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Buying a New or Used Harley Davidson

By James Russell

  1.  If money is a problem, then stop putting it off and buy what you can afford to buy.  Buy new, if you can, or at least a used low mileage bike (with a one-year warrantee if you can).  The bike you need to look at is the Sportster if you can only afford what this bike will cost.  Get the largest cubic inch engine available.  At this writing it is 1200 cc.  The Sportster has problems; it vibrates badly, but the 2004 model year and beyond will now have anti-vibration features.  It also has a small gas tank so you will always be on the lookout for a gas station, but the gas tank is slowly increasing in size.  It is a small bike, so it is easy to learn to ride it (though just as dangerous as any bike can be and is a very fast accelerating bike).  It is fast and quick due to its power/weight ratio, but let's keep this in perspective.  It is not considered a fast bike, just that it is faster than the bigger heavier Harley's.  It will not stand a chance with other brands of bikes of even lesser cubic inch engines.  The Sportster sounds great with aftermarket exhaust pipes.  The biggest problem?  You will outgrow the bike and want a bigger Harley that handles and reacts slower and rides smoother and has larger tires for a safer ride. 

2.  Consider not buying a bike with one of those skinny 21 inch front wheels.  They look cool, but they bite into every crack and groove in the road and often, the shocks on these bikes are inferior and make for a terribly sloppy ride, and you better hang on because cracks in the road can rip the handlebars right out of your grip creating loss of control and a crash to the pavement.  This "fighting the road" will wear you down and taking a long ride will be awfully tiring. 

3.  Don't buy a bike with spokes.  Yes, they look fine, but if you get a flat tire away from home you have a big problem.  Today, you just can't pull out your old set of tire irons, peel back the tire to patch the tube because the rubber sidewalls are too stiff.  Tires must usually be mounted using tire mounting machines in a shop environment or use many tire-irons, rim protectors and compressed air to get the job done.  The problem is the tube in spoke wheels going flat there is no practical way to fix a flat tire on the side of the road.  Get a bike with mag wheels.  Now no tube is involved.  If you get a flat tire?  You can plug it yourself with a tubeless-tire plug kit and inflate the tire with a portable CO2 canister designed to inflate tires.  Or, you can call a tow service and they can fix the flat right on the spot for you with a plug, just as to a car tire.  Any service station can fix the flat tire.  At least you are not waiting for a tow truck to get you to a dealer on Sunday with no dealer open.  With the mag wheel and the plug repair you are on your way, but get a new tire as soon as you can.  It's not a good idea to ride with a plug in your tire for any distance.  Drive at lower speed and with caution.  Plugs do work, but if the plug fails the tire will go flat again, and flats on a motorcycle are always risky business.

4.    Accessories:  Will they fit your bike?  How much will they cost?  Don't assume that all accessories will be available for your bike.  Some bikes can't even carry saddlebags due to the shock absorbers blocking the mounts, etc.  Now, you may never want saddlebags or a windshield, but if you do a lot of distance riding, you will eventually be forced into getting saddlebags and a windshield.  Keep in mind, you want a bike you can't outgrow, so get a bike that can handle the accessories when you want them.  It's not fun dishing out $17,000 (or much more) and find out you can't put the options on the bike, or you got to spend a horrific amount of money to get them to fit.

5.  Don't buy a Softail Standard or a Deuce or a Fat Boy (and I have a Fat Boy at this time, too).  Here's why;  these bikes may look cool, but look at the price tags.  You can walk away with a nice Road King for less than the price of a Fat Boy, likely equal to the price of a Deuce, and only a couple thousand more than the Softail Standard.   Save yourself a bunch of money and grief, go look at the Road King model, it is Harley's best value.   I bought a new Softail Standard and found it a bike that handled dangerously at times and the forks could not take typical road bumps.  I upgraded to the Fat Boy and this bike rides nice, but vibrates at all speed, even though it is a balanced twin-cam engine.  It's tolerable, but annoying for long rides beyond one hour duration on the freeway.  The vibration gets worse above 60 m.p.h.  The next Harley would be the Road King or ElectraGlide.  The engine is rubber mounted and isolated from the frame = very little vibration felt.

6.  Get a bike with large front and rear fenders or you will forever be cleaning the bike more than you want to.  Those skinny fenders look cool, but they sling dirt and mud and water all over the engine and frame and yourself.  It is not fun.  Remember, it need no rain to ruin your day.  Water in the road from a construction or fire hydrant flush will dirty up the bike real nice.  If the fenders are too low the bike will need to be raised very high to remove the wheels to replace tires, so this can be a factor for those who which to change their own tires, so you will need a motorcycle lift that will raise the bike high enough to do the job.  Also, consider a bike that has too many accessories to be removed when installing tires; saddlebags, luggage, wind deflectors, fairing, exhaust pipes.  If these items must be removed on tire change or on other maintenance work, your dealer labor bill will be higher than other bikes.

7.  The bike should have a throttle stop or friction device to regulate the throttle at highway speeds, tour trunks or saddle bags, a tall windshield.  They say the top tip of the windshield should level with the tip of your nose, but I find your head on windy days will be vibrated badly as the air flow is no longer laminar.  Try to get a windshield that adjusts up or down and you can be seated behind it like a shield looking through  the windshield.  This way the rain and hail will not plaster your face.

8.  Stay clear Sportster, the Softail standard model, the Duece, the Night Train and other similar models.  These bikes are expensive and they have poor features.  They only look good on the showroom floor due to their cool style, but for actual touring use or long rides you will need to buy too many accessories to make it work, and when all is said and done, they won't work well for you at all.  The Fat Boy is another poor choice.  I bought a new one and it vibrates badly at and above 60 miles per hour.  The engine is counterbalanced, but is solidly mounted to the steel frame without rubber isolation.  It's a nice bike for cruising the mountain roads near Sturgis, but forget driving on the freeways with it as it will vibrate you to death.  It's a strong, persistent and annoying buzzing of the handlebars and vibrating foot rests that wears you down forcing you to cut back to 50 miles per hour to ride in comfort.  Harley offers a high performance Screaming Eagle Fat Boy model.  If the engine is not rubber mounted to isolate vibration, this monster will vibrate so badly it will be of no practical use.   Heritage Soft Tail models are okay, but you should just buy the Road King instead.

9.  The best Harley to buy?  It is the Road King model.  For the money you spend you get the most features and a high quality ride.  Just about everything you need is already on this bike and the price is usually dead on right.  The Electra Glide model has a full fairing and larger storage systems, but it is not needed for most riders, unless you plan to do a lot of highway touring.  You simply can't go wrong with a Road King with mag wheels.

10.  All said and done, you now know the best Harley to buy.  But if you look at the v-twin competition you will find for the price you would pay for a Harley you will get a lot more bike and a ton of extra power from the competition.  If you attend a motorcycle rally you will find eye candy "custom bikes" with "big cube" v-twin engines at equal or less cost than a stock Harley.  That is if you want a custom bike.  If you look at the competition v-twin cruisers, you will pay a lot less and get much more of a machine.  Of course, they are not Harley's, but if you must have a Harley, at least you know which one to buy.

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Just from my experience if all you do is drive on straight interstate type roads then maybe the road king is for you. While I understand your concern for the groove chasing of the 21 inch front tire. It is more than made up by not sliding as bad when on rocks as a wider tire. If you drive and roads that twist and turn the air suspension offered by the road king is horrible if taken at any kinda of speed. The shock is fine when you set it to go into the corner but if you catch a bump in the middle of the corner the ass in of the bike will hop (not a good feeling I can promise you). I myself wouldnt own a roadking for two reasons, Other than on the interstate or like hwy I dont think the ride is that great and would much ratter have the feel of true shocks under me. Second my night train will out handle any stock roadking when it comes to tight turns and in my opioion with the right seat and setup if at all the ride isnt much different than a roadknig when it comes to hwy. Che ck with your local dealers (your area may be different) Softtails will resale faster.

Now just in my own opinion and I know I will get blasted for this lol. If I was going to buy a dresser it would be a Goldwing. While I know it has air suspension also just alot more comfortable to me.
- Rob

I have a 2002 Heritage Softail Classic. I think it rides as well as the Road King. I have several friends with Road Kings, and I like the Heritage better because you sit in the bike instead of perching on top of it, like you do with the Road King. Both good bikes, though.
- Annon.

I do like the Road King, but being a rider of a softail standard, I can reccomend the bike, I suggest buying one, and changing the front wheel to an 18 or 16 inch. even two up the bike handles great. Riding on mountain roads in Southern Oregon, I have had NO handling problems. I do have 20 years on street bikes, and don't reccommend sportsters to anyone unless that is exactly what they KNOW they want. Most big twins have a shorter seat height, and the width of the seat can be made easier to handle with an aftermarket seat. As a woman rider, I have tried them all, and suggest you buy what you want. Take the Training classes in your area, Safety courses etc. They will teach you to ride, or even ride better for those with experience. Also use a rental program to try out different models, most major cities have rentals now. It's a good way to see if you like the bike before investing. Thanks for posting your page, just adding my two cents worth. :)
- Connie

Thank you for this frank assessment. It has confirmed my own research and intuition to go with the Road King.
- Paul B.

Oh, the Road King is a great bike. You can go in a lot of directions with it. You can lower it and trick it out for boulevard cruising, or you can install all the bells and whistles and ride it cross country.
- James - WhyBike.com

I also dont knock the sportsters, they are a great bike and a affordable chance to ride a harley. No matter what harley a person rides it always makes them smile. My first harley was a 98 883C with the 1200kit in it. It was a awesome bike but had crap brakes. In fact it was the brakes that caused it to be written off after I leant it out.

My current harley is a 99 FXDWG with the 1550 kit.

I rode alot of harleys until i found the right one for me. I dont like the road kings, electra etc as they feel too big. At least with the dynas you can still push the bike around abit more.

It all bascially comes do down to the sort of roads you would be riding on. If you are mainly going highways then the bigger bikes like the roadking are like you said. top range, and alot more comfortable.

But for someone like myself the roads are winding and scenic sea veiws north of me, and rainforests top the left of me. With highways south of me.

For me the dynas are best value,
- Sean

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