It was an interesting Facebook exchange. I had posted a link to a news item about Harley’s newly announced liquid-cooled big twin, and someone Harley-bashed my post – on my Facebook wall. The nerve.
“Welcome to 1980,” he announced in the comment, “always amazes me to see HD fans get excited about VERY old technology finally reaching their brand.”
As a fan of Harleys (among the 30-odd bikes I’ve owned, four were Hogs), as well as other brands, I reminded him that BMW introduced the exact same “VERY old technology” on the 2013 R1200GS.
No, the new Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103 engine (Harley marketing folk really need to condense their nomenclature) is not revolutionary, but it is the sensible next step, and one Harley had to take to improve their 45-degree V-twin and reduce emissions.
Although the liquid-cooled engine doesn’t actually produce more power than the new air-cooled one, according to Harley, its power output is more stable, and it will maintain its power more consistently than the air-cooled mill; as the air-cooled engine heats up, ignition is retarded to prevent engine knock, which reduces power. This doesn’t happen on the Twin-Cooled engine.
Designing the new cooling system was a difficult task, however, as traditional Harley buyers want the traditional air-cooled look, and will shun the additional clutter of liquid cooling, which requires radiators, a water pump and a variety of coolant hoses. All of which are hard to hide on a motorcycle, especially one whose engine isn’t hidden by a fairing.
The faithful can breathe a sigh of relief as the Harley engineers did a stellar job of concealing the bike’s new cooling system. Looking at a bike equipped with the Twin-Cooled engine from the side you simply cannot tell it is liquid cooled. At all. Only a very close inspection will reveal two rubber hoses leading forward, above the front cylinder head, beneath the fuel tank.
From the front the cooling system is more easily revealed, as twin radiators are nestled inside the left and right fairing lowers. Less conspicuous is the electric water pump, located in front of and below the engine, behind a cover; on Harley’s air-cooled tourers it’s where the oil cooler is located.
But the new engine was only part of a complete makeover of eight new Harley models, introduced under the name Project Rushmore. Other changes under the Project Rushmore umbrella include a more powerful air-cooled Twin Cam 103 engine, improved aerodynamics and revised bodywork on the touring bikes, redesigned handlebar switch pods, new headlights (twin halogen or an LED depending on the model), a hydraulic clutch, ABS brakes that are now linked, and a new infotainment system, the first time the automotive term is used on a motorcycle.
Among the changes to other bikes, the Twin Cam 96 engine has been dropped and the Twin Cam 103 engine is now on all big-twin models. Also, all Sportster models now have available ABS.
Harley launched the new machines in Golden, Colorado (home of Coors beer) and I began the first day on an Ultra Limited (starting at $29,529), which comes standard with the Twin-Cooled engine.
Aside from the twin radiators, another distinguishing feature on the new bike is a redesigned batwing fairing. It resembles closely the current fairing, except that it protrudes just a bit farther forward of the headlight (probably to make room for the infotainment system), and it now has an air intake just below the windshield.
The opening forces a stream of air up the backside of the windshield, and is very effective at reducing helmet buffeting, which was somewhat of an annoyance on the outgoing touring models. The factory claims helmet buffeting is reduced by 20 percent, but when opening and closing the vent at highway speeds it felt like the reduction was more than that. Granted, the airflow around your head isn’t R1200RT-like calm, but it is no longer intrusive, and it also reduces noise levels.
There are also new, brighter headlights, and depending on the model you either get twin halogens, or ultra-bright LEDs. We didn’t get a chance to ride at night, but those LED lights put out a bright, white beam that will surely improve night visibility.
The temperatures in Golden hovered around the low 30s Celsius, but heat coming off the radiators is ducted away from the rider, exiting through ports on the outside of the fairing lowers, so the bike felt no warmer than the air-cooled one.
Horsepower and torque are said to have increased by 5 to 7 percent in both the new air-cooled and liquid-cooled engines, which are dubbed “High Output”. The High Output 103 engines produce 105 lb-ft of torque, up from 100 lb-ft on the outgoing engine.
Unfortunately the high elevation of the launch location stifled the power somewhat, so it’s not possible to make a fair comparison with the current Twin Cam 103, but in lower gears it felt more than adequate.
One thing about the liquid-cooled bike is that it sounds and feels no different than the air-cooled one, an important factor for traditionalists.
The hydraulic clutch is relatively light and gear changes on the six-speed gearbox feel firm. Sixth is a fuel-saving gear and is very tall, though the engine pulls top gear smoothly at 100 km/h, something that causes other V-twins to quake. Passing required at least two downshifts if I wanted to make them quickly, at least at these elevations.
ABS brakes are now linked, with the brake lever providing some rear braking and the pedal actuating one piston in one front caliper. To ease low-speed manoeuvrability, the brakes are only linked at speeds above 40 km/h; below that speed the brakes work independently. Very smart, very practical.
Another improvement is the front suspension. Fork tubes are now 49 mm, up from 41, and damping and spring rates have been altered for a more compliant ride. The fork has, in fact, lost the harshness of the previous model, and suspension compliance front and rear is very well managed.
The view from the saddle is familiar, but there are now just four larger gauges on the dash instead of six. This has cleaned up the dash, which on the Limited also includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen. The Limited’s Harmon-Kardon BOOM! Box 6.5GT infotainment system has 75 watts per channel, GPS navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio (subscription separate), a USB port and other distracting features.
Yes, I said distracting. The system itself is top-of-the-line and will easily match a modern automotive system in sound quality and user interface. In fact, the interface has been simplified for use on a motorcycle and is rather comprehensive. It took me about one minute to figure out how to pair my iPhone to the system.
The standard sound system is a BOOM! Box 4.5 system that uses a 4.5-inch screen flanked with buttons on either side for making menu selections. It has a 25-watt per channel amplifier, and is less of a distraction to use. There’s no satellite radio or GPS, but it has full connectivity.
There is one five-way mini joystick located on each handlebar switch assembly, used to scroll through the different menus, and you can also select items directly from the touchscreen with gloved hands.
All well and dandy, but you still have to look at the screen, and even though Harley’s engineers did extensive research to minimise the time you take your eyes off the road, it’s no less distracting than it is in a car, and us biker types are constantly bitching (and rightfully so) about distracted drivers.
Admittedly, I wasn’t yet familiar with the system, so I’d suggest if you buy a Harley with the infotainment system, park the bike, go through all of its functions and get familiar with them before hitting the road. I do prefer it to the Honda Gold Wing system though, which has way too many buttons, and it’s also more intuitive in operation than BMW’s latest system with the multi-controller knob on the left handlebar.
One major gripe I have with the system, aside from its propensity to distract, is that it cannot be paired with other communication systems. I brought my Schuberth C3 helmet that has the SRC communication system by Cardo installed, and that I’m very fond of, and I couldn’t use it.
Designers of the sound system did this deliberately because they didn’t like the functionality of aftermarket systems. A microphone and helmet-speaker unit is available with Harley’s system, but it’s hard-wired to the bike, and if you use it, you can’t use an intercom system to communicate with other riders. The only way to have two-way communication with other riders is to use the bike’s CB radio – quite an oversight on a touring bike with a modern infotainment system. So tell your friends to hit a Radio Shack and stock up on a good 40-channel Realistic, good buddy.
One very welcome change is to the saddlebag and tour pack latches. To put it simply, they’ve gone from being among the worst in the business to the best. Saddlebags now have a lever on the inboard side of the covers and can be opened or closed with one hand, even while seated on the bike. Latching them when the bags are closed pulls the covers down tight enough that I think even without a rubber water seal in place, water won’t get in. The tour pack is also a snap to open and close.
The next day was spent on an air-cooled Street Glide (starting at $23,289), and as mentioned earlier, mechanically you really can’t tell the difference from the liquid-cooled machine. Handling, however, is an entirely different story.
The lack of fairing lowers and a top case, as well as the absence of liquid cooling, drop the wet weight of the bike by 39 kilos (86 lb), to a paltry 367 kg (810 lb). The Street Glide is much more manageable around town and feels lighter on twisty roads, the only trade-offs being reduced weather protection (no lowers and a shorty windshield) and less luggage capacity.
During the technical presentation, Harley staffers made light of the fact that the changes brought about through Project Rushmore were an amalgamation of various customer requests. They held focus groups and polled people at various events to see what improvements they’d like to see.
The older guys probably asked for a bit more power and that the spirit of the machines be preserved, with air-cooled V-twins and classic American styling. And in that respect, Harley got it right. Harleys sell on tradition — even to newer buyers — and if you waver too far from that tradition, the recipe will be spoiled.
The younger guys probably asked for the infotainment system, and necessary or not, the system is high quality, comprehensive (except for the limited Bluetooth connectivity), and for now, unique in the industry.
There’s no amount of improvement that will make a Harley basher like the bikes, but for those who do, there’s all that much more to appreciate.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.
|Bike||2014 Harley-Davidson FLHX Street Glide|
|MSRP||$23,289 (Black paint) $23,869 (Pearl paint) $24,489 (Custom paint)|
|Engine type||Air/oil-cooled V-twin|
|Tank Capacity||22.7 litres|
|Tires, front||130/60B19 61H|
|Tires, rear||BW 180/65B16 81H|
|Brakes, front||Dual Floating 300 mm discs, four-piston caliper, ABS optional|
|Brakes, rear||Single fixed 300 mm disc, four-piston caliper ABS optional.|
|Seat height||695 mm|
|Wet weight*||367 kg|
|Colours||Blue, black, orange, white|
|Warranty||Two years, unlimited mileage|
|Bike||2014 Harley-Davidson FLHTK Ultra Limited|
|MSRP||$29,529 (Black paint) $30,709 (Two-tone paint) $30,969 (Custom paint)|
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled V-twin|
|Tank Capacity||22.7 litres|
|Tires, front||BW 130/80B17 65H|
|Tires, rear||BW 180/65B16 81H|
|Brakes, front||Dual floating 300 mm discs, four-piston caliper, ABS|
|Brakes, rear||Single fixed 300 mm disc, four-piston caliper, ABS|
|Seat height||740 mm|
|Wet weight*||406 kg|
|Colours||Blue, White/brown, Orange/silver, Orange/black, Grey/black, Red/red, Black|
|Warranty||Two years, unlimited mileage|
All good ideas. I really like the linked brake system that cuts out at low speed.
Since I sold the only Harley-Davidson motorcycle I ever owned back in 1962, I hardly qualify as a hard core H-D fan. That said, I think it’s a little unfair to criticize H-D for making bikes that many people still love, and want to buy. After all, H-D is in the business to make money, and if many of their customers want bikes with push-rod operated valves, air-cooled engines, lots of chrome, a “real steel” frame, etc., that’s what the Motor Company is going to build. I see a parallel here with the Porsche 911 sports car. On the one hand, it can be argued that today’s 911 is merely a refinement of a 50-year old car design that traces it’s roots back to the pre-WWII Volkswagen Beetle. One can also argue that if Porsche’s rear-engine layout is so good, how come no other high-performance car maker is now using it. But on the other hand, today’s 911 works extremely well….and lots of Porsche lovers out there still like it the way it is, and are willing to buy one…..similar to the “old-school” H-D big twin.
As a fan of H-D and a huge fan of the 911, I couldn’t agree with you more.
“A cooler Harley-davidson?” Please.
Harley doesn’t have any trouble attracting customers. This stuff doesn’t detract from their image at all. It appears to be a well thought out natural progression. I imagine this “leap” forward has a lot to do with emissions going forward. The electronic gadgetry is the same sort of stuff available in luxury cars so they’re just giving their target market what they’re used to.
Hydraulic clutches and liquid cooling – 30 years late ?
The faithful won’t be upset, but will it attract any new purchasers ?
Harley attracts plenty of new business already, doesn’t it? I sure wouldn’t scoff at an Iron 883 to plonk about on a Sunday in the countryside. The fact it’s old school and air-cooled is part of why I like it.
Thanks Costa, enjoyed the read. Both the featured bikes are outside my pay scale though. I’ll keep my old Super Glide.
Let’s get real here. The ONLY reason that Hardley Ableson made any real improvements to their bikes is the real prospect of competition from Indian. They have been prostituting their brand and building the same flashy butt jewelry for decades and now they’re terrified they might actually have to build a real motorcycle instead.
If Hardley survives the next decade it will only be because they were forced to improve by Indian.
Yes, I’m a troll. Please don’t feed me.
I looked at Indian, Goldwing, Victory, and Harley…
Harley had the best style, ride, and electronics; MHO.
This is the thirty-sixth motorcycle I have owned over the past forty years; only the second Harley. Go ride each, look at the fit and finish, and be objective; put away your hater prejudice and you will be surprised. I was.
Prior Harley basher