Harley-Davidson celebrated its 105th Anniversary with a serialized, limited edition run of the Ultra Classic Electra Glide that includes commemorative badges on the air cleaner, timer cover inserts, and tank cloisonne to go along with sweet copper pearl and vivid black paint.
Let’s make due note that the Twin Cam 96 is working at a sizable displacement disadvantage – 147cc to be in fact. With 35 more pounds of mass put in motion, we can understand Victory’s decision to go with the larger mill. But beyond displacement disparities, the Victory engine gets the point for powerplant performance. More power, broader powerband with higher efficiency. This last factoid is reflected in our mileage findings. The Ultra Classic was good for 34.56 mpg. This included freeway and city miles, from hard throttling, gear-rattling and hard-braking photo passes to open road overdrive riding. The Vision punched in at an almost identical reading of 34.79 mpg. So not only is the Vision’s mill giving you more, it’s doing it without burning more fuel. Given the fact that both bikes have six-gallon tanks, range on the American V-Twin luxo-tourers should be good for at least 210 miles, more if you’re not abusing the throttle like we were.
And if you don’t believe our findings, the results from Mickey Cohen Motorsports dyno reinforces our claim. The 2008 Ultra Classic Electra Glide produced max torque of 85.9 lb-ft at 3500 rpm. The 2008 Victory Vision Tour beat it by almost 10 lb-ft, putting up a comparo best of 94.9 lb-ft at only 3100 rpm. Almost as impressive was the fact that its curve didn’t dip down below 90 lb-ft until 4800 rpm. The horsepower readings also favor the Vision. The Ultra Classic’s best effort was 71.1 hp at 5300 rpm, while the Vision put out 84.4 horses at the same amount of revs. For its domination of the horsepower and torque charts, the Vision receives two points.
Motorcycle USA’s Adam Waheed offered his impression of the engines. “The Vision makes gobs of power everywhere. The motor is very soulful, it has much more character than the H-D.”
We press forward with our test, anxious to ditch traffic and use the bikes for what they’re made for, the open road, but six lanes come to a standstill in the perpetual grind around LAX. That’s where the Ultra Classic’s 2.2-inch shorter wheelbase, lighter weight and 3-degree tighter rake work to a rider’s advantage. There was definitely less toe-tapping on the big Harley than the S.S. Vision. With your feet out in front of you on the full-length adjustable rider floorboards and the handlebars situated a bit under shoulder height, the Ultra Classic’s comfortable upright riding position makes the bike easy to balance even when traffic’s at a crawl.
Though the angle of ascent in horsepower is similar for both bikes, the larger mill of the Vision puts out 84.4 hp at 5,300 rpm while the Ultra Classic only musters 71.1 horses at the same rpm.
Which is the reason the Ultra Classic gets the point for low-speed handling. The Vision is 105-inches long with a 65.7-inch wheelbase. It also has a super low 26.5-inch seat height that drops the rider more ‘in’ the bike than positioned ‘on’ like the Ultra Classic. This means it’s a short reach to the ground, which is a good thing because you’re going to need it. The reach to the Vision’s handlebars is higher than on the Ultra, so at low speed there’s more side to side handlebar action and body English used trying to keep all 105 inches of the Vision in check. It also sacrifices a little in U-turn radius. Finding the bike’s center of gravity became easier as time behind the Vision’s controls increased, but it was still more unwieldy at low speed than the Ultra Classic.
When we finally got out of the L.A. Basin and started to wind through the hills and curves of Malibu Canyon, the chassis performance of the Vision began to shine. The cast rear chassis section works in tandem with its single gas shock to hold the Vision steadfast in high-speed sweepers. The motorcycle requires little effort in the turns and changes directions extremely quickly. One of its best attributes is its handling at speed. Its performance is much sportier than you’d expect from an 850-lb bike.
Wish we could heap the same praise on the Ultra Classic. But we can’t. While running over the same high-speed Malibu sweepers, the Ultra Classic’s rear end felt loose as the contact patch got smaller. Granted, these bikes aren’t meant for scraping pegs. But the corners weren’t the only place the Harley felt a little squirrelly. While running down the heavily grooved and rutted 405, the Ultra Classic’s tires translate every uneven surface to the handlebars and leaves you with that floaty sensation of having no traction. Because of this, the point for high-speed handling definitely goes to the Vision.
After a short stint on the PCH through Malibu, we got a break from traffic as we found some isolated roads off Hwy 126 heading toward Santa Paula. What better time than to test the brakes. With more than a half ton of man and machine in motion, bringing that amount of mass to a halt means the brakes better be damn good. But both bikes have room for improvement. The Vision has dual 300mm floating discs with 4-piston calipers up front and a 300mm floating rotor with a 2-piston caliper out back. The back is linked one way, back to front, and only comes into play during heavy braking. But the front brake lacks a lot of power and the brake pads don’t deliver much bite. The rear brake works much better than the front and the linked system works well, but the Vision did fishtail on a few occasions when the rear brakes locked up.
The ’08 Victory Vision swept our horsepower and torque charts. More impressive though was that it did so without burning up more fuel than the Ultra Classic, as both had average mpg’s in the 35-mile range.
“I’d rather see independent systems with appropriate braking power and more aggressive brake pad compounds,” Waheed said.
We tested the 105th Anniversary edition Ultra Classic, the version that gets ABS standard. The motorcycle also comes equipped with new Brembos as well, dual 32mm discs with 4-piston calipers up front and a single 32mm disc with 4-pot calipers out back. The Ultra Classic’s front brake had a better bite than the Vision’s and had a more progressive feel at the lever. In situations where the Vision fishtailed, the new Harley ABS did its job of keeping the wheels inline and the rider upright. Out of the two, the Ultra Classic’s brakes were more up to the task and good enough to claim another point.
And while I was ready to grant the Ultra Classic the award for best pipes based on past experience with both bikes, there was a noticeably different note emanating from the Vision. Victory’s PR Manager, Robert Pandya, informed us that the model that we were testing had an early set of Victory “Stage 1” pipes on it. Guess my hearing’s not gone yet. With the “Stage 1’s” on, the mellow growl of the stock pipes now have a bigger burble more befitting such a big bike. The Ultra Classic didn’t have any aftermarket pipes working in its favor but ran with the stock touring cross-over dual cans with taper end caps. It put out the requisite rumble of an H-D V-Twin, but I expected it to win in a walkover. Harley-Davidson should have hit me up with some Screamin’ Eagle upgrades. As far as pipes, we see our first split – half a point each.