With a factory-built custom you miss the joys of begging painters and
threatening chrome-platers. But it still is expensive.
Harley-Davidson's Disc Glide is probably history already. Milwaukee made very
few of these high-glitter FXRDG 80-inchers, something under 860 units, and by
the time you read this it's likely the only Disc Glides available will be used
ones. Discgroupies in California fared even worse than in other parts of the
United States. The Disc Glide wasn't available at all in the Golden State, a
victim of California's emission regulations which mandate evaporative control
systems on motorcycles built after January 1, 1984. The small run of Disc Glides
came off the assembly line early in 1984; it wasn't worth the bother to build a
special California model.
As a small company, Harley-David-son has the flexibility to run off small
batches of machines. These motorcycles aren't always "limited editions"; rather
Harley's ability to assemble
special detail models in small numbers is just a consequence of being
Harley-Davidson. When the price tag reaches the altitude of $8199, one best be
selling something pretty special, in terms of details, aroma or whatever, and
in terms of exclusivity—owners are paying dearly not to meet themselves on
The most obvious trait of the Disc Glide is its rear wheel disc; up front a
wire-spoke wheel supports things. The more common FXRS and FXRT models have cast
wheels. Visual concerns dictated the Disc Glide's rather eclectic
wheel-fashion—the motorcycle is supposed to look light and airy toward the
front, and dense and weighted down at the rear. The disc wheel is a composite:
two halves, joined by rivets, form the basic wheel. The aluminum halves aren't
"spun" as generally assumed; they are formed in a deep-draw process out of
0.160-inch aluminum. The disc wheel lacks any functional advantage over the
standard cast wheel; in fact, you must run a tube in the rear tire with the disc
wheel, and, at 15 pounds, the disc weighs two pounds more than the latest
standard FXRS cast piece. Functional superiority just isn't where the FXRDG is
at, or for that matter where any $8000 street motorcycle is at. Applying strict
cost/function/benefit tests to motorcycles would have us all riding around on
$2500 550cc bikes.
Function had little to do with the 12 chrome-plated aluminum engine covers.
Again, a testimony to the importance of finish. If dissipation were the
overriding concern, then motorcycle engines would be lumps of rough, blackened
Motorcycle companies avoid chrome on aluminum because it involves an
expensive and difficult process. As anyone who's had anything chromed knows, the
items to be chromed must have perfect finishes since every flaw shows up through
the plate. That much polishing means a lot of labor. Furthermore, in a
production setting, monitoring the chemicals and keeping them free from
contamination is more bother than it's worth.
While it's doubtful Harley will apply its chrome-plating tech more widely,
the company's new paint-implanted graphics probably will find broader
application soon. What you see on the side of the FXRDG tank is not a decal.
Instead, Harley-Davidson uses a process in which the graphic design is implanted
into the paint and covered by the clear coats. There are no decal-ridges.
Milwaukee lips are zipped on the exact technology: Juneau Avenue state secret.
The Disc Glide has the understated restraint of a banker's furnishings;
black, burgundy and gold—with black and brown leather saddle is tame stuff
compared to the 1980 Wide Glide with flames on its tank.
If seat height is any guide, FXRS owners are getting shorter every year. The
seat height, according to Harley-Davidson, is down at 26.8 inches, lower by more
than an inch from early FXRS twins. In the front, suspension travel remains
unchanged; the tubes are shorter and the bike's triple crowns ride lower than
before. In the
back, alas, the new lower-rider strategy results in shorter rear shocks and
the loss of three-quarters of an inch of travel. This hurts the bike's ground
clearance and sacrifices the comfort and suspension control longer travel can
provide. A functional explanation of sorts justifies the dropped seat— less
athletic riders feel more secure when they can get their feet flat on the ground
as they come to a stop.
Progress does appear in the clutch department: new aluminum alloy clutch
basket, hub and pressure plate assembly, together with a diaphragm spring. This
new wet clutch runs in its own oil bath; the primary drive has its own separate,
sealed cavity. The diaphragm spring looks like a thin spring-steel disc-brake
rotor, which, viewed on edge, is slightly convex. Set in place, the diaphragm
spring can apply substantial force against the pressure plate—exactly what you
want with an 80-cubic-inch engine—but at the clutch lever, things lighten up. As
a diaphragm spring compresses, its convex shape flattens, and when this occurs
it compresses with less pressure. Hence, there's decreasing resistance from the
spring as the rider draws the clutch lever in.
Other than the clutch, which works marvelously well, and the reduced
suspension travel and ground clearance, which—however necessary for customer
acceptance—mark a backward step from a functional viewpoint, the Disc Glide
remains fundamentally the same as the FXRT tested in October 1983, utilizing the
same frame, swing arm and engine. Milwaukee has worked hard to get a
contemporary motorcycle, and there's no reason to believe the work will get much
easier. The latest burst of Japanese engi-
neering activity has only served to raise the general threshold of
contemporary technology higher, and Milwaukee cannot afford to have the FXR
series slip out of date. Harley-Davidson has to give the faithful what they
need, what they want and evidence in terms of fit and finish that their
thousands were well spent. A tall order, indeed, for any low rider, at any