Harley Freewheeler Test
Turn every corner into an adventure!
Harley’s three-wheelers have finally been approved for sale in Australia and Dave had first go on the new pared-down hot rod.
Firstly, let’s paraphrase what just about every motorcyclist I talked to about the Freewheeler had to say (and were always plenty happy to offer an opinion): “Trikes have the worst aspects of a car and a motorbike. You can’t carve up the traffic and lane split like a bike and you don’t have the weather protection or carrying capacity of a car.”
Well, yes, all that is true, but the mitigating fact is that the Freewheeler is simply, remarkably and infectiously GOOD FUN.
It’s a roller coaster ride with a barrel of monkeys, a G-force thrill machine and a downright hoot.
Yes, not being the first away from the lights every time can be a pain, yes I did get rained on, but my goodness, I soon forgot about all that as I was punting it through daily test rides and laughing to myself almost non-stop with the sheer joy of it.
If you are looking for a big fun, ‘celebrity’ ride, then seriously, check one – with one proviso.
It was great fun after I got myself out of motorcycle mode and into trike mode.
If you aren’t already in that ‘Trike Mode’, or don’t have a lot of experience on three wheels, please don’t judge either of the new models (Tri-Glide or Freewheeler) on a short test ride. I’ve tested several, here and overseas, and they still take me a while to get that tri-mojo back.
The way it usually works is I spend the first few hours fighting the vehicle; trying (unsuccessfully) to forget about leaning and body English and the way of normal riding.
Then I gradually remember to just sit there, hang on, and push and pull the handlebars. That works well enough for about the first tank full of gas and from there on the fun really starts.
I gradually get into a proper Trike mode and start using the G-forces that the non-leaning vehicle generates. They help throw it harder into the corners. It’s a matter of letting it push you to one side, lock elbows and let the centrifugal force help pull on the bars.
When I was finally back in that space I had no trouble keeping up front with my mates on their Softails and Baggers during our weekend rides.
We hit the long sweepers around the back of the Gold Coast’s Hinze Dam, Burringbar range and down through the glorious twists and turns of the NSW-Qld Border country – and I found myself grinning like a cheese-eating idiot all the way.
The only time I fell off the pace was over the rough and rutted roads around Murwillumbah. They still bear the scars of last year’s flooding and required a little more ‘circumspection’.
Three contact points on rutted tarmac tend to make for a choppy ride, because there is not only fore and aft movement in the suspension but also lateral, side to side movement as well. It was all manageable, just not quite as comfortable as the Baggers on the really rough going.
The fact that it was manageable at all (and it was really rough in spots) is also testament to the quality of the suspension and the trike’s dynamics. I didn’t experience any jarring, bottoming out or anything untoward at all, at any time during the test. It’s matter of getting used to the way it rocks … and rolls.
The specially reinforced Trike chassis no doubt helps.
The only down side I found was that the larger side covers and rear bodywork did reflect more heat on to the back of my right leg that other M8s. It wasn’t excessive, but it was quite noticeable even with my long legs.
Otherwise I found the (700mm high) saddle to be all-day good and the overall comfort levels to be likewise. Harley claims that the 12” mini apes help with the handling and ergonomics of the machine and I couldn’t argue. I found the Freewheeler to be comfortable for both long and short rides - and I did spend plenty of time aboard.
There are windscreen options available if that is your preference too.
I suspect a pillion passenger would not be as comfortable.
There is a reason for those two big handles on either side of the rear seat.
As you know, when leaning a two-wheeler into a corner the centrifugal forces push the rider down into the saddle. That isn’t the case with the trike. Its non-leaning G-forces want to push the rider and passenger off the machine. It all adds to the fun when you are in control, but if you are looking at a trike as an option for a passenger who doesn’t feel secure on two wheels then I’d definitely suggest taking them for a test ride first.
If you have a teenager that likes wild fun park rides – the Freewheeler is the business. The fully kitted Tri-Glide’s large rear wrap around ‘throne’ would be a better option for a more timorous passenger.
It’s also worth noting that the trike does require more upper body strength than a motorcycle to really punt it along. The rider still has to counter those G-forces too.
Another key really enjoying the ride is having the correct air pressures all around. It’s one of the most sensitive vehicles for appropriate pressures I’ve tested. Even a few psi out will affect performance and require significantly more effort from the rider.
The twin 15” Dunlops on the rear run pretty low pressures - 26psi, while the 19” front runs 36psi. Also very important to the ride quality is dialling the correct amount of ‘wind’ into the rear suspension.
I ran between 40 to 50psi for most of the test and that worked really well for my payload. Getting the numbers right has a significant effect on the amount of effort needed to get it around a corner and the amount of body roll the Trike develops. Check the numbers before you test ride. Get yourself one of Harley’s special suspension pumps as well - if you are lucky enough buy one.
The 49mm telescopic front forks worked as well as the two wheel version’s for soaking up the bumps and the prominent steering damper attached to the left leg no doubt helps keep it all in line.
The stop and the go.
The now familiar Milwaukee 8 engine with 100x111.1 Bore and Stroke, and 10:1 compression ratio pushes the Freewheeler along effortlessly.
With 150Nm on tap it’s a strong feeling power plant, even though the trike weighs in at a tad over 500kg in running order. She’s a big girl, but still launches really well and top gear cruising at inner city speeds showed no signs of lugging or stress.
It actually cruises better in top gear than the Touring Models and that’s down to the fact that the gear ratios are lower. Top gear is 3.157 whereas a Road King for example is 2.875.
The extra mass and lower gearing had some effect on fuel range though it was still quite acceptable considering it was a brand new engine (24km on the clock when I collected it). I saw the fuel warning light come on at around 250km during a mix of city and country riding and was filling up at around 300km with 50km or so showing on the range computer. That should improve as the engine runs in.
For a brand new unit the six-speed cruise drive gearbox was as faultless as the other M8’s I’ve ridden and the hydraulic clutch was typically light and easy to engage.
For such a big unit the stopping power provided by the twin 6 Piston front and linked single piston rear brakes was also very impressive.
I gave it a couple of really hard, straight-line crash stops just to see how it pulled up - and it really surprised me. Because of the bigger contact patches and the fact that it can’t fall over really does mean you can stomp ‘em and it stops on a dime.
The parking brake is foot actuated with a pedal behind the left hand footboard and the electric reverse gear will push the machine slowly backwards up a slight incline. In most cases, on flat ground, it’s quicker and easier to just hoof it.
That great engine, suspension, gearbox and brakes are all complimented by the standard Harley niceties. The retro-tech is well incorporated with the LCD display housed in the large analogue speedo. It can show clock, tacho, gear selected, odometer, two trip meters and fuel range. The new, larger idiot lights are nested below. Park brake and reverse warning lights are in the main display.
The rear, side-opening trunk can easily accommodate two helmets, jackets and a small camera bag - or a few dozen stubbies - meaning you will be especially welcome on camping expeditions.
It even has a loud, old school Harley horn, unlike the beep-beep units on some of the new Softails. The headlight sits in and above a beautiful chrome nacelle and it projects a wide, flat and brilliant beam.
I looked forward to every ride I had on the Freewheeler. I found its combination of wide expanses of lustrous black paint, copious amounts deep chrome, hot rod slingshot styling and attention to detail made me glad just to look at this unusual machine.
Riding it was even better.
If you are looking for something different and a change from the ordinary, then the Freewheeler is definitely worth a try. I called it a celebrity vehicle because everybody wants to talk about it – everywhere you stop. A real head turner.
At around $40k it’s not cheap. It’s not a motorcycle. It’s not a car. It is in the space in between, and as some of life’s haters will gladly sneer, it has all the disadvantages of both.
But just remember next time you see (or even ride) one - that rider is having some serious fun and a grand adventure … on every corner.
Guts & Bolts
ENGINE Milwaukee-Eight® 107
BORE 100 mm
STROKE 111.1 mm
DISPLACEMENT 1,745 cc
COMPRESSION RATIO 10.0:1
FUEL SYSTEM Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
EXHAUST Shorty slash down-style chrome finish mufflers
SEAT HEIGHT, UNLADEN 700mm
GROUND CLEARANCE 125mm
WHEELBASE 1,670 mm
TYRES, FRONT SPECIFICATION MT 130/60B19 M/C 61H
TYRES, REAR SPECIFICATION P205/65R15 92T
FUEL CAPACITY 22.7 l
OIL CAPACITY (W/FILTER) 4.9 l
WEIGHT, AS SHIPPED 492 kg WEIGHT,
IN RUNNING ORDER 507 kg
LUGGAGE CAPACITY -VOLUME 0.06 m3
ENGINE TORQUE TESTING METHOD EC 134/2014
ENGINE TORQUE 3150 Nm
ENGINE TORQUE (RPM) 3,250
PRIMARY DRIVE Chain, 34/46 ratio
GEAR RATIOS (OVERALL) 1ST 10.534
GEAR RATIOS (OVERALL) 2ND 7.302
GEAR RATIOS (OVERALL) 3RD 5.423
GEAR RATIOS (OVERALL) 4TH 4.392
GEAR RATIOS (OVERALL) 5TH 3.741
GEAR RATIOS (OVERALL) 6TH 3.157
WHEELS, FRONT TYPE Enforcer Cast Aluminium WHEELS,
REAR TYPE 7 Enforcer Cast Aluminium
BRAKES, CALIPER TYPE 6 Piston fixed front with 4-31.75 mm frontPistons and 2-25.4 mm linked rear pistons, 31.75mm single piston floating rear
INDICATOR LAMPS 6
low oil pressure,
low fuel warning,
miles to empty.
GAUGES Black-faced Gauges:
Large speedometer and tachometer with wide numbers;
large fuel and volt gauges with wide numbers;
display features odometer, trip A, trip B,
range to empty, gear indicator;
Larger tell-tale indicators, including new reverse indicator light