First Ride: 2007 Harley-Davidson Twin Cam 96

The Big Twin for the rest of us

Hammering through aptly named Earthquake Valley, Harley's new Twin Cam 96 makes easy work of the morning's 80-mph backroad pace through these twisty bits north and east of San Diego. It's a little hard to believe the sixth-generation Big Twin is based on an engine designed in 1935, but only a little. The Motor Company has built a multi-billion-dollar empire on the sound and soul of the '36 Knucklehead--may it rest in peace. Actually, I'd be shocked if this '07 version didn't work this well.

Still, Skip Metz and the rest of the Big Twin design crew deserve something extra in their pay envelopes for this one. Stronger and cleaner running than the old TC88, the new clutch and Cruise Drive six-speed make escaping the urban confines much easier. And though the same basic 1584cc twin powers the `07 Dyna, Softail and Touring models, there are differences depending on the Hawg in question.

As part of the sportiest Dyna family ever, the `07 FXDC Super Glide Custom (from $14,645) carries its TC96 in rubber mounts that take the pain out of the 45-degree twin's elemental shaking without watering down the feel that made Milwaukee famous. Fueling is perfect, and the standard rubber-mounted 96 feels a bit stronger in the basement of its rev band than the 110-inch CVO brute tested elsewhere in this issue. New mufflers let all the `07 Big Twins sound the way they should, but without the asocial qualities of ear-splitting aftermarket exhaust plumbing. Harley claims 92 pound-feet of torque for the Dyna-spec 96-incher--17 percent more than the 88.

The FLS or FXS means Softail in Milwaukee's model cipher; two shocks slung underneath between the frame rails to look like no rear suspension at all, and a counterbalanced TC96B engine bolted solidly into the frame. With less compliant suspension and a bit more vibration, both the redesigned FLSTF Fat Boy (from $17,095) and the FXSTD Softail Deuce (from $17,345) serve up a more orthodox, Old School Big Twin experience compared to the Dynas. The TC96B doesn't feel as strong or as willing to rev--Harley claims 90 pound-feet of torque at 2750 rpm--and it's not quite as smooth as the rubber-mounted 96 either.

Segue to the FLH-class tourers and the rubber-mounted 96 makes 93 pound-feet of torque, primarily because of those big mufflers. Electra Glide fans will appreciate the extra power and more cooperative driveline long before I'll ever understand the antique chassis. And because the Road King's anesthetized front-end feel is an acquired taste I may never acquire, give me back that blue FLHX Street Glide ($19,175 rolling on laced aluminum wheels) with both a Harmon/Kardon audio system and XM satellite radio for the ride home. Triple discs, competent cornering manners and the most comfortable seat of the bunch make it my favorite. But regardless of which bike it's bolted into, Harley's Twin Cam 96 is easily the biggest hit of '07. Substantially stronger and more mechanically civilized than its 88-inch predecessor, it still does that honest, off-center Milwaukee shuffle like nothing else can.-MC

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