2016 Harley-Davidson Lineup: The S Series, New Sportsters, and the Road Glide Ultra is Back

Text: David Burbach • Photography: Tom Riles, Brian Nelson

The S Series, New Sportsters, and The Road Glide Ultra is Back! Unlike most other OEMs, Harley-Davidson likes to unveil an entire model year’s worth of bikes all at once, instead of one at a time. For 2016 that means a dizzying array of mechanical upgrades, new engine options, color choices, the return of the Road Glide Ultra, and more!

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra

A two-year sabbatical from the H-D lineup has done wonders for the Ultra. According to Harley, Road Glide Ultra owners rack up more miles than owners of any other Harley-Davidson model—including the various iterations of the Electra Glide. In light of this, Harley engineers have spent the last two years optimizing the Ultra for high mileage riding. This included countless hours of wind tunnel testing to create a bubble of clear air to envelope the rider and passenger. 

It didn’t take me long in the Ultra’s saddle to conclude that they’d hit it out of the park. The air behind that large, frame mounted front fairing is extremely smooth. Other changes include revised overall ergonomics for a more comfortable cruise, the BOOM! Box 6.5 GT audio system, and the addition of Harley’s new Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103 engine (two small radiators are hidden inside the fairing lowers). With its rubber mounts, the vibrations common to its breed are all but nonexistent. Power is smooth, throttle response is spot-on, and the sound is everything one would expect from a Harley-Davidson. The motor’s 105.5 lb-ft of torque (at 3,750 rpm) are enough to propel the bike’s hefty 916 pounds with authority. The all-new for 2016 FLTRU starts at $ 25,699.

S Series

Another important change in Harley-Davidson’s 2016 lineup is the addition of two S Series limited edition models, the Softail Slim S and the Fat Boy S. In the S Series, the Motor Company’s top-of-the-line power plant, the Screamin’ Eagle Air-Cooled Twin Cam 110B, gets its first use outside of the exclusive CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) lineup.

Softail Slim S

The first thing riders notice about the Softail Slim S is the army green paint (Harley calls it Olive Gold Denim, a black version is also available) with a white star reminiscent of U.S. military vehicles of World War II vintage. Don’t call it a replica, though, as Harley-Davidson is very adamant that they don’t make those. Instead, call it a military-inspired look. In fact, that paint is flat out gorgeous in person with a smooth sheen and subtle gold hue—no doubt far better than anything ever painted for Uncle Sam. The military-inspired paint works well with the blacked out frame, engine, exhaust, and wire spoke wheels to create a striking visual. In short, the bike gets a lot of attention.

The addition of the 1,801cc Screamin’ Eagle motor adds that extra bit of oomph and, perhaps just as importantly, an extra helping of bragging rights, too. Riding the Slim is the essence of cruising. The low saddle height (23.8-inches laden!) and a Hollywood handlebar place the rider in the classic cruiser slouch, while the lack of windshield, hard seat, and short travel suspension limit the Slim’s long distance comfort. However, standard electronic cruise control should help extend highway stints. The new “Blacked Out Bobber” starts at $ 18,499, the most affordable entry price for the Twin Cam 110 yet. 

Fat Boy S 

The other member of the Softail family to get the S treatment is the Fat Boy. Like the Slim, the Fat Boy also benefits from the range topping Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 engine and a variety of other cosmetic and performance upgrades. These include similar blacked out finishes and standard cruise control. Perhaps the Fat Boy S’s most striking visual attribute is its Black Bullet Hole cast aluminum disc wheels.

Riding the Fat Boy S is, of course, quite similar to experiencing the Slim, since the two share an engine, frame, suspension, and have nearly identical chassis geometry and similar weight. However, the Fat Boy’s ergonomics and seat are noticeably more comfortable, even over short distances. In spite of its slightly reduced ground clearance compared to the Slim, the Fat Boy S is capable of marginally greater lean angles, though both bikes start scraping hard parts alarmingly fast in the curves. The Vivid Black Fat Boy S will put a rider on the road for $ 19,699.

Heritage Softail Classic

While we’re focused on H-D’s 2016 Softails, it’s worth mentioning the Heritage Classic. While it’s not a new model, or even a dramatic update over previous model years, it nevertheless arrives with some notable changes. Firstly, the more touring-oriented Softail gains the electronic cruise control also on the S models. Though it’s not the Screamin’ Eagle, the Heritage does get a new engine for 2016—the High Output Twin Cam 103B, previously only found in H-D’s touring line. Further bolstering its touring credentials, the Heritage Classic’s leather saddlebags get a more rigid internal structure for enhanced durability and improved function. Of course, no model year update would be complete without new paint choices, and the Heritage now boasts a range of additional hues and patterns. The entry price for the 2016 Heritage Softail Classic is $ 17,349.

Sportsters

According to Harley-Davidson, the company’s Dark Custom line of motorcycles, which includes the Iron 883 and the Forty-Eight, are their number one sellers among 28-34 year olds, both male and female. For many of those customers, it’s their first Harley-Davidson ownership experience, making these models essential to the Motor Company’s future success.

Iron 883

Before the introduction of the Street 500 and 750 in 2013, the Iron 883 was considered Harley-Davidson’s entry-level bike. H-D’s engineers and designers decided it was time for their base Sporty, the Iron 833, to move a bit upmarket. They started with what was perhaps the previous generation’s weakest link, the suspension. The 39mm front forks now boast cartridge dampening (with some nice looking fork gaiters), while outback new shocks with emulsion technology sport 50mm of preload adjustability. The adjustment is accomplished with a special wrench located under the seat. 

Speaking of seats, the Iron’s saddle is also new for 2016 and is now what Harley calls “Bobber tuck and roll style.” Improved shape and cushioning raise overall comfort, though calling it “all day,” as H-D does, seems a bit of a stretch. Stylistically, Harley’s designers took the Dark Custom idea to new heights. The list of “blacked out” parts basically reads like the bike’s entire component catalog. The 2016 Iron 883 carries a base MSRP of $ 8,849. 

Forty-Eight

The 883’s big brother, the Forty-Eight, gets a similar treatment. The 1,202cc cruiser gets the same suspension updates as the Iron 883 with beefier cartridge damped forks and adjustable emulsion shocks. As I prowled the surface streets in and around Portland, OR, I was impressed by the suspension’s ability to absorb impacts without bottoming out—all while delivering a smooth, controlled ride with none of the harsh, pogoing sensation of years past. In fact, the Forty-Eight felt ready to dance as we closed in on a particularly curvy stretch in the hills above the city. Unfortunately, the bike’s paltry ground clearance let it down as sparks flew even at a fairly conservative pace. 

In addition to vastly better suspenders, the Forty-Eight gets new nine-spoke cast aluminum wheels, an updated “all day comfortable” seat (again, their words, not mine), and other aesthetic tweaks like retro tank graphics and a Hard Candy paint color. 

I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention that the Forty-Eight’s oh-so-cool looking peanut tank only holds two gallons of gas. That puts the range, even in ideal circumstances, at less than 100 miles. Dressed in Vivid Black, the Forty-Eight retails for $ 11,199.

Custom Vehicle Operations

All three bikes in Harley-Davidson’s ultra-exclusive line of factory custom machines, known as CVOs, get a smattering of 2016 updates as well. Number one on that list is a new tire pressure monitoring (TPM) system that’s integrated into the valve stems on both wheels. H-D designers boast that, unlike many other TPM systems, theirs starts working immediately upon turning the key, not after the motorcycle reaches a certain speed. The next 2016 CVO addition is a new key fob that replaces the previous dual fob system. The handheld device can lock and unlock the bike’s luggage and manage its security system. Finally, a pair of LED turn signals grace the front ends of the 2016 CVOs. 

I got to spend some time behind the bar of the CVO Street Glide, and, while it continues to be a competent and enjoyable motorcycle, its function isn’t its main attraction. What truly sets this CVO apart is paint quality, attention to detail, fit and finish, and, until recently, the Screamin’ Eagle 110 engine. When seated in a CVO saddle, every surface a rider touches or sees is oozing with premium details. Things that manufacturers usually don’t even bother painting are covered in deep, lustrous color. All the control surfaces feel heavy and substantial. Of course, the entry price for this level of two-wheeled luxury is steep. The CVO Street Glide, the least expensive of the three, starts at $ 36,799.

The Rest of the Lineup

Though we’ve already discussed the primary model year changes in the 2016 Harley-Davidson lineup, there are a few other odds and ends worth mentioning. 

Street

H-D’s entry-level bikes, the Street 500/750, get upgraded brakes for 2016 after their previous stoppers were roundly criticized. The wiring harness and overall build quality have been cleaned up a bit, too. 

Softail and Dyna

As alluded to previously, the High Output Twin Cam 103 engine from H-D’s touring lineup makes its way into the company’s Softail and Dyna series, where it is now the standard power plant across the board, with the exception of the Street Bob. 

All of these changes and updates amount to what Harley-Davidson calls its most powerful lineup of cruisers ever. And we have to agree. All those other enhancements don’t hurt either.