I Coulda Had a Big Eight

Sorry for the bad pun from 1970’s advertising, but just last week, Harley Davidson finally owned up to the worst-kept secret in company history.

They’ve got a new engine.

Not to worry, it’s still a V-Twin, but the new “Big Eight” or “Milwaukee Eight” has taken a step in a different direction from the past – this one has four valves per cylinder. This represents a step in the right direction, as far as I’m concerned, because eventually, this technology is going to have to show up in more bikes – due to emissions standards that are getting tighter and tighter for any internal combustion engine.

Harley Davidson Milwaukee Eight - I Coulda Had a Big Eight

Now, I haven’t seen the engine, but I’ve heard whispers about it for the last year or so in the industry. Here’s the scoop as I understand it:

There will be two versions introduced in the 2017 model year – one a 107 cubic incher and the other a 110. These two powerplants will be restricted to use in the big touring bikes as per the so-called Project Rushmore initiative and a few stray Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) models –– namely the CVO Limited and CVO Street Glide.

At the same time that the Big Eight is getting set to be placed into these bigger bikes, one of the nice things that I see from all this is a new heat management strategy to keep these motors – and the riders on top of them – a little cooler in the summer heat. What does that actually mean? H-D is a little vague on the details, but I’m gonna read between the lines and say that this is not only a part of rider comfort, but another consideration for future emissions regulation. We’ve seen cars get cooler and cooler “operating temperatures” for combustion, and I can guess that we’ll see the same from Mother Davidson.

It makes sense to me, though, because Harley’s do have a signature sound (as Kawasaki learned two decades ago) and that signature sound comes as a result of the motor design. The word on the street is that Harley designed this motor as a clean sheet design like they did for the Evolution platform four decades ago.

One interesting thing that they have built into this new motor is an entire new counterbalance system to cancel out more vibration at idle and highway speeds, while “retaining the classic feel of a Harley V-Twin engine while being very smooth at highway speeds.” I don’t even know what that means. I will say that the difference between a touring bike and a regular cruiser has always been night and day, and as much as my old bike vibrates, any reduction is good reduction.

What does this all mean? For crotchety old guys like me, it means higher maintenance and more trips to the dealer to get little things fixed. For the average rider who just wants to hop on and take a trip, it’s probably a great platform. The best news is that the folks in Milwaukee are looking at the heritage of the brand and striving to keep that alive in the face of ever-tightening emissions expectations.

As of this writing, dealerships are expecting the first actual models with these powerplants to be on the showrooms in late September. I can’t wait to take a walk around one.

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