Living with a Harley-Davidson FLHTCUI Ultra Classic Electra Glide

Grant puts his feet up and enjoys the relaxing H-D Ultra Classic Electra Glide

Posted: 16 September 2007
by Grant Leonard

September 2007

How green is my Harley? It's not, it's blue, but I made up for my willful abuse of the planet by unplugging my kettle and turning the central heating down a bit as soon as I got home from the Live Earth concert.

Actually it's doing 45mpg on a mix of motorway and town and is fine by California State emission laws, so I shouldn't feel too guilty. I've got some great things planned for the Harley including an epic trip down to Jerez in southern Spain. The Harley-Davidson FLHTCU Ultra Classic Electra Glide, to give it its over-full name, is one of motorcycling's true icons and, in my opinion, the ultimate touring bike, with massive top-box, panniers, fairing and leg shields and a seat from DFS.

It arrived with just four miles on the clock, so it's running in - not a difficult exercise as all the action is over by 3,500rpm anyway. But that's enough for 90-100mph in sixth gear. Yes, sixth - 30 years ago they only used to put four in there. That's progress for you. Some progress in brake technology would help, but we'll see if we can upgrade those as we go.

WE LIKE: classic style, comfort, stereo, luggage
WE DON'T LIKE: anyone else except Grant riding it. Engine heat up your inside leg in traffic. Madonna.

November 2007

With Grant on a three-week ban for speeding (in a Mondeo, what a loser) I took my opportunity to give Electra Glide Ultra Classic the proper run it's been asking for. Having been the envy of the TWO classroom last year with my KTM 950SM, I know how he feels running this beauty. It's one of the few bikes out there that parades everything except performance, yet is much loved and a true cult classic.

It has a fantastic high street image with enormous presence - one of biking's true posing machines.  But image aside, it's a tremendous touring tool designed to cover vast distances in great comfort.
The seats are huge and sumptuous; you'll hit the extent of the 150-mile tank range before your bum gives out. Nervous pillions adore the embracing backrest which covers the biggest top box in the business. With the panniers you have enough luggage space for a good week away.

Entertainment is taken care of by a Harmon Karden CD/radio player. Speakers are built into the fairing and pillion seat and you can stuff it with six CDs. The only downside is that the switch controls are a bit fiddly.
The '07 models are fitted with a six-speed gearbox, which you may think is a bit unnecessary for a massive V-twin. But sixth is an overdrive for loping along at high speed and leaves the other five gears to help you get around slower moving obstacles.

Carved from the heaviest iron known to mankind, it is futile to hustle this two-wheeled Winnebago. It's a bike which calms your pulse rather than pumping any adrenaline - that's the difference between Harleys and virtually any other make of bike. I tried a bit of spirited riding and tied myself in a knot within seconds.

Better to get in tune with the Harley beat, set the cruise control to something legal, turn up the stereo and head to the sun.

Which is precisely what I did - with my old lady riding shotgun (sorry), in the pissing rain en route to the Portsmouth ferry. I was drenched from the knees down within 5 minutes but dry 10 minutes later, such is the level of heat generated by the giant 1.6 litre twin. The run from Cherbourg to our rented cottage was pure bliss for both me and pillion. This bike eats miles, with a comfortable cruising speed of 80mph which will spin up to 100 without too much effort. But any faster than 80 and the wind noise begins to drown out the Debussy.

With an epic sunset casting a shadow of bike and joyful riders onto corn fields to our right, everything suddenly went wrong. Our add-on Garmin got confused and sent us into a farm and then a field where we were teased by horrid glue-sniffing youths on mopeds. I had to text SOS messages to my brother to come and rescue us. Then it got colder and wetter so we treated ourselves to a nice lamb supper - which induced food poisoning and an early return home.

If we hadn't been heading home on the Glide, cocooned in its stereophonic ambience and gently vibrating upholstery, I could easily have stopped and stabbed us both to death. But no, the heroic Harley kept us entertained and far from a homicide/suicide ending. Marvellous. Despite all, my only real regret is that Grant hasn't got a longer ban.

WE LIKE: American iron, Grant getting a ban
WE DON'T LIKE: French meat

October 2008

This is the top-of-the-range stock Harley-Davidson, £17,445 of rumbling attitude – now with ABS as standard! Mine is a two-tone Pacific Blue Pearl with Vivid Black (£450 extra). I’m using it for thumping around the M25 70 miles every day, some weekend summer (haha) cruising around London and a few long distance forays into Europe and Oop North.

Harleys are an acquired taste and my only advice to the cynics is have a go and acquire it. I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t at least faintly impressed in some way, after their first go. Even if you aren’t that impressed, everyone you pass on the road will be – this motorcycle has enormous road presence.

The Ultra is my favourite model. The luggage makes it for me. I can neatly fold my freshly-ironed Robert Mugabe outfits into the top box with my laptop, ride in to work in leathers and change in the carpark (a comical sight in itself – see the video on visordown.com), swapping lurid shirt, slacks and loafers for the riding gear, which all fits in. You can see why I need a bike with style and charisma.

At the weekend, we can pack two full faces into the topbox and stash jackets into the panniers when we stop. Very civilised, indeed. We parked at Leicester Square the other day and walked straight into the theatre across the road (to see the new musical Zorro: it’s a bit crap – Mamma Mia’s much better).

I know I had one of these bikes for a few months last year but I’d have got more use out of a canoe if you remember the kind of summer we had, so don’t blame me for taking the car. That said, the Ultra is great in rain – the handlebar-mounted fairing and leg shields keep all the rain off, provided you’re going fast enough – and it has ABS.

As with the car, you can also listen to the radio. It has a CB radio (er, right…) CD player and radio tuner (with two deep-sea fishing rods to pick up the signal). It’s an 80-watt Harman Kardon system with two speakers in the fairing and two at the side of the pillion seat. Talk shows tend to get a little blown away over 60mph. Classic FM, however, blasts through loud and clear at any speed. You’d think you could only ride this bike to Steppenwolf or Meatloaf – not at all; I find Mozart and Elgar seem to complement the experience better. Or maybe I’m just getting old. Sorry, it’s a bike isn’t it, shouldn’t bang on about the stereo so much. I’ll talk about the CB and intercom instead. The CB radio really should’ve been junked for the UK. People used to use CBs back in the 80s and obviously still do in the States, but we have mobile phones and Bluetooth devices now. An iPod dock would be about right. (HD USA – how about a European market version?) Instead, I’ve fitted a wireless Interphone Bluetooth system to our lids which I’ll tell you about next month after our first long trip (Disneyland, Paris). The supplied headset is too bulky and seems to be made for open face lids only.

I took delivery with 65 miles on the clock and have just left it at Warr’s of London huge Harley emporium (what a place – worth a look) for its first service at 1,000 miles. First service on your new Harley is free.

Running in a Harley isn’t exactly a painful experience – you just ride them normally. This one has six gears, so you’ve got five to diddle up and down the torque curve and one to drop into for the motorway trundle. Six gears on the biggest engine Harley ever – bit of a contradiction? Not at all; the sixth gear is really useful and does the fuel consumption wonders on the motorway – it’s actually doing 47mpg which is good. That takes me 200 miles on a tank at more or less legal speeds.

Redline is at 5,500rpm but there’s little point ever taking it over 3,500rpm in normal riding as it’s peaked by then and lolloping along at over 80mph. Revving the 1,584cc twin beyond this just feels strained is a bit like me out jogging and breaking into a run – lots of arms and legs and gasping, but not much acceleration. It’ll get looser with miles.

So Disneyland is our first trip and I’ll tell you all about it next month, when we’ll be having some pillion feedback and hopefully some input from Mickey and friends.

December 2008

Our first serious venture on the Ultra Glide has been a trip to Disneyland Paris. You can park your Mickey Mouse jokes right here as the bike performed brilliantly, there and back. The Glide has 1,000 miles up and it’s been in to Warr’s for its first (free) service. Rear air suspension pumped up, it was ready for a 600 mile round trip. We were away for two nights, so the luggage gave more than enough capacity for all the wife’s essentials (don’t ask) and a kid in each pannier. That’s a joke - we planned to hire a couple of small children when we got there so we didn’t look out of place. Well, we’re FINKs aren’t we – (forty, irresponsible, no kids).

We went via the P&O Dover-Calais ferry for a change from the tunnel – superb crossing, quick and fun and we really felt like we were leaving the country. I often come out of a chunnel crossing feeling weird. It’s like being sat in a dark room for an hour while they change all the road signs. If you go by ferry try the upgrade to club and have a nice free glass of champagne in the private lounge to kick off the voyage. Check the crossing rates for bikes on www.poferries.com.

Over the outward 300 miles, we filled up twice – the first time I discovered you could go more than 10 miles after the reserve fuel readout said ‘lo’. A tank will take you 200 miles, but 150 is about as much as my arse can take. On a motorway that’s around 48mpg. At 80mph the tacho reads just 3,000rpm, so it’s a relaxed lollop. The stereo is clear at the speed too, so the ride was jolly enough, starting with Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up and ending with Eurythmic’s Sweet Dreams. Bit of a compromise with the pillion there.

I had my Googlemaps with me, so I was destined to get horribly lost and have since promised through a vice-like grip on my throat that I’d get a SatNav. A Garmin Zumo is on the way. A French bloke in a car stopped when he saw me fumbling with a piece of scrunched paper and led me right through the one-way system I’d been trapped in for 20 minutes and onto the right road. How truly generous. Merci, indeed.

So we arrived at our hotel on the industrial estate two hours after we should’ve, to find our room had no bed, just a settee which folds out. Why do us blokes always get it so wrong when we take the other half away on a bike?

Oh yes, the ride. In general, wind protection is great and the riding position very natural, so fatigue and aches and pains don’t really feature on a long ride, or after really. You do arrive fairly fresh. The trip highlighted a need for a slightly higher screen to relieve the light battering my head was getting (from the wind, not the wife). If I were a couple of inches shorter in the body, it’d be fine, so it’s either remove two vertebrae or try a higher screen. I’ll let you know which works best. The pillion experience is as comfortable, though getting on and off is a bit of a palaver, having to mount it like horse with a foot in the stirrup first. At petrol stations I’d slide off to go and pay, leaving olivia perched up on the back on her own looking rather odd. you’re quite close-coupled which is good for weight distribution and makes the passenger feel more secure, but on the downside the rider’s calves clobber the pillion footrests when paddling through traffic.

Interphone Intercom

Besides the Ultra Classic, the other gadget we were trying out was the Interphone Bluetooth intercom system. You fix a small unit to the side of each lid, run thin wires around the padding of your lid to fit a speaker in one ear and a mike to your mouth. There are no wires between rider and pillion and it works up to 500 metres apart – so it’s good for bike-to-bike too. You charge it from the mains to give around four hours talk-time.You can even take and make phone calls through it if you have a Bluetooth enabled phone.

The sound isn’t as full and true as a wired system, more tranny radio than stereo, but it’s effective up to around 80mph on the Harley and you can get twin speakers as an option for both ears.

It takes a while to get used to the controls – on/off, answering calls and volume, but once mastered it’s fine. Not cheap at £275 for a pair of units, but very tidy and high quality. Contact Moto Comp Ltd on 08700 340283. Or at www.motocomp.com

Costs this month:

P&O Dover-Calais return for two passengers: £56 or £106 Club Class.
Two day passes to Disneyland Paris: £47.
Hotel Merde, two nights, no bed: £120
Interphone Intercom system (two units): £275 Miles: 1,740



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