Surely one of the world’s most emotive motorcycle brands, owners will tell you how much they love Harleys due to their size, style, and most of all that ‘potato-potato’ engine note.
The first H-D motor was the Atmospheric V-Twin, an 811cc 45° vee making just seven horsepower. Over the years we’ve seen – among others – the Flathead, Panhead, Twin Cam, and now the Euro-4 compliant Milwaukee-Eight. If toeing the emissions line makes this feel any less of an all-American lump, Harley will have a very serious problem.
You’ll rarely see power figures quoted around Harley-Davidsons – these motors have always been about the torque, and in the top of the range 1868cc Milwaukee-Eight 114 it’s a healthy 122lb-ft at 3250rpm – around the middle of the rev range on these lazy-natured machines. As a comparison, KTM’s 1301cc 1290 Super Duke GT engine makes 106lb-ft @ 6750rpm. Of course, the KTM has a kerb weight of 228kg, compared to the 398kg of the CVO Street Glide that the top-spec Harley motor needs to propel (and the Austrian also boasts 170bhp compared to 101bhp).
But Harleys represent a different way of life – it’s not a world in which you’re rushing to get from A to B, it’s about happily sitting at 60mph on sweeping roads and enjoying the scenery. And it’s about enjoying the way that engine looks, feels and sounds.
An all-new power house
Harley is proud of the fact that the twin-spark Milwaukee-Eight engine is a complete redesign, yep keeps the 45° layout and push-rod valve-train. Operated by a single, chain-driven cam (as opposed to a noisier twin-cam previously), a pair of rods reach up to each head to operate the inlet and outlet valves. By switching to an eight-valve design (hence the engine’s name), there’s a 50% increase in intake and exhaust flow capacity, but also the ability to use lighter valves, which lead to softer springs and a reduction in mechanical engine noise. That’s important when building for Euro 4 if you want to have a louder exhaust as it’s the overall noise level that’s measured.
The entire 2017 Harley-Davidson Touring range of bikes now use the Milwaukee-Eight engine, and while the staff wouldn’t comment, it seems inevitable that we’ll see it appear on other motorcycles from the brand. There are three versions – the 1745cc 107 and Twin-Cooled 107 that appear on all the standard bikes, and the 1868cc Twin-Cooled 114 that’s fitted to the two Custom Vehicle Operations bikes – the CVO Street Glide and CVO Limited.
In a bid to reduce running temperatures and the heat transmitted to the rider, the machines with lower fairings carry the Twin-Cooled motor, which uses ‘Precision cooling’ to run water around the exhaust valve ports using an electric pump through a pair of fan-equipped radiators. On the oil-cooled engines, oil is fed between the exhaust valve openings, using a separate channel from the oil pump and running through an oil cooler. On all police bikes and the trikes, a fan is fitted to the oil cooler, though this is an optional extra for riders in hotter climates.
All three engines look almost identical, and have a dry sump with three oil fillers – one for the transmission, one for the primary drive and one for the engine. A single intake feeds a pair of fuel injectors controlled by the ride-by-wire. The pushrods are actuated by hydraulic lifters, and H-D says that the more precise design of the followers means there will never be any need to adjust the valve clearances for the life of the engine.
The Milwaukee-Eight uses an internal counter-balancer that reduces 75% of the vibration – with the rubber mountings, a 100% reduction was said to be just too smooth to maintain the Harley character at the new engine’s lower 850rpm idle. A new starter motor is fitted, along with an improved charging circuit that promises a 50% increase in capacity, to cater for all the electronic gizmos, lights and more that riders love to fit to today’s bikes.
Compared to the previous Twin Cam High Output 103 motor used in last year’s Project Rushmore bikes, the 107 makes 10lb-ft more torque (111lb-ft @ 3250rpm, compared to 101lb-ft @ 3500rpm). The Twin-Cooled 107 makes a fraction more at 112lb-ft, while power from the engines is 88.5bhp and 90bhp @ 5450 rpm respectively, against 86bhp @ 5010rpm in the 103. The new 114 makes 101bhp @ 5250.
These boosts in performance mean – says Harley – that the 107 accelerates 11% quicker than the 103 at 0-60mph, which is about two to three bike lengths. At 60-80mph in top gear, it’s one to two bike lengths quicker. The 114 boasts an 8% improvement from 0-60, and 12% from 60-80 over the Twin Cam 110.
The entire Touring range has had the suspension upgraded – the front has Showa Dual Bending Valve (SDBV) forks, which are claimed to give the damping performance of a racing-style cartridge fork with linear damping and reduced weight. You still can’t tweak the front suspension, and while the rear is preload adjustable only, this has been made easier than the old system, which needed an air pump. Now using emulsion shocks (oil and nitrogen), the left unit has basic damping and a spring, while the right carries the unadjustable compression and rebound damping, along with a large knob-operated hydraulic preload adjuster.
Getting to the adjuster requires two threaded spinners inside the pannier to be removed (sadly they’re not captive, so they tend to drop into the pannier when undoing), then the pannier lifted clear.
While the US still has the option of buying a Touring bike without ABS, European machines all come with the Bosch-controlled system as standard. The brakes are also linked, both from the front lever and rear pedal, in a system that determines the brake balance required, but below 15mph unlinks the brakes, making it easier to drag the back in tight turns. The electrics across the range are now CANbus, with the ECU and fuel-injection made by Delphi.
The right roads
I spent most of my time on a Road Glide Ultra – that’s the one with the twin LED headlamps and a top box. Weighing in at 425kg ready to ride, it’s a big beast, and I’ve got to be honest and say that I found it quite intimidating. On the move of course the weight isn’t as noticeable, but when pulling up at lights or in a car park, it takes some confidence to manoeuvre. The comfortable foot-boards don’t get in the way, but if you’re more accustomed to traditional foot pegs, they can feel a little in the way as you pop your foot down.
Later riding an Ultra Limited, I felt much more in control, though that machine’s only 12kg lighter. The Ultra has a fork-mounted fairing and screen, and while its still large, there’s more view of the road around the front wheel, giving the impression of a smaller bike when you’re on it.
But confidence comes after a few miles, and with the impressively loud ‘Boom! Box’ audio system streaming music via Bluetooth from my iPhone, cruising along the roads from Seattle to Port Angeles of the launch, the bike made absolute sense.
Something this large would be hard to justify if you don’t have access to open roads, and while filtering is illegal in Washington state, the sheer size would make busy city work a real challenge, not helped by the fairly heavy action of the hydraulic clutch. The cooler-running engines should offer a more comfortable ride when things slow right down, though when stuck in traffic on a freeway in around 22°C air temperature, the oil and water cooled motors still radiated a fair amount of heat. Open, sweeping roads are where the Touring Harleys fit best, always remembering that these machines are for the unhurried way of life.
I repeatedly asked if the bikes we were riding were Euro 4 compliant, and while I was told they were, I’m still not sure that these weren’t US-spec bikes with a louder note. The exhaust is magnificent, and if it’s maintained in the UK it’ll be very impressive. Open the throttle and a roar unlike anything else is unleashed – a sound of utter, raw performance. Riding out of a tunnel on the way up to Washington states stunning Hurricane Ridge, two walkers has their fingers in their ears as we passed.
Of course, thanks to the mass of these bikes, drive out of corners is more ‘purposeful’ than ‘forceful’. The motor won’t snap your head back with violent acceleration, but from around 3000rpm to pretty well the 5500rpm redline, the huge torque and imposing noise give the impression that you’re being thrust forward by the hand of God.
Stopping is fine, as long as you remember that you’re on a bike weighing more than twice as much as an MT-07. My only criticism of the brakes is that, while the linking undoubtedly makes for a faster stop – especially in the States where many riders seem to not use their front brake – the lack of dive makes for a slightly detached feeling, not unlike the first time you ride with BMW’s Telelever front-end. It’s made more nerve-wracking in the wet, where the eagerness of the Dunlop D407T rear to spin up fails to inspire confidence.
The fat rear tyre and sheer size of the bike means a little more input is needed than you might be used to when turning, and the Road Glide especially felt that it was happiest when upright. They’re certainly not difficult bikes to turn though, so like much of riding a Harley, it’s about recalibrating your mindset if you’re going to get the most out of it. And with the cavernous luggage that easily fits two full-face lids in the top-box, and the spacious and comfortable rider and pillion seats, a Touring Harley could certainly take you on some huge adventures.
Weather protection on the Road Glide and the Ultra Limited was great, with better foot-protection on the former. The low screens fall just below my eye line (I’m 5’11”), and give no more buffeting than a gentle flutter – enough air is moving around through the well-considered ducts to not let it feel stale or stuffy, while in the rain you’re kept very dry. We’d been warned of rain for the launch (unsurprising in America’s wettest state), so I was wearing textiles, but after a couple of hours my summer gloves still weren’t too wet.
Cruising at 60mph in top gear, the engine’s at just 2200rpm, and at 70mph it’s still only spinning at around 2700rpm – on motorways it makes for an incredibly unhurried feel, yet it’s very, very smooth. Even the mirrors, which are on stalks on the Road King and built into the fairing on the Ultra, are vibration free, giving a great view of the road behind. There’s enough grunt to pull very cleanly from these speeds, but if you want to hustle then it’s worth dropping one or two cogs for the quickest overtakes. The smoothness is surprising when the throb of the engine is so obvious at idle – more credit to Harley’s engineers.
The suspension is clearly an improvement, but the feet-forward riding position does mean that you can’t take weight through your legs to absorb the sharper jolts. Deliberately riding through pot-holes, I thought the set-up, which has to deal with a great deal of weight, did a good job. The plush ride varies across the range, and compared to the long travel and traditional riding position of an adventure bike for instance, it’s not as plush, but again there are machines for a different way of life, and tight, harsh roads aren’t its playground.
Economy is claimed to be 51-54mpg, but with no economy display, and fuel stops out of our control, I was unable to measure it. Looking at how the gauge dropped during our 400 mile, two-day trip, I’d expect less than the potential 270 miles range, but it shouldn’t be too hard to make the most of the comfortable ride between stops.
With the easy-to use cruise control set, life can feel pretty good on the right roads with a Harley. There are niggles – I found the Ultra Glide’s touch-screen unreadable when the sun was behind me (it even caused the sun to be bounced into my eyes at times), though the Ultra Limited had it set in a lower, better position. There are also a few rough edges (like the pillion footboard rubbers), which are a shame on a bike that otherwise looks so beautiful, and costs so much). And of course there’s the weight. But if that doesn’t bother you, and you have the money, it’s hard to think of a bike better suited to big roads.
Harley certainly doesn’t have a problem on its hands – the Milwaukee-Eight motor maintains all the character of the iconic American machinery, so if you fancy your first Harley, or you’re looking to replace an older one, emissions legislation has done nothing to spoil the experience.
Specification: H-D Road Glide Ultra
Price: From £23,195
Engine: 1745cc air/water-cooled V-twin
Peak power: 90bhp (67kW) @ 5450rpm
Peak torque: 112lb-ft (152Nm) @ 3250rpm
Transmission: Six-speed, shaft final drive
Frame type: Tubular steel
Tyres: (F) Dunlop D408F 130/80 B17; (R) Dunlop D407T 180/65 B16
Suspension: (F) Unadjustable Showa Dual Bending Valve fork; (R) Preload-adjustable twin-rear shocks.
Brakes: ABS (F) 2 x fixed 4-piston calipers; (R) Single fixed 4-piston caliper
Seat height: 735mm
Wet weight: 425kg
Fuel capacity: 22.7 litres (5 gallons)
WORDS: John Milbank, Motorcycle Sport & Leisure magazine editor