It is easy to make disparaging remarks about Harley-Davidson and its products – too expensive, too old, too slow, they say. This is not helped by overall market sentiment about H-D – especially in the US home market – with falling sales and an ageing rider demographic to contend with.

So, with a big hurdle ahead, what does a motorcycle maker do? In H-D’s case, it comes out with a new engine, the Milwaukee 8 V-twin, Harley-s first all-new engine since the water-cooled Porsche-developed power plant used in the VRS-series bikes, better known as the V-Rod.

Now, we use the word ‘new’ advisedly. An air-cooled V-twin design with pushrod valve actuation dates from somewhere before the Second World War and in this day and age, an engine displacing above 1.5-litres in a motorcycle is something of an anachronism.

In the case of the Milwaukee 8, the venerable V-twin is given an update with eight-valves per cylinder, counter-balanced and rubber-mounted. According to Harley, vibration on the Milwaukee 8 mill has been cut by up to 75%, to attract new riders unaccustomed to the ‘feel’ of a Harley engine whilst still retaining the purists who want something vibrating between their legs.

To that end, Harley-Davidson Malaysia invited a group of media to ride the Milwaukee 8 engine – a taste test as it were – to see for ourselves what the whole fuss was about. This took the form of several bagger Harleys, in both Milwaukee 8 and previous generation Evo engine form, in an escorted ride down to Malacca.

Truth be told, we have previously ridden the Milwaukee 8 engine, the first time in 2016 in Singapore during the Harley-Davidson Street Rod 750 media ride, where we had the chance to take a Road Glide with the 107 mill for spin. The other was the 2018 Harley-Davidson Street Bob, again in Milwaukee 8 107 guise.

So, what’s different? Well, aside from the the obvious displacement increase, the Milwaukee 8 comes in 107 and 114 flavours which translates to 1,745 cc and 1,868 cc, respectively. The 107 is used in the Softtail series of bikes, while the 114 power plant moves the bigger touring rigs in Harley’s range, but there are cross-overs.

Harley also says cooling has been improved, with engine heat designed to be radiated away from the rider and exhaust catalytic convertors located further back in the pipe run. In practice, we noticed the engine heat was still there, though much reduced and only really intrusive in standstill traffic, of which more later.

The ride was designed to give riders a taste between the old and new, a direct comparison, as it were, showcasing the improvements made not just in the engine, but also in the handling and braking department. Which a bunch of Road and Street Glides in 107 and 114 guise provided.

Of those, the author rode the 2019 Harley-Davidson FLTRXS Road Glide Special 114 and 2018 FHLX Street Glide 107, as well as the 2015 FLTRXS Road Glide Special with the Evo twin-cam engine. First impression from starting up the Milwaukee 8 is that it is true, engine vibration has been quieted down, a lot.

That ‘potato-potato-potato’ exhaust note is still there, the seat still vibrates and gives your nether regions a massage but the overall feel is, “yes, this is a Harley, but not as you know it.” First off, Harley says fit and reach for shorter riders is improved.

In practice, settling into the broad saddle of the Road Glide, reach to the ground was no issue but reach to the side stand was a long way away for those with shorter legs. You will soon adapt with a little body English, as we did.

Inside the cockpit, reach to the bars was moderate and H-D does provide a wide range of handlebar widths and reaches from the official catalogue. In any case, riding any of the Glides in tight traffic makes you aware of just how big and long they are.

Riding the Road Glide 114 down the highway, the bike was in its element and comfort levels were high, with the thickly padded saddle seat cosseting the rider’s derriere. The best thing we could say about the new Milwaukee 8 mill is that it is unobtrusive.

Vibration was a comfortable back note to the ride, rather than being a constant ‘in your face’ symphony. Handling manners on the 2019 and 2018 Harleys was similarly improved and rather than having to fight the bike into turns, the Glides were co-operative.

No, you don’t get sports bike levels of sharpness and precision, this is the wrong place to look for that but we can say that things are rather easier than they used to be. Taken to the edge, the Glides were less than happy, showing a tendency to weave and bob a little in fast sweeping corners.

Riding back on the highway in the rain, we refrained from giving the ABS system a workout, but the marshals increased speed to allow the fairing to divert rain over the rider’s heads. We noticed a slight skip in the rear end of the Glide as we rode over the road paint and put it down to tyre pressures – 376 kg of motorcycle is a lot to ask for a tyre contact patch the size of a squashed frog to handle, especially at the extra-legal speeds we were doing.

In a straight line, the Milwaukee 8 showed the increased torque available – 165 Nm worth – makes top gar roll-ons in any gear effortless. Fuelling was similarly so, with throttle response precise and responsive without any of the hesitation or stumble of previous H-D EFI efforts.

Harley says engine heat has been routed away from the rider and in practise, this was somewhat true. However, during the stop-and-start traffic in Malacca, there were enough BTUs rising from between the rider’s legs to bring thoughts of half-boiled eggs.

Not as bad as the Street Rod we tested, or some of the V-twin offerings from other manufacturers, but it was there, and it was noticeable. If you’re riding a Harley, wear jeans or proper riding pants and leave the hot pants at home.

So, if you’re in the market for a Harley, is the Milwaukee 8 engine worth the buy? We would have to say yes, if you’re looking for the American iron and the recent price adjustment by Harley-Davidson Malaysia does make certain models attractive, price wise.

Improvements in power, tractability and vibration control, alongside the changes made to the handling and braking make the new Harleys rather more accessible and easier to ride than before, without having to make excuses about ‘character’ or ‘heritage’. As to whether this will appeal to a new riding demographic who are possibly coming in from the non-traditional Harley market, or the non-riding public wanting to take up biking as a hobby, remains to be seen.

What we can tell you is this. The new Milwaukee 8 engine from Harley is a good one, and much better in execution and performance than the previous Evo V-twin. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.