Harley Davidson ElectraGlide
Why does anyone buy a Morgan? They are decades out of date, expensive, and completely humiliated by any number of modern cars a fraction of their cost. Logically, no one would buy one. Yet despite this, Morgan has a waiting list that is years long, which is more than Ford, Mercedes or Toyota can boast. Morgan is simply one of those motoring legends that defies logic. Allow me then to introduce you to the two wheeled equivalent of a Morgan, the Harley Davidson ElectraGlide. One of the most famous names in motorcycling, it has been on the go for over 30 years, and although it has been constantly improved, it is still recognisably the same bike. Forget tasteless Japanese retros, don't bother painstakingly restoring classic vehicles, what both Morgan and Harley are effectively offering you is the chance to buy your very own, brand new, fully warranted, motoring antique. Your only difficult decision is whether you want your own little bit of motoring history with two wheels or four.
For me the decision was easy, and the shiny black and chrome Harley Davidson FLHT ElectraGlide Standard (to give it it's full title) that you see pictured here is all mine; lock, stock and overdraft. At a wallet stretching £12,000 on the road (OK, with a few extras thrown in) it is still a lot cheaper than a Morgan, even if it is precisely twice the price of my everyday transport, a Fiat Cinquecento. Logic? forget it. When your bike is twice the value of your car, you know you have a bad case of bike fever.
But aren't there lots of vastly more accomplished bikes out there than this old American iron horse, and the answer is a resounding yes. There are bikes from Japan, Italy, Germany and the UK which will run rings round the Harley. They can give you staggering levels of performance and excitement, and to be fair I have ridden more than a few of them, and agonised long and hard before finally getting my cheque book out. The truth is that the Hondas and Ducatis of this world, if used in the way they were intended, can very rapidly get you into hot water. Almost every modern bike I have ridden recently has just invited me to ride it fast, and you don't need me to point out the dangers to your life, limbs and licence if you do so. I decided to get off the "Performance is King" bandwagon, and to paraphrase George Bush of some years back, go for a kinder, gentler sort of motorcycling. The main snag in doing this is that you are immediately assumed to be a poseur, yuppie, hairdresser or even worse an accountant. But no matter, I can live with the insults (even from fellow "Scotsman" columnist Tom Morton, who really should know better) because the bike is the thing for me, not the image.
And what a bike it is. Lets be blunt about this, the Harley ElectraGlide is an overweight, underpowered, crudely engineered, overpriced, relic from the 50's. By any reasonable criteria it should have passed its sell by date years ago, and should have no place on modern roads. But hold on there, the roads are currently more congested than they have ever been, and excessive speed is now ranked as a social evil, and our authorities have the technology to enforce the limits rigorously. Perhaps the ElectraGlide has finally found it's place. Sports bikes exist solely to raise your adrenaline level, the Glide does the complete opposite. It is the most comfortable and comforting thing I have ever ridden. Used in the correct manner it lopes along on a whiff of throttle, the engine throbbing rhythmically at what seems like little more than tickover. The handling is light and easy, it is easily balanced despite its huge weight, all the controls are a pleasure to use. Best of all it looks like a million dollars, a real live classic on wheels.
There is a huge downside of course. Push up towards the speeds you are used to on other bikes, or try to corner vigorously, and the bike complains bitterly. Cracking the throttle wide open produces more noise than it does propulsion, turbulence from vans and buses play havoc with its directional stability, cornering is limited by ground clearance, and overtaking needs the kind of anticipation you use in a fast car rather than the blink of an eye stuff that you take for granted on a superbike. The brakes are surprisingly good, but beware the back one locking up prematurely, as it has already done to me, unless you enjoy wrestling with 700lbs of sideways, tyre-howling motorcycle! Not funny. Woe betide you if you get caught in the rain too, as maintaining those million dollar looks means a two hour ritual with bucket and chamois when you get home. Ignore this duty and a Harley used in the Scottish climate will look very scruffy very quickly, clearly all that glitz lasts better in the sunshine of California than is does in the glaur of Corstorphine.
So there you have it. Buying a Harley is not really equivalent to buying any other modern bike, no more than buying a Morgan is the same as buying an modern family saloon. Day to day transport they are not, look on them as eccentric, off-beat modes of transport that require you to submit to their will. In return you will get character, charm and soul that has long since been engineered out of today's more anodyne cars and bikes. The choice is yours.