The inimitable English football commentator Martin Tyler once called an absolutely cracking goal in a Liverpool v Man U classic with a simple, understated, almost conversational: ‘Oh! My. Goodness.’
The calm composure of his words, contrasted with the pandemonium in the stadium and hype one would normally expect from a commentator, made the moment truly memorable.
It seemed that so much has been written, and hyped, about the new Harley-Davidson Rushmore models that the stadium had indeed gone wild. I wondered on paper if they could really be that good.
Up until I rode one.
This is the third Ultra I’ve tested and I’ve been a fan since the first one. But the short answer is…yes. They are that good.
According to the extensive data Harley supplied with the release of the new models, MY2014 is all about input from their customers.
‘After thousands of hours of gaining information by riding alongside our customers, during customer events, on demo rides, in focus groups, and through years of intensive development and testing, Harley-Davidson has listened and responded like never before.’
What they discovered is their customers wanted ‘even more style and more comfort’ from the touring models.
Some of the styling cues and nuances in the new models are obvious. Some are more discrete.
Amongst the obvious are the unusual looking array of ‘Daymaker’ LED headlights (which are amongst the best on a bike), LED tail lights and the reshaped Batwing fairing with ‘slipstream vent’.
A result of wind tunnel testing, the vent is probably the best single improvement on the touring models. By equalising the pressure on both sides of the shorter screen, buffeting and wind noise is significantly reduced when compared to the older models.
Apart from making it an all-round better riding experience and reducing fatigue it also makes the on-board entertainment system much more viable. This is the first Batwing I’ve been able to ride without noise-mitigating earplugs under my helmet and subsequently could use the stereo to much better effect than ever before.
The Ultra Classic features the ‘Boom Box 4.3’, 100w audio setup as standard. It has all the blue tooth connectivity of a modern luxury sedan, plus the option of hard wiring your phone or portable device into the unit via a nifty compartment set in the dash. Also available as an optional extra is a 6.5” system that includes a touch screen and integrated GPS.
The redesigned dash is both functional and legible although perhaps not quite as ‘hot rod’ as previous incarnations.
Amongst the ‘less obvious’ new features is the one that has generated the most comment. For the Australian and NZ markets both the Ultra Classic and Ultra Limited models feature the new ‘twin cooled’ 103 cube engine.
‘Bah! Water-cooled Harleys’ the blowhards blustered.
Anybody who has been following motorcycle development would know that emission controls mandate more efficient engines and plumbing a bit of glycol solution around them is a good start for lowering greenhouse output.
Harley has started the Big Block transition by liquid cooling the heads on the Ultras. (Those ‘traditionalists’ seem to forget that the V-Rod has been liquid cooled for more than a decade.)
And yes, ‘less obvious’ is an apt description. The radiators are concealed in the fairing lowers and the plumbing is equally well integrated. At first glace the engine is a standard big block. It’s only when poking around closely at mudguard level that the radiators and piping become noticeable.
What is also notable is in the performance of the new engine. The 103 cube still runs a 98.4 x 111.1mm bore and stroke, although the compression ratio is up slightly to 10:1 (from 9.6:1 in ’13), but the real difference is in crisper throttle response and the overall smoothness of the engine. It’s just delightful.
Harley claim maximum torque of 142nm at 3250rpm. Up from 136 Nm @ 3500 RPM in the (Air Cooled) 2013 model.
At highway and cruising speeds there is now virtually no vibe or buzz from the rubber mounted, 1690cc, twin-cam motor. Just a steady pulse and what Harley also claims is the best top gear roll-on of any touring model. It sounds pretty good when you give it the business too.
The result is that it’s very, very pleasant to be aboard. I rode this bike further and longer than just about any bike I’ve tested over the last 12 years. I’d do 50km just to get the milk (and the shop is only 2k’s away!).
As with previous models, the EFI is quite faultless, stumble free and responsive.
The Classic also has as good a gearbox as I have used on any big bike - metric or imperial. It’s crisp and notchy and very sure. The new hydraulic clutch is also so good I forgot to really notice it - particularly in light of some online reports of teething troubles with the system.
The saddle is plush and very comfortable and sits at 740mm.
The re-designed switchgear is equally ergonomic. Toggle switches make navigating around the stereo, phone, voice command and other functions pretty easy. It’s also noticeable how much more user-friendly the cruise control has become by simply switching from the right to left-hand switch block.
I did a heap of heavy-traffic-commuting, inner city cruising, freeway blasts, highway and back roads riding and the bike dealt well with all of it.
Wicking it up on a twisty road is quite rewarding, although that’s nothing new. Even back when I lived with my first Ultra in ‘05 the agility and side-to-side ability of the bike belied its size and girth. In 2014 it’s still remarkably agile for one so massive. No, really. It chucks around like it was half its size. Harley claims lean angles of close to 32 degrees.
Having enough pressure in the air adjustable rear suspension is critical to the handling over rough surfaces, but when dialled in, it works pretty well.
The front forks have been increased to 49mm diameter. They are another improvement, but the first (and possibly only) modification I would make on this bike would be to upgrade the front springs, but that’s more of a ‘Big’ Dave issue.
The rear tyre has remained a real-worldly 180 section and the new Impeller Cast Aluminium wheels suit the styling impeccably.
The Brembo 4-pot rotors front and rear on the ‘Reflex’ linked brakes with ABS are exactly what you would expect from Brembos. It was only on really hard stops on a congested freeway that I went anywhere near the rear brake pedal. For most applications it only needed two fingers.
There was one occasion when giving the bike a bit of workout on one of my favoured sports riding loops that the road turned from dry and sticky to wet and slippery without warning. To have the confidence to just grab a handful while wrangling almost 400kg (dry) at speed was much appreciated. Much appreciated.
The bike’s real element is out on the open road or rolling away the freeways and interstates. The 22.7 litre tank translates to a range of around 400km and ‘out there’ the bike’s relaxed and easy lope encourages hours in the saddle, for both rider and pillion. Co-pilot rates the rear accommodation as ‘outstandingly comfortable’.
We both appreciated the other little touches that have come with Project Rushmore.
If you have ever had to put whatever you wanted to stow in the panniers or top box of a Harley aside so you could open the (previously) cantankerous lids, you will enjoy the new one-touch latches.
The top box is also slimmer looking but has something of a ‘Tardis thing’ going on. It actually has slightly more storage capacity than previous models. It fits two helmets and change, easily.
I also appreciated the narrower profile air cleaner. Even with my long legs it didn’t need to be worked around. It’s just another of the many nice touches I came to really enjoy over the time I had the bike. The cigarette lighter has gone – replaced with a 12volt auxiliary power outlet in the fairing lower and included in the tool pouch that resides in the rear of the top box is a USB adapter plug to suit - just one of many examples of a nod to modern tech in this classic looking machine and another of the ‘Rushmore’ things that made me want to get on this bike and ride, and ride, and ride.
Bluster and hype aside, at $Au37,250 ‘Ride Away’ the Ultra Classic represents a significant investment in your motorcycle lifestyle goals.
But then, as Martin Tyler would have it: Oh! My. Goodness.
|Old School meets New for a Classic Beauty|
Harley-Davidson FLHTCU Electra Glide Ultra Classic
Type: Twin-Cooled™ High Output Twin Cam 103™
Displacement: 1690 cc (103.1 cu. in.)
Compression ratio: 10:1
Bore x stroke: 98.4 mm x 111.1 mm
Starting system: Electric
Engine management system:
Fuel system: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Clutch: Hydraulically actuated, 9 plate wet, with high performance spring
Transmission: 6-speed Cruise Drive®
Final drive: Belt, 32/68 ratio
Type: Mild steel; tubular frame; two-piece stamped and welded backbone; cast and forged junctions; twin downtubes; bolt-on rear frame with forged fender supports; MIG welded
Swingarm: Mild steel; two-piece drawn and welded section; forged junctions; MIG welded
Front suspension: 49 mm telescopic
Rear suspension: Air-adjustable full travel air ride
Brakes: 32 mm, 4-piston Brembo Dual floating rotors (front), R – Fixed rotor
Wheels: Contrast Chrome Impeller Cast Aluminum
Tyres: F - D408F BW 130/80B17 65H
R: D407T BW 180/65B16 81H
Wheelbase: 1625 mm
Trail: 170 mm
LxWxH: 2600 mm x 960 mm x 1440 mm
Seat height: 740 mm
Dry weight: 395 kg
Fuel tank capacity: 22.7
Test bike: Harley-Davidson Australia.