Harley-Davidson dropped a bombshell when it revealed an all-new liquid-cooled V-Twin at its dealer show last week in Denver. The “Twin-Cooled” Twin Cam 103 came as a genuine surprise to the assembled journalists, who had gathered in the mile-high setting for a first ride evaluation of H-D’s 2014 Touring lineup. Even more surprising was how much Harley downplayed its new liquid-cooled engine, the biggest technological divergence in H-D’s product line since the V-Rod.
Instead Harley reps promoted its best-selling touring lineup as “Project Rushmore” – a redesign initiative spawned from Harley’s streamlined product development program. Part of the company-wide reorganization started in 2009, the R&D shakeup has slashed the product development cycle from five years to just over three, and the latest crop of touring models represent the first wave of this comprehensive overhaul.
The tech presentation explaining Project Rushmore featured some of The Motor Company’s biggest wigs – including Chief Operation Officer Matt Levitach and marketing boss Mark-Hans Richer. The swagger was dialed up to 11 for the presentation, with Levitach saying of Rushmore: “This is the most customer-led program we’ve ever done. It is the most significant product launch in the entire 110 years of the company’s history.”
Rushmore changes for the touring rigs are significant but not immediately obvious – with subtle styling updates mated to practical refinements based off that customer-led feedback. Motorcycle USA got a chance to sample the revised bikes during a two-day ride through the scenic Colorado Rockies.
An uprated 103 cubic inch V-Twin powers the entire 2014 touring lineup. Four models – the Road King, Electra Glide Ultra Classic and best-selling Street Glide and Street Glide Special – source an air-cooled version of the High Output Twin Cam 103. The liquid-cooled 103, which H-D insists on calling Twin-Cooled, is sourced in the Ultra Limited and the Tri Glide Ultra Trike. A third liquid-cool… excuse us, twin-cooled model will be available in the CVO Limited, which uses the 110 Twin Cam.
The Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103 is sourced by the Ultra Limited and Tri Glide Trike. It routes coolant through the cylinder heads and the hot exhaust valves. The liquid cycles through a pair of radiators, discreetly mounted in the lower fairings.
The High Output Twin Cam 103 sports higher-lift cams and a high-flow airbox for a claimed 5-7% power gain. (Update: H-D specs claim 105.5 lb-ft peak torque at 3750 rpm for the 2014 model, with the 2013 bike torque listed at 100 lb-ft at 3250 rpm.) The biggest boost comes during roll-on acceleration at higher speeds. Remember that customer-led mantra? Owners wanted more passing power on the freeway – so that’s where the motor improves. And H-D claims acceleration from 60 to 80 mph is now one second quicker courtesy of the HO 103.
So did Harley owners want liquid-cooling too? That’s a subject for another article… But it’s a safe bet that the Rushmore-inspired customer feedback included plenty of complaints about the engine heat radiating onto rider and passenger legs (H-D is keen to note the extent to which passenger input was incorporated into the touring redesigns). The excessive heat is a long-standing issue that the company partially addressed with its cylinder shut-off feature, made standard in the 2009 model year, in which the ECU deactivates the rear cylinder at high temperature. This cylinder deactivation system continues to be employed on the new engine as well. And the primary purpose of the new liquid-cooling is to slake off additional heat for rider/passenger comfort. The twin-cooling system also retains engine performance that the standard 103 loses under thermal stress. H-D reps claim emissions requirements were not the driving factor in the switch to liquid-cooling.
Similar to the BMW R1200GS, a long-time air-cooled platform which switched to liquid-cooling in 2013, the Ultra Limited is also described as “precision-cooled.” The deep cooling fins surrounding the 103 jugs carry away the brunt of the engine heat. Liquid coolant routes through the cylinder head only, targeting heat from the exhaust valves. Fluid cycles through a pair of flanking radiators, mounted in the Ultra Limited’s lower farings, with a thermostat and water pump at the base of the frame downtubes.
The new engine’s (gasp!) radiators will cause some H-D clientele to instinctively froth at the mouth on pure principle, but from an aesthetic standpoint the water-cooling is no more intrusive than the familiar oil-cooling already employed. If anything the radiators are less prominent than the oil cooler, and the water hoses are discreetly mounted between the frame downtubes. It’s so innocuous that at a glance the water-cooled Ultra Limited and air-cooled Ultra Classic are indistinguishable.
I sampled both the air- and twin-cooled 103 platforms during our test ride, with no discernable difference in performance. Throttling out of Denver on I-70 (incidentally, probably the most beautiful stretch of interstate in the entire nation) I found acceleration adequate but underwhelming. Turned out my bike was an international version, which is geared taller, for the stricter emissions and the high-speed autobahns of Europe. The U.S. version I later switched to seemed to have a little more giddy-up, although acceleration still isn’t overwhelming. The lean mountain air probably didn’t help matters in this regard.
The liquid-cooled 103 delivers plenty of usable, immediate torque – with modest improvement in high-end acceleration. Some will grumble that the new engine doesn’t sound as menacing as the previous 103, but the loping engine cadence and exhaust tune sounds authentic to me – particularly during that improved roll-on application.
It must be noted that my first ride appraisal includes a huge caveat regarding engine performance – as the Ultra Limited I rode throughout the second morning crapped out twice. Technicians cited a glitch in the throttle position sensor in the ride-by-wire system, with the ECU shutting down the engine as a result. Being stranded roadside doesn’t inspire a lot of praise, so the new engine gets a shrugging head nod of approval for now. It’s good, better even, than the previous model – but not breath-taking or game-changing.
A larger 49mm fork with stiffer settings promises a more composed ride for the Rushmore Touring chassis. At higher speeds, like long sweeping corners, the Limited’s front end can get fidgety, and the rear suspension easily bottoms out on potholes. However, at a more relaxed cruiser pace it is a surprisingly deft handler for such a heavyweight (dry weight claim of 864 pounds). The floorboards scrape, but only after a decent amount of lean angle is tapped and most of our touch downs occurred only on sharp uphill corners. Also, the bike is big and heavy, but is also stable and planted for maximum touring comfort.
I was most pleased with the performance of the new Reflex Linked Braking system and ABS, another Rushmore update. The linked system engages at speeds above 25 mph, with independent rear/front braking below that threshold – useful for, say, dragging the rear brake during low-speed maneuvers. Again, I’m not sure how many of H-D’s hardcore enthusiasts were clamoring for linked braking and ABS… but there’s no bike class that benefits more from these electronic aids than mammoth-sized cruisers and touring platforms. In practice on the street, the stopping power is much improved, with steady, even stopping power exerting a more controlled halt.
The Ultra Limited gets a hydraulically operated clutch for 2014. I didn’t notice any marked difference in lever pull stiffness. Same goes for the six-speed gearbox, which still transmits that “clunk of confidence” as it was described to me last year on the Pilgrim Road Steel Toe Tour. Okay, so the clunky dig is a complisult, but the deliberate shifting on the H-D powertrain isn’t all that bad – my only true beef with the gearbox is the elusive Neutral.
All the raw performance upgrades, including the Limited’s new engine, are overshadowed somewhat by Project Rushmore’s touring amenities. The updates exhibit a definite increase in fit and finish – as well as practical functionality. The saddlebags and touring pack luggage are a prime example. The hard saddlebags merit high praise for their one-touch accessibility and intuitive latch release. The Tour-Pak’s huge topcase also opens from an easy one-touch latch release. One particular detail that demonstrates the influence of Rushmore customer feedback is the string that retains the Tour-Pack lid. It used to loop out when closing the lid, requiring the rider to re-open and manually tuck in. Now the string automatically retracts. It’s a small, and thoroughly unsexy, update that will only be appreciated by former Tour-Pak Harley owners – of which there are tens of thousands.
The one-touch functionality principle also applies to the new Boom! Box Infotainment system. Thumb joysticks on both of the handlebar switchgears navigate the info menus, which are easy to read on the gorgeous central display (available in 4.3 and 6.5-inch versions). The system takes getting used to, not because they thumb controls are difficult to operate, but because of the massive amount of information available – radio, iPod/phone, navigation and plenty of setup options. I also sampled the system via accessory voice control audio headset. Thumb the voice command prompt on the left switchgear, and then give commands into the helmet-mounted mic. Say, “play, Neil Young” and, boom, I’ve got Neil screeching away ASAP – either on the standard issue speakers, or routed through the headset (my personal preference). I expected lots of gaffes, but the voice recognition did a remarkable job deciphering my mumbling requests.
Daymaker LED headlights adorn the Ultra Limited (top). The Boom! Box Infotainment system is navigated via thumb joysticks at bottom of the switchgear (middle). One-touch functionality for the saddlebags and Tour-pack topcase is a highlight of the touring revamp (bottom).
The clarity of the Boom! Box display makes it easy to overlook the revamped gauges, easier to read with larger graphics. And speaking of seeing things, we didn’t ride much in the dark except for underground parking structures and one long tunnel, but the dual Daymaker LED headlamps, standard on the Ultra Limited and the air-cooled Ultra Classic, are ultra-bright attention grabbers.
Styling changes to the 2014 Ultra Limited are subtle but effective. The distinctive Batwing fairing sports a more aggressive beak, with the luggage profiles angled for a more flowing look. The new floating brake rotors open up the front wheel, the better to admire its sharp-looking contrast-cut. The air cleaner cover also brandishes a different shape than the standard 103 – the funneling intake scoop letting folks know this is the HO version.
Changes to the Batwing fairing aren’t all for show, however, as wind buffeting is much improved. Credit goes to a new retractable vent located on the top of the fairing and underneath the windscreen, which relieves backpressure turbulence. Riders who miss the fatigue from eye-blurring buffeting are free to close the vent via quick button tucked behind the screen (one-touch functioning, of course). The vent works, simple as that, and I would never close it. And speaking of aerodynamics, lest you think only sportbike manufacturers are in the wind tunnel – Harley development engineers told us the new bikes route comforting airflow around the rider, but in such a manner as to eliminate the dastardly effect of beard lift. That’s right, folks, I just said beard lift… Project Rushmore, customer driven indeed!
The decreased buffeting is a huge factor in increased rider comfort (and reduced beard lift plays its part too, I’m sure…), and the Ultra Limited is a bike that eats up miles with luxurious ease. I didn’t fully appreciate the seat’s couch-like contours until swapping to another ride. The pillion accommodations are improved, with more seat space and leg room. I didn’t hop on the back, though I should have, as I reckon it would have fit my 6’1” 205-pound frame comfortably.
The biggest question in rider comfort, however, is that engine heat. Our test group included a long-time Ultra Classic owner, who claimed the heat issue is much improved on the new Limited. I didn’t discern any dramatic difference between the air- and liquid-cooled models, though I only briefly sampled the air-cooled Ultra Classic. The Ultra Limited still got warm, but not unbearably so as we scythed through the flowing mountain scenery. More stop-and-go urban riding in the future will be a truer test.
After two days in the saddle, my impression is that H-D’s touring platform, including the Ultra Limited, is undoubtedly more refined. The big wild card is, of course, how Harley’s customers and dealers will handle that fundamental change to liquid-cooling. There’s also the matter of price. Changes to the Limited jack up MSRP to $1700 more than the 2013 model – $25,899 for solid black, $26,939 in the multiple two-tone colorways offered and $27,164 for the Daytona Blue Pearl custom paint option. The Ultra Limited also packs a premium of several thousand dollars compared with the Victory Vision, to say nothing of the new Indians from Polaris (and, yes, the Harley-Davidson vs. Indian comparisons are at the top of MotoUSA’s 2014 model year shootouts).
For all the question marks, H-D’s Project Rushmore changes all add up to a more refined riding experience to be sure. But the ultimate fate of the Ultra Limited and its Twin-Cooled motor will be one of the big motorcycle stories in 2014 and beyond.
Stay tuned for first ride recaps on the air-cooled H-D Touring models, including the Street Glide – the industry-wide top-seller in the U.S. market – as well as the Road King.