Best Touring Motorcycle Of 2017

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

Best Touring Motorcycle of the Year Winner: Harley-Davidson Touring Line

Touring motorcycles with their plethora of luxury features tend to be the flagship models for manufacturers because touring riders demand comfort, handling, big power, weather protection, and storage space – and they’re willing to pay for it. Thanks to the Project Rushmore upgrades first seen in the 2014 model year, the ‘Glides have delivered first-class accommodations and the technological features touring riders expect. Just take a look at the Boom! infotainment system and the LED Daymaker headlight. Be it with a frame-mounted fairing as with the Road Glide or a fairing-mounted one on the Electra Glides (among others), the Harley-Davidson touring line commanded a large portion of the luxury touring market. Still, the Twin Cam engine had begun to show its age.

Well, all that changed in 2017 with the release of the Milwaukee-Eight engine. The most obvious change in the powerplant is right there in each engine’s model name – four valves per cylinder for a total of eight tappets escorting the combustibles in and out of the party. The Twin Cam 103 engine grew to 107 cu. in. thanks to its new bore and stroke of 3.937 in. x 4.375 in. (99.999mm x 111.125mm) while the 110 jumped up to 114 cu. in. via its 4.0-in. x 4.5-in. (101.6mm x 114.3mm) bore and stroke. Besides being larger in displacement, the engine’s four-valve head is said to flow 50% more than the Twin Cam’s. Two different variants of the M-E engine were created to handle the heat the expected touring loads the bikes would handle. The Twin-Cooled heads utilize liquid-cooling from water-jackets around the exhaust valves while the standard M-E uses oil to carry heat away.

In response to customer requests, the Milwaukee-Eight engine is a claimed 75% smoother at idle. Once underway, vibration is not an issue until the upper reaches of the rpm range. While one might expect an engine which Harley states has 20% more flywheel mass to rev more slowly than before, that would be wrong. Instead, blipping the throttle at idle has the engine spin up much more quickly than previous Big Twins from the Motor Company. Out on the highway, the comparison to the Twin Cam engine is all positive. Coupled with the torque-assist clutch, which reduces lever effort by a claimed 7%, the riding experience is much improved.

Harley’s engineers also took the opportunity to upgrade the suspension. The shocks are now large-piston emulsion-style items, with the left shock gaining a knob to hydraulically adjust the rear preload. Gone is the air-adjustable preload that could leak over time, allowing the suspension to settle and use up its travel. Now that the left shock features hydraulically adjustable preload, the rider simply cranks on more or less preload, and it stays set, forever. The range of preload adjustability is now 30% larger than previously.

Harley-Davidson’s big changes to its touring line have taken already comfortable and tricked out mileage gobblers and increased the level of performance. The Milwaukee-Eight engine is, quite simply, a joy to operate, delivering ample power across the bagger and touring rig offerings. The suspension contributes to a more enjoyable riding experience for both rider and passenger. Rather than an annual, iterative update to its existing line, each of the Milwaukee-Eight-equipped motorcycles we had the pleasure of riding felt like a different motorcycle with the boost in power and handling. For this reason, the Harley-Davidson touring line wins the MO Best Touring Motorcycle of the Year.

Honorable Mention: BMW K1600GT/GTL

In our opinion, almost nothing matches BMW’s K1600GT/GTL when it comes to combining all the comfort and amenities we expect to find in a touring mount. It’s uber comfortable and delivers shockingly good performance. We even included the GT model in our 2014 Heavyweight Sport-Touring Shootout. Still, as good as the Beemer is, it returned essentially unchanged for 2017 while the category winner, Harley-Davidson made some great strides forward.

However, the K1600 outfitted in either GT or GTL guise is sportier than anything else in the Touring class, and consequently, still deserves praise. Every facet of the bike, from the Duolever front end and optional electrically adjustable suspension, combine to deliver an exhilarating ride at high speeds in both the straight up and down and deep lean angles. The inline six-cylinder accelerates like nobody’s business and provides intoxicating music for gear head’s ears.

This year, BMW may have been bested in the touring class, but one thing we know about the company is that it never sits still. We expect that, like it has in the past, BMW will find a way to set the touring bar higher, giving its competitors something to aim for. Best of 2017 Categories

Evans Brasfield
Evans Brasfield

Like most of the best happenings in his life, Evans stumbled into his motojournalism career. While on his way to a planned life in academia, he applied for a job at a motorcycle magazine, thinking he’d get the opportunity to write some freelance articles. Instead, he was offered a full-time job in which he discovered he could actually get paid to ride other people’s motorcycles – and he’s never looked back. Over the 25 years he’s been in the motorcycle industry, Evans has written two books, 101 Sportbike Performance Projects and How to Modify Your Metric Cruiser, and has ridden just about every production motorcycle manufactured. Evans has a deep love of motorcycles and believes they are a force for good in the world.

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  • Buzz Buzz on Aug 18, 2017

    I think the biggest improvement BMW needs to make is in the Infotainment (Lordy I hate that word). Your phone can’t connect via BT. Satellite radio sounds horrible. It’s just very wonky to use and not nearly as good as the HD and Indian systems.

    Mine has Remus cans and just totally howls.

  • Mad4TheCrest Mad4TheCrest on Aug 21, 2017

    I would not be comfortable with a bike that drops a cylinder by design at stops, so no Milwaukee-8 for me.