Part touring bike, part time machine, Harley-Davidson’s Electra Glide, the first Motor Company model to use an electric starter, has been the steed of choice among long-road loyalists since 1965. Many improvements have been made over the years (disc brakes are nice!), with the last major improvements being seen in 2009 when the heavy tourers in the FL line received a new frame, swingarm and engine-mounting system. Through it all, the bikes have maintained their essence, the all-important style and feel paramount to the Harley-Davidson experience.
For 2014, the Electra Glide models have not just been updated; they’ve been reborn. The venture, dubbed Project Rushmore, sired over 100 changes across the platform: some radical, such as new liquid-cooled heads on a High Output version of the Twin Cam 103, linked ABS and restyled luggage and bodywork; some more subtle, like the one-touch fuel door and gauges with new graphics.
We were recently able to sample the new Project Rushmore touring bikes en masse and found that the myriad refinements add up to a mountain of difference.
Standing out among the tourers is the Electra Glide Limited, which comes with every available accoutrement, including The Motor Company’s new Boom! Box 6.5 infotainment system. It’s an incredibly complex audio and information system that’s remarkably easy to master thanks to an intuitive control system that utilizes twin thumb toggles as a primary means to scroll and select options. This interactive system, with voice recognition and bluetooth capability, is a huge upgrade from the standard Harman/Kardon system we’ve used in previous models.
On the CW dyno, the new High Output Twin Cam 103, the version without liquid-cooled heads, delivers 95.6 ft.-lb. peak torque, up 6.7 over the last pre-Rushmore 103 we tested. Horsepower is also better, peaking at 76.0 versus 69.4. Adding liquid-cooled heads can only help matters, primarily helping the engine maintain peak performance in mechanically demanding situations such as two-up riding in extreme heat. Harley says this “Twin-Cooled” engine has 10.7 percent more peak torque than a standard 103. While Harley’s new air-cooled High Output 103 feel does feel livelier, there is little difference felt at the throttle between it and the Ultra’s liquid-cooled version. CVO models, for the record, will be equipped with a wethead Twin Cam 110 for 2014, which is, of course, the mill we’d like to see in all of Harley’s heavy tourers.
Honoring heritage, the Electra Glide Ultra Limited’s new cooling system is for the most part hidden from view. A keen eye will notice the bug-catching radiators now housed in the fairing lowers, but other than that, it’s beautifully hush hush. Likewise, the new Reflex linked ABS is something to be felt rather than seen. The system is unusual in that it electronically adjusts the overall proportion of linking based on how the rider is using the brakes. If you’re an expert rider and applying appropriate amounts of front and rear pressure, Reflex will assist you very little. If you’re newer to riding or find yourself in a panic situation, Reflex will override ill-fated choices such as getting too hot into one brake or the other. The linking system disengages at speeds under 25 mph, which is perfect for low-speed maneuvers where you want to use the rear brake as primary.
Other mechanical improvements to the 2014 model include a new hydraulic clutch (which maintains the same lever effort at last year’s level, in spite of stronger clutch springs), and an even more solid-feeling 49mm fork that replaces the previous 43mm assembly. Also, new cast aluminum wheels are said to be stiffer and lighter.
But anyone shopping for an Electra Glide is going to be interested in comfort and functionality at least as much as performance, and here Harley has pulled out all the stops. Remember that trunk with the wobbly lid and temperamental latching system? Gone. From the outside, both the Tour-Pak trunk and saddlebags look smaller and sleeker, but the capacity has actually grown a bit. All bags shut definitively and the latches are one-touch. The saddlebags can easily be opened while you’re seated on the bike, allowing you to access essentials at a stop.
Also slick-as-can-be is the new fork-mounted fairing. First on the scene in 1969, the famous Batwing now harbors a plethora of high-tech goodness. In addition to housing the new gauges and audio, the shell also has a much-appreciated venting system that goes a long way to reduce the head buffeting long associated with traveling on a Harley tourer. You don’t feel more air on you, as you might suspect; you actually feel less. The “splitstream” creates a tidy pocket of stillness that noticeably decreases turbulence.
Seats are wider and deeper on Harley’s new tourers, and the two days I spent on the bikes didn’t produce a shred of discomfort. Moreover, special attention was paid to passenger accommodations. Instead of creating a trunk and simply slapping a passenger backrest on it, engineers and designers at Harley looked at how a passenger might like to feel on the back of the bike and then designed the trunk around that.
And therein lies the basis of Project Rushmore, what Harley refers to as “a journey led by riders.” The aspiration was to improve every aspect of the motorcycling experience, not just of the motorcycle. And in the end, the enormity of the project and what its near countless refinements mean to the riding experience is simply too much to comprehend during a couple days in the saddle. Instead, it’s total will be something measured in overall effect. Something that those lucky enough to own a Project Rushmore bike will continue to discover and enjoy for years to come.