2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited Test
Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103. That is what Harley-Davidson calls its first foray into liquid cooling assistance for the iconic big-inch, air-cooled pushrod motor.
Part of the highly touted Mount Rushmore project for its Touring models, the Twin-Cooled motor is a glimpse into the future of Harley-Davidson. From here, the view looks great.
Beyond any shadow of a doubt, the 2014 Ultra Limited is a fabulous fully dressed touring motorcycle — far beyond any Harley dresser of the past. The newest iteration of the 103 is part of it, though not even the most important element. Truly, the success of the Mount Rushmore project is in the integration of a number of improvements into a triumphant whole.
If you have a pre-2009 Harley touring bike, you will be startled by the improvements. Two-thousand nine got the ball rolling with the new frame and swingarm, which improved stability significantly at higher speeds, as well as on runs through the hills.
Two-thousand twelve brought the Twin Cam 103 to the bike, another major upgrade. For the first time on the big dressers, the overdrive 6th gear became usable on something other than ruler flat roads, or downhills. General acceleration was also dramatically improved, making the big bikes easier to ride.
Project Rushmore ties up the package perfectly with changes that allow the Ultra Limited to run with any big touring cruiser. The Ultra Limited was a natural choice for the Twin-Cooled motor, as the small radiators are effectively hidden in the permanently mounted faux lower glove box assemblies on the engine guards. The placement looks good, as well as keeps the radiator weight down low.
Harley didn’t need to install huge radiators on the bike, as only the exhaust valves area of the cylinder heads are liquid- cooled. Although it is described as Twin-Cooled, the 103 is actually triple-cooled, as the 103 also has an integrated oil cooler.
The second part of the new motor name is High Output, and just as the Twin Cam 103 was a step up from the 96, the High Output version of the Twin-Cooled motor is a tremendous improvement. By allowing Harley engineers to boost the compression, the torque needed for passing, or for steep grades, is there thanks to a claimed peak increase of nearly 11-percent over the previous standard 103. Also adding to the power boost is a new cam and higher flow airbox.
Even though you will be using it less, it is nice that the heel/toe operated 6-speed Cruise Drive changes ratios with a click, rather than a clunk. As a bonus, an LCD display tells you what gear you are in.
With the additional power, the Ultra Limited truly feels ready for the fastest open highways. Before, when you were traveling at the nation’s highest speed limit — 85 mph on the MoPac Expressway in Texas — the amount of pull in reserve seemed only adequate.
The Twin-Cooled High Output motor gives you the big-inch roll-on power you want (and arguably need) in a high-speed, open-road touring bike. Downshifts are now optional in conditions where they once were mandatory. Whether or not your sensibilities are offended by liquid cooling, this new motor is a serious enhancement to the touring experience; it is just that sort of performance that will win over a great many skeptics.
With more power on tap, Harley-Davidson could not stand pat with the existing chassis. When the frame and swingarm were strengthened, the weak point became the front end. Harley has fixed that with new, 49mm forks (replacing puny 43mm units) and stronger triple clamps to grip them. Larger bearings were added to the steering stem to accommodate the increased load now being transferred.
As much fun as the Twin-Cooled High Output 103 motor is to talk about and experience, the beefed up front end may be the most important development to come out of Mount Rushmore. Previously, the Ultra Limited was vague on the highway, unless the road was perfect. In corners, it demanded prudence from the rider.
Well, those days are over. The new Ultra Limited front end, along with the latest frame, feels like a completely different motorcycle. Now rock solid on straight roads with uneven pavement, the Ultra Limited is less fatiguing to ride. You do not fight the bike — you just ride it and enjoy it.
If you like a bit of speed in your rides on winding backroads, the Ultra Limited is willing to accommodate you for the first time. You can actually stuff it into turns, and the front-end feel — from the forks to the specialty 130mm 17-inch front Dunlop — gives you all the confidence you need. Yes, the Ultra Limited weighs almost 900 pounds gassed up, but it is willing to accede to the wishes of those interested in making time on challenging roads.
The 26-degree rake of the frame, matched with offset triple clamps that push the forks out to an angle just over 29-degrees, is a perfect match of stability and agility. Additionally, the 180mm rear Dunlop strikes an excellent balance.
With you likely going faster, the new Reflex Linked Brakes with ABS became a necessity. The linkage system is trans- parent, though the ABS still announces itself when activated. If you have only rid- den an ’08 or earlier H-D tourer, you will be shocked.
Another piece of the handling puzzle is the new Splitstream fork-mounted Batwing fairing. Previous versions of the big tourer were okay, but could shake the front end in crosswinds. Having taken the new Ultra Limited out on very windy days in the desert, we can say that the problem has been eliminated for the most part.
Sure, the hardest wind at just the wrong angle will catch the Splitstream fairing. However, it happens much less often, and the results are less severe. On warmer days, a vent can be opened to add airflow to the rider without disrupting the ride. The guys at the wind tunnel deserve major kudos.
Behind the fairing, which has a windshield at just the right height to look over, yet still get protection, are excellent ergonomics. The matching of the seat, bars, and floorboards is flawless — compact for good control, yet comfortable all day.
Put it all together and you have a superior Harley-Davidson tourer — the kind of bike few people even thought to dream about. It will authentically cruise at 100 mph, take fast sweepers at speeds near that, pass that SUV on a steep incline with ease and no downshifting, and require much less effort than before to do anything you ask. And, it does all this without losing its essential Harley-Davidson character.
There is even more from the Mount Rushmore team. The One Touch Design Tour-Pak makes opening the sidebags a piece of cake—just flip a lever. The Day-maker LED headlight increases your visibility in the day and lights up the road after sunset. Harley has upsized the gauges, though I would still rather see a clock than a battery readout.
You also get the Boom! Box 6.5GT audio system, which sounds better without a helmet, and we wear helmets. The touchscreen works with normal gloves on, though the GPS display could use a software update — it is not intuitive, and you don’t want to have to think about it when riding.
There are few words that strike fear in the hearts of the Harley-Davidson faithful more than “liquid cooling.” Since the 1980s, the Milwaukee traditionalists have had to bend with the winds of change, from the loss of kickstarting to the routine implementation of EFI and ABS.
While some stalwarts may grumble, the advantages of technology have made Harley-Davidson motorcycles more fun to ride and more enjoyable to own. Yes, some people mourn the loss of toolkits — we celebrate that one is no longer necessary. When most people set off on a ride, they like to be fairly certain the bike will be able to return home under its own power.
The 2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited is the latest beneficiary of technology’s largess, and the result is nothing less than a redefinition of touring on a bike from The Motor Company.
- Helmet: H-D Generations Hybrid 1/2 Helmet
- Eyewear: Wiley X
- Jacket: H-D Men’s Beginnings Leather g
- Gloves: H-D Burning Skull Touchscreen Tech
- Jeans: H-D Genuine MotorClothes
- Boots: H-D Lynx Performance
Photography by Tom Riles
Story from the March/April issue of Ultimate MotorCycling magazine. For subscription services, click here.