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My Take on the Milwaukee-Eight

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For three weeks I’ve been riding a 2017 Harley-Davidson Police Road King for training. I wanted to see the improvements that come with the new Milwaukee-Eight engine, because for Harley-Davidson, big changes don’t come often. The last complete engine redesign was 1999, with the Twin Cam engine. Usually, you see things just rearranged into different forms. I remember months ago when they started arriving in showrooms. I was texting back and forth with an HD mechanic friend of mine. I slammed Harley-Davidson pretty hard: “Oil-cooled heads, four valves per cylinder, hydraulic clutch…I remember when BMW did this in 1993!” We don’t text much anymore for some reason. Am I biased to certain brands? Sure, who isn’t? But I love all motorcycles, and all brands have their pros and cons.

So, if you’ve been out of the HD loop and haven’t heard the high-pressure sales pitch yet, here it is.

The motor, transmission, and primary case is a complete redesign from top to bottom. It is still the traditional air-cooled 45-degree V-twin, and still has both connecting rods on a single crank pin but now with roller bearings. The cylinders are air-cooled, and the heads are oil-cooled (heads are water-cooled on top-of-the-line touring models). In addition, there are four overhead valves per cylinder driven by pushrods and one camshaft. There are also two spark plugs per cylinder head and detonation knock sensors on each head. The primary case is narrower; hence the frame is narrower, and there are rubber engine isolation mounts. The engine was originally counterbalanced 100%, but then was changed to 75% after consumer testing found it didn’t have that “Harley” feel. On top of that, the clutch is now a slipper assist type for better shifting and safer engine braking. Also, the transmission sports anti-backlash gears. Fuel and air delivery includes a larger throttle body with dual spray fuel injectors. The stator has increased charging by 50% at idle. On the exhaust side, the catalysts are moved rearward to reduce heat to the rider. And lastly, though not engine related, all Milwaukee-Eight bikes got new suspension components. Up front, the Showa forks get progressive rate springs – something a lot of owners have done via aftermarket for a long time. Out back, the rear suspension is now an emulsion gas shock with adjustable preload via a knob. No more leaky air shocks, and no tools needed.

The look strikes you as a traditional HD all around. The new rocker boxes look muscular, and in all actuality, it is a form following functional design which is dare I say it, is very German. As soon as I sat in the saddle, I noticed the narrowness and increased leg clearance. It greatly improves the feel overall. When you crank the engine over, it does so effortlessly. This is due to an auto compression release system. The bike starts the same every time –no backfire. Taking off from a stop, the clutch is a new ball game, even from the hydraulic ones from previous years. The friction zone is narrow, out to the end of your reach of your fingers, and grabby when cold. You can easily stall it when it is not warmed up. Riding it, I notice there is no top end noise at all. There’s no lifter rattle, and no knock due to the detonation knock sensors. You get that classic low-tone Harley exhaust sound, but with a refined clutch/transmission whine you find in foreign bikes with slipper clutches. Off-the-line performance is great. It’s smooth and fast (thank you, slipper clutch. Daddy likes.)

Once it gets warmed up, the clutch isn’t as grabby in slow and tight maneuvers. An adjustable clutch lever is all I ask for now. The ride is good, but not great. We are still dealing with a telescopic fork and two simple rear coilsover shocks. The front no longer seems to be sprung by a jack-in-the-box spring and the rear is no longer a pro-rodeo bull waiting to buck you off while going over a maintained railroad crossing. Front fork dive under hard braking is now respectable.

However, there are a few features that are still needed to compete with the rest of the market. Features such as tire pressure monitoring with 90-degree metal valve stems, adjustable clutch and brake levers, dynamic ride modes, electronic/dynamic suspension, cornering ABS, electric adjustable windscreens on top touring models, keyless ignition, and central locking are among several I can think of right away.

I used to say I’d never buy a Harley-Davidson. I’m afraid I might have to eat crow someday on that comment. Right now, I’m even trying to convince my brother to update to a new model, and I wish my work bike was new with the Milwaukee-Eight engine and suspension. But I’m not rushing to the dealership just yet. I don’t jump on bandwagons; I buy bikes based on features and quality, not merchandising and marketing. Yet, I’m impressed by the updates overall. You have to hand it to the engineers for being able to hide all the new technology in the constraints of the legacy and traditional looks of a Harley-Davidson. But don’t rest on your laurels Harley; keep moving forward because you still have some catching up to do.





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