IT DIDN'T MEAN THAT IT WAS ANY FASTER than the stock FXD, which also got the new engine - albeit in a plain finish, rather than concealed beneath a couple of tins of wrinkle black - but it was sportier than the Evo courtesy of the quicker-spinning, shorter stroke 1450cc motor. If you cast your mind back to the year after, you'll also spot the sophisticated 88B Deuce demonstrating the benefits of a balanced Softail, but that's another story.
It's worth spending a moment or two considering what was sporty about the Super Glide Sport - especially having acknowledged that it shares its motor with the stocker, and it all comes down to chassis or more precisely suspension. For its first year it got a second disk to allow safer, later braking, and it got taller suspension to give it an additional inch and a half of ground clearance - there's no point confusing folk with too many new things all at once and it wasn't until 2000 that it got serious with fully adjustable suspension and 4-pot callipers. In 1999 the Sport was only £500 more than the straight FXD, the 2000 model was a full thousand quid more, but made up for it by being worth the extra with those springs alone.
It is true to saythat all suspension is adjustable to some extent. You can stick spacers inside your forks to tighten up the springs or stick completely different springs in, and you can ramp-up the preload on your rear shocks, or fit new springs to them on just about anything, but while it is the springing we refer to, once you've gone beyond the progressively wound springs that get stiffer as they compress, it is the damping that makes the difference because it adds control. The ability of the shock absorber to react in a controlled way is determined by a damping fluid that flows through tiny holes between chambers within the shock absorber body, or fork assembly. The fewer or smaller the holes, the harder the shock absorber is to compress quickly regardless of what the spring is doing. Block the holes completely and you've only got as much springing as the damping fluid will allow, and damping fluid is not dissimilar to brake fluid in that it isn't designed to be compressible.
Provide an easily accessible means to open and close those holes and you can control how quickly the spring is able to compress or rebound. It's common in sports circles, but a fairly new innovation for Harley-Davidson, and beyond the sportier Super Glides, you'll only find it on the Sportster Sport
The year 2000 was a landmark year for tight-framed Dynas with its increased sophistication and paved the way for another new model in 2001 that built on the success of the original. Another blacked-out Sporting Dyna, but this time with nylon saddlebags, a modernlooking - for Harley-Davidson at least - nose fairing, and a seat that was as comfortable for a pillion as the FXDX's wasn't, and for a £700 price increase.Whether deliberately or otherwise, The Motor Company had produced a Beemer-bashing, middle-distance, European sport tourer. The FXDX-T, or the T-Sport to its friends.
Exactly how many friends the T-Sport was going to make was never a foregone conclusion. Indeed there is still a large cross-section of people out there who aren't entirely sure about Dynas at all, so an upto- date sporting tourer based on one was something of a risky strategy. The Americans like their tourers big, and to them a lightweight tourer is a Road King, the Europeans already have the BMW as an off-beat alternative from the Japanese offerings, and it's never wise to discount the kudos of the Triumph badge to the Brits
So who is the T-Sport aimed at? I have to say I'm not entirely sure, but I have a few suspicions as to who might enjoy it. Just about anyone.
Yes, the King is cool, but there are times when something a little more streetable would be nicer; sure a BMW is a masterpiece of Teutonic efficiency but it's nice to have a little more soul; and while I've had many happy hours on relatively frantic multi-cylinder motorcycles I've chosen to return to the simplicity of a leisurely, air-cooled V-twin with its lazy power delivery.
The T-Sport may be compromised for some in elements of its styling, but it delivers the goods. I would prefer a better-looking screen but for all its anonymity it works, and its adjustable screen angle means that it works well at a variety of road speeds. Shame it doesn't come off without leaving ugly lugs on the yokes, but it's a small price to pay, and it's not as though billet yokes are hard to come by. Shame too that the trip / odometer button on the speedo is all but inaccessible with gloved hands, and requires the screen to be as upright as possible to afford access to the hole that is the only means you've got to switch between the two modes, or reset the trip. A little short-sighted, but the only serious practical criticisms that you'll get out of me for this versatile road-bike. In truth, the screen has grown on me after getting over the initial shock when launched, but I still can't help feeling it could have been better.
Get over the screen, and look beyond.
The seat is a vast improvement on the DX if you have any compassion for your pillion. It's not sleek. It's not overly stylised. It's a place to stick two bums - and you can read that in the English or American sense - for a long time and it does it well. It's not very much different from the FXD's seat in style, but it does have more padding which will make its presence felt by the second tank of fuel.Without the bags it might look a little more ungainly, but with the bagsyou'd be hard pushed to really spot it - and having run an Electra Glide with the sprung King-Queen seat that really did look odd without the bags, it's not an issue for me. If you were going to split hairs you could say that the Road King has more spacious accommodation for two, and you'd be right, but there was plenty of space for myself and Marie: I'm six-foot-two, and Marie is only six inches shorter. I have it on good authority that it is one of the more comfortable pillions of the range, and it's certainly streets ahead of the DX's and the Low Rider's Badlanders. The only real surprise is that Harley didn't fit a mini backrest, as it is a bike that could easily carry it off without it looking like an afterthought.
The last major addition that creates the "T" from the straight Sport are the bags. Another departure for the Motor Company in that they are not leather, but they are big, and they are clever. Better than that, they can get bigger with a simple unzipping of that zip that looks like it holds them closed - you know, the more accessible one of the two, while the zip that holds the bags closed is tucked underneath seams that help to keep water out, which makes sense. Never mind, you'll get used to it if you have the bike for longer than we did.With the bags extended, they get close to Road King Classic proportions but with the added advantage of being removable and equipped with handles so you can carry them. If the handles were centrally mounted they would be close to perfect, but as they are offset to tuck in completely when fitted to the bike, they hang somewhat awkwardly and their integral frames clout your ankles more readily than you'd really like, so a pair of solid boots that are high in the leg are a good idea. I can see why the handles are designed to be tucked it, because as soon as it is made obvious that they are removable, there is a chance they will be removed by people other than the owners, and there is no locking mechanism to deter those who can be bothered to go looking for the release mechanism. I've never seen a T-Sport without its bags, so perhaps it's a misguided paranoia, but then I've seen few T-Sports on the road. Actually, I have seen one T-Sport sans bags: we road-tested one in 2001, but the bags were only missing because a previous tester had managed to set one of them on fire!
Any concerns as to how waterproof the bags are can be allayed or heightened depending on your view of the inner bag that is secured by Velcro to the inside of the pannier. This stuffer bag offers another level of water protection, which could imply that it's needed, but I never found the insides of the Ballistic nylon to be even slightly damp throughout out the test, and I found the stuffer bag got in the way of easy use, so removed it. I also used the shallow zipped pockets at the sides of the bags but not for anything too important as these didn't appear to be as watertight.
With the bags removed, there is nothing more than a pair of stud mountings on the mudguard's rails, and the stud for the catch slightly further round the mudguard itself to show that they were ever there.
Well, that and the rear-mounted indicators that share their mounting point with the licence plate bracket. But for the screen, you have then got a practical version of the FXDX for everyday use
And everyday use is about perfect for this bike. It's not a bike to keep at the back of the garage until the sun comes out and to some extent it is less of a classic Harley for that, as it holds very little of the image of glorious Americana beloved of many fans of the marque. Instead it's a more straightforward, plain, honest, flexible bike that happens to use a Harley motor without ramming that fact down your throat, which is both a strength and a weakness. Everyday motorcycles are ten-a-penny, used to be referred to as UJMs (Universal Japanese Motorcycles) and are worthy machines in their own right, albeit seen as many as the bottom of the food chain. They are, thankfully much more inspiring than their predecessors - although I understand some people get quite vocal in support of their old GPs, XJs, CBs and GSs - and a wander round London's streets elicits many more Fazers, Bandits and Hornets than you'd expect in the hands of the DRs, because they are now seen as very practical hardware. If truth be told, in today's city streets you're more likely to find the faster kiddies smoking around on Italian semi-scooter/race reps and the speed they navigate traffic is inversely proportional to a desire to live and long and healthy life - or that was my excuse for not even attempting keep pace with them on the new Buell Lightning just after Christmas.
It seems odd to lump a Harley, any Harley, into that grouping but it can be done, and it fits: not in purchase price, but in functionality. It might be heavy - you certainly wouldn't want to spend much time with it airborne - but it's narrow, lithe, and it steers and stops with confidence. And let's get realistic on price: it may cost twice as much to buy but you'll lose a fraction of your hard-earned in terms of devaluation. There is also less vulnerable bodywork, and what there is will be cheaper to replace than most alternatives. On top of that, you'll easily be able to buy spares for it for the next twenty years, tweak it, change it and generally mould it to more precisely fit your requirement. Give it a Stage 2 and it will run out of speedo before it runs out of revs, and give the other "everyday" bikes a run for their money too, both from the lights and on the straights. But, for all of that, you could just as easily settle into cruising mode and use it as people have used Harleys for generations, for all the lip-service it pays to the modern world.
It can be said that the Super Glide and the regular Sport would also meet most criteria that you could set them in that context, but the TSport gives just that little bit more. Better shocks and brakes than the Super Glide and better seat than the Sport, as well as the wind protection and removable bags above either of the others. The extra rake of the custom Dynas make them a little more relaxed for regularly slicing up the city, as are the Softails, and while I know people do take dressers through the worst of it, it's an art to make good progress. The T-Sport would be peerless were it not for Sportsters, but there currently isn't as good a package within that range. It wouldn't take much: a decent seat, expandable bags and a flyscreen on a 1200S would be a formidable bike in that context, and about three grand cheaper, but I don't think we're about to see that in the new model announcements scheduled for the Milwaukee bunfight.
Where a hypothetical T-Sportster would flounder is where the T-Sport excels: touring. That's what the "T" stands for, not town or traffic, and as a European-style sports tourer the half-dressed Dyna is more than up to the task. But it could just as easily be "E" for Executive. Traditional Harley fans might be mistrustful of its less than American image, but it parks up well next to European execmobiles at the country hotel or gym, where the modern screen looks more comfortable - not that I'd like you to think that I've fully tested that environment except in seeking suitable photo locations - but middle distance touring is really where it's at.
Even with its tight rake, the "T" is a good open road runner, and while it is often considered that the adjustable suspension is there to tighten up the shocks for spirited riding, it also allows you to wind them down for a more comfortable ride. It might be quick steering when required to cut a dash through traffic, but it doesn't compromise its sweeping bend stability, and it always felt well planted despite my best efforts to unsettle it. If I were to have any criticism of its general prowess in that department, it would be that it can run out of ground clearance when scratching round country lanes, and on the occasional roundabout, but let's face it we're talking about a GT Tourer here, not a Buell, and the only reason I mention it is because the traditional bike for the same role stateside, the all-American Road King, doesn't suffer to anywhere near the same extent. All Dynas do it, and I'm not absolutely certain as to why, but I do have a theory - you wouldn't expect anything else by now, surely - which I haven't had opportunity to test as yet. I reckon that it is easy to travel more quickly over a given terrain on a Dyna, but you do so in so unhurried a manner that you get the impression that the bike isn't working especially hard, whereas if you hustle the King through the same bends, you are astonished that it hasn't decked out yet because you think it should have, and you feel you are travelling significantly quicker than you actually are. I'll test it as soon as I can, but until then I'll shut up. What I will add though is that while the T-Sport will ground its exhaust heat-shield clips on the right, and its sidestand on the left, it isn't an unsettling experience and serves to remind you that you aren't hanging about despite all the signals from the rubbermounted engine below, or the rev counter.
For me, the T-Sport serves to underline that our American friends are taking the European market seriously, because the Yanks generally don't go for that sort of touring. Even now, when a significant percentage of them have discovered the nature of sports bikes, you'll find the trans-American fleet running feet-forward customs, cruisers and dressers from whichever factory. No, the T-Sport is a Euro-Hog to an even greater extent than I believe the rest of the Dynas are, and as a rider who enjoys the variety offered by my Buell Cyclone and my old Electra, I find it sits comfortably in the yawning chasm between them. If it had a different screen it would be nigh-on perfect for most of the riding I do for work or pleasure. In view of the lugs on the yokes for that screen, I'm surprised that Harley themselves haven't offered an alternative arrangement that capitalises on such a strong fixing point because it could take anything from a simple sporty flyscreen to deflect the wind, to an American-styled clear screen, both of which would change its face quickly and easily, opening the door to acceptance by a wider audience at a stroke.
I think I'd count myself among the friends of the T-Sport. I have enormous regard for its practicality and flexibility and, if I were in the position where I needed that flexibility, I could forgive it the screen. I can't put my finger on why I don't think I'll ever have one, but I think it's a combination of wanting a custom as a streetbike, a tourer for distance work, and a Buell for scratching. If I had to settle on one, as a resident of the North of England with its lesser traffic problems, I'd probably go for a Road King - checking back at on on-line head-to-head between this very bike and a Road King, I see I thought so then too. If I moved to a city I'd probably have a different view, but I'm unlikely to do that because I'd go stir crazy inside a month. Still, all credit to Harley-Davidson for such a diversification from the expectations of their traditional market, and in giving warm welcome to a new generation of riders who would never previously have considered a big twin.
The FXDXT Harley-Davidson Super Glide T-Sport - a Harley-Davidson for older European gentlemen who cannot decide whether or not they actually want a Harley-Davidson.
How's that for a first impression then? Well, that's what I thought when I first saw a TSport. It might not have been a fair, totally objective, or entirely accurate impression - but to be honest, I don't really think it is that far from the mark, even after riding it.
The bike is, you have to admit, one hell of a Plain Jane, even though they have tarted it up a bit for the anniversary. I have seen a few in my time and all have singularly failed to set off a tingle. And Harley, bless 'em, want the bike that way - note that they definitely do not offer a spangly two-tone 100 Anniversary, silver and black, option for 2003. Though you do get the gawd awful stripe with either your black or silver one - ooh, and a bit of chrome - good grief. So the obvious assumption is that they must really want them to look so erm, (think of a kind word King) sober. So for eleven and a half grand a throw, Harley must reckon there's people out there who will pay that kind of money for sober. Mmm. Why I wonder? Is the T-Sport perhaps the Harley for riders who don't want to be associated with Harley Riders? Ah! Ah ha! In fact, sound of nail being hit firmly on head I believe (even if it's just my head), yes, this is Harley-Davidson's motorcycle for (dramatic 'dan-dan dah') motorcyclists. Sensible, sober, motorcyclists. Ooh y'bastard.
Because if you're out to impress sensible, sober, motorcyclists your product has got to be damn good. Forget spangle, presence, line or looks. They don't give a damn what it looks like - ugly can be very attractive, if you get my drift. Forget charisma, loud pipes, bad ass chrome and low slung chaps. They don't want to impress bright young things or convince the neighbours they have a life. Oh no, they want a machine that is reliable, does everything they ask of it, will respond to a bit of loving maintenance, be altogether sensible and importantly, be defensibly sensible so as not to cause a ripple of condescending amusement down the MCC club night.
Alright, alright, a little bit fanciful perhaps, but the point I'm making is very fair. If you are - and I think Harley-Davidson seriously are - aiming a motorcycle at the kind of people who might have previously bought say, BMW touring twins, the bike had better be bloody good because it has an awful lot to live up to. And to be frank, an awful lot to live down.
So is the FXDXT worthy? Is it a true European gentleman's tourer? Effortless, practical, reliable, characterful, comfortable and as ugly as a wart hog's porn collection? I'd have to say yes, the T-Sport fits the bill and here's why: The FXDXT T-Sport comes from a long line of brave attempts by Harley-Davidson to produce a useful 'midweight' sporty-ish tourer out of their middleweights, based around the FX's smooth running rubber-mounted motor and sure handling frame. However, most predecessors hadn't sold too well over here in Europe, while the machines themselves were good enough they had 'suffered' from looking too American for the conservative market they were aiming to attract. I've really no idea how well the machines sold in the states, other than most guys I saw both times I've been to Daytona who'd gone for a touring Hog had plumped for Road Kings.
With the T-Sport, Harley has produced a much more European styled machine: fairly plain and purposeful it seems to be saying 'sod the polishing and posing, just ride me.' A true Dyna, the T-Sport shakes and shimmies on start up which worries the uninitiated that they are going to be letting themselves in for a bruising experience - fear not, those low revving vibrations are just there to scare children and dogs. Underway the engine shakes will evaporate just like steam as you turn up the heat, returning at the lights just enough to remind you (and the hatchback beside you) that you're on a proper motorcycle.
First gear is always a clunk when you've started after a rest, even if you free up the plates with the seasoned H-D rider patented triple clutch pump. But again, fear not, the gears will snick into place, just like a bought one, once you've turned the corner of your street. Or more likely, just after leaving the pub after spending a good hour convincing your mates that you've actually acquired a sophisticated, practical, second millennium motorcycle actually - and they've just witnessed the shaking on start up and heard the first gear clunk and now think; "No, actually he's bought a cement mixer!"
Because the ride is superb. Firstly the engine, wonderfully torquey, even bog standard, whisks you along much faster than you would have thought. As you increase the engine speed the vibration becomes less and less, great for silky smooth riding, but it is so easy to be shocked by a casual glance at the rev counter to realise the engine between your legs is working away like a demon. I would be going over well trodden ground to describe the 1450cc's characteristics, but at least with the T-Sport you're on a Harley that can truly get the best out of its motor right out of the box. The FXDXT is set up as well as its stablemate, the Super Glide Sport. The T-Sport shares a great deal with that machine, enough to comment fairly accurately that the T-Sport is basically a Super Glide Sport with soft bags, a screen and a dead comfy seat. This means that it will go round corners very briskly, will not step out of line or scrape various parts of itself on the ground (unless you're trying VERY hard) and will stop extremely quickly if needs be. On a twisty, demanding road this means great fun can be had, either on your own, or eclipsing the superior smiles of riders who think you really shouldn't be there.
but please note I chose my word carefully. I mentioned before that the T-Sport can be deceptively quick and it's worth mentioning that your realisation of speed is also affected, believe it or not, by the T-Sport's nose fairing screen thing. It doesn't look like it's goingto be all that terrific but that fairing, with it's adjustable angle screen, really does the business - deflecting wind off of the rider so well that, it is again, all too easyto go faster than you perhaps intended. While I'm mentioning the screen, it is worth pointing out that I found its adjustable angle really useful. Around town, the screen looked better wound down, the town work meant I rarely needed to feel the benefit of the screen anyway.
However, out on the open road and in particular motorways, I found myself reaching forward over the clocks to crank the screens sensibly placed adjuster right up, tilting the screen as forward as it would go to deflect the maximum amount of wind over my head. So would I consider a T-Sport? Honestly, no not really, just because it fails to stir my soul, it's not a fair or objective reason, I'm well aware of that, but life's not fair and nobody makes objective decisions, not if they are honest with themselves, not if the decisions matter. But I would not hesitate to recommend the FXDXT wholeheartedly to the dozens of experienced guys who drink down my local. Guys who do the miles, need low maintenance, sport-touring feedback, comfort and practicality and would dearly love a bike with character but think character means 'Slow and breaks down a lot.' They're wrong, with the T-Sport they could have the lot.