HD Electra Glides are good first bikes

Harley-Davidson models

A report from 1996

200,000 km with a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide "Liberty"

"Miles counter"

A Harley-Davidson is both a cult and a myth.
But it is also a driving machine.
An HD fan from Stuttgart has with his
Electra Glide "Liberty" in ten years
Circled the globe "five times". No problem, of course!

Text & photos: Winni Scheibe

Two-stroke or four-stroke? Leather suit or textile suit? Half-shell or full-face helmet? Harley-Davidson or a real motorcycle? No question for Jürgen Felke. The man from Stuttgart has unwound over 100,000 km with his boxer BMWs. No problem, of course! Actually, he would have stayed with the "blue and white" guys forever. Why should you definitely buy something new? A BMW is solid, durable and has a long tradition. And tradition obliges, the older the better. But suddenly the change of heart came. But it wasn't a new motorcycle that suddenly appeared at the door, but a "myth". At least that's the case with Harley. America’s oldest and only motorcycle manufacturer doesn’t sell bikes, but "myth", you get the machine for free, so to speak. At least that's what Willie G. Davidson, grandson of the company's founder, says, and he ought to know. And since everyone is keen on this "myth" of all things, Harley-Davidson has been sold out for years, long before the season even starts. That was not always the case, however.

At the beginning of the eighties, Harley-Davidson was far from being the best in terms of quality. Many have heretically dismissed the bikes from Milwaukee as "American scrap". A reputation that had a lasting impact on sales. And it wasn't the first time you've struggled with this problem. In 1968 only 26,000 machines were manufactured, at that time the family company was on the verge of ruin. The conglomerate AMF appeared in 1967 as a "savior in need" and bought the company. Although further production was now assured, AMF invested considerable money in the ailing traditional brand, but in retrospect the following years can be seen as a black spot in Harley's history. Management errors, strikes, delivery problems and poor workmanship quickly faded the good name of Harley-Davidson. In the spring of 1981, the former Harley-Davidson owners and some company managers let the experts know of a planned buyback in a joint press release. And indeed. A few months later, the deal was perfect. With professional management they brought the company into shape for the long term. Part of the responsibility was undoubtedly the new "evolution generation" that came onto the market from 1984 onwards. "Camouflaged" in the old outfit, the technology was now up-to-date. Insiders even claim that it is as good as "Japanese". The new Harleys drove their way into the hearts of the fans at full throttle, and we can see what has become of them today ...
Another marketing gag were special models. In 1986 it was the FLHTC Electra Glide Classic "Liberty". And that's exactly what Jürgen Felke's door was freshly dewy at the time. However, much to the chagrin of the "Bemweh", because from then on it gathered dust in the garage. Actually, the convinced boxer fan with his 29 Lenzen was not a Harley type at all, and certainly not for such a big highway steamer. But that had changed fundamentally after the first trip and from now on the Harley community had one loyal member. Various accessory dealers also got richer in the next few weeks and months. The proud owner refined the imported goods for around 10,000 marks, and then they went on tour. What followed would certainly be good material for a motorcycle book. But not as some will think right now with lurid stories about a frustrated Harley rider, no, no, it would be a book about an extremely satisfied and happy biker who had not only covered 200,000 kilometers with his "Liberty" in ten years, but who also drove all over Europe and had the greatest experiences. And since we got wind of it, nothing was more obvious than to meet the marathon biker immediately. We didn't want to write a book, but we were keenly interested in how the Evo engine had coped with this mileage. Harley-Davidson Germany in Mörfelden was also curious, and so all sides quickly agreed that this machine should be examined thoroughly. HD technician Rolf Fuchs took on this task.

First of all, the optical condition was examined. "You don't have to look far, the scratches are all real, after all, I've spent ten years on the bike," said Jürgen Felke right away. "I don't think much of cleaning and polishing, I'm more into driving. I washed the Harley properly no more than once a year and I generally refuse to do cosmetic repairs". Seen in this way, it makes a good impression, and if you wanted, you could help with a little polish ... Decisive for the relatively good picture is the fact that Felke had never driven the steam hammer over salt-strewn roads. You couldn't tell the age of aluminum and chrome parts. Only the rear disc brake was noticed on closer inspection: rust. "Is everything still original, the brake disc and even the brake pads, because who brakes at the back," emphasizes Felke. The hobby enduro rider wanted to mention that he knows how to brake properly, but the "Liberty" is not a sharpening plane with which you constantly step into the iron on the last groove. Unfortunately, there is no exact list of how many pairs of brake pads, how many tires and how much gasoline he has worn and refueled within the 200,000 kilometers. After all, ten years ago no one could have guessed that his bike of all things would become interesting as an "HD endurance test machine". "But even without these records, I can pretty much say what happened during that time," says Jürgen Felke. "I ran the machine in almost 3000 kilometers, all maintenance and inspections were done at X-Cycles in Stuttgart. The rear tire lasted an average of 10,000 kilometers and the front tire 15,000 kilometers. It was always Dunlop Elite-II tires 20,000 kilometers renewed. Depending on the driving style, the Harley used between 5.5 and 8 liters of unleaded fuel. "

All repairs and defects can be counted on one hand. The first problem was a cracked suction rubber. This mishap happened during a tour of Sweden, odometer reading 21,000 km. But it was not tragic, because a Harley workshop could help. He experienced the next breakdown in the south of France, when a front wheel bearing gave up its ghost after 110,000 kilometers. But even here a motorcycle workshop was helpful. 10,000 km further, the first and only real defect occurred, the main transmission shaft was knocked out. The last major repair was due at 150,000 km when the right standpipe had to be replaced. And then it should be mentioned that from 100,000 km the oil consumption slowly but surely increased steadily. In the end, at 200,000 km on the clock, it was around one liter when driving on country roads and a good two liters per 1000 km on the motorway. Only commercially available multigrade oil was used during the entire journey. Jürgen Felke credits his defensive and material-friendly driving style with the fact that it never broke again during the entire operating time. "For the first 20 kilometers I warm the engine carefully and then I never turn the engine over 4000 rpm," he reveals his secret. "The greatest fun is to drive between 1500 and 3500 tours. That is a maximum of 130-140 things on the track and you can make good progress with it."

The excursion destinations prove that it is so. He explored North Cape, England, Scotland, Isle of Man, France, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Italy and Greece as well as half of the Eastern Bloc with his "Liberty". In addition, he drove all the Alpine passes, regardless of whether they were asphalted or as a gravel road. Half of the 200,000 kilometers his partner sat on the bench, the rest he unwound solo. Mostly with camping equipment, you could only go to the hotel in an "emergency". The Harley was already half disassembled as he spoke. The first positive surprise was the primary drive. "Like new," said Rolf Fuchs, assessing the chain drive. In order to lift the engine block out of the chassis more easily, the high-pressure screwdriver first dismantled all the components "around it". A little later the engine was in its components on the workbench. The things already made a good impression from the look. Only the combustion chambers and valve plates were encrusted with carbon, which was clearly due to the high oil consumption. We got down to the nitty-gritty when measuring (see box: Figures and facts). In principle nothing was broken. Only the camshaft showed signs of wear on the bearing journal and the pistons and piston rings were also worn. In contrast, the cylinder liner and the crankshaft and connecting rod bearings showed themselves to be really good. You couldn't see the exertion of the clutch and the gearbox either. The chassis bearings, steering head, swing arm and wheel bearings were in perfect condition.