Harley glides into the 21st century with revamped Electra Glide Ultra Limited

2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited // 2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited (Photo: Harley-Davidson)

Denver, Colo. – Typically — too often, if you're a motorcycle journalist desperate for some headline-generating news — Harley-Davidson new model launches are long on stylistic updates but short of major technological advancements. Form trumps function with much talk of paint and chrome and far too little about pistons and brake pads. Fender extensions would be big news mainly because so little about the bikes were being updated. Indeed, other than different audio systems and a slightly larger engine, nothing much has happened to the big touring Harleys, for instance, since their big chassis revision in 2009.

Which makes all the upgrades under the Project Rushmore — the changes are monumental, geddit? — banner nothing short of revolutionary. Even some technological powerhouses — like BMW and Honda — would be jealous with all that's new in Harley dealerships this year. Indeed, virtually everything about the 2014 Electra Glide Ultra Limited — engine, suspension, fairing, seating, brakes, lighting, switchgear and infotainment system — has been either massaged, updated or completely re-engineered. The bike may look the same — Harley customers are, after all, a hoary old lot not given to radical changes to their visual cues — but underneath the familiar skin is a completely new motorcycle.

Road Kings, Street Glides and Electra Glide Ultra Classics, for instance, receive a High Output twin-cam 103 engine with revised camshafts and intake/exhaust system for a five per cent increase in power. More importantly, the radical change that has been rumoured for years — liquid cooling — has finally been applied to Harley's iconic V-twin.

New performance, classic look

2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited // 2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited (Photo: Harley-Davidson)

But, like BMW, which faced the same issue of water-cooling an iconic air-cooled engine without altering the engine's basic "look," the new Twin-Cooled version of the Big Twin cools its cylinder head but leaves the main cylinders air-cooled so they can retain their iconic cooling fins. Indeed, as evidenced by the Ultra Limited version Electra Glide, it's not immediately obvious that the new Twin-Cooled engine is anything other than a traditionally air-cooled Big Twin.

The engine remains visually unchanged save for two hoses emanating from their tops (only visible with the engine out of the frame and normally concealed by the gas tank). Even the radiators are so well hidden in the lower fairings typical of fully-dressed Harleys that one must get down on one’s knees to inspect whether there really are radiators in there. Of course, that means implementation of Twin-Cooled (both air and water – clever, eh?) High Output Big Twin will be limited to the Touring models until Harley figures out an even more clever way to disguise radiators for their bare-bones Dyna and Softail models.

Many have been saying that this change has been necessary for years and, indeed, Harley claims a 10.7 per cent power advantage (thanks to a higher 10.1:1 compression ratio, a new camshaft and more aggressive ignition tuning) for the liquid-cooled version of the Big Twin.

Just as important, however, is that the new Twin-Cooled engines put out consistent levels of power no matter how hot they get. The power output of air-cooled versions (which will continue to power all other big Harleys) tend to drop off as they get hot, the fuel-injection system retarding timing to prevent the detonation that occurs when an air-cooled engine can't shed heat fast enough. From that point of view, the Twin-Cooled engine is a ready success, especially since, as I have mentioned, Harley took great pains to conceal its new cooling system; you can't really tell that the engine is anything but traditional. Indeed, from the saddle, the loping rhythm and syncopated beat remain the same though there is distinctly less heat emanating from the engine, a nice secondary benefit.