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Harley Davidson FXRS 1340 Low Glide
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 The last Harley-Davidson Cycle tested—a 1975 FLH in a touring-bike comparison test— was a motorcycle that had gone out of date in categories this magazine could legitimately test.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 for it.
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 64.7-inch wheelbase.
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 oil supply.
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 sideways displacement.
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 confidence.
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 vibrations.
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 capabilities.
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 unlessthe 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. ®