First Ride: Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide

As large as a planet with a name long enough to fill a paragraph, Grant Leonard takes the H-D for a ride across the Lakes

Click to read: Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide owners reviews, Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide specs and to see the Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide image gallery.

I have to start with weather protection, as that’s what we needed most on this sub-aqua adventure. It started raining at Birmingham and stopped 700 miles and two days later in Epsom.

For protection the Glide is great, once over 40mph. The bar-mounted fairing and screen keep everything off, the crash-bar mounted pods keep the legs and feet dry. I’d fitted a 3-inch higher screen which was fine until I was on a dark motorway overtaking lorries at 80mph in sheeting rain, then it seriously wasn’t fine. It’s an option and one you need to consider carefully.

High speed cruising means a comfortable and stable 90mph on motorways, though it’s willing to go quite a bit more. The six-speed gearbox is really a five with a very tall overdrive 6th – excellent on the motorway, dropping engine speed to below 3,000rpm, to return a consistent 48mpg (slightly worse than the Wing). You can squeeze over 200 miles out of the new, larger, 22.7-litre tank. The bike is supremely comfortable but as most of your weight is on your bum, this gives out before the fuel does.

The Glide has a general demeanour of stability even at its upper limits. Even in seriously gusting winds it stayed pointing more or less where I wanted, in contrast to the Wing which Tony had trouble with. The rear suspension tends to bottom out when loaded up, even with extra air pumped into the shocks. Seat padding is lush, so no complaints from the pillion. The Brembo brakes are only adequate, you have to use all fingers and a heavy boot on the rear if you want to stop quickly.

The suspension is more a limiting factor here, diving sharply. The Ultra has ABS as standard, so there’s no danger of skidding. You might sail straight on into a pedestrian, but you won’t lock up the wheels! Around the winding paths that connect the Lakes, the Glide’s a satisfying ride. It loves to chug along and hauls you up the sheer gradients with real muscle. It is a trait of Harleys that they actually relax you, bring down your heart-rate with its lazy, easy engine note and power delivery – you enjoy trundling along slowly and it allows you to take in your surroundings, which is what touring’s all about. Important to touring, and especially lady pillions, is the luggage space. I can confidently say the Glide has more luggage space than any standard bike in production, so tell her that if she moans.

Gripes? I hate the fascia, which is annoying because it’s what you’re looking at all day. The dials’ numerals are too small and calibrations too close. The choice of gauges is mystifying. How many riders care or understand what the oil pressure readout says? And the voltage charge? And the ‘outside’ temperature - in Fahrenheit? Why stop there - how about a barometer or an altimeter?

And don’t start me on the switchgear. Big clumsy buttons for indicators, horn and beam, tiny, silly fiddly ones for the stereo and cruise control. Harley really needs to bin the lot and start again. But details aside, there is no touring experience to match the Harley. At £17k, it’s a lot to pay for your holidays. But personally, if I owned one of these I can see no reason why I’d ever change to a different make. I guess as a touring choice, it’s a bike for life.

Rear View Missus

Olivia Pina

What is there not to like about an armchair on a bike? Compared to most pillion pads, this is fantastic. I tried the other two bikes and found the Harley by far the best – I didn’t feel as secure on the Honda or Victory, too detached. You sit quite high up, but you have a good view over his head and the wind around my helmet isn’t really a problem. Getting on and off is a palaver – you have to stand up and dismount like getting off a horse and with all the wet weather gear on it isn’t easy. One problem I noticed is that the pillion footboards are too close to the rider’s legs when he’s paddling the bike around and he kept bashing my feet. Of course he blamed me when we toppled off it turning round....

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic (FLHTCUI)

Price: £17,445 (as tested)
Engine: 1584cc, twin-cam, aircooled, 4-valve 45° V-twin
Drive: 6-speed, belt driven
Power: 65bhp (est)
Torque: 95lb.ft @ 3,500rpm
Front suspension: Conventional forks, no  adjustment
Rear suspension: twin shocks air adjustable
Front brake: twin discs, four-piston calipers, ABS
Rear brake: four-piston caliper
Dry weight: 375kg (claimed)
Seat height: 693mm
Fuel capacity: 22.7 litres
Top speed: 120mph (est)
Colours: 12 choices