Church of MO: 1997 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Standard

John Burns
by John Burns

How many 25-year old motorcycles are still around, and still in the same basic form?

You kind of have to give Harley-Davidson credit. In 25 years, the Electra Glide Standard has only gone up by $6934 (to $19,429), and in that time H-D’s best-selling bagger has gotten about a thousand times better. Okay, maybe not a thousand times, but way better. And you get like 40 more pounds of it, too. Makes you wonder how many 25-year old motorcycles are still around, and still in the same basic form? Salute.

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Photos by Mounce and Tom Fortune

Remember the FLHS? Harley-Davidson never really discontinued the Electra-Glide Sport, they merely created two models from one. First came the Road King, a stunning model resplendant in chrome and classic styling touches. Now we’ve got our hands on the second spawn from the Sport’s demise, Harley’s FLHT, or Electra Glide Standard.

The FLHT is less expensive than its Road King cousin, for it lacks that model’s extra chrome and optional fuel injection. But if you’re worried that your Electra Glide might come up short when compared to The King, fear not – for this bike is much more than just an Elvis impersonator.

Differences start at the front where our Standard wears a wide touring fairing in place of the Sport’s smaller windscreen. Instruments have moved from the original tank-mounted location and are now fairing-mounted. Our only complaint with the layout was a gaping hole left in the dash where a stereo should be. We don’t have a problem with Harley lowering its price by not fitting a stereo, but surely they could place a little plastic door over the area so owners might get some extra storage space for small items.

Besides the stereo, other cost-cutting areas include chrome. While some FLHs have chrome engine covers and saddlebag trim, an Electra Glide does without and instead relies on the appeal of its basic black paint and real steel.

But while you don’t get fancy chrome or a stereo, you do get that wonderful 80 cubic inch lump of Milwaukee iron. I’m sure lab tests would show that rumblings from a Big Twin send alpha waves directly to your brain and cause the release of endorphins.

Normally we lean heavily towards bikes that lean heavily, but when we rode the Electra Glide, we always found ourselves taking the long way home or getting up just a little earlier on Sunday to go for some wandering day trip. This bike has a way of doing that to you.

Contributing to that relaxed feel is a frame that has been redesigned for all ’97 FLHs. Seat height has been lowered to just 28 inches, nearly a full inch lower than previous models. That lower, and heavier braced, frame enabled Harley designers to create a seat that was narrower at its front, meaning your legs don’t have to splay as wide to reach the ground. Other advantages of the new frame include a repositioned fuse console and larger battery. Previously there was little room under the seat, so fuses were stored in the fairing. Now they’ve found a home under the left panel, where they can be accessed without tools. Increased under-seat room has also meant an increase in battery size, with amp-hours jumping 50% from 20 to 30. A final bonus is that just 11 fasteners are now used to hold the luggage and rear fender assembly together, as opposed to the older design’s complex array of nuts and bolts.

One cost-cutting measure that we don’t care for is the lack of fuel injection. Harley impressed us with their injected Road King and Electra Glide Ultra Classic and their easy starting and clean response. The only downside was that FI chips weren’t programmable for riders who wanted to make modifications, something that has been changed this year. We’d like to see fuel injection offered as an option.

Fuel injection or not, our Electra Glide started easily and soon settled into that familiar its-gonna-stall idle. Vibration is almost non-existent thanks to the rubber-mounted engine and floorboards. Power is just what you’d expect – piles of torque and bottom-end grunt. Hell, you can leave traffic lights in fifth gear if you want. That same stump-pulling torque makes for easy cruising around town and on the highways. There’s power everywhere, so shifting is an option rather than a necessity. Just roll on the throttle and let the engine do the rest.

Despite its portly 742-pound (336kg) dry weight, corners can actually be enjoyed. Ground clearance is respectable for a heavyweight, although grinding floorboards is still easy. The new frame’s lower center of gravity makes parking lot manouevering easier than you’d expect. Soft suspension allows some wallowing in quicker corners, but not so much as to put you in a panic. Our only complaint came from the suspension’s lack of response to larger bumps, which rock the bike hard. Removing the right saddlebag and adding air to both front and rear suspension is easy and helps somewhat, but rough pavement will still jolt you.

When you get away from torn up urban pavement the Electra Glide’s soft springs make for a comfortable cruise. Highway miles roll by with no complaints of buffeting, crappy seats or tiring vibration. Just click it into top gear, twist the thumb-operated friction cruise-control and enjoy the view. However, in cooler weather you might want to wear chaps or at least heavy pants as the Electra Glide leaves your knees in the breeze.

On crowded two-lane highways, the lack of passing power is a problem. This engine clearly doesn’t enjoy speeds over 85mph, although it will huff and puff its way to 90. Another complaint is saddlebags that look great and remove quickly (just two Dzus fasteners), but aren’t practical for carrying once off the bike. Optional pull-out liners would be a wise purchase.

Riding a Harley, particularly a Big Twin, is somehow different than other bikes. No, we’re not falling victim to all the marketing hype that says “Things are different on a Harley.” Your life won’t change, at least not dramatically. Your dog is still stupid and your cereal will still get soggy. What you will get when you buy a Harley is a truly satisfying bike that holds its value. An Electra Glide Standard has everything that makes Harleys great: Classic styling, a torquey motor and easy maintainence. At $12,495, it’s almost $2,000 cheaper than a Road King and a whopping $5,255 less than Harley’s Ultra Classic. With those extra bucks you could have a lot of fun customizing an Electra Glide to fit your own touring personality. But even if you leave it as is from the factory, this Harley is anything but standard.

Manufacturer: Harley-Davidson Model: 1997 FLHT Electra Glide Std. Price: $12,495 Engine: V-twin OHV Evolution Bore and Stroke: 3.498 by 4.250 in. Displacement: 1340cc Carburetion: 40mm CV Keihin Transmission: 5-speed constant mesh Wheelbase: 63.5 in. Seat Height: 25.25 in. Fuel Capacity: 5 gallon/.9 reserve (18.95 litres) Claimed Dry Weight: 742 lbs (336.57 kg)

John Burns
John Burns

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  • 406rider77 406rider77 on Jun 05, 2022

    I had a 1990 FLHS and a decade later bought a new Electra Glide Standard. Many things I liked, some I didn't. The article mentions "wallowing in the corners". Oh yea. You might call it a pogo stick. Spent good money on up-spec suspension pieces and that helped, but it was still there. I lost confidence in the bike with unstable cornering, so I sold it. HD fixed that in 2009 with a revamp of the swing arm, axle, etc.

  • Mad4TheCrest Mad4TheCrest on Jun 06, 2022

    "... This engine clearly doesn’t enjoy speeds over 85mph, although it will huff and puff its way to 90..."

    I sure hope this bike's modern descendant doesn't have this characteristic. It shouldn't given the larger capacity engines these days, but ... damn 😳