The History of Harley-Davidson Touring Motorcycles
The Roots of the Touring Family
The beginnings of the touring family started with the first FL model in 1941. These motorcycles were ideal for long-distance riding.
The FL models were the first to debut the 74-cubic inch Big Twin engine. These bikes had added horsepower and increased torque. Therefore, they performed better than previous models.
According to the Harley-Davidson Field Guide: All-American Bikes 1903-2004, by Doug Mitchell, this was the result of the countless requests from the riding community for motorcycles with increased power.
The Harley-Davidson® FL Hydra Glide was born in 1949. It got its name from its hydraulically damped, telescopic front forks.
This was the first time H-D® released a motorcycle featuring hydraulic fork technology. Hydraulic forks made for better suspension. And, better suspension equals a smoother, more comfortable ride.
In the book, The Complete Harley-Davidson: a model-by-model history, Tod Rafferty explains that during this era, many European and British bikes were being imported into America. Rafferty further explains that most of these bikes had hydraulic suspension systems. Consequently, Harley-Davidson knew that if they wanted to stay in the game, they would need to add this technology to their lineup.
The FL Hydra-Glide became the FLH Duo Glide in 1958. Harley made a significant improvement to the frame of this motorcycle. This is why they decided to re-release it under a new name.
The new design added suspension components to the rear of the frame. Now, this model not only had hydraulic components in the front but in the back as well, hence the name Duo-Glide.
The Duo-Glide was designed with swingarm suspension and hydraulic shock absorbers. It also featured a hydraulic rear brake. This was the first time that Harley released a Big Twin with a hydraulic rear brake and rear suspension.
According to The Complete Harley-Davidson, additional improvements also included a newly designed oil tank, tougher transmission and clutch, tighter exhaust manifold connectors and optional all-white tires.
Electra Glide & Electra Glide Sport
The FLH Duo-Glide was reincarnated in 1965. In its rebirth, it became the FLH Electra Glide®. It was Harley-Davidsons’s first electric start, Big Twin.
The FLHS Electra Glide Sport made its debut in 1977. It was the smallest of the FL touring models. Writer and experienced rider Tod Rafferty refers to the Electra Glide Sport as Harley’s “econo-tourer.” It was the perfect combination of cruiser and tourer. It would later become the inspiration for a current Harley fan favorite; the Road King.
The FL Glide series received improvements over the years, from front and rear hydraulic shocks/suspension to increased weight and stiffness for long drives. In 1980, Harley-Davidson released yet another new Glide model.
The FLT Tour Glide® was the first of its kind. Harley had begun to focus even more on creating a motorcycle that was comfortable for long-distance drives and easy to handle. And, the Tour Glide accomplished just that.
The FLT had a five-gallon capacity fuel tank, which made it perfect for long rides. The FLT also came with hard saddlebags and a rear-mounted storage box.
The Tour Glide also had a distinct look. Its frame-mount fairing and dual headlights set it apart from previous H-D models. According to the Complete Harley-Davidson, the “new frame improved steering” and the Shovelhead “engine’s rubber mount system absorbed annoying vibration.”
Touring Models Still Available Today
Continue reading below to learn about Harley-Davidson’s more recent touring models.
In 1994, the Electra Glide Sport was replaced by the FLHR Road King®. The Road King took on the Electra Glide’s classic look and major crowd appeal.
Like the Electra Glide, the Road King was unique to other models due to its ability to transform from a cruiser to a tourer. The H-D Road King had detachable saddlebags, a detachable passenger seat and a detachable windshield. This made the Road King perfect for rides around town and long rides across the countryside.
Harley-Davidson introduced the FLTR Road Glide® to the world in 1998. This bike was perfect for the long-distance rider. Rafferty details that its short windshield provided protection while allowing the rider to have an unobstructed view of the road ahead.
It also featured four different storage compartments. There were two small compartments located underneath each speaker and two lockable saddlebags on the rear.
The Road Glide had noticeably less storage than the Electra Glide. The Electra Glide featured a Tour Pak® trunk. However, H-D purposely forfeited the storage space for a sleeker look. This omission was perfect for any motorcyclist that wanted to shed the bulk for a cleaner look.
Electra Glide & Electra Glide Ultra Classic
The FLH Electra Glide was an obvious fan favorite for many years. And, in 1983 the Electra Glide was reborn. According to the Harley-Davidson Buyer’s Guide 1984-2011, by Peter Gantriis and Dain Gingerelli, it became a combination of the FLT Tour Glide and the original FLH Electra Glide and was redubbed the FLHT Electra Glide®.
The Electra Glide continued to receive upgrades and improvements since its initial release in 1965. Then, in 1984, Harley-Davidson released the FLHTCU Electra Glide® Ultra Classic®.
This was the same year that H-D debuted the new 1340cc V2® Evolution® engine. It had been in the works for seven years. This engine was even more powerful than previous designs. It also ran cooler and was oil-tight. The 1984 Ultra Classic also had an adjustable air suspension system and a revised braking system.
In 2006, the FLHX Street Glide® was released. Harley describes this bike as a “lower profile touring motorcycle.” It combines the agility of a sportbike with the comfort and storage of a tourer. Harley-Davidson says the Street Glide is “where the highway meets the street.”
The 2006 Street Glide featured a 5-speed transmission, 1450 cc engine and five-gallon capacity fuel tank. It was also equipped with two hard saddlebags, two seats and a short windshield. Its batwing fairing was stylish and functional. According to Harley-Davidson, its shape helps deliver smoother airflow and reduced head buffering.
The Harley-Davidson touring family has come a long way since its first release in 1965. The Hydra Glide’s hydraulic technology sparked the blaze for the constant improvement of the FL touring series.
The sky is the limit when it comes to H-D models. Their touring lineup has every combination a rider could ask for. The current Harley-Davidson 2020 touring lineup includes the Road King, Road Glide, Electra Glide, Street Glide and the Ultra.
What’s your favorite Harley-Davidson touring model? Let us know in the comments below!
2006 Harley-Davidson FLHX Street Glide Price. (n.d.). Retrieved January 9, 2020, from https://www.nadaguides.com/Motorcycles/2006/Harley-Davidson/FLHX-STREET-GLIDE-1450cc/Specs.
2019 Motorcycle Lineup: Harley-Davidson USA. (n.d.). Retrieved January 7, 2020, from https://www.harley-davidson.com/us/en/motorcycles/index.html.
2020 Street Glide Motorcycle: Harley-Davidson USA. (n.d.). Retrieved January 9, 2020, from https://www.harley-davidson.com/us/en/motorcycles/street-glide.html
Conner, R. (1996). Harley-Davidson Data Book. Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International Publishers & Wholesalers.
Davidson History Timeline: Harley-Davidson USA. (n.d.). Retrieved January 6, 2020, from https://www.harley-davidson.com/us/en/museum/explore/hd-timeline.html.
Gantriis, P., & Gingerelli, D. (2011). Harley-Davidson Buyer’s Guide: 1984-2011. Minneapolis, MN: MBI Pub. Co. and Motorbooks.
Jewel of Your Harley: Harley-Davidson USA. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2020, from https://www.harley-davidson.com/us/en/owners/hog/HOG-article/jewel-of-your-harley.html.
Mitchel, D. (2005). Harley-Davidson Field Guide: All-American bikes 1903-2004. Iola, WI: Krause.
Rafferty, T. (2006). The Complete Harley-Davidson: A Model-by-Model History. St. Paul, MN: Crestline.