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2008 Harley-Davidson FLHT Electra Glide Standard Road Review

By Terry Roorda

Practically perfect

Less is more for purists and the budget-minded

Though officially designated the FLHT Electra Glide Standard, the more accurate name for this unsung and understated model might be the Electra Glide Double Standard since it appeals powerfully to two distinct breeds of buyer. The first breed is the bargain hunters who have long found Milwaukee’s sweetest deals to be in the basement of the Tourer platform, where the FLHT—and the FLHS before it—have offered the most machine for their money, giving them the full complement of essential touring features and mechanical attributes without any of the frills for thousands of dollars less than the better dressed and flashier Electra Glide Classic; riders looking for a low buy-in and willing to defer further flourishes and amenities until future paychecks. The second breed is the Electra Glide traditionalists who prefer their machines uncluttered and as true to the relatively minimalist touring ethos of the original Glides as practicable; riders who view cosmetics and amenities like whitewalls, stereos, chrome rails, and trunks as just more weight or just more stuff to clean and polish; riders who prefer room to pack tents and sleeping bags rather than a weather-tight box for a laptop; riders who, frankly, if gifted with an Ultra Classic outright would waste no time in stripping it down to something approximating the Standard.

In the case of the bargain hunters, the deal just keeps getting sweeter. Over the last two model years, the Tourer platform has been lavished with an impressive roster of upgrades and refinements, and the Standard has benefited from all of them. In 2007, the bikes got the TC96 motor with its wallop of additional torque, worry-free cam case and adjustment-free primary, and closed-loop fuel injection system. They got the direct drive six-speed Cruise Drive transmission. They also got a super-light clutch pull thanks to a Teflon-lined cable sheath, and reengineered mufflers that restored a good measure of that famous V-Twin rumble to the exhaust note.

And for 2008, the Tourers have gotten a second round of significant improvements, including Brembo brakes, six-gallon fuel tanks, a driveline shock absorber system called Isolation Drive, and a new electronic throttle control (ETC). That’s an amazing array of improvements in a two-year span, but most amazing of all is that it’s all added a paltry $1,050 to the base price of the FLHT since 2006—going from $15,395 to $16,545, an increase of 6.8 percent, which is roughly the same as the rise in the cost of living index over that same period. In other words, it’s all free.

And it all works together
There’s nothing bargain basement about the way the Standard looks, or in the way that it functions. It’s a clean machine visually, as you’d expect, and especially appealing to those of us who prefer our V-Twins in bare aluminum finish, and our paint schemes basic monochrome. And here’s a funny thing: When Harley puts a sanitary front fender and panniers sans guardrails on the Road Glide or Street Glide, it’s a styling statement, but here it’s perceived as an economizing measure. That’s a happy incongruity for both the bargain hunters and traditionalists. And once in the saddle the bike is indistinguishable from its pricier siblings, with the exception of the absence of a sound system, oil pressure gauge, and ambient temperature gauge. Other than that, the view’s the same, and so is the satisfaction of hitting the starter button and sitting back while the EFI manages the warm-up. Pull back the clutch lever and step into gear, and the Standard moves out with a near-eerie ease of control and handling for a bike that weighs in at 780 pounds. The combination of the closed-loop EFI, which eliminates the off-throttle eccentricities of its open-loop predecessor, the Isolation Drive, which smooths out any trace of lash in the final drive, and the ETC, which takes all of the slop, adjustment and maintenance out of the throttle, results in a positively seamless, effortless, and predictable operation and response under any and all circumstances. And there’s an added benefit in that the use of a wire inside the handlebars as opposed to a pair of external cables with associated adjusters cleans up the appearance of the handlebars appreciably. Gone also is the thumbscrew throttle tensioner that once served as an ersatz fast idle screw and cruise control, and will probably be missed by traditionalists, but not for very long. For one thing, the fuel injection system obviates any need for massaging the motor at a cold idle, and for another, the use of ETC permits a reasonably priced true cruise control option. For $245 you can get the bike equipped with the real deal.

Also as a byproduct of incorporating the ETC into the scheme of things, a new anti-lock brake system (ABS) is available as an option on this model. The new ABS is housed where the cruise control workings used to be, behind the right side cover on Tourers so equipped last year. Those workings are now simply a peripheral circuit of the ECM. The ABS costs an additional $795, which might prove a bitter pill to swallow for the bargain hunters, and an extravagance for the traditionalists who, with some justification, might conclude that just having a trio of Brembos on the bike is all the security they need, but times being what they are, it’s a wise purchase. In this day of ever more congested traffic, and ever more distracted motorists, it’s a healthy dose of peace of mind knowing that you can quite literally slam on the brakes and come to an abrupt stop without fear of locking up a tire and skidding into calamity.

In practice, there’s virtually no learning curve in adapting to the ABS. In ordinary operation you don’t even know it’s there, and your normal braking procedures remain unchanged. It’s only in those heart-stopping moments of panic mode that the system comes into play and lets you know instantaneously that’s it’s on the job by returning your hard inputs with a distinct whack to boot and glove, and taking over the task from there.

Perfecting the practical
As you may have gathered by now, I’m one of those Electra Glide traditionalists I spoke of, so, for me, the ’08 Standard is a near-perfect Glide. There are, however, some things I’d add to bring the package all the way home. It wouldn’t cost much, either. For roughly $400 I could transform this machine into the optimal touring bike for my style of touring. For that sum I could: 1) replace the stock windshield—which is an awkward height for a rider of my height, cutting across my field of vision— with an offering from the P&A catalogue that’s an ideal 2.5″ lower, and would provide all of the wind protection of the stock unit while still permitting an unobstructed view over the top; 2) add a detachable luggage rack/passenger backrest to make packing up camping gear and a pillion pal an efficient operation. Aside from those additions, I wouldn’t change a thing on this bike. Practically speaking, it’s perfect.

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