PHOTOS: Brian J. Nelson, Tom Riles & Harley-Davidson
They say: “Built by all of us. For all of us.”
We say: “The first crowdsourced motorcycle.”
For a 110-year-old company often criticized for being stuck in the past, Harley-Davidson is remarkably cutting-edge when it comes to business practices. Crowdsourcing is the hottest business trend going, and H-D was one of the first major companies to embrace this strategy of connecting with consumers. The majority of Harley-Davidson’s marketing and advertising creative comes directly from fans via Facebook and Twitter. The Motor Company even has its own app, called Fan Machine, which allows Harley enthusiasts to submit ideas and even vote on ad briefs.
Now Harley-Davidson has taken crowdsourcing to the next level, leaning on consumers to essentially lead the redesign of its hugely popular touring bike lineup. Customer-led product planning is just one component of “Project Rushmore,” a massive overhaul of the process Harley-Davidson uses to design, build, and market new motorcycles. Company President and COO Matt Levatich calls Project Rushmore the “most significant development” in Harley-Davidson history, with a goal of delivering 30 percent more new product annually and bringing those new products to the market 30 percent faster than before.
Harley-Davidson’s 2014 FL-series touring bike lineup is the first fruit from Project Rushmore. An unprecedented amount consumer research—gathered from existing H-D customers and competitive brand owners, through focus groups, formal clinics, informal question-and-answer sessions, web panels, and more—informed this comprehensive redesign. The result is eight all-new touring models that incorporate more than 100 design changes that enhance performance, comfort, and convenience, including—gasp!—strategic liquid-cooling and one of the most advanced infotainment systems ever developed for any vehicle, on two wheels or four.
We tested the 2014 touring line in Beaver Creek, Colorado, concentrating our attention on the revised Street Glide—Harley-Davidson’s best-selling model—and the Electra Glide Ultra Limited, the only bike that currently uses the Twin-Cooled (air/liquid-cooled) version of the new, High Output Twin Cam engine. The bikes don’t look that different from the previous generation on the surface, but these improvements are more than skin deep.
First, about that liquid-cooled Electra Glide: This doesn’t use the V-Rod motor, as some feared, but a “precision-cooled” version of the existing Twin Cam engine that employs limited liquid-cooling to target the notorious hot spots surrounding the exhaust valves, improving performance without detracting from the appearance or character of the traditional 45-degree V-twin. You have to look very closely to discern the Twin-Cooled Ultra Limited from the air-cooled Ultra Classic. Twin radiators are completely obscured inside the fairing lowers, without any visible plumbing. But the difference is immediately obvious from the saddle, especially with ambient temps in the mid-90s like we endured during the press launch. The Twin-Cooled Ultra Limited emits less radiant heat than the Classic and performs better, too.
Harley-Davidson claims 105.5 pound-feet of torque from the High Output engine—a 5-percent increase over the standard Twin Cam 103. Even at altitude—most of our riding was above 7,000 feet—the Electra Glides and Street Glides both felt adequately powerful, and Harley reps claim fifth-gear roll-ons from 60–80 mph are a full second faster this year, for better passing performance like customers asked for.
The touring chassis, comprehensively overhauled in 2009, remains unchanged, save for larger steering head bearings to support a stiffer, 49mm Showa fork that replaces the previous 43mm suspenders. Both bikes are adequately sprung for a smooth, supportive ride. Only the Street Glide, with just 2.1 inches of rear travel (Ultras offer 3 inches), bottomed out over very sharp-edged bumps. Ride quality is impressively plush at lower speeds and over smoother pavement, but both bikes become slightly unglued on twisty roads above 75 mph, with more chassis instability than we remember in past versions, leaving us wanting more damping in both directions. Electronic suspension adjustment, which would maintain the existing plushness for low-speed touring but increase stiffness for more spirited riding, would be a wonderful addition here.
New, lighter wheels for both platforms—five-spoke Enforcers on the Street Glide and 10-spoke Impellers on the Ultras—quicken steering and acceleration, and now carry floating brake rotors for even better braking performance. Linked brakes are new this year, electronically proportioning brake force between both wheels regardless of whether you’re pulling on the lever or mashing down on the pedal. The massively powerful rear brake—a four-piston caliper paired with a 300mm rotor—used to be difficult to utilize without activating the ABS. Now you can crush either control with far less likelihood of engaging the ABS because the Reflex linked system does such a good job balancing braking forces front and rear. Both bikes stop shorter than ever and with more stability, too.
Stronger, more consistent performance and improved chassis stability are only part of the Project Rushmore benefits. More impressive are the countless detail changes made to improve comfort and convenience. Extensive market research revealed dozens of petty annoyances on the old FLs: clumsy saddlebag closures, an unwieldy trunk lid, non-ergonomic controls that took the rider’s hands off the bars and eyes off the road, and much more. Everything annoying about the previous-generation touring bikes has been addressed, and nearly all of these annoyances have been improved.
Engineers and designers scrutinized every bike-rider interface and, wherever possible, reduced the steps necessary to complete any given function to just one. New One-Touch levers now make opening the saddlebags and Tour-Pak trunk one-handed operations—a huge improvement over fussy systems of the past. The saddlebag lids now open outward using levers mounted at the front inside corner, so the contents can be accessed without leaving the saddle, and a new, auto-retractable trunk tether no longer flops out every time you close the lid. Engineers even fine-tuned the sound and the feel of the lid latches and hinges, so they open and close with the velvet-damped feel of worthy of a premium luxury car.
This One-Touch philosophy extends to Harley-Davidson’s all-new Boom! Box infotainment system, which is by far the most impressive aspect of these new touring bikes. An unprecedented level of attention during the development stage was paid to studying rider interaction with the system: Telemetry measured how long it took to navigate menus; cameras recorded riders’ eyes and fingers as they followed commands and manipulated controls, watching where they looked and for how long; haptics refined switch textures and keystrokes to provide better feel and feedback; and, wherever possible, voice-recognition technology was incorporated to make hand controls obsolete. Not only is Boom! Box stunningly complete, integrating audio, navigation, communications, and vehicle information in one seamless package, it’s also the most intuitive and easy to use infotainment system we’ve ever encountered on a motorcycle, bar none.
Most of you won’t believe this, but in many meaningful ways, these antique-looking Electra Glide variants are some of the most technologically advanced motorcycles on the market today. Few motorcycling enthusiasts recognize or appreciate the incredible effort Harley-Davidson’s design and engineering staff makes to integrate cutting-edge technology like precision liquid-cooling and state-of-the-art electronics without degrading the traditional appearance or essential character at all. This is significantly more challenging than starting with a clean-sheet design, and the imagination and innovation required to do this successfully is as impressive as anything being done at Honda or other ostensibly more “modern” manufacturers.
This is a classic Harley-Davidson update, completely reengineering and updating the underpinnings without changing the outward look of the bikes much at all. To respect and preserve the heritage of the Electra Glide—the Holy Grail of Harley-Davidson’s motorcycle line—and at the same time move it forward by incorporating modern technology and features is indeed an impressive feat. With increasing competition from Indian and Victory, Harley-Davidson needs to be better than ever. And with bold new strategies like those embodied by Project Rushmore resulting in excellent new bikes like these touring machines, they are.
A new High Output version of Harley’s 103-cubic-inch (1,690cc), fuel-injected, Twin Cam powers the entire 2014 touring line. Higher-lift, longer-duration cams and a freer-flowing airbox increase peak torque to 105.5 pound-feet at 3,750 rpm—a claimed 5-percent increase over the standard Twin Cam 103.
The top-of-the-line Ultra Limited uses a special, Twin-Cooled version of this HO engine that combines air and water cooling—the first-ever use of liquid cooling on Harley-Davidson’s traditional, 45-degree V-twin. (The faithful have already nicknamed this the Showerhead, or, less flatteringly, the Toilethead.) The Twin-Cooled engine uses “precision liquid cooling” to target the area surrounding the exhaust ports with the goal of stabilizing engine operating temperatures for more consistent performance, especially in hot conditions.
An electric pump circulates coolant through the cylinder heads and down to twin heat exchangers (you can call them radiators if you want) located in the left and right lower fairings. Reduced cylinder-head temps allow the Twin-Cooled Twin Cam to use higher-compression pistons—10.0:1 compared to 9.7:1—for slightly more power and improved combustion efficiency. Because lower engine temperatures keep the ECU from retarding engine timing to prevent detonation in extreme conditions, the Twin-Cooled engine will perform better and more consistently in hot weather and over long distances.
All 2014 touring models except the Road King get a new hydraulically actuated clutch, which requires less-frequent maintenance than a cable and is lower-effort, too.
The basic silhouette remains the same, but dozens of detail changes make the latest Electra Glide look more contemporary. For the first time since it was introduced in 1969, the bar-mounted Batwing fairing has been reshaped. The nose has been pulled out slightly to create a brow over the headlight, eliminating what H-D Chief Stylist Ray Drea calls the old bike’s “pancake face.” A new highlight line on the formerly flat fairing sides adds dimension, while a new Splitstream vent equalizes air pressure behind the windscreen to reduce cockpit turbulence. Located using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and validated in the wind tunnel at Wichita State, Harley-Davidson says helmet buffeting is down by 20 percent.
The luggage has been completely redesigned as well. The hard angles of the old bags conflicted with the softer “design language” of the front of the bike, Drea says, so saddlebags have been smoothed and shaved of some trim for a sleeker look. The top-loading lids have been totally redesigned, too. A fixed hinge on the outside of the bag (where the lever used to be located) and a new, One-Touch lever on the inside hugely improve ingress and egress. The formerly vertical front and rear edges of the Tour-Pak trunk have been raked back for a more streamlined look, and another One-Touch lever replaces the old dual-latches.
Finally, the front fender skirt has been snipped to show more of the new Impeller wheels, and the lower fairings have been reshaped not only to accommodate the radiators but also to reduce—and we are not making this up—the annoying “beard lift” that afflicts a certain subset of bagger buyers. Don’t say Harley-Davidson doesn’t intimately understand its customers’ needs.
Linked brakes with ABS are now available on all Harley-Davidson touring models. Front and rear brakes operate independently at less than 25 mph; higher than that speed, the electronic Reflex system proportionally applies braking force to both wheels regardless of which lever is operated, optimizing front/rear brake balance. (Once engaged, braking remains linked until the bike comes to a stop.) ABS prevents either wheel from locking up even under the hardest stops—important because the trio of four-piston calipers clamping 300mm rotors front and rear provides significant stopping force.
Harley-Davidson’s Boom! Box is the most sophisticated infotainment system fitted to a two-wheeled vehicle, incorporating premium audio, communications, navigation, and vehicle info with cutting-edge technology including Bluetooth connectivity, a touchscreen, and voice-activated commands. The following is just a small sampling of its functionality:
Boom! Box 4.3 (a high-resolution, 4.3-inch color display) is the standard suite. Audio inputs include radio, Sirius/XM satellite or mobile phone/MP3 players, the latter connecting either via Bluetooth or a USB cable in the watertight Jukebox fairing compartment adjacent to the screen. The upgraded Boom! Box 6.5GT (with a 6.5-inch touchscreen) includes all of the above plus GPS navigation with more than 35 motorcycle-specific features, including voice recognition for hands-free inputs, multiple route options (scenic, shortest, even “twisty”), and import/export route capability using H-D’s Ride Planner.
When paired with a headset, voice-recognition technology allows spoken commands to control mobile phone functions, the radio tuner, navigation, and intercom. Text-to-speech technology even lets the rider receive texts (and respond with a pre-programmed message) while riding. Otherwise, five-way joysticks on the left and right hand controls operate the system functions—including external Apple iPod and iPhone functions, which appear on the Boom! Box display.
Price $25,899 and up
Engine type a/l-c 45-deg. V-twin
Valve train OHV, 4v
Bore x stroke 98.3 x 111.1mm
Fuel system EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate
Claimed horsepower NA
Claimed torque 105.5 lb.-ft. @ 3,750 rpm
Frame Tubular steel double cradle
Front suspension Showa 49mm fork
Rear suspension Dual Showa air shocks with adjustable spring preload
Front brake Dual four-piston calipers, 300mm discs with ABS
Rear brake Single four-piston caliper, 300mm disc with ABS
Front tire 130/80B-17 Dunlop D408F
Rear tire 180/65B-16 Dunlop D407T
Rake/trail 26.0°/6.7 in.
Seat height 29.1 in.
Wheelbase 64.0 in.
Fuel capacity 6.0 gal.
Claimed curb weight 896 lbs.
Colors Vivid Black, Mysterious Red Sunglo/Blackened Cayenne Sunglo, Charcoal/Silver Pearl, more
Warranty 24 months, unlimited miles