Monumental Improvements: 2014 Harley-Davidson FLHTK Ultra Limited

FFultralimited1By now, you’ve heard the term Project RUSHMORE. it’s Harley-Davidson’s internal code name for some exciting, new, customer-driven changes to its Touring motorcycles. Four years ago, as the motorcycle market was tanking and dealerships were disappearing, listening to its customers’ needs and wants seemed more critical than ever. After extensive research and development, the project’s goals can be broken down into four categories: control, feel, style, and convenience. Riders want the confidence that their bike will do what it’s supposed to do, when they want it to do it. Both riders and passengers asked for ergonomic and comfort upgrades for long-distance travel. Buyers want a more contemporary look without losing the iconic Harley styling. And, finally, touring riders want more technology advances in audio and navigation.

With Project RUSHMORE, Harley has been able to incorporate an extensive list of improvements that cover a gamut of customer wants and needs, bringing its Touring bikes up to speed in an increasingly competitive market. With more cooperation between in-house departments and simultaneous direct feedback from the dealers and end users, Harley is focused on producing a premium product more efficiently and bringing it to market quicker than ever.

I have to empathize with Harley-Davidson designers. I think we can all agree that the brand has thrived on its heritage and style, and its customers are the roughest, toughest, and most resistant to change in the two-wheeled market. But the good news is that these riders are also incredibly devoted to their brand. But the challenge to retain the classic Harley image and feel, while making major updates to the bikes’ style and technology was one of monumental proportions. (Sort of like carving four iconic faces into the side of a mountain.)

If you haven’t read Steven’s sidebar on Harley’s new trademark terminology, I suggest you start there (page 43). Steven defines the project’s biggest improvements, which include the new engine, cooling system, braking system, lighting upgrades, easier controls, and the new audio and information system. And they all have fancy catchphrase names. This is Harley-Davidson, after all. Nothing leaves Juniper Avenue without the final say from the creative (and legal) teams.

 

GThe Test

Traveling to Colorado, I rode alongside the first journalists to test out the RUSHMORE-induced motorcycles on some of our country’s most scenic mountain roads. The Motor Company provided four RUSHMORE Touring models for us to test: the Road King, Street Glide, Ultra Classic, and Ultra Limited. I keyed in on the one with the most changes: the Limited.

The Twin-Cooled, High Output Twin Cam 103 Ultra Limited’s new precision cooling system separated it from the pack. It has since dominated ink in moto mags and pages on Harley forums. The old goats have been whining about how H-Ds have never needed water cooling before, so why do they need it now? Theyalso bitched and moaned when jets and needles became obsolete, but it didn’t take long before these same coots embraced fuel injection and its many benefits. It’s high time to incorporate the technology that will most certainly
add years to engines that would’ve otherwise suffered premature deaths. Harley’s engineers did a spectacular job hiding the radiators and the tubing that go along with a liquid-cooled system. Looking from the side, you can’t even tell the difference between the air-cooled Ultra Classic and the Twin-Cooled Ultra Limited fairing lowers, which are where the reservoirs and radiators are housed.

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But enough about radiators. Time will tell if Twin-Cooling will catch on. Interest should be centered on the new Reflex Linked braking system with ABS. I’m sure everyone thinks he is a stellar rider. But, in fact, there are far too many riders on the roads with less-than-perfect braking habits. The linked braking will save lives and is the most important development of Project RUSHMORE. I spent considerable time testing the system at different speeds and scenarios, and I was impressed with the stability and control of the system. Even if you do have supreme skills, using trail braking techniques will feel different, but will not upset the motorcycle’s suspension. And, by smartly engineering the system to only become linked at higher speeds, using one brake independently is still an option for slow-speed maneuvers. The reported 5 percent gain in passing power of the new High Output Twin Cam 103″ is definitely welcome, but overtaking cars on Colorado’s high-altitude, long, uphill highways at 70 mph still required a downshift from top gear. Compared to its predecessor, the new Ultra Limited pulls well. Compared to a Gold Wing, well, it just doesn’t compare. But apples to oranges …

Styling improvements are subtle, maintaining that iconic Harley look but giving key elements more clout. The front fender has been trimmed back to reduce weight and show off more of the wheel. The tour trunk has been smartly reshaped to appear smaller, but actually offers more room than its predecessor. The main styling cue for the 2014 faired tourers is the fork-mounted batwing fairing, which has been virtually unchanged since it first appeared in1969 on the Electra Glide as a removable option. The reshaped fairing features a splitstream vent that reduces head buffeting and beard lift by equalizing the pressure behind the short windscreen. A one-touch button opens or closes the vent, but I recommend leaving it open and forgeting about it. Lower vents also include the one-touch design in the form of a sliding tab, but the few that I tried didn’t slide easily at all.

However, the new saddlebag and tour trunk one-touch latches did work well. The saddlebag latch is reminiscent of a toilet flush handle, but works so effortlessly that I don’t care. With just one hinge and one latch on each bag, the lids line up and close just as intended. I was even able to keep a water bottle in the front of the left saddlebag, then reach for the latch, open it, pull out my water bottle, and close and lock the lid at highway speeds without using the cruise control. (Of course, this isn’t the safest method of hydration. I voluntarily put myself at risk for the sake of proving a point.)

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EOn the inner fairing, the round instrument displays have been redesigned. There are fewer displays — ambient air temperature and oil pressure are now incorporated into the screen display — and the remaining four use larger fonts for easier reading. Harley calls the water-resistant storage compartment on the fairing dash to the right of the screen the Jukebox. It opens with a one-touch push, and contains a USB connector and a cushioned insert that holds your phone, iPod, or MP3 player securely. Connecting my iPod to the port with the standard plug that comes from Apple, I was left with a long string of wire to bundle up and shove into the compartment, but there was plenty of room for it. But I’d go buy a short cord to eliminate the hassle. Once plugged in, an iPod and iPhone can be operated by hand controls, the touch screen, or, if you have the Harley wired headset, voice command. Luckily, the two five-way joystick hand controllers and touch screen controls were easy and intuitive to use. And the reshaped control buttons now offer a good positive feel. The Ultra Limited’s Boom! Box 6.5GT infotainment system is the best I’ve used, in both motorcycles and cars. In fact, if you use GPS, it’s worth the $1,800 to upgrade to the glove-friendly, larger touchscreen system from the 4.3 on the Street Glide and Ultra Classic. Giving users the option to toggle through displays via hand controls, touchscreen, or voice recognition is
another example of Harley working hard to satisfy its customers.

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Four 5-1/4″ speakers deliver 25 watts per channel, and a low distortion 25 watt/channel amplifier offers great sound, and is said to be 25 percent louder than previous models. The automatic volume control isn’t new, but works incredibly well, increasing volume proportionately with the bike’s speed.

FBluetooth capability is no longer new technology, and RUSHMORE designers would’ve been remiss to ignore it. But the Limited’s Bluetoothfunctions are limited. You can pair your cell phone and Bluetooth-enabled audio device to the infotainment system. However, voice recognition will only work with Harley’s proprietary wired helmet communication system, which plugs into a port on the bike. While the press folks offered headsets, my Schuberth already had its own wireless Bluetooth communication system (SRC-System) installed, so I was out of luck. (I was later told that I could’ve paired my SRC to the bike via Bluetooth so that I could listen to music through the helmet speakers. Oh, well.) But the journalists who did try out the voice recognition were extremely impressed.

Harley-Davidson got it right with Project RUSHMORE. I have a feeling that the company has more surprises in its back pocket. In fact, I bet Harley’s lawyers are already working on trademarking excitemotainmentCupCake_Web

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Story by Tricia Szulewski Photos by Tom Riles and Tricia Szulewski

Originally published in Motorcycle Jan/Feb 2014

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