Harley-Davidson Road Glide | Honda Gold Wing F6B | Dissimilar Metals

Two Modern Baggers, Worlds Apart

By Kevin Smith, Photography by Kevin Wing

Which is another lesson in itself. Selecting first on the Honda is like, well, selecting first on a Honda: click. Putting the Harley in gear sounds like a minor car wreck. Harley owners smile and say, “Yeah…so?”

Neither of these long, large motorcycles is a doddle to maneuver at a walking pace, with wheelbases that stretch well over 5 feet and curb weights within a couple pounds of 840. (Would you believe the Honda is heavier and longer?) But get the wheels turning just a little faster and both quickly become settled and manageable. They carry their weight low and the bars afford plenty of leverage.

Ergonomic packages on both the F6B and the Road Glide will accommodate long hours and big miles, but the two approaches share little beyond firm, modestly bucketed seats and an easy reach to wide-set, mid-height handgrips. The Harley puts the rider’s feet well forward on smallish floorboards. The Honda, with cylinder heads jutting out where forward controls might otherwise go, has more conventional footpegs, located a bit farther aft though still well ahead of the rider’s own center of gravity. (“Posting” to take some weight off your tailbone is more like a pull-up on these bikes, especially the Harley.)

Wind protection is more complete behind the Honda’s full fairing, but the frame-mounted “shark-nose” piece on the Harley does a good job, too. Those stubby windscreens sacrifice a lot of function in the interest of form, with helmet buffeting ranging from slight to annoying, depending on speed and rider height. Most six-footers will find both bikes tolerably quiet until about 70 mph. The Honda is generally better, but on either of these, you’ll be keeping your faceshield snapped closed more than usual.

Stiff, short-travel suspension on the Road Glide faithfully telegraphs bumps and breaks in the pavement—perhaps there’s an amplifier in there, too. You learn to be attentive and watch for these things. The Honda feels firm, too, but much more accommodating overall. Seats are fine on both, with properly firm padding and good shape.

At least for the rider. Passenger accommodations are another area of sharp contrast. On the F6B the huge surface area of the rear seat appears driven by style but there is good support and certainly plenty of room. The forward location of the grab rails can pull taller passengers down into a slouch. No such issue with the Road Glide, because its standard seat wouldn’t induce anyone to ride pillion. The passenger’s section is short, hard, and sloped to the rear. Both Harley-Davidson and the aftermarket offer alternative saddles, and all but the loneliest of loners will want one.

Talking performance aspects—power, response, cornering, braking—really forces the conversation into context: Each of these bikes needs to be evaluated on its own terms, not against the other.

Harley-Davidson has seemingly tuned the Road Glide Custom for a sweet spot that is chugging along casually at 2400 rpm, straight up. Deviate from that a little and the bike will play along, but take it farther and you are clearly leaving the envelope. That big, mildly tuned engine obviously makes loads of torque, with the peak coming around 3000 rpm, which is usually about where your internal shift light comes on. Even when hustling, there’s little reason to rev much past 4000.

That narrowish range of happy revs needs lots of gear ratios to lever the bike up to cruising speeds, and the Road Glide has six (one more than the Honda, curiously) complete with a neat little “6” numeral in the speedometer face that glows green when you have reached top gear. This driveline does everything it is supposed to, helping you manage engine revs without glitches while operating with a brutally mechanical feel and sound. The gearbox lends the bike a clunky, old-school character that is nearly as central to the brand’s appeal as that signature exhaust beat.

The Road Glide Custom excels at chugging down a smooth freeway at 70 mph. Vibration control is excellent under those circumstances, the engine has ready torque, wind buffeting is modest, and the ride is as good as it gets. The 6-gallon tank lets the scene play out for hours, if you want.

By Kevin Smith
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Now all Honda needs to do is remove 2 cylinders and 250 lbs to have a great light-heavy weight bagger for the masses. Do that and I'm first in line with cash. Sorry Honda, still too big and heavy.
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