Harley Ultra Glide is biking royaltyComment on this story
Conventional road tests are hard on Harleys; Motor Company products are old technology, albeit beautifully executed, and they don’t generally do well on the things road tests measure - acceleration, top speed, fuel efficiency, braking and road-holding - while they excel on the unmeasurables - sound, engine feedback, mid-range torque and the ability to get you into places where other bikes wouldn’t be allowed.
It pains most mainstream bikers to admit it, but Harley-Davidsons are motorcycling royalty, and sometimes that can work to your advantage.
Particularly so in the case of this bike, the FLHTK-ANV Ultra Glide 110th Anniversary Edition, Milwaukee’s range-topping tourer with every gadget you can dream of, gussied up with a (very) special paint job in antique metallic bronze and black, with unique cast-bronze badges commemorating the 110th year since Bill Harley and the brothers Davidson got together in a wooden shed in the backyard of the Harley family home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and began building motor bicycles.
This one is in fact No.79 of only 3750 110th anniversary models that will be made, and has a numbered plaque on its fuel-cap cover to say so.
Rather than just hand their bikes over so that unsympathetic journalists can wring their necks, Harley-Davidson Africa came up with an alternative plan they call the Detour – a two-day ride through some of the Southern Cape’s most beautiful scenery, over the area’s most bikeworthy roads.
But here’s the kicker: you go out on your own – one man, one Harley, one satnav - instead of in a group, so you can ride at your own pace, immersing yourself in the Harley lifestyle. Pit stops and the overnight venue are programmed into the satnav.
My first port of call was the Perfect Place in Wellington where Susan served the perfect omelette and a life-saving cappuchino.
A few minutes later houses gave way to rows of vines as the Ultra and I started up Bain’s Kloof pass. I stopped at the top to drink in the crystal-clear autumn morning air and take the pictures you see at the top of this story, before descending the narrowest and bumpiest of South Africa’s major passes.
But that was no problem for the Ultra. Proceeding majestically at about 70km/h its 413kg kerb weight (close to 550 with rider and fuel) simply battered the road into submission, using all the suspension travel and then some, but what came through to the rider felt more like heavy-duty vibration, mostly through the handlebars.
The Ultra’s steering is surprisingly light for such a huge mass, and accurate enough to make threading the bike through the Notch and under the Pulpit a pleasure.
On the R60 beyond Worcester I was able to stretch the Ultra’s legs a little; its rubber-mounted, 1690cc V-twin engine is rated for 53.7kW at 5500rpm but begins to sound a little stressed over 5000. More importantly, it produces a stump-pulling 134Nm at 3500, pulling lustily from 1800rpm onwards.
I soon settled down to a relaxed 3000rpm, with the speedometer on 130km/h and the satnav showing 122, for a 6.55 percent speedometer error - not important on this bike.
After lunch - a rather complicated but very tasty burger at the Klipdrift distillery in Worcester - the Ultra and I headed out on the R62, one of the world’s great motorcycle routes, where I found that average speeds dropped again, as much due to the spectacular views (which I’ve never before had time to appreciate!) as my unwillingness to throw somebody else’s R316 000 collecter’s item at the scenery.
WHAT WERE THE CHANCES?
Then it was time to tackle Tradouw’s Pass, smoother but just as tight in places as Bain’s Kloof. Shortly after the crest there’s a lookout point with a mind-blowing view over the Southern Cape; scarcely had I pulled in there than another Ultra (a 2012 CVO model with an 1802cc engine and red flame paint) arrived from the other direction!
Turned out the rider was a local; he owns a biker-friendly restaurant in Barrydale (good reason for going back there sometime soon). But the chat had made us both late and it was time to push on to Swellendam, where I arrived at the Schoone Oordt Country House just as the sun was setting.
Once again, thanks to the status conferred by my travelling companion I was treated like visiting royalty - to the extent that the kitchen staff organised coffee for me before the breakfast room was open the next day so I could get on the road early.
On the long, straight empty roads of the coastal plain I could push the Ultra Glide’s performance envelope; it went up to 160km/h quite swiftly, but above that the immense bulk of the hard panniers and top box (combined capacity 128 litres – more than some hatchbacks!) began to cause an unsettling weave.
Soon we were back to cruising speeds, experimenting with the cruise control (intuitive, relaxing and very easy to use), the radio/CD player (great up to about 100km/h, difficult to hear above that) and the heated grips (anything above three out of six will toast your fingers right through your gloves!).
The seating position is upright, with roomy footboards and an easy reach to the wide handlebars. The bike is high by Milwaukee standards at 745mm – unlike most Harley cruisers you sit on this bike, rather than in it – and the deeply dished front seat offers no wriggle room whatsoever, but the luxuriously padded upholstery is so ergonomically shaped that long days in the saddle are no problem.
After Hermanus we turned inland to take in the magnificent Franschhoek pass. Yes Cyril, I’ll admit my average speed was the slowest I’ve ever recorded on any bike, but by now I was getting used to the feel of the Ultra and I was braking deeper into the corners than I would have thought possible on something this size, turning in sharply and using the engine’s immense mid-range to push hard coming out.
I arrived in a hot, tourist-overrun Franschhoek somewhat out of breath, my heart pumping and with a new respect for the Motor Company’s two-wheeled Winnebago.
I squeezed the Ultra between two cars parked outside the crowed Traumerei restaurant for long enough to do justice to the finest steak I’d had in a long while, but the road home was calling, past l’Ormarins and Groot Drakenstein, and over the last pass of the trip, Helshoogte (where I gave a local in a hot hatch a helluva fright!) and home via the N2 in majestic splendour.
But the biggest surprise of the trip came the next day, when I filled the Ultra’s 22.7-litre fuel tank before handing it back. Over nearly 800km of mixed fast cruising and gearbox-intensive twisties the Big Mama of Harleys had averaged an astonishing 5.3 litres per 100km.
Harley-Davidson motorcycles, it would appear, measure up very well when used as they are intended to be. Thanks to Susan, Corlia, Derek, Wander and Catherine (you know who are!) for making my trip so special and to Michael Carney of Harley-Davidson Africa for coming up with the idea.
Price: R316 000.
Bike from: Harley-Davidson Africa.
Engine: 1690cc Air-cooled four-stroke V-twin.
Bore x stroke: 98.4 x 111.1mm.
Compression ratio: 9.6:1.
Valvegear: Pushrod with two overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 53.7kW at 5500rpm.
Torque: 134Nm at 3500rpm.
Induction: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection with one 46mm Delphi throttle body.
Ignition: Digital electronic.
Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by toothed belt.
Front Suspension: 41.3mm conventional cartridge forks.
Rear Suspension: Dual hydraulic shock absorbers air-adjustable for preload.
Front brakes: Dual 300mm discs with Brembo four-piston callipers and ABS.
Rear brake: 300mm disc with four-piston calliper and ABS.
Front tyre: 130/80 - 17 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 180/65 - 16 tubeless.
Seat height: 745mm.
Kerb Weight: 413kg.
Fuel tank: 22.7 litres.
Fuel consumption (measured): 5.3 litres per 100km