With a history stretching back 40 years, establishing a new identity can be a challenge. The Road Glide has come in many flavors in that time span, from a top-shelf CVO version to a Tour-Pak toting Limited edition. For 2020, the Road Glide’s Special treatment includes a Milwaukee-Eight 114 engine, Prodigy wheels, stretched bags, lower stance, and a bevy of blacked-out bits. Contrast the black bars, fork, exhaust, engine treatment, air cleaner cover, tank console, and wheels against the Barracuda Silver Denim paint job and the 2020 Road Glide Special does indeed have its own identity.
The M8 114 has a bigger bore (0.086 in.), longer stroke (0.125 in.), and higher compression ratio (10.5:1 to 10.0:1) than the 107 of the standard Road Glide. The added punch fits the Special’s identity well as it’s lively from the first crack of the throttle. Cycle World recently dynoed the 114 and their graph showed it delivers 105 lb-ft. of torque as early as 1,600 rpm. The power is consistently delivered throughout the rev range, the M8 shoring up flat spots in the Twin Cam power curve. It’s a hoot dropping the hammer and hustling up to freeway speeds, adrenaline rising as rpm climb. Getting a good launch is a snap because clutch pull is tight and the bike will lunge on you if released too eagerly. In heavier traffic, I prefer fifth gear for its snappier roll-on response. On open roads, I snick it into sixth and let the engine settle into a comfortable cadence. At 85 mph, the engine ticks along a shade under 3,000 rpm, a little buzz in the bars conveying the V-Twin experience but otherwise the Milwaukee-Eight 114 is the model of efficiency.
This efficiency was most appreciated when crossing the Mojave Desert on a triple digit day as engine heat didn’t add to the already oppressive conditions. Over the course of our 4,219 mile test, the 2020 Road Glide Special averaged 45.258 mpg. Those miles included an 850-mile day and hours spent in the 85-90 mph range on highways with speed limits in the 80’s (gotta love wide-open spaces of Wyoming and Montana!). Power and efficiency make an appealing tandem.
Putting long days in the saddle left me a big fan of the comfort and ergonomics of the 2020 Road Glide Special, too. From contour to padding, the seat provides a cradle of contentment for the backside as pressure points didn’t materialize until about 4 ½ hours into an all-day ride. Beyond a little wind catching me on the crown of my head the big Sharknose fairing does a swell job of funneling air around riders. Floorboard and bar placements feel tailor-made for a six-foot-tall rider, my back perpendicular to the seat, knees at 90 degrees. Between its relaxed ergonomics, cushy seat, and protective buffer, the Road Glide Special spoils a rider, making it easy to log long miles. The day I did 850 I felt fresh enough to keep going, a testament to the Road Glide Special’s arrangement.
Ride quality overall is fairly plush, another reason why it’s easy to ride from sunrise to sunset on the 2020 Road Glide Special. The rear is fitted with what Harley calls “Premium” low dual shocks which translates to only 2.1 inches of travel, a move which contributes to the Special’s 0.4-inch lower stance than the regular Road Glide. Despite the minimal range of movement, the rear shocks did a stellar job of smoothing out the ride, even with both saddlebags packed to the max. The Showa 49mm Dual Bending Valve fork has a generous 4.6 inches of travel but isn’t adjustable like the rear. On a few occasions the front end felt a little floaty, particularly on grooved surfaces and on slippery black road snakes. I blew through the full range of travel a couple times too when road hazards got the drop on me, and both situations likely could be remedied if the fork were a tad stiffer. In the past I’ve been able to get the front to feel more planted by adjusting the rear, which I admittedly didn’t attempt this time. Beyond that, the Road Glide Special’s suspension provides a smooth, flowing ride. Even though it’s a touch lower, I didn’t notice any difference in the amount of lean and only skimmed floorboards a few times in the Rockies.
Coming down from 14,000-foot mountain passes on a bike that’s just this side of 900 pounds, a set of stout brakes equals peace of mind. The 2020 Road Glide Special is equipped with Harley’s Reflex Linked Brembo Brakes with ABS as standard fare. The initial bite of the dual front calipers isn’t overly aggressive but gets progressively stronger the longer you squeeze. The ABS operates independently on the front and rear and engages at just about the right point as some systems have a tendency to kick in too early. When a rider actuates the front or rear brake above approximately 4.3 mph, the system applies a proportional amount of pressure to both brakes on the other axle. The ABS pulse at the pedal is quick and bearable and overall the electronically linked braking package can bring the big bike to a halt quickly and with control.
Manufacturers are keen to entice buyers with the latest and greatest infotainment systems for tourers these days. The Boom! Box GTS of the 2020 Road Glide Special is multi-functional, customizable, and boots quickly. Its TFT display has good resolution and I had almost no problems operating the screen with my leather Grifter gloves on, the exception coming when trying to pinch and expand. The 6.5-inch, 25-watt speakers are good to a point but clarity diminishes at higher speeds. Of its many features, its navigation system was among the most useful. Electronic tire pressure monitoring was another go-to feature. My music streamed fairly consistently as good tunes help melt the miles away. I do wish I didn’t have to have fiddle with two different toggle switches to operate it, though. On the other hand, cruise control is straightforward and push-button easy to use, but I swear it always jumps up a few miles-per-hour when it engages. The headlights thankfully punch a healthy hole in the night because it gets pretty dark in the Montana mountains after midnight.
In 21 days, I laid down 4,219 miles on the 2020 Road Glide Special through 11 states. I served me well as both a tourer and daily rider. It’s ample-sized saddlebags held enough stuff to get me through the week, then proved more than useful toting my camera and equipment to various events at the rally on the daily. High heat, high winds, high altitudes, we subjected the 2020 Road Glide Special to all the West could throw at it and Harley’s venerable bagger strode through it all with power and grace.
2020 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special Specs
LENGTH: 95.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT, LADEN: 25.9 in.
GROUND CLEARANCE: 5.1 in.
TRAIL: 6.8 in.
WHEELBASE: 64 in.
TIRES, FRONT SPECIFICATION - 130/60B19 61H
TIRES, REAR SPECIFICATION - 180/55B18 80H
FUEL CAPACITY - 6 gal.
OIL CAPACITY (W/FILTER) - 5.2 qt.
WEIGHT, AS SHIPPED - 818 lb.
WEIGHT, IN RUNNING ORDER- 853 lb.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY -VOLUME - 2.7 cu. ft.
ENGINE - Milwaukee-Eight114
BORE - 4.016 in.
STROKE - 4.5 in.
DISPLACEMENT - 114 cu. in.
COMPRESSION RATIO - 10.5:1
FUEL SYSTEM - Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
EXHAUST - Black, 2-1-2 dual exhaust with tapered mufflers
ENGINE TORQUE TESTING METHOD - J1349
ENGINE TORQUE (claimed) - 123 lb-ft. @ 3,250 rpm
LEAN ANGLE, RIGHT (DEG.) - 32
LEAN ANGLE, LEFT (DEG.) - 31
FUEL ECONOMY TESTING METHOD
FUEL ECONOMY - 45 mpg
PRIMARY DRIVE - Chain, 34/46 ratio
WHEELS, FRONT TYPE - Gloss Black Prodigy
WHEELS, REAR TYPE - Gloss Black Prodigy
BRAKES, CALIPER TYPE - 32 mm, 4-piston fixed front and rear
TYPE - Full Color TFT
WATTS PER CHANNEL - 25
SPEAKERS - 2
SPEAKER SIZE - 6.5 inch BOOM standard
VIVID BLACK - $27,299
COLOR - $27,799
SPECIAL EDITION COLOR - $29,294
CUSTOM TWO-TONE COLOUR - $29,399
SPECIAL EDITION TWO-TONE COLOR - $29,699
ABS OPTION - Standard
REFLEX DEFENSIVE RIDER SYSTEM (RDRS) - $995