Harley Davidson FXE 1200 Super Glide

3 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Harley Davidson FXE 1200 Super Glide
Harley-Davidson FLH 1200 Super Glide
Harley-Davidson FLH 1200 Super Glide

There is nothing quite like gunning down the highway at 70 mph on a big Harley-Davidson vee-twin. Perhaps it is the overwhelming presence of the vast engine churing around at a lazy 3,250 rpm or perhaps it is the rangy, built-like-a-truck feel that is so .appealing. Either way, there is something instantly attractive about a motor cycle that almost seems alive.

It rumbles, it cranks, it clatters and it vibrates – but what motor cycle retaining any connection with the grass roots of two-wheel travel didn’t? Or so the Harley buffs argument goes. Therein lies the reason why there is nothing quite like a Harley – other makers have seen fit to bring wider appeal to their bikes by modern design and refinement.

Meanwhile Harley-Davidson remain staunchly in the traditionalist’s camp with their 20-year-old design in the biggest of their vee-twins, the FXE-1200.

All the same, riding a Harley-Davidson is a unique experience. For a start, you do not so much ride the bike but sit in it, the saddle being somewhere at axle height and the controls somewhere about 3 ft above it. And no sooner have you sunk into that deep saddle than you start scowling and snarling at your fellow road users.

The Harley is that bad, and the other guys had better know it.

Fantasies, however, last only so long, and all the imagery in the world cannot cover up the fact that the Harley is rough and, in the case of the FXE1200, over-priced when looked at realistically.

The twelve-hundred engine is the bigger of the two Harley-Davidson 45 degree vee-twins and famous for powering the romantic FLH1200 Electra-Glide tourer. The Super Glide is the cut-and-shut version, a lighter (if 585 lb with a gallon of fuel can be called light), leaner and more esoteric machine with its western droop ‘bars, 2J-gallon tank, banana seat and abbreviated fenders.

There is one concession to civility, signified by the E suffix in the FXE-1200 model number, and that is the electric starter, a necessity if you prefer riding to sweating up a lather by the side of the road. But even the starter motor is in character. Switching on with the ignition lock hidden between the cylinders and applying just a small amount of choke, the mechanism grinds into action and the motor bursts into life with a rumplety-rumplety exhaust note which, thanks to the latest style exhaust system, is muted very effectively.

The rest of the machine is still pure vintage, however. The result is that the exhaust system severely reduces the performance as well.

Harley-Davidson claim a maximum power output of around 65 bhp at a leisurely 5,500 rpm, but the actual power fell far short of this iri test and the best we could extract out of the bike at MIRA was a two-way mean speed of 108 mph, and a best run of almost 114 mph. Flat-out acceleration, too, is hardly in the superbike class with a standing quarter-mile time of 15-3 seconds. Not that this matters too much on the road. For the redeeming feature of the FXE is torque – mountains of it.

Right from the outset the modestly tuned 1,207 cc engine makes it obvious that it does not need to be rushed to provide the goods. With the peculiar Bendix carburettor (now replaced by a Japanese Keihin equivalent), which acts more like an on-off switch at small openings, the reaction to a tweak of the grip from low revs is instantaneous and monumental.

As a rule, 2,500 rpm was more than enough to maintain a clear road ahead through the four-speed gearbox and even for modest cruising, as these revs corresponded to over 50 mph in top gear.


This was just as well, since vibrations start in earnest at 3,200 rpm, buzzing the instruments frantically, and only marginally smoothing out towards the rev limit at 6,000 rpm. The happiest cruising speed was at 3,500 rpm, where the chugging motor had plenty in hand for instant overtaking.

Despite the laid-back feel of the bike, its crudity cannot be overlooked. In addition to the rough carburation and painful vibration, the transmission is poor, with only a tough damper on the crankshaft to take up the shocks, and the suspension is hard. You ride the Harley in a series of bangs and clanks. The non-unit gearbox has a linkage-operated one-down, three-up lever, and while much better than the box on the Sportster XL-1000 it still shows its age.

Neutral is easy to find, but the unit is clonky, most gears dropping into place with the caress of a pile-driver.

In contrast, the dry clutch in a massive alloy casting is perfect. Light in action, the take-up is so smooth that slipping it at low speed to cover up the snatching transmission is easy.

By reputation, Harley handling is pretty foul, but we found the steering very good on the FXE. The low engine and riding position makes the bike very easy to flick through bends, although the lack of ground clearance, even with the rear suspension units jacked up to the highest preload, leads to a grinding side stand and footrests in corners.

Longer than the Sportster, the riding position takes some getting used to, but with the deeply-padded seat is comfortable, the only real criticism being the way the hands tend to slip off the downward-angled and smooth grips.

Harley-Davidson FLH 1200 Super Glide

The hard suspension, weak frame and slippery tyres lead to the main handling faults on the FXE-1200. Both front and rear spring travel is short and the lack of rigidity in the frame can cause the bike to get out of shape easily. Bumpy corners mean plenty of action for the rider.

In the wet the Goodyear tyres indicate forcefully that they were never intended for greasy roads. Pulling away from stops in the rain is a balancing act between traction of the big 510 x 16-in rear tyre and throttle opening.

Although disc brakes are used at the front and rear, they continue the theme of crudity. Both brakes are powerful enough to lock the wheels, but the calipers rattle badly, the rear unit tending to grab as well. The controls do not help.

Like the clutch, the reach on the front-brake hand lever is excessive and the rider needs to lift his foot off the rest to reach the rear brake.

Fed by a massive alternator mounted behind the primary drive on the crankshaft, the electrical system is modern enough but suffered from silly faults. The size of the headlamp (5Ј in), belies the power of the sealed unit which throws a healthy spot main and wide dipped beam. But the battery capacity is too low and plenty of night use meant that the engine failed to spin over on the button next morning.

Also, chafed ignition wires which shorted out demonstrated the use of the thermal contact breakers, which reconnect the supply when the fault is corrected.

The indicators are operated by press buttons on either handgrip, a very unsatisfactory method when you have to manipulate the other controls at the same time. On the good side, the stentorian horn is fabulous. You not only hear it but feel it too, it’s so powerful.

Only a prop stand is fitted, but it does have a locking mechanism to prevent the machine rolling away on a slope.

In general use, the FXE-1200 Harley does not show up as well as the Sportster. Fuel consumption never varied much from the 40 mpg and, indicating a poor setting-up of the carburettor, the steady speed fuel consumption readings hardly varied between 30 mph to 70 mph.

Oil leaks from the chaincase and the pushrod tubes contributed mainly to the heavy oil consumption of 700 miles to the pint. In practice, the oil tank is replenished from the small dipstick hole on the side as the seat needs to be unscrewed for access to the main cap, and no tools are supplied.

This does not sound very promising, but the reasons why someone should spend over Ј2,000 on such a machine are varied anyway. Perhaps the magic moment when you charge out of a 50 mph bend, change into top at 2,500 revs, and chug off into the horizon in a dream is one of them!

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