2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra - FIRST RIDE

Milwaukee updates its long-distance two-up touring workhorse.

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra on-road action

Harley-Davidson says that folks who own Road Glide Ultras are a hardcore lot, serious riders who log more touring miles on their bikes than do any of Milwaukee's other customers. The Motor Company can be forgiven, then, for taking a couple of extra years to bring this big tourer back to the market. Indeed, the 2016 Road Glide Ultra had to be just right, and although the new Project Rushmore updates are a good and obvious start, this big machine needed improved aero comfort, which it gets courtesy of a new frame-mounted fairing that was fine-tuned in Harley's Wichita, Kansas, wind-tunnel.

I had a chance to spend about half a day on a 2016 Road Glide Ultra, following the beautiful Lewis and Clark Trail along the Columbia River and heading up toward Mt. Hood. Quick take: The new Ultra is a comfortable and refined cruiser, and its standard engine, the Twin-Cooled High Output 103, offers crisp roll-on response and lopes along at 2,400 rpm at 60 mph in sixth gear. Some highway passes require dropping down to fifth, sometimes not. The FL chassis’ rubber engine mounts allow the engine character to come through, but with a broad band of smoothness over much of the rev range.

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra engine close-up

The exhaust note is recognizably Harley but not overly loud, and although the liquid-cooled cylinder heads allow for a higher compression ratio and 10.7 percent more peak torque, Milwaukee doesn’t give out specific horsepower figures. But available power and torque are good for this claimed 916-pound-wet touring bike. In addition to allowing for higher output, another benefit of Twin Cooling is reduced radiant heat, appreciated at red lights and the construction delays we encountered that day.

Similarly impressive is the new fairing, which has Dual Reflector Daymaker LED headlamps, a tall 13.5-in. windscreen, and triple split-screen venting designed to pressurize the cockpit area and thereby eliminate head buffeting. Because the fairing is frame-mounted, there is no ill effect on the steering of the bike, which exhibits great straight-line stability and a willingness to bend into highway sweepers with good composure.

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra windscreen and front fairing

At 6-foot-4, I was able to appreciate the serene environment created behind that screen. I rode with the Road Glide Ultra’s top central vent open for much of the day, and experimented with the two large side vents flanking the headlights. Open or closed, it didn’t seem to matter…there’s good serenity behind that windscreen, perhaps slightly better with vents open. Interestingly, when those lower side vents are open—accessible via thumb-controlled pushbuttons that are a bit tricky to access while riding—the rider can see right through the fairing watch asphalt whizzing by. Further helping to pressurize the cockpit are special mid-frame air deflectors mounted below the fairing that route air upward just in front of the six-gallon fuel tank.

The result of all this carefully choreographed air management? I could ride with the visor of my full-face Shoei open, so I could get a refreshing open-air feel without sacrificing protection.

Because the frame-mounted fairing is a bit farther away from the rider than is Harley’s traditional Batwing, the 2016 Road Glide Ultra cockpit feels roomy, not cramped. What’s more, the new 1.25-in.-diameter handlebar has a slightly pulled back design, and its grips are about two inches higher than those of the Road Glide and Road Glide Special. This translates to a more comfortably upright riding position, another example of Harley refining the Ultra for the long haul.

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra static side view

We didn’t ride the new 2016 Road Glide Ultra at night, but I’ll take Harley’s word that the Daymaker LED headlamps punch through the dark effectively with brilliant white low- and high-beams. In the daytime, I found the one-inch-wider and slightly lowered seat to be supportive and comfortable, although I wouldn’t have minded a higher seat and reduced bend in my knees. I found it easiest to upshift with my left heel, and the hydraulic clutch action felt like second nature. Similarly, the linked Reflex ABS brakes felt natural, with good feel through the beefy lever and foot pedal.

Other improvements? The 2016 Road Glide Ultra has standard cruise control, along with the Rushmore treatment that includes the Boom! Box 6.5GT color touch screen with GPS and Bluetooth, plus a 100-watt sound system with four 5.25-inch speakers. The touch screen is mounted in a reshaped inner fairing, where it’s been brought two inches closer to the rider. The whole infotainment system also can be controlled by twin joysticks at each grip. It’s one of the best infotainment systems on a motorcycle and intuitive to operate/navigate. Adding to the convenience are two rubber-lined storage cubbies with damped lids and a single USB port, plus easy-to-use One-Touch hard saddlebags and a new Tour-Pak tail case that’s slightly more spacious than before (by a claimed four percent) and has a tubular steel luggage rack on top.

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra on-road cornering action

Gripes? Other than the seat being too low (for me), there’s one: The street and highway names that appear on the navigation screen lack the high-definition clarity you’d expect of an expensive new Harley. But that’s a tiny demerit on an otherwise fine new long-distance hauler, a Harley that now has the power, aero comfort and overall sophistication to even better please those long-distance riders who measure trips in states, not miles.

The 2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra starts at $25,699. Available colors: Black or Pearl solids; Red/Red or Silver/Black two-tones; Purple Fire/Blackberry Smoke and Cosmic Blue Pearl customs.

SPECIFICATIONS
|2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra
PRICE|$25,699
ENGINE TYPE|Air- and liquid-cooled 1690cc V-twin
BORE x STROKE|98.4 x 111.1mm
INDUCTION|EFI
COMPRESSION RATIO|10.0:1
VALVE TRAIN|OHV
TRANSMISSION|Six-speed
FINAL DRIVE|Toothed belt
FRONT SUSPENSION|49mm fork
REAR SUSPENSION|Air-adjustable shocks
FRONT BRAKE|Twin 300mm discs, four-piston calipers
REAR BRAKE|Single 300mm disc, two-piston caliper
FRONT TIRE|Dunlop 130/80B-17 65
REAR TIRE|Dunlop 180/65B-16 81H
RAKE|29.3º
TRAIL|6.7 in.
WHEELBASE|64.0 in.
SEAT HEIGHT|29.7 in.
WET WEIGHT|916 lb.
FUEL CAPACITY|6.0 gal.
FUEL ECONOMY|42 mpg

Action #1

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra on-road action.Riles & Nelson

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2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra on-road action.Riles & Nelson

Action #3

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra on-road action.Riles & Nelson

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2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra on-road action.Riles & Nelson

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2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra on-road action.Riles & Nelson

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2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra on-road action.Riles & Nelson

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2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra on-road action.Riles & Nelson

Action #8

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra on-road action.Riles & Nelson

Static #1

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra static view.Riles & Nelson

Static #2

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra static view.Riles & Nelson

Static #3

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra static view.Riles & Nelson

Details #1

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra front wheel.Riles & Nelson

Details #2

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra windshield and front fairing.Riles & Nelson

Details #3

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra engine.Riles & Nelson

Details #4

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra tail section.Riles & Nelson

Studio side view.

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra studio side view.Harley-Davidson

On-road action.

2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra on-road action.Harley-Davidson