We ride: Harley's 2014 long-haulers
By Dave Abrahams
It was Willie G Davidson who started it all, way back in the late 1960s, when he began attending Harley-Davidson rallies and asking the riders who put in the long miles just what they wanted from their bikes.
And after he introduced the first factory custom (now there's a contradiction in terms if ever there was one) the 1971 Super Glide, the styling and engineering of Milwaukee's cruiser and touring machines developed along sharply diverging lines - and continues to do so.
But the Motor Company hasn't forgotten the lessons rammed home by Willie G more than four decades ago so, when it began Project Rushmore - the development of the 2014 touring line-up - it started by asking focus groups all over North America, Europe, and almost any place where Harley riders clock up serious open-road mileage, exactly what they would like to improve on their bikes.
The first response was: more mid-range!
Harley-Davidson prides itself on its gutsy long-stroke V-twins but, in truth, they're perceived by many owners as 'lazy' when asked to accelerate a fully loaded Ultra Glide past slow-moving traffic.
So the technicians at Milwaukee's Screaming Eagle performance department ground up a new cam profile with slightly higher lift and longer duration giving 13 degrees of valve overlap (roughly analogous to the old '255' performance cam), raised the compression ratio from 9.6:1 to 10:1, cleaned up the intake plumbing and installed a free-flow air filter that breathes through its side instead of around its edges.
The result: four Newton metres. The maker quotes 138Nm at 3500rpm for the 2014 1690cc '103' engine, compared to 134 for the 2013 model, at the expense of a slightly rougher idle. That's not enough to be noticeable in the seat-of-the-pants evaluation of last week's South African launch ride in the bikers' paradise that is Mpumalanga, but may well reflect in lower fuel consumption in the long term.
Then they designed a new cylinder head for the Ultra Limited, Ultra Classic, and Tri Glide three-wheeler models, with a water jacket around the exhaust valve and port (the area most prone to overheating) fed by a tiny radiator with a dinky fan in the each of the 'kangaroo boxes' that Harley tourers have in place of fairing lowers.
The whole system contains just one litre of coolant and smacks of 'too little, too late' but, if 'Twin Cooling' (i.e. air and liquid) keeps the venerable V-twin in production for a few more years in the face of increasingly punitive noise and emission regulations, well and good.
STIFFER FRONT END
Harley long-haulers also agreed that the big tourers' steering and front-end stability could do with improvement, so out went the previous 41.3mm stanchions in favour of huge 49mm tubes, along with completely new upper and lower triple clamps (with pinch-bolts at the top for the first time, rather than screw-caps, and dual lower pinchbolts), a completely new steering-stem assembly and distinctly firmer damping.
Now this you can feel: the steering of the 2014 tourers is distinctly more accurate than that of their forebears at any speed, the front end feels more planted - especially under hard braking - and the turn-is both quicker and more predictable, which is a lot to say about a motorcycle that's only a six-pack short of 400kg with a full tank of fuel.
Their stiffer suspension also reduces front-end dive under braking, at the expensive of a slightly harsher ride on poor surfaces, although, thanks to the weight of the bikes, that's felt more as heavy-duty vibration than as actual jolting.
Harley-Davidson brakes have traditionally been a weak point, although that has improved radically since the recent tie-up with industry leader Brembo. Nevertheless, the 2014 tourers have taken a big step forward with electronically-linked Reflex brakes on the Limited, Classic, Street Glide and Road King.
At speeds above 40km/h, these use the ABS rings to compare wheel speeds and master-cylinder pressure sensors to measure rider input. A little electric pump then boosts whichever brake the rider is not using to optimal effect, to scrub off speed more quickly, more evenly and with less effect on the bike's stability.
It's most noticeable at moderate speeds around town where, if you squeeze the front brake lever only, you will feel the rear brake come on by itself, just a heartbeat later - and vice versa if, you stomp on the rear brake. It takes a bit of getting used to but it's actually quite reassuring.
The Tri Glide three-wheeler has a far simpler mechanical set-up with six-piston callipers on the front brakes. The rear brake pedal operates the rear brakes and the centre pistons of the front brakes, while the front brake lever operates only the outer pistons of the front-brake callipers and three-way ABS keeps an eye on the rotational speeds of all three wheels.
CHEATING THE WIND
Most touring riders complain of head-buffeting at open-road speeds, caused by a vortex behind the fairing screen. The 2014 Harley Davidson full-dressers now have a neat slit in their batwing fairing, just below the screen, that equalises air pressure and deflects air-flow above the riders head.
The fairing has also been subtly re-styled to optimise the effect, although the difference isn't easy to see with the naked eye, even parked next to the previous model.
But it works; if you push hard enough (about 125km/h on most 'Glides) the slipstream will still slam the visor of a full-face helmet shut without warning, but the migraine-inducing jackhammer on the back of your head is gone for good.
There's also an optional version of the police-style screen available for the Road King with a post-box slot, smack bang in the middle, that serves the same purpose - but it's so ugly that it's unlikely to find many takers.
THROWING MORE LIGHT ON NIGHT RIDING
Once again, the consensus among riders was that lots is good but more is better, so the new Ultra Limited and Tri Glide get Daymaker LED headlights, while the Street Glide and Road King Classic each have dual halogen projectors, vertically mounted inside a traditional round nacelle.
The Tri Glide, bound by EU regulations that classify it as a car, is only allowed two headlights, so the traditional round nacelle is covered by a chromed disc, and the two LED running lights are cantilevered out to meet minimum distance requirements for car headlights. It looks a little silly, but it works.
The LED headlights throw a deep, intensely ice-blue beam that washes most of the colour out of whatever it shines on, but provides crisp outlines and visually arresting contrast out to impressive distances, while the halogen projectors provide a warmer, more natural (albeit somewhat less penetrative) illumination.
No, Cyril, we're not being scurrilous here - that's the name Harman Kardon has given to the beefy new speakers on the Electra Glide and Street Glide models, which it says can be driven 25 percent harder without distorting. All we can say is that for the first time ever on a Harley, we could hear the lyrics of Santana's 'Oye Como Va' at 140km/h!
The Ultra Limited and the Tri Glide have an all-new 6.5 GT infotainment system with a 165mm liquid-crystal display for navigation, cruise control, sound and telephony that rivals most luxury cars for complexity and connectivity - and again the Motor Company has listened to the people who put in the hard miles.
Riders complained about having to take one hand off the 'bars to operate the electronics, so now all the controls are on the handlebars, centred on a five-way thumb-operated joystick on each side - no problem if you're a Playstation addict, an acquirable skill even if you're not.
It's no less complex than the previous set-up but vastly more ergonomic, and the integrated navigation sytem is far less vulnerable than the previous bar-mounted Garmin.
Once your cellphone is paired to your bike, it will even have a sexy-sounding lady read your incoming your text messages out loud (some discretion is advised here) but our favourite telephony option is one that flashes up the name of an incoming caller and the command “IGNORE”. We clicked on that one, every time.
The Ultra Classic and Street Glide have a 4.3 GT (110mm) display, without built-in navigation but which shares most of the other features of its bigger brother.
Engineering boffins sitting on mock-ups of new bikes in the studio sometimes forget that in the real world we ride wearing thick gloves - this time around they've re-contoured the handlebar switchgear so you can feel what you're doing without having to look down, and backlit all the identifying icons.
Then they went into the nitty-gritty of 'human engineering' with attention to detail bordering on the fanatical. The full-dress top box is wider longer and a little lower, its hinges have been beefed up, a single self-centring latch replaces the previous finicky dual latches and the plastic tethering strap has made way for a miniature seat-belt that rolls up out of the way as you close the lid.
A new one-touch lever unlocks each pannier; the previous flip catch is now a simple hinge, so you no longer have to use both hands to open or close the panniers.
The focus groups even asked the riders' significant others how they could improve the pillion accommodation. The rear seat-pad on the new full-dress tourers is 25mm wider and 25mm longer, the rear speakers are 50mm further apart and the upper surfaces of the bolsters above them have been flattened so that She Who Must Be Obeyed can rest her elbows on them without them sliding off.
SMALL CHANGES, BIG DIFFERENCE
Only an anorak would be able to spot the differences between the new Harley tourers and their predecessors but they add up to much more comfortable, more user-friendly long-haulers that's a lot more fun to hustle when the time comes to 'rock and roll'.
FLHRC Road King Classic - R272 000
FLHX Street Glide - R275 450
FLHTCU Electra Glide Ultra Classic - R305 950
FLHTK Electra Glide Ultra Limited - R324 950
FLHTCUTG Tri Glide Ultra Classic - R409 950
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