Just as its competitors were gaining, Harley-Davidson launches a dynamic new model
THE TIMING is perfect. Harley-Davidson has just launched a new bike, the Dyna Super Glide Sport, plus a range of existing models uprated with the American firm's first new engine in 15 years. Like a cavalry division arriving while Indians circle the wagon-train, the new bikes have not come a moment too soon.

Not that Harley is in trouble, you understand; but it is certainly under attack. Its phenomenal success in recent years has been achieved by cleverly exploiting its status as the only major American bike manufacturer, a position it had held ever since its great rival Indian went bust in the Fifties. But all that is changing, and changing fast.

Last month, Excelsior-Henderson, a new firm with a famous old name, began production of its Super X cruiser at a purpose-built factory in Minnesota. Snowmobile and watercraft giant Polaris has been selling an impressive cruiser, the V92 Victory, since last year. And even Indian itself is on the way back.

Tradition dictates that Harley's response, the Twin Cam 88 engine, is no radical departure. Like powerplants stretching back to the firm's first V-twin, it is aircooled and has cylinders set at 45 degrees. But the Twin Cam 88, named after its larger capacity of 1450cc and extra camshaft, has been comprehensively redesigned, retaining only 18 of its predecessor's 450 parts.

Seven models have so far been fitted with the Twin Cam 88 unit, including the all-new Dyna Super Glide Sport. Although by no stretch of the imagination a sports bike, by Harley standards it's lean and aggressive. Its styling is simple, there's a minimum of chrome, and flat handlebars give an upright rather than laid-back riding position.

The Sport's Twin Cam motor is mechanically quieter than previous units, firing up with a gentle thump through its twin exhaust pipes. Its main advantage is in its improved throttle response. The Sport is distinctly livelier than previous models, whatever the revs. Peak output is only about 70bhp, but it pulls strongly from low down, and accelerates towards a top speed of 110mph with an urgency that no previous standard Harley can match.

If anything the new rubber-mounted motor feels slightly smoother than the old, although Harley has taken great pains to retain that addictively lumpy V-twin feel. The Sport certainly feels very unstressed, lolloping along with a typically engaging beat.

Harley has also done a good job with the chassis. Its rigidity is increased by the design of the new engine, whose gearbox is more solidly bolted on. At 300kg the Sport is no lightweight, but it feels fairly agile and handles well, aided by fairly soft but well-controlled suspension.

The Dyna Super Glide Sport brings a new dimension to Harley-Davidson and at pounds 9,995, it is among the cheapest of Harley's "big twins". The competitors may be circling, but Harley is better equipped than ever to fight back.