By Bryan Harley, Cruiser Editor

A true testament to craft and quality

Power. Style. Versatility. There are reasons the Street Glide is a best-seller for Harley-Davidson. The popular bagger is a showcase for Harley fit-and-finish, chrome accents of the engine standing out against the black powdercoat treatment of the cylinder heads, the new High Output air cleaner adding a touch of hot rod appeal, each flake of its Deep Jade Pearl paint reflecting in the sunshine. Then there’s the Project Rushmore treatment, an exercise in form and function, from saddlebags riders can quickly open one-handed while seated to the Splitstream vent cut into the Batwing fairing. Add 1690cc of power at the disposal of your right wrist and linked brakes to scrub off speed and you’ve got a strong competitor in the bagger segment.

In the power department, the 2015 Street Glide Special is outfitted with Harley’s High Output Twin Cam 103 featuring a new airbox and cam combo aimed to provide more torque on the low end. At 2,400 rpm it’s already doling out almost 84 lb-ft of the good stuff on its way to a peak of 91.69 lb-ft at 3,800 rpm. At 4,900 revolutions per minute it’s still pushing out 80 lb-ft, then hits the apex of its horsepower at 5,000 revs in a smooth and manageable powerband. Despite giving up around 11 lb-ft to the Chieftain’s Thunder Stroke 111, the Street Glide won the race to 60 mph from a standstill with a time of 5.1 seconds, 0.2-seconds better than the Indian. Roll-on is excellent as the Glide continues to pull strong in the 4,000-5,000 rpm range, and the rumble when you’re on the pipe is deep and rich.

“The engine in the Harley didn’t seem quite as peppy and quick to rev as the Indian’s, but I still preferred the Harley’s powertrain overall — as it is smooth and refined and doesn’t emit any strange drivetrain noises like the Chieftain,” said Road Test Editor Adam Waheed.

The power is harnessed by a well-balanced chassis. Since switching to a single-spar frame with a more rigid backbone and stouter swingarm in 2009, Harley’s big bikes track so much smoother, especially on the front end, and no longer wallow. For 2015, Harley continued to dial it in further by bumping up the Street Glide’s fork diameter 18% and retuning the damping to stiffen up the front end. The rear sees twin hydraulic-adjustable shocks, convenient hand knobs eliminating the need for an air pump like the Chieftain’s pneumatic arrangement. On the freeway, the rear rides firmly as the Street Glide has about half the travel of the Indian, but combined with a stout fork the motorcycle is composed and comfortable. When roads twist up, the Indian was a bit more nimbler, with turn-in a tad quicker and clearance a bit higher, but the Street Glide still held its line better, and its front end is a more stable front end than the Chieftain's.

“The Street Glide holds a line more predictably. The Indian always wanted to turn and didn’t track as precise on the side of the tire,” concurred Waheed.

Another part of the Project Rushmore treatment the 2015 Street Glide received includes Reflex Linked Brakes with ABS. The linked brakes work both front-to-back and back-to-front, utilizing dual Brembo disc brakes on the front and 4-piston calipers all the way around. Wheel slippage is monitored by toner rings and speed sensors, the system activating only above 25 mph. Mash down solely on the rear brake and the ABS engages, pumping quickly at the pedal, while automatically applying light, even pressure on the front as well. If riders are accustomed to using both brakes automatically in most situations, then you’ll seldom notice it. One thing we did notice is how eager the ABS is to intervene, more so than the linked brakes. And even with the sophisticated braking package, the Chieftain bested the Glide in the 60-0 mph braking test by 11 feet, 133 to 122, which surprised us seeing how the Street Glide weighs about 40 pounds less.

Hop into the saddle of the Street Glide and its rider’s triangle feels comparatively compact, the bars wide and floorboards set almost ideally for a six-foot rider. Its seat is well-padded and has a nice scoop to it. Peeking inside the cockpit, its arrangement of gauges and screens are both purposeful and attractive. Front-and-center round dials include the speedo and tach, their numbers good-sized and easy to see, flanked by a fuel gauge and volt meter. A 6.5-inch color touch screen sits below it, the brightness controlled either automatically or manually. The size and clarity of the screen makes viewing maps and info from the GPS navigation system a cinch. Like the Chieftain, it has the capacity to connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth, and you can set it up to respond to voice commands through a headset, which must be purchased separately. The new five-way joysticks are a welcome addition that make toggling through information and audio controls a cinch, even with gloves on. Cruise control has been moved to the left control housing and activates with the push of a button. A small compartment sits to the right of the touch screen with a USB connector for smartphones or other devices. Audio is pumped out through two 5.25-inch speakers mounted in the front fairing, the system automatically adjusting sound levels according to speed. Harley tops it all off with a gloss black finish to the inner fairing, giving it custom-bike levels of quality. The arrangement made a positive impression with Waheed.

“It’s been a couple years since I’ve ridden a Harley-Davidson touring bike, and it’s nice to see how they are evolving. Probably the biggest thing is the integration of the smartphone into the sound system. It’s easy to pair via Bluetooth. The touchscreen LCD and handlebar-mounted buttons work more intuitively and are getting close to an Apple iOS level of familiarity, which is saying a lot. The stereo is louder than previous editions – so much so that I actually had to refrain from running maximum volume, as it hurt my ears. Even at high decibels, the clarity was excellent, though there is still some room for improvement in terms of bass at high volume.”

Messing with a recipe for success is always a gamble, and the Batwing fairing of the Street Glide Special is definitely its trademark trait. Cutting a channel into the middle of it might have been a roll of the dice, but the vent doesn’t detract from its aesthetics. The Splitstream vent opens with the push of a button, and teamed with a small smoked windscreen, it diverts most air just over the cusp of our head. Open the vent and it channels air almost directly to our chin, a concentrated flow that is more enjoyable than overbearing. The windscreen isn’t electronically adjustable like the Chieftain’s, but the option of being able to send a little more wind to a rider’s face is appreciated.

With the Project Rushmore treatment, Harley has paid attention to the fine details, from the hand adjustability of the rear suspension to the toggle switches of the audio controls to the one-handed accessibility of its saddlebags while seated. There’s little things like the fascia filling in the gaps between the saddlebags and rear fenders or the gloss black treatment of the inner fairing. From the cut and design of its Enforcer wheels to its blend of paint and chrome, it exudes class and power. Granted, it gives up a few ponies to the Chieftain, but it has more than enough power to get the job done and even edged it out in the sprint to highway speeds. The Harley stands out as the smoother, more refined of the two, from its power delivery to a slightly smoother gearbox to its stability in turns. Waheed agrees, saying “Probably the biggest thing that separates the Harley from the Indian is in terms of build quality,” pointing out small things, from switch gear to instrumentation to the quality of its saddlebags. Add it all up and you have reasons the 2015 Street Glide Special is still the gold standard in the bagger segment.