2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited Test
The newest edition to the Ultimate MotorCycling garage is Harley-Davidson’s 2014 Utra Limited with its new water-cooled 103 power plant. And this baby has it all – all 900 pounds of it.
I figured this would be a fun ride and a terrific excuse to head out to the mountains, more than 70 miles north of Ojai, Calif., and then loop through the hills surrounding the area where long vistas offer nothing but open space. Our Southern California weather has been boringly perfect with bright sun and temperatures in the mid-70s – I needed some change.
It’s easy to relax and ride the Ultra Limited – all the while accompanied by satellite/AM/FM radio, 4-channel stereo, CB, GPS, intercom, Bluetooth, phone, cruise and more. If you’re an analog rider with simple tastes this may be where you sign off. But if you think that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, then this might be the bike for you.
My ride today would be a bit different than most. Why? I carried a small but powerful Amateur Radio transceiver the size of a deck of cards. Events in the past made me curious to know whether I could make contact with the outside world – 50 miles or more from the nearest cell phone tower.
What is immediately apparent, once rolling, is that the Ultra remains, most definitely, a Harley. One can comfortably cruise all day on it but will never confuse it with any metric touring bike. Riders stay connected to every nuance of the road, and the feel is nice but never plush. I reckon that’s why aficionados will buy these machines.
In its favor, and compared to earlier models, this chassis and suspension setup allow for fast 80+ mph sweepers without drama. And the brakes, linked front and back to the rear-brake pedal, do an admirable job slowing this mass of American ingenuity. Harley’s Ultra Limited loves the freeway and exhibits no wander or instability.
At speed the well protected rider will sample a bit of wind buffeting, but that is mitigated by the vent below the windshield, which helps to equalize pressure. Even wrung out at 99 mph, the bike was comfortable and stable in a straight line. On this flat section of road I was unable to exceed the Ton.
For all you techies, the entertainment and navigation system controls were quite intuitive, and I didn’t need the manual to figure out how to operate the functions. I found the screen resolution a bit grainy, especially when viewing the map that – in populated areas – also displays many, many icons for businesses. They were distracting and made reading the map more difficult. I could not find a way to turn them off nor could I get an estimate of time or mileage to my destination, and there is no altimeter.
The entertainment system allows integration with your Bluetooth headset or through the four speaker system, which does produce a nice sound, and plenty of it. It will pair with your smartphone, and yields a fairly complete package. I didn’t have the necessary helmet electronics to operate the CB radio but controls for all CB and other functions look good, are well placed and easy to use.
Overall build quality is very high with deep, lustrous paint and smooth chrome. The bodywork is first-class and the top case and side panniers are solidly made and well-engineered with excellent latches and locks.
Be prepared to make appointments for U-turns, avoid any sand, stay on pavement wherever possible, and plan your moves as this behemoth can often take more to control at slow speeds than just planting your boots firmly on the ground.
All-in-all, the 2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited delivers on its promise to be the Motor Company’s top-of-the-line touring bike (not counting their CVO machines), and my days with the Ultra were a delight.
Amateur Radio Footnote
I don’t know about you, but my buddies and I often travel to the back of beyond and, over the years, I have been on hand for wrecks and breakdowns in places where we are far from cellphone service. This is when one can only hope a car will pass by and its driver will make a call for help on your behalf once he reaches civilization.
Recently, and many decades after the end of my early-teens ham radio experience, my friend Lou showed me a modern handheld radio that was so cool looking, interesting and inexpensive that I purchased one online just to take a look at it and play around.
I knew that one good purpose for this type of radio was for emergency communication with the outside world in places where there are no cell phone signals nor much of any type of civilization.
It would have been a big help when Cocomo Joe blew the engine on his Triumph last summer at least 50 miles from the nearest phone. With no way to call for help all we could do was lock the bike and have him ride pillion all the way home. It might have been a lot easier had we been able to summon a tow truck with the aid of fellow hams (Amateur Radio operators) who could make that phone call.
I realized to complete the experience I needed a ham radio license, as mine had expired long before the first man had set foot on the moon. Fortunately, as with most things, I found a wealth of information online including study guides and practice tests.
I enrolled in a one-day class taught by a local ham group and, at the end of the day, passed the test for the Technician license which is good for 10 years and, while it is the lowest level license available, with certain restrictions as to power and usable frequencies, it allows operation on all the bands covered by the handheld unit I now owned.
I returned to a follow-up class the next week to learn more about the radios. During the week before this class I continued my online studies and upon returning I sat for the General license exam and passed. This upgraded license allows operators access to more power, bands and frequencies enabling operation and communication over greater distances. While not a requirement to do what I set out to accomplish it gives me more flexibility in the equipment I buy and more privileges of operation.
On my Ham on a Hog ride aboard the Ultra Limited I stopped four times in places that were far from civilization and, in each case, was able to make contact with the outside world. The first spot was where Joe broke down. Because these VHF/UHF radios work best with line-of-sight communications and have the greatest range with their antenna high up on a hill or mountain I had the hardest time in this valley location yet was able to get signal reports that were, at least, readable.
Fortunately, there is a wide network of repeater systems in operation throughout California as well as most of the country. These repeaters do just that and re-broadcast signals at much higher power than the small transceivers can output. Hams can dial up a repeater and, through its relay capabilities, reach other operators in places that would be impossible without them.
Further on, toward Cerro Noroeste (now called Hudson Ranch Road) and Pine Mountain, I was near the top of the hills and was able to reach a repeater in Paso Robles over 60 miles away. Later, on the other side of the hill, I reached a repeater in Yosemite over 150 miles away. Through this repeater I spoke to hams in Washington, Nevada and Texas. All on a 5-watt handheld radio that fits in a shirt pocket.
Hams are a helpful lot and had there been an emergency any of them would have been able to make a phone call to get assistance. Of course, there are Spot and other satellite transponders that are employed by those who travel alone or to out-of-the-way places and this is a good thing. My friends and readers already know that I am, basically, a techie and nerd, and an amateur radio transceiver is more to my liking and the uses, thereof, are myriad.
Whether you are camping, hiking, traveling or motorcycling, a two-way radio can be a lifesaver. If you want more information or want to see more stories on Amateur Radio let us know on our Facebook page or contact me online.
Jonathan Handler, KK6JBX
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