Jay Johnson has been on many journeys with his Harley-Davidson Road Glide, including a 600-mile round trip to Marquette, Mich., for a Big Boy hamburger that he couldn't find any closer to home.
On another road trip, in the South, Johnson and his bike were soaked by Hurricane Katrina.
"I don't get that wet in the shower," he says.
Attracted to the bike for its comfort and unique styling, Johnson — who works for a Harley-Davidson dealership in Oconomowoc, Wis. — is a hard-core Road Glide fan.
Harley-Davidson recently announced that the popular touring machine was returning to its motorcycle lineup this fall, after a year hiatus, and Johnson says he's confident it will be a success.
"It's the only thing I will own as my main bike," he says.
Harley reintroduced the Road Glide and Road Glide Special weeks before the company's full 2015 model-year lineup comes out this month. The company took the Road Glides out of the 2014 lineup for a full makeover that included many features from its Project Rushmore touring bikes, such as an integrated audio and navigation system with touch-screen controls on the Road Glide Special.
The new models come with a modified version of the shark-nose fairing — a protective piece that wraps around the headlamps and the front of the bike — that's always been associated with this bike and gives it a distinctive look and, some say, more riding comfort.
The bikes come with dual headlamps and new LED lighting, and the premium model comes with integrated front and rear anti-lock brakes, hand-adjustable rear suspension, and an exclusive painted inner fairing and hand-applied pinstripes.
Touring features include one-touch hard saddlebags, electronic cruise control and new ergonomic hand controls.
Before it was taken out of the 2014 lineup, the Road Glide represented about 10 percent of Harley-Davidson's motorcycle sales. The bike has been popular for its frame-mounted fairing that many motorcyclists say results in less rider fatigue.
"You don't have to fight it as much in the wind," says Dan Stalheim, a Road Glide owner.
When Harley decided to give the bike a makeover for 2015, the company faced the challenge of keeping features riders liked, including the shark-nose fairing and dual headlamps, while infusing the motorcycle with new technologies such as integrated anti-lock brakes.
Harley began redesigning the Road Glide when it began work on the Project Rushmore touring bikes that were unveiled a year ago.
Eight models were retooled and enhanced under Project Rushmore, making it the largest new model launch in Harley's history. New features included the first liquid-cooled engine for a Harley-Davidson touring motorcycle.
"We learned a lot with Project Rushmore and then took it up a notch with the Road Glide ... but we needed another year to get things nailed down," says Michael Goche, product planning manager.
Harley used a wind tunnel at Wichita State University to improve the bike's aerodynamics and increase rider comfort. Through a variety of new methods, the company has cut product development time by about 30 percent.
"We can go through several different design iterations fairly quickly and then validate changes on the road once we feel that we have it narrowed down," Goche says.
The company spent hundreds of hours on the new fairing, keeping the shark-nose look while adding vents aimed at reducing buffeting from the wind and increasing rider comfort.
All the while, Road Glide enthusiasts were speculating on the design changes.
"People were actually voting online whether the Road Glide should have these [fairing] vents. I kind of chuckled at that, knowing we were already well into the design," Goche says.