When the Motor Company introduced the Road Glide Ultra as a new model for 2011, and we had a short ride on it at the latest model introduction, I knew it deserved a full test. By combining the regular Road Glide with the large Tour Pack trunk used on the Electra Glide Ultra, it created a comfortable touring model with a frame-mounted fairing that aids stability and blocks the harsh winds of highway travel.
For the 2011 standard (non-CVO) Road Glide models, the Motor Company has unveiled its Twin Cam 103, which is over-bored from 3.750 inches to 3.875 inches, compared with the previous TC96. Harley-Davidson does not offer a horsepower number, but rates the 103's peak torque at 102 lb-ft at 3,500 rpm, for a 9.6 percent gain over the 96-incher. The 103-cubic-inch Twin Cam is part of the Power Pak, which also includes anti-lock braking system (ABS) and the Smart Security System with hands-free arming and disarming functions.
Harley-Davidson decided to keep the TC96 for the remaining Big Twin line (Road King, Electra Glide Classic and Ultra Classic, plus Softail and Dyna series). However, you can special order the TC103 engine package on certain Touring models (FLHX and FLTRX) by ordering the Power Pak upgrade. It's been our experience that H-D introduces changes like this on a limited basis for a year or so to try them out, then offers them as standard a year later. Don't be surprised if other models get the TC103 for 2012.
On the road there is a noticeable and welcome increase in power, and the motor has a nice sound. The bigger 103 engine pulls strongly on long, steep grades even when fully loaded and two-up. Riders have complained about the heat coming from the big engines, particularly since H-D introduced oxygen sensors and feedback fuel injection on the TC96 models. Harley's engineers have developed a unique software strategy called Engine Idle Temperature Management Systems (EITMS) that shuts off the rear cylinder when idling in hot weather to reduce the heat expelled near the rider. It can be activated by turning the twistgrip in the closed direction at idle.
A cable-actuated wet clutch connects the TC103 to the upgraded six-speed gearbox. It's been revised for less gear noise, and it works well through the gears, with quick, sure shifts. Neutral can be a little tricky to access sometimes, however, and the tranny makes a loud clack when engaging first gear from neutral. Tall gearing in sixth makes for pleasant high-speed touring and the ratios match the engine's output. The rear wheel hub's Isolated Drive System also effectively controls vibration and noise in the belt final drive.
Chassis and Handling
An upgraded, stiffer frame was added in 2009, and this continues to provide a more secure, stable ride and handling. A conventional non-adjustable fork handles the bumps up front, while a steel swingarm with dual shocks and air-adjustable preload carries the load aft. There is an air valve between the saddlebag and rear fender for setting pressure. Most of the time the ride feels plush and controlled, but with only three inches of total rear-wheel travel, large bumps overwhelm the suspension. There's definitely room for improvement.
Braking is strong and effective, with dual-front discs and Brembo four-piston front calipers. Rear braking is via a car-style pedal, connected to a single rear four-piston caliper. ABS is standard, and it works well, only activating when it's needed and saving the day when all is otherwise lost.
Another change made in 2009 is the fatter 180-width rear tire, using Dunlop's D407 Multi-Tread rear tire, which was developed exclusively for Harley's big touring machines. It has harder compounds near the center for longer wear, with softer rubber on the sides for better cornering grip. The Dunlops grip well and feel more planted than the previous smaller tires. Once you're underway, handling seems lighter than expected, although you can feel the high center of gravity, especially when the trunk is loaded with heavy gear. On the highway the bike is stable and rock steady.
Features and Ergonomics
The frame-mounted fairing aids stability, especially in crosswinds and when passing large vehicles. Additionally, the tall stock windscreen and fairing effectively block the wind on the rider without buffeting. Vented fairing lowers allow the rider to adjust airflow somewhat, depending on temperature.
The saddles on all 2011 Touring models were re-shaped for added comfort, and the deeply sculpted seats for the Ultra models have additional lower-back support, while a narrower forward section makes it easier for riders to place their feet firmly on terra firma during stops. The low 29.1-inch seat height makes the bike accessible to shorter riders, but the big machine's heft means you better have fairly strong legs to hold it upright when maneuvering while parking or when stopped. Passenger accommodations are quite plush, with a nice backrest, small armrests, and adjustable footboards. There's also a connector for headset communicators.
Automotive-style analog gauges, including separate tach, speedo, fuel, voltage, oil pressure, and ambient temperature, keep the rider informed. Electronic cruise control is standard, and it holds speed spot on, which is wonderful on road trips. The Harmon-Kardon stereo system includes AM/FM, weatherband, CD, MP3, intercom, CB and a clock, but you'll need optional headsets to talk on it. With four speakers - two in the front fairing, two on the Tour Pak - you can hear the audio system even at 80 mph plus.
The big news on the Ultra is the Tour Pak trunk, which can swallow up a weekend's worth of luggage for a trip or two full-face helmets when you are parked. It's one of the largest trunks on the market, and it's user friendly, too, although ours took a little fiddling to align the lid when closing. Harley's traditional hard saddlebags are hard to beat. They hold a lot, are easy to operate, and keep the rain out.
This is a competent, long-distance touring machine that does its job well. With a big six-gallon tank, it can run more than 200 miles between fill-ups, and thanks to the bike's overall comfort you can run through several tanks in a day. It's not cheap, but these big touring machines tend to hold their value well, and this is one of the best ones from the Motor Company, ever.
Road Glide Ultra Accessories
Harley-Davidson's accessory catalog is the size of a large phone book, and we decided to sample a few of the goodies on our test of the Road Glide Ultra. The first item was the smoke-tinted Wind Splitter Windshield, no. 57166-10 ($ 159.95), which only takes a couple of minutes to install with a screwdriver. It's cut down considerably from the stock screen for a custom look, and it provides a noticeable increase in airflow over the rider, but without buffeting. This is welcome in hot weather, but you'll want to keep the old one for when the weather turns cold.
Speaking of cold, we added a Touring Seat with Heat, no. 52000004, which goes for a heady $ 899.95. It looks stock, fits perfectly, and has slightly more padding, which makes it more comfortable. There are separate high-low heat controls for each seat, mounted on the left side, where you can easily reach them. The bike is prewired, and the seat simply plugs right in, so installation only takes a few minutes. We loved the warmth it gave off on some cold nights, which would have been miserable otherwise.
The last two items on the list make existing parts easily removable. The Detachable Fairing Lower Hardware Kit, no. 58146-07 ($ 99.95), consists of some unique hardware, which makes it possible to remove the lowers from the engine guard bars without tools. This makes the bike look trimmer and increases airflow on the engine and rider, which is great in summer heat.
Last but not least is the Detachable Tour-Pak Rack, no. 53246-09A ($ 549.95), which also requires a Tour-Pak Quick Disconnect Harness Kit, no. 69200181 ($ 99.95), which includes the AM/FM Antenna Relocation and CB Antenna Relocation brackets. Installation could take a couple of hours, but when done the trunk comes off in a minute without tools. Without the Tour Pak it's easier to throw a leg over the bike, and the bike looks lower and feels considerably more nimble.
+ smooth, comfortable touring machine with great luggage
- heavy, somewhat dated styling, expensive
MSRP: base $ 22,499, as tested $ 23,059
Engine: 45° OHV V-twin
Displacement: 1,690cc (103CI)
Bore and Stroke: 98.43x111.25mm
Fuel System: electronic sequential port fuel injection
Power: 102lb-ft @3,500 rpm
Cooling: air cooled
Ignition: digital electronic
Transmission: cable-actuated wet clutch, 6-speed, belt final drive
Frame: steel tubular double backbone w/ twin downtubes
Front Suspension: conventional 41.3mm hydraulic fork tubes, no adj., 4.6in stroke
Rear Suspension: steel double-sided swingarm, dual shocks, air adj., 3in travel
Brakes Front/Rear: Brembo dual discs w/ 4-piston calipers/ single disc w/ 4-piston caliper, ABS
Tires Front/Rear: 130/80-H17; 180/65-H16
Wet Weight: 888lbs (402.7kg)
Wheelbase: 63.5in (1613mm)
Seat Height: 29.1in (739mm)
Fuel Capacity: 6.0gal (22.7l), incl. 1gal reserve
Fuel Consumption: 36.1mpg
Colors: blue, silver, black, Merlot Sunglo