Being of sound mind and body, up till now I’d managed to avoid the whole Port Dover, Friday the 13th. Uh, I’m not sure what to call it… Rally? Happening? Tribal congregation? Informal gathering of thousands of motorcyclists?
In a moment of weakness I decided to saddle up the 2011 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra and drag my sorry butt to Port Dover on Friday, May 13th to see what all the fuss was about.
At 6:30 am, I ordered up flank speed, right full rudder and steered The Motor Company’s excellent Nimitz-class touring ship away from home and towards the Great Unknown.
Okay, it wasn’t the most interesting ride – all superslab from Oshawa to Hamilton until I hit Highway 6, and then two-lane roads through flat, uninteresting farmland right into Port Dover, where I arrived shortly before 9:00 am.
But it was a beautiful morning and the sun was shining for a change. There’s a lot to be said for sitting back with the cruise control set at a ‘don’t bother me’ 110 km/h and Bob Seger blasting through the CD player while the big twin purrs along the open road.
STRIPPED, THEN DRESSED
If you’re confused about Harley-Davidson’s model designations, think of the Road Glide Ultra as the Electra Glide “light.” It shares the same touring chassis as the iconic Electra Glide, but without the chrome saddlebag guards, fender rails, spotlights and extra doo-dads.
Tick the “Ultra” box on the Road Glide order sheet and you’ll be dinged an extra $3,890 (bringing my press unit’s price to $25,509), but for the added shekels you get the 103 cubic inch engine, extra comfy seats, security system, tourpack, ABS and cruise control.
If you like torque, the 103 engine is worth the Ultra’s price of admission by itself, as the 102 lb-ft is almost 10 per cent higher than the 96-inch motor. Which means more grunt on tap for passing lumbering RVs.
The Ultra keeps the Road Glide’s characteristic twin headlights set close together in the signature frame-mounted, Shark Nose fairing, but has a taller, touring windscreen.
My press unit also had the optional “Cool Blue” paint, with fit and finish beyond reproach – in other words, typical Harley-Davidson. Alex Carroni, my contact at Deeley Harley Davidson, nicknamed the bike “Baby Blue” but I immediately christened it “The Blue Max.”
As it should be with a bike like this, comfort will not be an issue, even if you like spending hours in the saddle.
The new seat is extremely comfortable with added back support and for
the vertically challenged. It is also narrower at the front, making it
easy to place both feet firmly on the pavement during stops.
The bars are well positioned and the footboards have rubber inserts to keep nasty vibes away from tender tootsies.
Which is a good thing as the engine shakes like crazy at idle and make the ends of the bars look like a double-exposure photo. If you’re not clenching your teeth, they soon start hammering out The Macarena.
As soon as you’re moving, effective rubber engine mounts keep unwanted vibes away from the rider and everything smoothes out nicely. The vibes never totally disappear however, and you’re always aware that there’s a functioning beast underneath you, though it’s never obtrusive.
Throttle response is excellent; the Harley dishes out a ton of torque right off the bottom, making it easy to glide the bike away from a stop, and idle through the stifling Port Dover traffic.
Shifts on the Cruise Drive six-speed box are positive with a fairly light action and short throw, although each shift is accompanied by an audible clank as the massive cogs engage.
The touring screen is fairly high, but there was still noticeable buffeting at highway speeds and the voices in my head kept telling me to crank the volume on the Harmon-Kardon stereo (which has AM/FM, a CD player and is MP3 and CB compatible).
The cockpit is nicely finished with a large analogue speedo and tach, and extra gauges for volts, fuel, oil pressure and ambient air temperature. Inside the speedo is an LCD display for the twin tripmeters, odometer and a handy “distance left on this tank” feature.
When Harley redesigned the touring chassis a couple of years ago,
handling improved by several orders of magnitude. Initial turn in wasn’t
exactly light but once committed, it held its line with the tenacity of
a pitbull. As an added bonus, the bike proved just as easy to handle
around town as it was on the highway.
Once the going got bumpy, the short travel rear shocks got a bit overwhelmed and the ride turned harsh. In fairness, the shocks are air adjustable and I didn’t have time to play around with the settings.
The brakes do an okay job of slowing the Blue Max, but hard stops require a firm pull on the lever and a hefty stomp on the rear pedal.
The lever initially feels mushy with a somewhat vague feel, but grab again and it firms up – almost as if the brakes need bleeding, something I also noticed with the Electra Glide I rode to the east coast last summer.
ROLL ME OVER IN PORT DOVER
Some years Port Dover sees up to 50,000 motorcycles and 200,000 people, but the general consensus was that this year’s crowds were noticeably thinner than those of the gathering last August, due to the (this is a recording) forecast of rain and thunderstorms.
Still, streets near the downtown core were packed with bikes angle-parked on both curbs, and Main Street even had another row in the middle. Gotta love all the signs indicating “Motorcycles Only.”
Some homeowners on side streets were offering motorcycle parking for 10 bucks for the day. Latecomers likely wouldn’t mind paying that but being an early bird, I parked Big Max less than a block from Main Street for free.
The top box easily swallowed my full face lid and jacket, while my rain suit resided in one of the top-opening saddlebags. For convenience, one key fits the ignition, gas cap, bags and top box, which is definitely handy.
Walking around there were the usual stupid t-shirts (yes I can read that and I don’t care who fell off your bike), annoying straight pipes and bandanas that make your face look like a skull. Sorry but I just don’t get the skull thing. Skulls on helmets and bandanas, skulls on expensive custom paint jobs. Why not a patella or a scapula?
Around 11:30, the first naked bosom made its appearance. It was on a lady perched on the back of a cruiser, lifting her t-shirt to the crowd. And for the ladies, Paul Nurmi, aka Thong Man, made his traditional appearance wearing nothing but a thong and a smile. I’m glad I didn’t just have breakfast.
I didn’t hang around too long, pointing the Ultra towards home shortly before noon. Nothing personal but I’ve always preferred riding motorcycles to standing around looking at them or talking about them.
At that point, bikes were still arriving in droves, the backed up traffic stretching along Highway 6 for several kilometres. I was quite happy to forsake the noisy crowds for the solitude of the Ultra and the open road.
I CAME, I SAW, I LEFT
My first Friday the 13th wasn’t the “be all, end all” that some have made it out to be, but it wasn’t as horrible as my preconceived notions would’ve indicated. It’s just not my scene, but for those who like it – fill yer boots. As events go, I came, I saw, I left, and now I don’t have to go back any time soon.
The Ultra wasn’t just a Port Dover “see and be seen” vessel. I used it as a daily rider and for numerous day trips, including one tour through Prince Edward County that ended up being a 600-plus kilometre day.
During this time, the Blue Max returned an average of 5.4L/100km. Once fully broken in, the 22.7 litre tank should give a cruising range of over 400 km.
Even though the Max weighs 413 kg, gassed up and ready to go, the only time this is an issue is when moving the motorcycle into the garage at night – I had the Shouldice Clinic on speed dial, just in case. Otherwise, the weight nearly disappears when moving.
If your tastes run to full-dress, big-twin touring bikes but you aren’t into bling, consider the Road Glide Ultra. All the comforts of home without the window dressing.
|Bike||Harley-Davidson FLTRU Road Glide Ultra|
|Engine type||Four-stroke, 45-degree V-twin, air cooled|
|Torque*||102 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm|
|Tank Capacity||22.7 litres|
|Carburetion||EFI with single throttle body|
|Final drive||Six speed, belt drive|
|Brakes, front||Two 300 mm discs with four-piston calipers|
|Brakes, rear||300 mm disc with four-piston caliper|
|Seat height||739 mm (29.1″)|
|Wheelbase||1,613 mm (63.5″)|
|Wet weight*||413 kg (908 lb)|
|Colours||Vivid black, silver pearl, blue pearl, merlot sunglo|
Any of the Harley touring series bikes will give you a high quality riding experience that will make you want to ride all the time. After being a long time owner of a big Japanese touring bike I am extremely happy with my Electra Glide Classic I bought new in 2009. Really chalking up the kilometres but the bike looks and feels and runs like brand new. Life just doesn’t get much better than cruising along on a big Harley on a scenic secondary country road with the big V Twin loafing along in 6th gear overdrive. With, or even without Bob Seger.
I am looking at getting s Electra Glide Ultra Limited. So this was a good read. I dont think I can do the shark nose Road Glide – looks awkward on the bike. But I do like frame mount fairings.
I have done the Japanesse cruiser bike deal now and they just dont sound right.
Something else about the 103ci they have added an OIL COOLER and Decompresser for easier starting. Harley is comming around SLOW but sure..
I’m with you on that one Bondo…crowds suck!! Let’s ride 8)
The only downfall to the Harley’s is that they are stuck with dated styling…I know, it’s supposed to be the Harley look…but the Harley customers are getting older…I like the V twin, but the bike itself seems old… :sigh
small scooter tires won’t last very long in touring usage
For long distance touring, style not taken into account, what would you prefer: the road glide or a Burgman 650/Honda Silverwing?