2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic Test
Celebrating the occasion of Harley-Davidson’s 111th year of doing business, the Motor Company is rolling out more new models in 2014 than in any year in history.
Prompting the large turnover of machines is Project Rushmore, an effort to revolutionize the Harley-Davidson touring experience. I’ll reveal my partisanship right at the start — I’m a big Harley-Davidson rider.
I have owned and been riding Harleys for over 20 years and currently own a 2010 Electra Glide Ultra Classic. Like many of us, as I have gotten a little older, touring motorcycles are the machines that provide comfort, room for luggage on longer trips, and performance. Living between Denver and Colorado Springs, I ride throughout the year.
However, my biggest ride of the year is one I take annually with seven of my buddies. We have been riding as a group for about eight years, and each year we put together an eight-day ride, racking up over 3000 miles. The route for each trip usually stays within the western states, so climate changes and roads are a constant change through our rides.
Project Rushmore is aimed at a rider just like me. These new motorcycles —eight bikes in Harley’s Touring, Trike, and CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) ranges — are seriously reworked, with design and riding enhancements.
The most attention-grabbing news, certainly, is the new Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103 motor used in the Electra Glide Ultra Limited and Tri Glide. When I first heard about this system—which uses liquid to cool the cylinder heads (specifically the exhaust valve areas) — all I could think of was a big radiator placed in front of the engine, creating a very un- Harleylike eyesore.
Thanks to the fairing lowers, which are now not removable for summertime riding, the engineers were able to retain the integrity of the Harley-Davidson look, while still offering a new cooling system and performance upgrade.
The two radiators are cleverly and stealthily placed inside the fairing lowers so you cannot tell there is a liquid-cooling system at all. There are also two hidden hoses that attach to each cylinder head under the tank, so it is an exceptionally clean design that offers top engine performance and less heat to the rider due to the cooler-running head.
The issue of liquid cooling the Harley-Davidson pushrod motors (the SOHC V-Rod has been liquid-cooled since its inception a decade ago) will always be a source of controversy for the traditionalists. However, with ever-tightening emissions restrictions and our thirst for more power, it is as inevitable as electric starting became in the 1980s. This first implementation of liquid cooling is impressively unobtrusive.
Less flashy, though still a significant advance, the 2014 Road King, two Street Glides, as well the Electra Glide Ultra Classic I tested, have a new traditionally air-cooled High Output Twin Cam 103 engine, which incorporates a new cam and high-flow airbox (with a strikingly modern design) that provide an increase in horsepower and, more importantly, low-rpm torque.
The claimed five-percent bump in torque is particularly noticeable on the Ultra Classic when passing from the range of 60 to 80 mph, hitting the sweet spot when dropping down into 5th gear. This enhancement, along with the new hydraulic clutch (perhaps another hard pill for the diehards to swallow) that offers consistent engagement, means that downshifts and subsequent upshifts are smooth and reliable at all speeds. A nice bonus of the hydraulic actuation is that it requires no more effort at the lever, yet the rate of the clutch springs has been increased.
An unheralded, yet immediately noticeable improvement is the High Output motor’s smoothness at idle, particularly at the handlebars, compared to my ’10 edition. Anyone who objected to earlier iterations of the Twin Cam will be happily surprised.
Another mold-breaking innovation from Project Rushmore is the new Reflex Linked Brakes, with integrated ABS. As the name suggests, the brakes are linked, but it is a bit more sophisticated than that.
The Reflex system is independent when braking is initiated at speeds below 20 mph, where many people prefer the ability to use front or rear brake only.
Above 25 mph, the Reflex system applies force to all three calipers when either the brake lever or pedal is actuated. Once initiated, the brakes continue to be linked until they are released, even as you come to a stop.
You might be wondering what happens between 20 and 25 mph?
In that case, it depends on how hard the brakes are applied. Harder braking puts the Reflex into action, while a gentler application keeps the calipers independent.
Testing the Reflex Linked Brakes at various speeds left me very pleased. While some may bemoan the lost of full control, it would take a highly skilled hand to manually out-brake the linked binders.
In casual use, the Reflex system is completely invisible. Up the speed and the linkage distributes the braking power to both the front and back brakes in such a way that sits the Ultra Classic down, rather than getting the front-end push down of the bike. This provides much better stopping or slow down control either on the highway or prior to turns, as needed.
When maneuvering in a parking lot, I don’t want front brake when the front wheel is turned, and the new system allows me that freedom of choice when I really need it. ABS is there when things get wet or otherwise traction-challenged; consider me a believer in the Reflex Linked Brakes with ABS combination.
A faster motor with fully linear power output and improved braking means that it is both possible and safer to ride the Ultra Classic at an advanced pace, when desired. The invitingly twisting roads in Colorado do nudge even the most casual of cruisers to lean it in a bit more from time to time. The Rushmore Project addressed this with all-new forks.
Beefed-up from 43mm to 49mm, the increased diameter is just part of the story. Inside, there are larger fork sliders, and the damping is softened up to camouflage the smallest of highway irregularities. Outside, stiffer triple clamps give you an enhanced feel of the road and make the front end more predictably responsive.
The Rocky Mountains are not particularly forgiving of inferior handling or suspension. On my 2010, this is the one area that concerned me when riding at aggressive speeds through turns. The 2010 seems to be a little loose with front-end wobble and unstable tracking when loaded down, even with proper air in the tires and shocks.
The Rushmore Project front end on the Ultra Classic makes an undeniably noticeable difference in the corners. On the ’14, the front-end feels more like a performance motorcycle on twist- ing roads than a full-on tourer.
This improvement carries over into straight-line function. My 2010 Ultra Classic never seemed like a wanderer to me, but it is nowhere near as solid at the higher highway speeds that the High Output Twin Cam 103 encourages me to cruise at.
The Touring frame introduced in ’09 started the job of upgrading the handling of Harleys in this class, and the new front-end continues the improvement. Add a pair of aftermarket Öhlins HD 159 shocks and you are absolutely set.
Higher speeds mean more pressure, literally, on the fairing. Introduced last year on the CVOs (and not part of Project Rush- more), the latest iteration of the Batwing fairing—recontoured for the first time since the 1990s — includes the Splitstream vent that gathers air just below the windscreen.
While I can’t numerically confirm Harley’s claim of a 20-percent reduction in wind buffeting, I felt considerably less head buffeting with the vent open, and it helps maintain a smooth ride.
While the vent can be closed in the rain, I did not receive any additional rain on me with the vent open when riding through precipitation. For you beard growers, this is a huge benefit!
Embedded into the fairing is the new Daymaker LED Lighting. With one headlamp lens pushing light down low for normal riding, and another flooding far into the distance, the bright white light punctures the darkest of nights. The twin fog lights are also LEDs, adding to daytime visibility — a great safety feature.
Behind the new fairing, Harley-Davidson took advantage of the opportunity to update the dashboard. Larger gauges with wider numbers reduce eye fatigue, especially among the far-sighted.
The Jukebox media compartment, and its USB cord, connects and protects smartphones and MP3 players, while the Boom! Box 4.3 audio system is Bluetooth-compatible. Step up to the optional Boom! Box 6.5 GT package, and you get a touch screen that makes operation easier—which I highly recommend—and you have the option of voice control for phone calls, plus the integrated GPS and radio.
There is also a new design with left and right joysticks for easy adjustments of the entire system while keeping both hands in position while riding. Additionally, there are prewired buttons for easy power add-ons. One-Touch convenience is a big push on the new Ultra Classic, and I like it. The fairing lowers, Jukebox door, fuel tank door, and, importantly, the Tour-Pak and saddlebags, can all be opened at the touch of a finger.
Being the dedicated tourer that it is, Harley-Davidson put considerable effort into updating the Ultra Classic’s cargo carrying capabilities. The Tour-Pak is sleeker in design, yet provides a touch more storage capacity, upgraded hinges, integrated locks, and self-centering alignment. For a very nice, clean look in the back, the rear LED stop, turn and position lights are all integrated into the Tour-Pak. As a bonus, they are also more visible.
When off for over a week, ease of packing is critical for me, and the new Ultra Classic is a big step forward. The saddlebags’ contour design offers more packable space, and they have an inner latch which is easy to open and close while sitting on the bike — a convenience for which I hadn’t even thought to ask.
The saddlebag support system has been reworked, giving the back of the bike a narrower and more stylish look. This is complemented by the low-profile front fender that has a more streamlined shape. The photos hardly do the new Ultra Classic justice — it is a beautiful machine.
Harley did not forget about the passenger, of course. The rear seat is two inches wider and longer with the addition of more lumbar support, an improved armrest position and more legroom.
As a fully satisfied owner of a 2010 Electra Glide Ultra Classic, I hadn’t felt any need to upgrade just yet. My long trips have been enjoyed in comfort and style, and that is exactly what I want in a touring bike.
However, the 2014 edition is an astounding leap forward. The Project Rushmore improvements are staggering in their scope, as well as their success. With 100 new additions and changes throughout the motorcycle, Harley-Davidson did an outstanding job of integrating them into a seemingly flawless whole.
I cannot find anything that I would change, or would need to add, as an owner. That was not the case on the 2010, as many of the new 2014 features were upgrades bike owners routinely put on their older bikes. Additional refinements have improved convenience and appearance, making this a better motorcycle in every way.
I suppose I should be a bit more circumspect about praising the 2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic; after all, I’m going to have to sell my ’10 to make room for it in my garage and I want to get top dollar. Regardless, this is a motorcycle that I must own.
Photography by Riles & Nelson
- Helmet: H-D Generations Hybrid 1/2 Helmet
- Eyewear: Wiley X HD Gem
- Jacket: H-D Men’s Beginnings Leather
- Gloves: H-D Burning Skull Touchscreen Tech
- Jeans: H-D Genuine MotorClothes
- Boots: H-D Lynx Performance
Story from the November/December issue of Ultimate MotorCycling magazine. For a digital version, click here.