THE 1999 HARLEY DAVIDSON DYNA CONVERTIBLE
It was going to be another 97-degree scorcher in Las Vegas, Nevada, but in the late morning the temperature was still bearable, even pleasant. One of the ubiquitous Las Vegas taxicabs transported my friend Evelyn and I from the Riviera Hotel to the front door of Eagle Rider Motorcycle Rentals, owned by Al and Jody Karp. We were here to meet my riding buddies, Rocky and Gordon, who had ridden their motorcycles to Las Vegas from Eugene, Oregon the day before, and to pick up the nearly new 1999 Dyna Convertible, the subject of this review, I had reserved.
I was particularly interested in the Dyna Convertible, as I had the idea that the ideal next bike for me (I guess I am always looking for the ideal bike) would be one of the Dyna Glide family, specifically either the Convertible, Super Glide Sport, or Wide Glide models. I had ridden a rented Super Glide around the island of Oahu, in Hawaii, and caged a test ride on a Wide Glide from my friends at Doyle's Harley-Davidson in Eugene. Now, I was anxious to ride the Convertible.
The Dyna Convertible is an FXDS-CONV in the Harley alphabet. The FX prefix means that the bike has a Sportster (X) front end (including forks, headlight, and front fender) grafted to a big twin (F) frame. It also has a Sportster type rear fender. The teardrop shaped fuel tank, which has a single gas cap and a fuel gauge, holds 4.9 gallons of gas. The EPA estimated mileage of 50 highway and 42 city means that you can go a reasonable distance between fuel stops.
Rocky, Gordon, Evelyn, and I were planning on riding out to Red Rock Canyon, in the hills west of Las Vegas. This is an excellent test ride, as it incorporates straight stretches of desert highway as well as winding canyon roads, plus stop and go city traffic on the crowded streets of Las Vegas.
The Convertible is a cruise-tour bike that features a detachable windshield and saddlebags, allowing it to be quickly converted back into a pure cruiser. It also comes standard with a comfortable (according to Evelyn, who graciously consented to be my passenger on the ride) passenger backrest, and adequate passenger seating.
Instrumentation includes a speedometer with odometer and trip meter, a tachometer, the usual warning lights, and even the aforementioned gas gauge. Kudos to Harley-Davidson for mounting the large speedo and tach up on the handlebars, where they can be easily seen. Like all Harley-Davidsons, self-canceling turn signals, belt drive, and a halogen headlight are standard equipment. A more complete list of specifications can be found in my "Touring and Sport Touring Motorcycle Chart."
With its 28 degree steering head and decent lean angles (33.5 degrees right, 34.5 degrees left), which it shares with the Dyna Super Glide Sport, the Convertible feels and handles more like a big standard than a cruiser. The sport chassis, cast aluminum wheels, vibration isolation-mounted engine, and triple disc brakes with 4-piston calipers reinforce that image. But the stepped seat, only 27.75 inches from the ground, and ape hanger handlebars are pure cruiser. I found them uncomfortable for even a half-day trip, and they are the first things I would replace if I bought a Convertible.
Unfortunately, H-D is still supplying the Convertible with the same, somewhat outdated, detachable windshield and saddlebags it has used since the late 1980's. The windshield is oversized, requiring virtually all riders to look through it rather than over it. It does offer great protection. The leather trimmed nylon saddlebags are clearly inferior to newer offerings from the Motor Company. They are awkward to use, and unsightly. At least the saddlebags are easy to remove by unscrewing a large knob (some say too easy--they have been known to fall off); but removing the windshield requires an Allen wrench. H-D has far more convenient (and better looking) detachable windshields in their Accessory Catalogue, and one of these should be fitted to the Convertible. Better designed, all leather, saddlebags would also be a welcome improvement.
Unlike virtually every privately owned Harley on the street, this machine was literally box-stock. Almost all Harley-Davidson dealers recommend (at a minimum) re-jetting the carburetor, and installing a Screaming Eagle low restriction air cleaner and Screaming Eagle slip fit mufflers, at the earliest opportunity. These simple modifications, usually performed before the customer takes delivery of a new motorcycle, or at the initial 500 mile checkup, let the stock motor breathe as it was intended, and gain about 7 ft/lbs. of torque, and 5-10 horsepower. But this Convertible's Twin Cam 88 (88ci, 1450cc) motor was completely stock.
The Twin Cam 88 is a beautiful motor. Just about every part that could be chromed is chrome, and the edges of its black cylinder fins are highly polished. No motor from any other manufacturer can match its appearance, and few V-twin cruiser motors can match its performance. The Twin Cam 88 has definitely extended Harley's lead in the cruiser class.
The Dyna Convertible is a big bike, with a 63.9-inch wheelbase, and a dry weight of 640 pounds. Due to its low center of gravity, it handles better at low (parking lot) speeds than one would expect. It is easy to maneuver in city traffic, even with a passenger onboard. Actually, the Convertible is not particularly heavy when compared to other cruise-tour and touring motorcycles, and it is definitely one of the sportier bikes in this class.
Starting the Convertible is the same as starting any other Dyna Glide model. The ignition switch is below the right edge of the seat, just behind the battery (a somewhat unhandy location, but one gets used to it). For cold starts, there is an enrichener mounted on the left side beneath the gas tank and between the cylinder heads. I always let any motorcycle warm up before I ride away, and I encountered no problems when I snicked the Convertible into first gear and eased out the clutch. Evelyn and I headed out of the Eagle Rider parking lot on the Dyna Convertible, following Gordon's slick BMW R1100RT touring bike and Rocky's customized 883 Sportster (named "Ruby").
Like all Harley big twins, the Convertible's 5 speed transmission shifts with a noticeable clunk, but it shifts reliably. The clutch lever requires a fairly high level of effort, but it should not be a problem for a person with normal hand strength. Harley has the best shaped clutch and brake levers in the business, and they are very comfortable to use. It is certainly easier to pull in the clutch lever on this 1999 Convertible than it was on the Evo-engined 1998 Super Glide I rode around Oahu last year.
I am happy to report that the stock Twin Cam 88 motor is tractable, has plenty of punch, and runs smoothly, even in its EPA mandated configuration. An identical stock 1999 TC-88 motor put out 70.4 ft/lbs. of torque, and 63.6 horsepower at the rear wheel when dyno tested in the February 2000 issue of Hot Rod Bikes magazine. This engine builds torque from very low in the RPM range, which makes stop and go city driving a breeze. There is little chance of inadvertently stalling the engine, even two up on a loaded bike. The brakes worked perfectly, with plenty of stopping power and good feel.
Soon we were out of Las Vegas, and on the road to Red Rock canyon. The two lane desert highway gave us the opportunity to pass some slower moving cars and trucks. I found that the Twin Cam 88 motor had brisk acceleration, enough that I had to be careful not to run up "Ruby's" back fender when I rolled on the throttle to follow Rocky around a slower moving vehicle. I would estimate that a Twin Cam Dyna Glide has about the same roll-on acceleration as a stock 1200 Sportster. The quarter mile times on my Motorcycle Comparison Charts tend to verify this: firstname.lastname@example.org MPH for a stock Convertible, and 13.41@95 MPH for a stock 1200 Sportster. Even two up, the Twin Cam 88 Convertible has plenty of passing power. It's fun!
We passed signs along the road warning us that there are wild burros in the area, and there really are. We saw some near the highway. Soon we reached the turn-off that took us to the park headquarters for Red Rock Canyon. There is a small, but interesting, park museum there that is worth seeing.
By the time we rode away from the air-conditioned park headquarters to tour the canyon, the heat was building, and we were glad for the oversized white shirts we wore over our motorcycle jackets. This is a trick I learned from Rocky and Gordon, who had recently completed a 1000-mile Iron Butt ride in this area. The long sleeved white shirt reflects a surprising amount of heat, leaving you much more comfortable than you would be otherwise. I got my oversized white shirt (an XX-L to fit over my jacket) at K-Mart for about $12.
The narrow, undulating, and very twisty road through Red Rock Canyon not only provided spectacular views of this scenic area, but also provided a chance to test the handling of the Dyna Convertible. It was not found wanting. Due to its size and weight, it will not flick from side to side like a sport bike, and it requires more handlebar pressure than a sport bike does to initiate turns. But the bike holds a line and carves a turn in grand style if the rider sets it up right in the first place. The new, more rigid, joining of engine and transmission in the Twin Cam 88 motor no doubt contributes to the bike's solid feel. Rocky and I traded bikes at one of the many scenic turnouts, and he agreed that the Convertible handles well. It feels like a big Sportster. Or maybe Rocky's Sportster feels like a small Dyna Glide.
The generous available lean angle makes it possible to ride a Convertible considerably more aggressively than the average cruiser. The typically soft Harley suspension (both front and rear) was fine on the predominately smooth roads we encountered, but would probably allow a fully laden bike to bottom on sharp bumps or potholes. The Showa forks also exhibit excessive dive under hard breaking, despite their progressively wound springs. The rear shocks are adjustable for spring preload only, and you want to be sure to set them for maximum preload when carrying a passenger. A set of the adjustable, gas charged shocks that come standard on the Super Glide Sport would make a nice upgrade for a Convertible when the OEM shocks need replacement.
The OEM Dunlop Elite S/T 100/90-19 (front) and 130/90HB-16 (rear) sport touring bias ply tires performed well in the dry heat that we encountered, and seemed a good choice for a multi purpose bike like the Dyna Convertible. These are the same tires that my Sportster came with, and I know from experience that they are also satisfactory in the rain. When replacement time rolls around, an aggressive rider might want to consider purchasing stickier Dunlop K 591 S/P sport tires, which are standard on the Super Glide Sport and Sportster Sport, but they will not wear as well.
The ride back to Las Vegas was pleasant, and without incident. We had left Las Vegas from the southern part of the city, and rode west out of town. Returning, we rode north and then east across the desert, completing a big loop.
Unfortunately, entering Las Vegas late in the afternoon from the northwest, we had to cross a good part of the city on surface streets to get back to the Eagle Rider shop, and the heat had become oppressive. Las Vegas has the longest traffic signals I have ever encountered. We probably had to wait about 5 minutes at each one, and there was a signal every couple of blocks. Rocky and Gordon simply shut their engines off as they waited, but with a passenger on the back it is hard to reach the ignition key on a Dyna Glide, so I just let the Twin Cam 88 motor idle in the hot sun.
I have read that the new TC-88's cooling fin area was increased about 50% as compared to an Evolution big twin motor. I am here to tell you it is a good thing, particularly considering the engine's very lean EPA state of tune, which makes it run hotter than necessary. Engines which have the benefit of the simple modifications previously discussed run much cooler than stock engines.
The sun beat down on us, and heat poured off of the motor (and the street, and the surrounding cars), practically causing me to melt down, but the TC-88 just kept ticking. It showed no ill effects from the prolonged baking, and never missed a beat. Still, if I lived in such a hot climate, I would fit an accessory oil cooler.
It was with relief that we finally arrived back at Eagle Rider to drop off the Dyna Convertible. Evelyn and I both looked forward to a nice air-conditioned taxi ride back to the Riviera Hotel, where cool baths awaited. Still, we had really enjoyed our ride, and the Convertible had behaved well. I was impressed by the versatility of the big bike, and I was even more convinced that a Dyna Glide might be the perfect bike for me.
Copyright 2000 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.