2017 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra Review
Touring is synonymous with motorcycles; it’s an integral part of the riding experience. Nothing is as satisfying as simply grabbing a light bag, turning the key, and aiming in a direction. The destination, known or unknown, isn’t the most critical aspect - it is about how you’re getting there.
These thoughts percolated as I sat under the cloud-covered sky of the Pacific Northwest, eyeing down the silver-tinged 2017 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra.
Commanding and iconic in lineage, the Road Glide is one of the most venerable touring platforms that the Bar and Shield brand has to offer. I'm in Washington for the latest addition to the storied touring lineup—the Milwaukee-Eight engine series, the first major powerplant redesign since 1999.
It’s difficult not to be enamored with the Road Glide Ultra’s air- and liquid-cooled, four-valve heart, with its claimed 114 ft/lbs of torque at 3250 rpm. The Twin-Cooled Milwaukee-Eight 107 powerplant is the centerpiece of a truly capable machine, and the improvements don’t only extend to the performance end. Those improvements trickle down into aspects of the bike that many riders might take for granted.
Let’s start with the most important aspect of an American twin—the power. Spec sheets are deceptive, and the Twin-Cooled Milwaukee-Eight 107 is undeniably lion-hearted in nature. From the depths of the rpm range, torque can be felt, pulling all the way through to a rev-limiter that I, despite my best efforts, found more than once.
Roaring through all six gears of the assist-and-slip clutch is remarkable. While clutch pull has been reduced this year—and it is lighter—it still takes a good amount of effort.
Undoubtedly, Harley-Davidson engineers put an incredible amount of effort into the new engine platform, and they had a tall order to fill—meet modern consumer and EPA standards while still satisfying their core audience, and the core audience for any sub-culture can be vocal.
That’s quite a conundrum, one that many manufacturers struggle with when attempting to advance their lines. H-D seems to have satisfied all of the points that the market didn’t just ask for, but demanded.
The rubber-mounted, counterbalanced twin retains all of the qualities that you’d expect from the American twin stalwarts. Big-inch Harley-Davidsons have long been associated with a cacophony of gearhead joy—in fact, it is what turned me on to the idea of motorcycles in the first place.
Harley toiled over the balance of satisfying market demands without alienating its base—those who preferred the unrefined qualities that H-D offered. Engine vibration has been dramatically reduced, which many non-Harley riders found to be limiting. Still, the Twin-Cooled Milwaukee-Eight 107 remains decidedly authentic.
Engine noise has been reduced, allowing engineers to further aid the more than hearty exhaust note pouring out of the 2-1-2 pipes. I encourage dedicated brand enthusiasts, as well as those who have stood in staunch opposition, to try out the new engine platform. Your perspective will be changed, no matter which side of the fence you cast stones from.
Touring is a staple of American riding. We certainly have the landmass for it. Even better, we have the ever-changing scenery. When the idea of gobbling up thousands of miles comes to mind, there aren’t a whole lot of bikes that fit the bill. Certainly, any bike will do, but if you’re going to do something, at least make the effort to do it right.
The 2017 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra is, without a doubt, one of the premier touring platforms. A plush 29-inch seat meets any rider who crosses its path, along with comfortable swept bars and an upright riding position that isn’t taxing in the least. After spending two days roaming the Washington back country, it became apparent that its touring chops are intrinsic to the platform.
One of the main sources of contention regarding the previous Harley platforms was that the wide engine bottom end conflicted with those who have shorter statures. Flat-footing at lights and maneuvering the 929-pound (claimed wet) Road Glide Ultra seemed like more than just a precarious prospect to the uninitiated.
However, thanks to a slimmed down primary cover, as well as a redesigned 55mm throttle body that utilizes a lower profile air-cleaner, my 5’ 8’’ self was happily propping up the Road Glide with some sure footed confidence that was only upset by slick, rain covered roads.
I’ve certainly sung the praises of Harley’s dedication to its engine. That’s all well and good, but Harley also has solved one of its worst offending design qualities—the suspension. All of the 2017 touring models are making use of the commendable Showa Dual Bending Valve forks featuring 4.6 inches of travel on the Road Glide Ultra. In the rear, emulsion shocks with adjustable spring-preload is available—no tools necessary.
For many, the complaint from cruiser critics was how insufficient the rear shocks were. Those days, I can proudly proclaim, appear to be a thing of the past. Easily adjustable when the bags are removed, the rear shock features plenty of spring-preload adjustment, depending on the model in question. This tweak has solved the problem of lower back punishment. During my scenic routes, I actively sought out rough spots, areas of the road that I previously would have avoided like the bubonic plague. For a rider of my weight, there isn’t a fear of running out of suspension and bottoming them out when put to the test.
The Road Glide Ultra truly lives up to its name with suspension that is suited for a wide variety of styles and conditions. Under heavy braking, the front end soaked up inputs with ease and kept me true.
Additionally, the iconic shark-nose fairing does an impeccable job of deflecting both wind and rain. A rider might be exposed to the elements, especially when that rider is traveling from state to state, but rest assured, you'll have a lot more in the way of creature comforts than most other two-wheeled enthusiasts.
A competent touring motorcycle needs to be more than powerful and comfortable; it also needs to handle well. Describing a bike as large as the 2017 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra as nimble might seem like a bit of a misnomer, but for its class, it can lean into corners beautifully.
The long 64-inch wheelbase aids in true feeling of confidence, even for the uninitiated. While trotting through one of the many national parks in the Pacific Northwest, ingesting the evergreen scenery, I was more than content. Though, a spirited rider will be keen to note that they’ll still be whittling away at the comfortable floorboards.
Ample storage space allows any rider to carry a number of belongings, making sure that you’re well prepared on any trip, though the radiators do take up a bit of what used to be storage area. This year, Harley took the time to update the mounting systems for the side bags. On the 2017 models, you’ll now discover much more intuitive mounting fixtures.
Harley states that the Ultra’s collective luggage capacity is 4.7 cubic feet. It is worth noting that all luggage is waterproof, something much appreciated for touring.
On some level, I have to applaud that degree of dedication because I’m fairly certain political campaigns hand that stuff out like a van full of candy. While all of that is engaging, I also realized that I needed to break down racial barriers while testing the Boom! Box 6.5GT audio system. For that task, I blared the ballads of Mexican singer, Vincente Fernández.
On the proud multicultural Road Glide Ultra I rolled, with Chente helping me along and, on some level, America. All joking aside, the touchscreen dashboard is incredibly user friendly. This is quite rare in the performance motorcycle world where menu screens are often a place full of mystery, confusion, and rage until you've mastered the non-intuitive process. Both the touchscreen and handlebar buttons make for a pleasant experience all around.
The 2017 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra also features an upgraded charging system that can support numerous other devices, should you choose to use them. The standard navigation system, not unlike the rest of the dash functions, is quite easy to use.
For a bike of its size, I must give kudos to the engineers that have created a touring machine that can come to a halt in a hurry. The 300mm dual rotors up front, and the 300mm disc out back, do some serious heavy-lifting when bringing the mighty Ultra to a halt. Brake feel is firm, but in no way undesirable.
At the lever you’ll find a more precise feel, and it doesn’t require that much input to begin slowing. More importantly, I didn’t feel I ever rode the Ultra beyond its braking potential. It took considerable effort to engage the ABS while riding on dry surfaces. The front and rear brakes are linked, meaning that the bike will react to your braking efforts, even if you fixate exclusively on the brake pedal.
Touring bikes are in a class of their own—they’re the juggernauts of the moto world. They are the motorcycles built to last, and built to see more in a year than most riders see in a lifetime. With upgrades—both smart and major—that have had the intended consequence, the 2017 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra continues to improve with age.
Photography by Riles & Nelson
- Helmet: Shoei RF-1200
- Jacket: Held Harvey 76
- Gloves: Tour Master Summer Elite 3
- Jeans: Pando Moto – Karl Indigo
- Boots: TCX X-Blend Waterproof
2017 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra Specifications
Motor: Single cam, pushrod V-twin; 4vpc
Bore x stroke: 3.937" x 4.375”
Displacement: 107 cubic inches (1746cc)
Maximum torque: 114 ft/lbs @ 3250 rpm
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Cooling: Air and liquid
Fuel system: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection
Lubrication: Dry sump
Transmission: 6-speed Cruise Drive
Clutch: Hydraulically actuated assist-and-slip
Primary drive: Chain
Final drive: Belt
Frame: Mild tubular steel w/ two-piece stamped and welded backbone
Front suspension: Showa 49mm Dual Bending Valve
Rear suspension: Emulsion shock w/ hand-adjustable spring-preload
Front tire: 130/80-17; Dunlop Harley-Davidson D408F
Rear tire: 180/65-16; Dunlop Harley-Davidson D407T
Wheels: Cast aluminum Impeller
Front brakes: 320mm floating rotors w/ four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 320mm fixed rotor w/ four-piston caliper
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
L x H x W: 101.2 x 56.5 x 36.3 inches
Wheelbase: 64 inches
Seat height (laden): 27.2 inches
Seat height (unladen): 29.0 inches
Rake: 26 degrees
Fork angle: 29.3 degrees
Trail: 6.7 inches
Right lean angle: 31.9 degrees
Left lean angle: 31.8 degrees
Fuel capacity: 6 gallons
EPA estimated fuel consumption: 43 mpg
Curb weight: 929 pounds
Colors: Vivid Black; Black Quartz; Billet Silver/Vivid Black; Mysterious Red Sunglo/Velocity Red Sunglow; Black Hills Gold/Black Quartz; Bonneville Blue/Fathom Blue.
2017 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra Prices MSRP: $26,299 (Vivid Black); $26,899 (Black Quartz); $27,399 (two-tone); $27,599 (Bonneville Blue/Fathom Blue).
2017 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra Review - Photo Gallery