Review: 2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited
GOLDEN, COL.—Harley-Davidson celebrates 110 years of motorcycle production this year and, in conjunction with this milestone, released eight models with a slew of improvements, under a venture called Project Rushmore.
Buried in a pre-launch press release was a blurb about a twin-cooled, high-output, twin-cam 103 engine. But, aside from the exceptionally long name, no other information was available.
It turns out the new engine, which traces its roots to the 1936 Knucklehead (Harley’s first overhead-valve V-twin), is liquid cooled. In fact, it uses the same cooling technology introduced on the 2013 BMW R1200GS, with liquid-cooled cylinder heads capping air-cooled cylinders.
The new engine is only part of the Project Rushmore touring bike makeover, with other changes ranging from a more-powerful air-cooled twin-cam 103 engine to a new infotainment system — the first time the automotive term is used on a motorcycle.
Harley launched all eight Project Rushmore machines in Golden (home of Coors beer), but I’ll focus on the $29,529 Electra Glide Ultra Limited, which comes standard with the twin-cooled engine currently available in select touring models and the Tri Glide trike.
Designing the new cooling system was a difficult task, because Harley traditionalists would shun the additional clutter of liquid cooling, which requires radiators, a water pump and a variety of coolant hoses, all of which are hard to hide on a motorcycle, especially one whose engine isn’t hidden behind fairing panels.
Harley faithful can breathe a sigh of relief, as engineers did a stellar job of concealing the system. You cannot tell that the Ultra Limited is liquid cooled.
A redesigned batwing fairing closely resembles the current fairing, except that it protrudes a bit farther forward of the headlight (probably to make room for the infotainment system), and it now has an air intake just below the windshield that effectively reduces helmet buffeting and wind noise, which were somewhat of an annoyance on the outgoing touring models.
Torque has increased by about 7 per cent in both the new air-cooled and liquid-cooled engines, now peaking at 105 lb.-ft., up from 100 on the outgoing engine.
Although the liquid-cooled engine produces no more power than the air-cooled one, it maintains its power more consistently (as the air-cooled engine heats up, ignition timing is retarded to prevent engine knock, which reduces output).
Unfortunately, Golden’s high elevation stifled the power somewhat, so it’s not possible to make a fair comparison with the current Twin Cam 103. But in lower gears, there was more than enough oomph to get the 413-kg behemoth moving swiftly. The liquid-cooled bike sounds and feels no different than the air-cooled one, an important factor for traditionalists.
The view from the saddle is familiar, but there are now just four larger gauges on the dash instead of six. The Ultra Limited has a 6.5-inch touch-screen that is part of the Harmon-Kardon Boom Box infotainment system with GPS navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, a USB port and other distracting features.
Yes, I said distracting. Although the system will easily match a modern automotive system in sound quality, and the user interface has been simplified for use on a motorcycle, you still have to look at the screen to use it.
Harley’s engineers did extensive research to minimize the time you take your eyes off the road, but it’s no less distracting than it is in a car — and we biker types are constantly bitching about distracted drivers.
Admittedly, I wasn’t familiar with the system, but I’d suggest getting familiar with its functions before hitting the road in your new Harley.
One very welcome change is to the saddlebag and top case latches, which have gone from being among the worst in the business to the best, and now allow single-handed operation.
ABS brakes are now linked, but work independently below 40 km/h to ease low-speed manoeuvrability. Very smart, very practical.
The liquid-cooled engine is not revolutionary, but it is the sensible next step Harley had to take to improve its venerable V-twin while reducing emissions.
The Project Rushmore changes stem from requests made by Harley owners, the majority of whom demanded that the spirit of the machines remain intact.
Harleys sell on tradition — even to new buyers — and the company had to make improvements without wavering too far from that tradition. In that respect, Harley got it right.
Transportation for freelance writer Costa Mouzouris was provided by the manufacturer. Email: email@example.com.
2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited
Engine: 1,690 cc liquid-cooled 45-degree v-twin
Power/torque: na/105 lb.-ft.
Competition: Indian Chieftain, Kawasaki Vulcan Voyager, Yamaha Stratoliner Deluxe, Victory Cross Country Tour
What’s best: Integration of liquid cooling, improved suspension, improved airflow.
What’s worst: Heavy, infotainment system is distracting.
What’s interesting: With the recent resurgence of Indian motorcycles under Polaris, it’s the first time Harley-Davidson has had direct competition from the company since it originally folded in 1953.