Monday, April 9th, 2012
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Freedom! What’s your definition? If I cared enough to poll people with this simple question, I’m sure there will be an infinite number of answers. I don’t care too, so for the sake of this article and those of you within it, I’ll assume that getting on a Harley and hitting the open road is a simple way to experience freedom.
Personally, I experienced ultimate freedom every August when I pack up a motorcycle, bid farewell to the annual summer motorcycle pilgrimage in the black hills known as Sturgis, and ride home. To facilitate this ride, and make sure to give random offerings and sacrifices to the Harley gods in an attempt to appease them. Luckily, for the last 4 or 5 years my plan has worked, and I have been fortunate enough to get my hands on new-model-year Harley to ride away from Sturgis. And, truth told, as soon as I packed up this year’s bike and rolled out of town heading home to the northeast, I was guilty of instantly having that awesome feeling of freedom.
For my most recent freedom ride, I was handed the keys to the 2012 Ember Red Sunglo Harley Davidson Road Glide Ultra (RGU) you see here. A bonus this time around was that I knew what I was getting into, since I had good fortune of riding this model when it was first released as a 2011 CVO model (autumn 2010). Amazingly, even though I’m not a fan of full blown luxury tourers, I do like this one . There. I finally put it print – I like a bike with a fairing and windshield. I’ve now mad a mockery of all my years spent gripping.
Of all the fairing bikes offered by Harley Davidson, the Road Glides are my favorites hands down. The shark-nosed, frame-mounted fairing gives the rider great wind protection but still provides a light feel in handling. Like all members of Harley Davidson’s 2012 Touring family, the RGU comes with a rubber-mounted Twin Cam 103 engine and 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission. This powertrain allowed me to cruise at 80 mph with the engine just pushing 3,000 rpm, which I find ideal for interstate riding. On a side note, the TC 103 is quickly becoming my favorite from-the-factory engine. This is because they have noticeably more power than the old eighty-eights and ninety-sixers, but produce nowhere near the excessive heat of the TC 110s. Although I must say that when the ambient air temp gets above 80-85 F, you can’t miss feeling the heat radiating off a 103 motor, especially a full-faired bike like this one nifty, removable with frame air deflectors located in front of the gas tank and vents on the lower leg fairing covering help, but only to a certain extent.
What puts the Ultra in Road Glide id is the fact that it comes with a factory-installed, injection-molded Deluxe King Tour-pak. This simple addition almost doubles the space a Road Glide has to carry stuff since it provides as much as interior volume as both standard GTX saddle bags combined. When you include the standard, vented lower fairing with integral storage compartments and the glove storage compartments on the fairing itself and add it all up, this model as the most storage capacity of any Harley currently being sold. Heck, with all the space this model provides, even packing up your carbon fiber helmets still makes room for other stuff.
Overall, the specs of the Road Glide Ultra are pretty close to the more popular Ultra Classic Electra Glide Limited, which happens to be the bike I rode for the same trip home the previous year (AIM August 2011). Both models roll on 28-spoke, cast-aluminum wheels ( 130-17″ front, 180-16″ rear), and have a one-piece, two-up Elektra Glide Classic stitch seat that provides all day riding comfort. In actuality, the only differences in specs come in the RGU being almost two inches narrower, six inches less in over all height and about 23 lbs lighter. The specs combine with the fact the fairing is frame-mounted to give you a big difference in the ride feel between the two bikes. A good example of this is that any buffeting or vibration is directed through the frame on this bike, not the handle bars and rider’s hands like on the Limited. The end result is higher handling that seems to make the bike quicker and nimbler I find that I easily noticed the difference when a big blast of wind from a truck going the other way makes the bike’s fairing. Riding an RGU in that scenario, we feel the force run through the bike, and it may shift or move the bike around the lane a bit, but the most of the energy is absorbed by the bike as whole, not just the fairing.
Besides killing the feeling of freedom I get when the air flows over my head, the tall lexan windshield works on the RGU as a whole. Although it’s worth noting that it did cause some minor head buffeting around 60 mph, that got more tolerable around 75-80 and beyond. Combine the shield, fairing, and the lower leg coverings, and you get above average rain protection and I guess some freedom from stopping to don rain gear. Although I know many would disagree, I have always liked the Road Glide’s dual head lights and cockpit-style instrument display. This bike comes with the standard 80-watt, four-speaker Harmon/Kardon advanced Audio with a CD player that is set up with a CB/Rider/Passenger intercom. The iPOD hook up from the CVO version is gone, which is a bummer but, like the most things, can be added thanks to the almighty P&A catalog.
Like any respectable luxo-tourer, the RGU comes standard with many things you would expect, like electronic cruise control, air-adjustable rear shocks full-length rider foot boards with matching, height-adjustable passenger foot boards smart security system, and anti-lock (ABS) brakes. The latter work wonderfully and are much appreciated on a bike of this size and weight.
While enjoy the freedom this bike provided on my trip home, I averaged around 36 miles per gallon, and I was never able to get more than 220 miles total out of a full six-gallon can. Maybe you can do better, but trust me when I say I used every last drop of fuel to get that 220. In hindsight, those numbers aren’t that bad when I factor in my heavy throttle hand and the fact that the bike was fully loaded with my stuff, not to mention me. Spending several long days in the saddle of the RGU got me thinking about the position of this bike in Harley Davidson’s touring family tree. I decided that this model is one of that family’s most important members, and in my opinion might be pretty close to the ultimate Harley luxury tourer. I also thought that the brain trust in Milwaukee should just take it one step further and add some more bells and whistles like heated grips, an AC port in the Tour-Pak, a luggage rack and maybe even an iPod connection in the saddle bags – and call it a RGU limited. The creation would then be clearly positioned as the top touring model without being a CVO.
By the time my trip was over and I had arrived home, I had an epiphany. I basically realized that on this ride with this bike, I had become smitten to the point of wishing this motorcycle had even more stuff on it, which is very unlike me. Not too long after that when the bike was picked up it finally made sense. I didn’t buy an RGU. That means I’m still free to go jump on a bike without a windshield and go for a real drive anytime I want. Freedom… Gotta love it!