2014 Harley-Davidson FLHTK Ultra Limited Review

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2014 Harley-Davidson FLHTK Ultra Limited Review: Liquid Cooling a Legend

2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited
The 2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited. Photo © Tom Riles

For over a century, Harley-Davidson's calling card has been its air-cooled engines. Though the conscious avoidance of liquid-cooling has had its downsides-- namely in the power output department and the inherent discomfort of having an oil and air-cooled engine sitting inches away from your groin on a hot day-- Harley has done surprisingly well for themselves by only allowing their V-Rod line of bikes to be liquid cooled, despite recession-related sales dips which finally recovered after a series of aggressive business maneuvers.

Enter 2013, and the Motor Company has taken a half-step towards modernity by introducing liquid-cooled cylinder heads to select models including their 2014 Harley-Davidson FLHTK Ultra Limited, priced at $25,899 in black, $26,939 in two-tones, and $27,164 in custom colors. Rather than dwell on them here, I've outlined a few things you should know about Harley's liquid cooling technique in this list-- so before we swing a leg over, let's take a closer look at other things Harley has done in an effort to make their Ultra Limited Review a better bike.

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2014 Harley-Davidson FLHTK Ultra Limited Review: Introducing Project Rushmore

2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited
A cockpit view of the 2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited. Photo © Tom Riles

What Project Rushmore Brings to the 2014 Harley-Davidson FLHTK Ultra Limited

It may look almost identical to the 2013 Ultra, but the 2014 Harley-Davidson FLHTK Ultra Limited packs a slew of improvements based on a series of upgrades they're calling Project Rushmore, which alters eight motorcycles in the lineup based on customer feedback.

For starters, the Ultra Limited features a new infotainment system with an available 6.5 inch touchscreen. The screen is pressure sensitive, and the system's navigation, music, and audio systems can be operated by voice control, while a new one-touch cubbyhole allows you to slip your phone in and connect via USB. In the comfort arena, a new Batwing fairing with special venting reduces head buffeting by 20 percent, while wider and deeper seats with new back and arm rests for passengers make long distance rides more tolerable. Touring fans will also take note of the reshaped saddlebags which now operate with a one-touch latch.

The new Ultra also boasts more engineering when it comes to performance. New floating open brake rotors enable better feel and shorter stopping distances, and the front and rear brakes are now linked, though the system automatically disables the linking at speeds under 20 mph. A new hydraulic clutch requires less lever effort and a High Output Twin Cam 103 v-twin delivers more grunt. But the big news here is what Harley calls their Twin-Cooled engine-- to find out more, click "Next".

03
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Liquid Cooling, the Harley-Davidson Way

2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited
A view of the 2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited's twin radiators, discreetly tucked into the fairings. Photo © Tom Riles

Harley-Davidson calls it "Twin Cooling", and the idea behind their approach is similar to BMW's usage of "Precision Cooling" in their 2013 R1200GS model. Rather go the full liquid-cooled route with a big radiator sitting ahead of the engine, Harley chose to incorporate liquid-cooled cylinder heads into their Twin-Cooled mills, leaving the lower (crankcase) portion of the v-twin with the traditional oil and air cooled setup.

Harley was able to squeeze 5 to 7 percent more power from the Twin-Cooled engines. And while the non Twin-Cooled engines also see performance gains, though those improvements diminish in the oil and air-cooled engines when ambient temperatures rise.

You can read more about the technology in Six Things You Should Know About Liquid-Cooled 2014 Harley-Davidsons, but the biggest takeaway is that the liquid-cooled heads are intended to make these Hogs more comfortable when the going gets hot.

That said, my test ride took place on a warm day in Colorado. How did the (partially) water-cooled Harleys fare under those conditions? Click "Next" to find out.

04
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On the Road: Riding Cool(er)

2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited
The 2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited, in action. Photo © Tom Riles

Fire up the 103 cubic inch (1,690 cc) v-twin, and everything seems status quo for a big Harley touring bike: vibrations shake the frame, that unmistakeable exhaust note rumbles, and glints of chrome remind you there's plenty of heft to this 861 pound bike. You'll notice a few of Project Rushmore's improvements right off the bat, including an automatically retracting retainer cord for the rear top case, more comfortable handlebar ergonomics, and a new dashboard that's dominated by the centrally positioned touchscreen. The multimedia system works intuitively enough through switchgear operated buttons, though several riders in our group (including myself) experienced a glitch where MP3 files stopped playing and could not be advanced-- which was possibly due to the fact that we were riding 2014 motorcycles which were among the first built. The system's 25 watt per channel amplifier and four speaker setup sounded great, and only diminished its aural impact at elevated highway speeds.

Performance-wise, the new Ultra offers several noticeable improvements, among them more confidence-inspiring brakes, slightly crisper handling thanks to new forks with stiffer triple clamps, and better ride quality thanks to lighter aluminum wheels. But the most noteworthy mechanical enhancement has to do with the Twin-Cooled engine, which runs perceptibly cooler than its oil and air-cooled predecessor. You'd be hard-pressed to notice the discreetly hidden radiators or water hoses running above the cylinder heads, but the relief from the heat is a welcome addition on hot days like the one in which I tested the new Ultra. Even when ambient temperatures reach the low 80s, there's still a bit of heat coming off the engine, but it's a notable improvement to the bike's predecessor, which had a nasty habit of attempting to liquify your nether regions when the mercury rises in the most incremental way.

As you'd expect with an 896 pound bike, the Ultra can be a handful at parking lot speeds, especially when the top case is loaded with stuff (which raises the bike's center of gravity considerably). But speed up to about 20 mph, and relatively light steering effort coupled with surprisingly effective chassis development makes it easier to control this big, heavy touring machine. At highway speeds, the aerodynamic improvements to the Batwing fairing work as advertised, delivering an effective wind block when needed, and turbulence-reducing ventilation when the small, hand-operated vent is open.

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Bottom Line, Specifications, Who Should Buy the 2014 Harley Ultra Limited?

2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited
The 2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited. Photo © Brian J. Nelson

Bottom Line

Harley-Davidson's goal of improving their bikes for 2014 posed unusual challenges, mainly because the brand is so inextricably associated with the past. If Harley were freed of its implicit responsibilities towards evoking a certain mood, they might have gotten away with modernizing their bikes to the point of anonymity. But by being constrained with all the sights, sounds, and feelings folks have associated with the brand, Harley engineers had to incorporate their updates in a way that made them noticeable, but not different enough to make the bikes feel unfamiliar.

The 2014 Ultra Limited succeeds on a number of levels, delivering an significantly improved and more comfortable riding experience without losing that signature Harley-Davidson look and feel. It's a tall order, but the bike manages to incorporate improvements while preserving its "Harleyness". As for the liquid-cooled cylinder heads, the success of their implementation in this bike puts the pressure on Harley-Davidson to incorporate the feature into more of their lineup, which is a more challenging task since they won't have the luxury of hiding the radiators inside the conveniently located front fairing that's standard on the Electra Glide touring lineup... but that's another challenge for another time.

Despite the fact that it still has many quirks and character traits some will find intolerable in a bike whose price starts at $25,899, there will no doubt be plenty of takers who are pleasantly surprised at the refinements engineered into the 2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited.

Specifications

  • Price: $25,899 (black), $26,939 (two-tones), $27,164 (custom colors)
  • Engine: Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103 (1,690cc) fuel-injected v-twin
  • Engine Output: 105.5 lb-ft of torque
  • Fuel Capacity: 6 gallons
  • Transmission: 6-Speed manual
  • Fuel Economy: 42 mpg, combined
  • Seat Height: 27.3 inches
  • Rake/Trail: 26º/6.7 inches
  • Maximum Lean Angle: 31.9º right, 31.8º left
  • Curb Weight: 896 pounds
  • Brakes: Standard anti-lock, with 4-piston front and rear calipers
  • Front/Rear Suspension: 49mm telescopic forks/air adjustable rear
  • Suspension Travel: 4.6 inches front, 3 inches rear

Who Should Buy the 2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited?

Well-heeled Harley-loving touring riders with an eye for nostalgia but a heart for increased comfort.

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