2019 Harley-Davidson Freewheeler
Harley-Davidson remakes its hot-rod trike, the Freewheeler, ahead of the 2019 model year with a host of improvements that the factory hopes will help it compete against the burgeoning three-wheeler competition. Brand-new-for-2019, traction control and backtorque-defeating measures have been put into place, and they’re buttressed by a new suspension system for an overall increase in safety and stability. That’s not all; the beating heart was upgraded as well with a 114-inch powerplant shoehorned in where a 107 used to reside, so there’s even more of that grunty performance we expect from Harley’s three-wheeled stoplight-burner. This year makes a significant benchmark in H-D’s technology development, so let’s dig in and see how well it stacks up against the competition.
Continue reading for my review of the Harley-Davidson Freewheeler.
2019 Harley-Davidson Freewheeler Design
Honestly, it seems like the MoCo reserved all its R&D energies for the under-the-hood stuff, because there’s not a lot of aesthetical differences between this year and last, and by “not a lot” I mean next to none at all. The bobbed front fender has short sides that leave an unimpeded view of the big Enforcer rim that rocks blackout paint with polished edges, giving it a bit of bling under way and that effect is duplicated at the rear wheels.
As technologically advanced as it is, the factory was careful not to stray too far afield with the looks. A seven-piece chrome nacelle hides the tripletree from view. Classic beercan fork skirts conceal the swept area of the forks behind the chrome whisker-bar that mounts the front turn signals. I think I’d rather see a pair of pimp lights there with the winkers set somewhere else, but there’s always the aftermarket for that.
Up top, a set of 12-inch mini-apes loft the hand controls and kick them back toward the rider for easy reach, but the real magic is in the tiller-effect it brings to the table that slightly increases your steering leverage. That last is very important since a fixed/stable trike is a much different animal than a bike or leaning trike, and that extra power comes in handy.
A six-gallon fuel tank rocks dual caps with a classic instrument panel down the middle for even more of that old-school look. The panel holds the single round clock for the speedo and the usual ignition switch set in a black panel that will probably attenuate some of the glare coming back up at you, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll be looking for an insert or even some tape to mute the rest of the glare from below.
A deep-scoop seat rides at 27.6-inches high, unladen, and if you weigh at least 180-pounds you can expect to push that on down to 26.2-inches off the deck; not that you need to be able to reach the ground during operation since it’s a self-supporting machine with reverse. There’s quite a bit of rise to the pillion perch, and though the Freewheeler keeps a clean skyline at the rear end with nothing in the way of a passenger backrest to ruin the look, it does come with the largest set of oh-shit handles I think I’ve ever seen to help your passenger stay aboard.
The rear end is dominated by a trunk compartment that will hold two full-face buckets and can be opened single-handed with naught but a scripted badge and reflector to interrupt the clean trailing side. Overall, the Freewheeler comes off as classy and cool as ever, and more than ever, it conveys a feeling of barely-restrained strength and Devil-may-care attitude.
2019 Harley-Davidson Freewheeler Chassis
The forward half of the frame is, more or less, typical of Harley’s FL line with tubular-steel members that make up a double-downtube/double-cradle frame that completely cup and support the drivetrain rather than using it as a stressed member like so many do. Apparently, there’s an offset in the hidden tripleclamp since the steering head is set at 26-degrees but the fork angle clocks in at 32.2-degrees with 3.96 inches of trail. This gives the Freewheeler some pretty stable steering with great tracking by anybody’s standards, and Harley doubles down on that point with a steering damper that absorbs some of the energy from the occasional kickback.
The 49 mm front forks run in a standard, right-way-up configuration, but that doesn’t tell the whole story since this year, Showa’s Dual Bending-Valve technology trickles down from the touring department to support the Freewheeler’s front end. Yeah, they’re non-adjustable, but the ride quality is a marked improvement over vanilla forks so it still qualifies as an upgrade. Out back, a pair of emulsion shocks float the special two-wheel swingarm with improved ride quality and a handwheel for quick preload adjustments, but again, none of the higher-end adjustments like compression/rebound damping so there’s still some room for improvement.
Dual, four-pot calipers bite the front discs with single-piston anchors on each side in back, but the real news with the brakes is all about the electronics. First off, Harley’s Linked-Brake system improves safety by electronically sharing braking pressure between front and rear whenever speed exceeds 4.3 mph, but the MoCo takes it further this year, much further. An inertial measurement unit reads the forces at work on the frame and feeds that data to the ABS, and for the first time, a production Harley has corner-sensitive anti-lock protection.
There’s more. Harley’s new traction control system actually works through the brakes. When slip is detected under acceleration, the system applies some brake to get it under control and restore the contact-patch integrity. It’s about bass-ackwards if you ask me, but I’ve busted Harley’s balls for so long over its lack of technical fandanglery I think it’s fair to give them credit for it and not criticize the methods.
A parking brake finishes off the anchors to provide a little extra security for parking on a grade, or at least, replace the drag normally provided by the jiffy stand.
2019 Harley-Davidson Freewheeler Drivetrain
Time to dive into the real meat of the thing; the powerplant that isn’t exactly new-new, but is new to the trike division. Per its ingeniously-clever name, this Milwaukee-Eight packs 114 cubic-inches (1,868 cc) away in its twin jugs to make it the second-largest plant Harley makes. The old-school nosecone makes a return, and that also returns the engine to a more classic look than that provided by the (ugly) Twin Cam plants, and since it runs with a single cam, the pushrods also return to their classic geometry. And the peasants rejoice.
A pair of four-valve heads cap 102 mm bores with a 114 mm stroke for a typical long-stroke layout and a moderate 10.5-to-1 compression ratio with an electronic throttle body to feed the beast. Air-cooled and set at 45-degrees, the mill is classic Harley all around, but like the brakes, the engine comes with something new in the Harley-verse: the Drag-Torque Slip Control System that has the net effect of behaving like a slipper clutch, just without an actual slipper clutch. When wheel slip is detected on a hard downshift or when otherwise using aggressive engine braking, the on-board computer will increase engine output until the backtorque pressure drops to manageable levels and traction returns to normal. That’s right folks, cornering ABS, traction-control brakes and slipper-clutch throttles this year, what a brave new world.
Of course, at the end of the day it’s all about the power, and the MoCo has you covered with some serious grunt. The mill generates 122 pound-feet of torque at a ridiculously low, 2,250 rpm. I mean, that’s just a little more than barely above idle, so yeah, that’s some serious grunt, and with those wide rear wheels you’ve got plenty of rubber on the road to let you lay more smoke than a retreating army.
2019 Harley-Davidson Freewheeler Price
As ever, price depends on hue, and the Vivid Black model comes in at the bottom with a $28,099 sticker. At the top of the totem pole, the two-tone Scorched Orange/Black Denim and Blue Max packages command a $30,399 pricetag with Bonneville Salt Pearl and Wicked Red Denim falling out in between. ABS is stock, but California riders can expect a $200 charge for your emissions hardware.
2019 Harley-Davidson Freewheeler Competitor
With no other major two-in-back trike builders on the market, and no, kits do not count, it’s tough to find an apple for this apple, so I’m going to go with an orange that might appeal to the same sort of rider. Can-Am makes a Delta-trike line that delivers an incredibly stable riding experience — I mean, these things corner like they’re on rails — but they also roll with a look that’s worlds away from that of the Freewheeler.
Like a Volkswagen Beetle, the Spyder F3-S carries its cargo in a trunk that forms the front of the vehicle. Twin A-frame articulation and roadster-style fenders give the front wheels a decidedly automotive flair that further accentuates the differences between the two. From the handlebar back, the Spyder takes on a much more bike-like shape and displays some of its sport-tastic tendencies with a wide rear wheel and boss looking hugger to finish things off. Like the Freewheeler, the Spyder’s brakes are linked since all three are plumbed into the pedal, and it comes with a parking brake as well.
A Rotax 1330 ACE plant drives the thing with 96 pounds o’ grunt against Harley’s soul-crushing 122 pounds, but I can guarantee that the Can-Am generates more horsepower at 115 ponies, even though Harley doesn’t advertise that metric. You have a choice in transmissions as well; a six-speed, manual-plus-reverse just like the Harley, or a semi-automatic tranny. Can-Am gets a leg up in the electronics. It rocks a Stability Control System with backup from a TCS, ABS and power-steering feature that aims to collectively increase safety and stability. Even without that stuff, the Delta trike is more stable than a classic three-wheeler just based on the build, and the physics involved with cornering on a plane rather than leaning in.
Spyder’s biggest advantage, really, comes down to price. At $21,299, the F3-S is a sight less expensive, but if you’re into riding something that looks like it has some history, the price difference is unlikely to dissuade you.
“About. Frikkin’. Time. Harley has been a stick-in-the-mud for far too long as far as electronics go, and I’m proud to see it. It had to happen if the MoCo had any hopes of continued survival, and they make the Freewheeler a very special machine, until the tech trickles down through the range, anyway. Meanwhile, the Freewheeler enjoys a special status, and it brings even more of that stoplight-burnin’ fun to the table.”
My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “The new electronic systems are huge. They will benefit the trike lineup, certainly, but I am so happy to see Harley getting into the electronics wizardry. It’s long overdue. On the Freewheeler, the weight and seat height aren’t a factor since you don’t need to hold it up or reach the ground at each stop, and yeah, your passenger will need those big grab handles to stay onboard. This isn’t called the hot-rod trike for nothing.”
2019 Harley-Davidson Freewheeler Specifications
Can-Am Spyder F3-S
See our review of the Can-Am Spyder F3-S.
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