As free time becomes ever-more elusive, we find ourselves drawn to extraordinary experiences that fully exploit that precious luxury. And while piloting the latest motorcycle to roll out of Willie G. Davidson’s Custom Vehicle Operations, it quickly becomes evident that the 2006 H-D Screamin’ Eagle Ultra Classic answers this need. As I rumble through New York’s picturesque Hudson River Valley, cruising through small towns before powering back onto sinuous back roads, the powerful, luxurious Ultra Classic reveals itself as a head-turning custom built for long-distance touring. With one of the sweetest, smoothest power plants on two wheels, a slick-shifting gear box, and a competent chassis, the bike also benefits from creature comforts: a broad, comfortable seat, well-placed footboards, and handlebars that allow you to sit up straight without reaching. The large fairing and leg shields provide decent wind protection. The only reasons for stopping are for fuel or food—or to admire the scenery.
Especially considering its small size, even within the context of Harley-Davidson, the 32-member Custom Vehicle Operations team, which brings Willie G.’s visions to reality, has had a broad impact on motorcycling. Starting in 1999 with 900 carefully customized FXRs, the department has broadened its scope to offer four models for 2006. The group will produce 12,000 Ultra Classics this year, 4,000 each of three colors: Black Emerald with Majestic Green Pearl, Black Candy Crimson with Charcoal Slate, and Autumn Haze with Vivid Black.
Custom Vehicle Operations aims the Ultra Classic squarely at the rider who wants a custom motorcycle, but who doesn’t care to waste valuable riding time waiting for one-off work. From its stunning custom-painted gas tank, to its ostrich-skin seat and leather-bound tour pack luggage system, every aspect of the bike is luxe. Elements such as extra chrome and a color-matched fairing inset that holds beautifully turned metal-faced gauges create a distinctly custom feel. The wheels shoot off bursts of sunlight from their polished surfaces, and the chrome front-end augments the light show. Custom floorboards—the vertical lines matched in the gas tank cover—complement the custom passenger footboards and handgrips. The list goes on, details which put the CVO Ultra Classic in a class by itself.
The Custom Vehicle Operations team used the venerable Electra Glide platform—which dates to 1965—and applied its customizing talents to extract serious real-world performance from the magical Screamin’ Eagle 103 cu in powerplant. This larger engine yields a 20 percent power increase over the stock 1,450cc Twin Cam ’88 unit, which is apparent as soon as you drop the hydraulic clutch lever. Minimalist and elegant, the silver powder-coated engine makes tasteful use of chrome.
Pulling away from rest with relaxed authority, the big twin accelerates strongly and smoothly until the rev limiter shuts everything down at 5,800 rpm. As with the standard engine, the big V-twin is lively on idle, energetically moving around in the frame as its bigger pistons thump up and down in their longer stroke. Speed them up to a little over 2,000 rpm and the engine turns smoothly, with barely any vibration noticeable through the bars or floorboards until approaching redline.
On the open road, 70 mph comes up at 3,500 rpm in fourth gear; clicking up into top gear drops the tachometer needle by 500 rpm, for a more relaxed feel. At these speeds, overtaking requires only a twist of the light throttle—although in fast maneuver, dropping a gear is always entertaining. Whichever route you take, the fuel injected V-twin performs perfectly. It takes only a few miles to become addicted to the big Screamin’ Eagle engine.
The Ultra Classic has extremely light steering and good handling for a heavy cruiser. Despite useful amounts of ground clearance, hard parts will still touch down, but only when the pace gets spirited. As with all Harleys, the brakes do leave something to be desired, but a strong pull on the lever and full use of the strong rear unit will reward the rider with adequate stopping power.
Blessed with unique style and character, the Ultra Classic responds readily to the call of the open road. Along the way you will appreciate such accoutrements as a quality sound system with a satellite radio and a CD player, a passenger-to-passenger intercom, and a CB radio, in addition to cruise control, a heated seat, and heated handlebar grips. All you need is a distant horizon. And, of course, the time to go and chase it.