocabulary must
mean the same thing month-to-month and model-to-model. Of course, road tests
adjust to an ongoing and rising state-of-engineering; obviously, the
hardest-stopping motorcycle of 1982 or this year's quickest quarter-miler
performs differently, and better, than those motorcycles which earned the same
labels ten years ago. At any given time, however, it's possible for motorcycles
though desirable on emotional terms—to be sufficiently distant from contemporary
standards that they can't be placed into a road test format and discussed in a
consistent road test vocabulary.
We've made the point before, in the "Real Steel
Cruise-Off" in May 1979. You might like a product, indeed because it is so
different and appealing to the emotions; nevertheless, that doesn't make a
motorcycle any more suitable for road testing. Magazines can test for things
like braking and vibration control and acceleration, but no one can test for any
particular individual's emotional reaction to a specific motorcycle, no matter
how important that subjective component may be, or what price someone would pay
Harley-Davidson has been working hard to get its
motorcycles into the contemporary era. That's a tough task when the engineering
frontiers in motorcycling move constantly forward. There's another dimension to
the profjlem: Since part of the attraction to Harley-Davidsons is their
differences from other machines, Harley must build new equipment under classic
forms. That's kind of like rebuilding an orange from the inside, so that, when
you're finished, you've got an apple in there. If your customers want the taste
of an apple but the looks and feel of an orange, you do it.
That's why we think the FXRS is the most
important Harley-Davidson built in a generation. The FXRS honors the past, but
stands in the present. It's testable by contemporary standards. Rubber mounts
keep 80 cubic inches of vibration away from the rider. The brakes work. Our
resident racer, for crying out loud, finds the motorcycle entertaining; you can
grind your way into the pegs and muffler and feather the Dunlops right to their
edges. The FXRS steers slow, but the bike is stable and predictable and
wobble-free. The machine isn't a Super-bike performer, but sure as hell the FXRS
has a lot more in common with its contemporaries than its predecessors.
For starters, ask yourself what Harley-Davidson
stands for, what sets the brand apart, what Harley-Davidson has to sell. The
answers to these questions, we think, are two basic features: a
large-displacement V-twin and the distinctive Harley-Davidson look. Those two
features are pretty much inseparable; and for the corporate health of
Harley-Davidson, maybe inviolate.
Big-inch narrow-angle V-twin engines have been
the hallmark of Harley-Davidson products for 75 years; no other manufacturer
packs 80 cubic inches into two cylinders. This package commits Harley-Davidson
to a large motorcycle, and one with some sort of vibration control. Though the
actual engine crankcase of the Harley-Davidson is small and compact, the
architecture of the V-twin and the other parts of the power train produce a unit
that occupies a lot of space. The result is a 620-pound motorcycle with a
At one time careful balancing of the crankshaft
in the so-called "Big Twin" resulted in sufficient smoothness, but standards
change. Today's standards require that engineers rubber-mount the engine to
isolate the rider and running gear from the vibration of two 669cc cylinders.
Rubber-mounting the traditional V-twin engine
might seem a piecemeal effort to keep "the old" alive and well. (Norton gave the
750 Commando its Isolastic system in the 1960s as a way of keeping the
long-stroke British vertical twin competitive.) But the seeming simplicity of
rubber-mounting belies the complexity and difficulty of the task; neither
Harley-Davidson nor Norton could insert rubber biscuits in existing frames and
celebrate the results. Far from it. Harley-Davidson had to build a new frame and
running gear around its 80-incher. Taken as a whole, Harley-Davidson's effort
with the FXRS is more a departure and a new construction than it is an
adaptation. The completed motorcycle, however, retains the heart of the thing
(the 80-cubic-inch twin) and the Milwaukee form (that Harley look).
The 80-incher gained its additional displacement
in 1980 from a 1.5mm increase in bore size and a 7.0mm increase in stroke over
the old 74 to a whopping 3.5 x 4.25 inches. Only a thicker cylinder-base
mounting flange and an additional piston-skirt oiler keep the cylinder from
being identical to the 74 model's. Both engines use the same connecting rods; in
the 80 the piston's pin-to-deck distance has been reduced 1.5mm to maintain
proper deck height.
The "knife and fork"-style connecting rods
measure 7.438 inches from eye to eye; they've changed little since 1974, when
H-D engineers switched to a common forging for both the 61-cubic-inch Sportsters
and the Big Twins. The difference, 0.030 inch in rod length, greatly simplified
tooling. The 35.5-pound crankshaft assembly, with its crank wheels that are 8.5
inch in diameter, takes the award for the narrowest crank per cubic inch of
displacement: only 4.0 inches across the cheeks.
This engine can be rebuilt indefinitely, a thing
common enough years ago, but rare today. Harley's crankshaft is a classic
example of "rebuildability." The rods have pressed-in bearing races that can be
honed to five oversizes; the tapered-end, press-fit pins come in only one
standard size, while the bearings are available in graduated oversizes.
The drive from the crankshaft passes through a
crank-mounted cushion made of four pairs of back-to-back spring washers. The
primary drive case, a semi-dry compartment, never collects more than a couple of
ounces of oil. An oiler sprays mist on the dual-row primary drive chain, and a
pickup in the bottom of the cavity scavenges accumulated oil. A magnetic drain
plug next to the pickup helps keep metal shavings from returning to the engine's
Five fiber-faced friction and four metal driven
discs make up the dry-type clutch, which attaches directly to the transmission's
mainshaft. The transmission has a direct-drive top gear; in fifth gear the
output sprocket sub-shaft locks directly to the clutch-mounted mainshaft for a
1:1 drive ratio. In the lower four gears the drive passes across appropriate
gear-sets to the auxiliary shaft and then transfers back to the output shaft.
This system increases efficiency and reduces gear backlash in top gear at the
price of reduced efficiency in the lower gears.
The five-speed transmission, introduced in 1980
on the FLT, has gears that require no shimming, and the same thrust washers and
snap rings are used throughout. This is quite different from the old four-speed
box, which is a shim-master's paradise. This year's five-speed contains several
improvements. Shift linkage, shift cam ramps and gear dogs have been altered to
give smoother, crisper gear changing. The leverage between the shift lever and
the gearbox's shift cam has been decreased to shorten throw action; the
shift-cam ramp between first and neutral has been shallowed to compensate for
the decreased leverage and make a more positive transition into neutral; and the
spacing between gear dogs was opened slightly to help eliminate the gear-change
crunch Harleys have always exhibited.
In practice the FXRS shifts more smoothly than
any Harley we've tried. Neutral is always easy to find from either first or
second gear. The short, clean lever throw produces instantaneous shifts, though
gear dogs crunch when you're hustling shifts at high rpms.
The swing arm attaches directly to the
transmission gearcase, and this assembly bolts to the engine crankcase and
primary drive chaincase. Engine, transmission and swing arm form a composite
structure that connects to the frame by three elastomer mounts similar to
automotive types. The front engine mount does little more than support the
weight of the powerplant; the two specially designed rear elastomers, attached
at the swing arm's spindle, are constructed in such a way that they resist
Two heim-joint turnbuckles located at the
engine's front and top prevent the drivetrain package from twisting and tilting
in the frame (which would mis-align the wheels). The front connector prevents
longitudinal twisting; the top turn-buckle resists sideways rocking. The entire
drivetrain package can jump around on its elastomers in an up/down and fore/aft
plane without twisting or rotating out of alignment. Harley-Davidson's design
blueprints call for a minimum of three-eighths-inch clearance around the engine.
The all-welded 60-pound frame departs from
Harley-Davidson's conventional practice for Big Twins. The breakaway from
cast-iron lugs a long overdue improvement—began in 1980 with the new FLT. The
FXRS's box-section backbone is massive, making earlier Harley frames look tiny:
0.120-inch-thick stiffeners and gussets reinforce an already monumental
(2.5-incti by 3.5-inch, 0.120-inch-thick) box-section bridge. The twin-cradle
main section looks conventional except for its robust size: 1.25-inch (32mm)
diameter and 0.065 thick. Rigidity is a chassis-word now spoken in Milwaukee.
The FXRS has a very long wheelbase (64.7 inch);
this combines with the 31-degree rake angle and 4.8-inch trail to produce its
slow-responding and somewhat heavy-handed steering—and the straight-line
stability of an ocean liner in a freshwater lake. Steering is neutral at all
speeds, but, not unexpectedly, the FXRS lacks agility at slow speeds.
The FXRS's high-speed mountain handling surprised
and impressed us. You can hustle quickly down twisting roads on the Harley
better than on some other bikes its size, although you must respect its
620-pound mass. Its rigid frame, decent suspension components and chassis
geometry allow the bike to track through corners without wobbles and without
quirks. At times when you're traversing dips at supra-legal speeds a slight
wallow begins, but this smooths itself, developing into nothing more than a
brief head wag. The forward exhaust pipe touches down first on the right, but
unharshly; the rubber-mounted pipes give. On the Harley's left, our resident
road racer could drag only the footrest end. This steadiness during
knee-dragging episodes vouches for homework well done in areas like component
rigidity, suspension quality and ground clearance. Its handling makes the FXRS
like no other Harley we've road tested: contemporary.
The Showa-made fork legs, manufactured to Harley
specs, provide a low-stic-tion ride over nearly all surfaces. A small amount of
flex, in addition to a slight un-derdamping in the fork, may cause the bike's
barely noticeable head wag when chasing hard over bumpy surfaces. Heavy braking
and large potholes use up nearly all of the 5.5 inches of available travel, but
overall the FXRS's ride is hard to fault.
Rear springing is firm; this helped the machine's
backroad performance at the expense of highway ride quality. Concrete-slab
expressways with uneven expansion joints cause rear-end pogo, and rough roads
transmit jolts directly to the rider's backside. The shock absorbers have very
good rebound damping but extremely short 3.5-inch travel. Given the bike's
weight, even the stiffish springing is a compromise. The shocks bottomed over
large bumps even with our lightest testers in the saddle of the Harley.
With the exception of spring preload at the rear,
the Harley has no built-in suspension adjustability. Considering the harsh ride
on the softest settings, preload adjustment becomes nearly useless. A machine
with the all-around performance capabilities—and price of the FXRS deserves
adjustable, air-assisted suspension components.
The FXRS's cast aluminum wheels are shod with
Dunlop's tube-type K181 tires—a break from the traditional Good-years. The
Dunlops had the FXRS tracking through California's worst rain tires' ability to
cling to the road without hooking up on grooves or steps gives the rider
The FXRS riding position is classic Harley Laid
Back. Harley-Davidson's buckhorn handlebar strains the back, shoulder and arm
muscles at high speeds grooves with ruler-straight stability. The or in strong
head winds. Most staffers complained about the riding position. Excessive
pullback crowds the rider's arm space. For most, the rider's footrests were too
high for long-term comfort. The forward-mounted "highway" pegs offered some
relief, but riders under five-eight couldn't reach the pegs easily.
The FXRS's low-altitude seat provides a wide,
soft platform, but its upward slope toward the gas tank causes, smaller riders
to slouch, especially when using the forward pegs. Taller testers need a little
more rear space in which to stretch. Although the seating wasn't posture-perfect
for our tallest or shortest staffers, it wouldn't prevent any of them from
taking a full day's ride.
The airbox, located on the right side, is a
trademark of Milwaukee's V-twins, but it, too, causes some discomfort and
annoyance. The size and location of the airbox owes much to government regulations
(make 'em clean and quiet) and the engine's V-design. The airbox shakes with the
engine, so the rider must hold his leg away from the box to avoid the
Although the elastomer powerplant mounts isolate most
significant engine and road vibrations from the rider, the engine passes through
a rough period in the 2200-rpm to 2500-rpm range, during which the engine and
its attached air cleaner make an impressive commotion. Very little of this
reaches the rider; what does is just unobjectionable rumble.
This smooth power delivery has little driveline lash. Our test
bike had rich car-buretion, traced to an overactive accelerator pump. While this
didn't detract from smooth power flow, it caused a lot of low-speed snorting and
chuffing. Cold-starting was quick and the warm-up period short. Occasionally,
when still cool, the engine would spit back through the carburetor. Once
thoroughly warmed, though, the engine had excellent throttle response at all
speeds, even from its 600-rpm idle. This year Harley engineers chose an
extremely projected spark plug tip to move the plug's nose well into the fuel
mixture. According to sources at H-D, this has improved "drivability."
The FXRS's power characteristics explain much about the
motorcycle's ridability. The torque curve is shaped like an Arizona mesa high
and flat. From 54.81 pounds-feet at 2000 rpm, torque climbs to 62.13 at 2500
rpm, stays in the sixties until it peaks at 62.44 at 4000 rpm, and then eases
back to 58.68 at 4500 rpm, trailing off to 53.48 at 5000 rpm, after which the
curve plunges. The torque falls off so sharply that the horse power curve
never arches over the torque curve on the dyno chart as normally happens
(horsepower is a function of torque and engine speed). The FXRS has the power
characteristics of a big-inch Detroit V-8 van engine an enormous amount of
torque in a flat pattern over a relatively short rpm band and this is coupled to
tall gearing. By comparison, a GS1100 Suzuki has less torque (52 to 59 to 53
range), but over a 5000 rpm band, and it has far more horsepower.
The FXRS produces maximum horsepower (50.92) at 5000 rpm, the
level of current 550 sport bikes. The 80-cubic-inch engine is neither impressive
in output per liter nor in absolute numbers when matched against engines fresh
from the drawing boards in Japan. The quality of the Harley's power basic
locomotive-type is impressive on the road, though it's not the kind that will
make you a drag-strip winner.
The FXRS's brakes are a big improvement over previous Harleys
we've ridden. The redesigned front brake lever eliminates excessive freeplay,
and the 1982 system is less spongy than its predecessors. Lever feedback and
controllability are quite good; however, Harley-Davidson must not believe in
two-finger front braking. It takes a full four-finger grip to stop the FXRS's
considerable mass quickly. The rear brake, which features a dual-piston caliper,
uses new pads designed to provide longer pad life and more consistent braking
under a variety of conditions. The brake is powerful and easily controlled.
California's usual dry weather didn't allow us to test the brakes' all-weather
The clutch lever, like the brake lever, has been newly reshaped
this year. These new controls are easier to reach and have about 10 percent
greater leverage than the old units, according to H-D engineers. Nevertheless,
the clutch-lever pull on our test bike was stiff, though acceptable. The large
rocker switches are easy to operate even with thick, heavy gloves. The rider
must keep holding down the right-hand and left-hand turn signal switches to
operate the turn indicators. This makes simultaneous signaling and smooth
downshifting and braking difficult. The switches would be perfect for an
automatically canceling system.
Like the turn signal buttons, the large fuel valve lever can be
turned with heavy gloves. The petcock goes onto reserve just before the fuel
gauge reaches its red one-eighth-full mark. Although the fuel tank holds 4.3
gallons, you must leave about 0.3 gallon air space to prevent overflow or
seepage. The filler cap has a slip-collar to prevent overtightening, and the cap
on our test bike didn't leak unless the
gas tank was brimming to the top.
The FXRS lacks a tool kit and a locka-ble tool compartment. The
motorcycle should have both. Here's another couple of items from our Department
of Puzzles. An exhaust leak developed in our test bike's header, caused by
welding parts under stress in a prototype piece. An intermittent problem in the
starter button (and/or relay) sometimes kept the starter from working. Here's
one from the Department of the Familiar. When parked, the bike left a small oil
puddle the size of a silver dollar.
The FXRS's forged-steel sidestand, like that of all
Harley-Davidson motorcycles, has been designed with the intention of supporting
both rider and machine. When fully extended it locks in place to prevent the
bike from rolling off the stand. Its flattened end spreads the bike's weight
over a large footprint. Harley-Davidson motorcycles do not include centerstands.
The procedure for rear-wheel removal calls for tipping the
machine on its stand and placing a block under the right rear portion of the
frame, or laying the whole bike down on its right side. Sounds appalling, but
it's not. Our test bike got a flat rear tire, and our smallest, lightest editor
changed the tire quickly. He says it was simple and the bike lost only about a
cup of fuel.
Those riders who can do simple servicing such as changing oil,
adjusting chains and cables, and cleaning filters may have little need of a
dealer. The ignition system, manufactured by Magna-vox, has no mechanical parts
to service; magnets trigger the spark, and transistorized electronics control
the advance. The hydraulic tappets should require no fiddling once they've been
set. Fluid levels can be checked through view windows or by dipsticks. The
primary chain can be inspected or adjusted through a cover on the chaincase.
The FXRS, built in the traditional form of Harley-Davidson
motorcycles, has a far broader appeal than its forerunners because Milwaukee has
built a new motorcycle around the basic 80-cubic-inch engine. The bike should
have a stronger appeal than other Harleys to those riders crossing over from
other motorcycles. And it's reasonable to expect updated components and further
refinements in the future. We'd like to see the airbox redesigned, improvements
in suspension—mainly adjustability, an onboard tool kit, and better seating.
As it now stands, the FXRS is distinctly Harley-Davidson in
looks and sound and feel; yet in terms of vibration control, ride and handling,
and a quality that could be called agreeability, the FXRS has arrived, here and
now. Maybe the FXRS isn't on the cutting edge of technology, but this
Harley-Davidson has left the old time warp behind. ®