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The Ultra gets Ultra-er

By Kevin Duke, Aug. 03, 2010, Photography by Brian J. Nelson and Tom Riles, Courtesy of Motorcycle.com


Harley-Davidson recently announced its four-bike CVO lineup for the 2011 model year. Returning to the Custom Vehicle Operations stable is the range-topping Ultra Classic Electra Glide ($36,499), the popular Street Glide ($32,499), and the versatile Softail Convertible ($29,599) – all with new additions and options to set them apart from the 2010 iterations. We’ll bring you riding impressions of that trio later, but we’ll first start with the newest CVO, the Road Glide Ultra, a stylish and exclusive luxo-touring rig.


It’s a tough economy out there for a lot of us, causing a precipitous drop in motorcycle sales over the past two years. However, those with deep pockets and shrewd investments always seem to have disposable income for a new toy in their garage.

Well-heeled riders such as these don’t choke when they are told the $35,999 MSRP of the 2011 CVO Road Glide Ultra. If you’re trying to eke out another 500 miles from your old KLR650’s tires, perhaps you’re not the customer the CVO group is targeting.

The Road Glide Ultra is the latest addition to Harley-Davidson’s high-end CVO line. This Rio Red and Black Ember with Quartzite graphics package is one of three color schemes to choose from.The Road Glide Ultra is the latest addition to Harley-Davidson’s high-end CVO line. This Rio Red and Black Ember with Quartzite graphics package is one of three color schemes to choose from.

According to Harley, the average age of a CVO customer is 54-55, right in their prime earning years. Harley research reveals that CVO customers buy $3,500 of accessories on average, roughly double that of the average H-D OE customer despite the CVOs already being fantastically tricked out.

Like last year’s CVO lineup, all 2011 CVOs are set apart from their lesser brethren by the implementation of the Screamin’ Eagle Twin-Cam 110-cubic-inch motor, hot-rodded from the standard H-D TC96 and even the TC103 in the 2010 Harley Electra Glide Ultra Limited we tested last year. The TC103 is also standard equipment in the OE 2011 Road Glide Ultra we tested last week, and also as part of an optional “Power Pak” upgrade package on any 2011 OE Harley.

If there’s a motorcycle cockpit more visually impressive than the Road Glide Ultra’s, we’ve never seen it. If there’s a motorcycle cockpit more visually impressive than the Road Glide Ultra’s, we’ve never seen it.

If you can’t convince a passenger to ride with you on a seat like this, you may have deep personality issues. If you can’t convince a passenger to ride with you on a seat like this, you may have deep personality issues.

This year marks the first time there has been an Ultra version of the Road Glide, and Harley describes it as “a super-premium touring motorcycle.” As such, the RGU is gussied up with every luxury-touring amenity Harley can think of. And, like all CVO’s, it makes for an impressive sight, with rich custom paint, deep and lustrous chrome, and wonderful finish quality.

It’s a fact that if you’ve got stacks of cash, you’re more likely to have a grateful companion along for the ride. CVO engineers obviously have learned that if momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy, because the RGU’s pillion seat is a sumptuous place to plant a pair of cheeks.

Both rider and passenger get electric heating, leather inserts and matching adjustable backrests. The reshaped saddle also has another trick up its sleeve, having a hammock-style suspension for the rider and a spring-board suspension for the pillion under its thick padding. Passengers will also appreciate the air-adjustable lumbar support that can be positioned in four areas of height.

Behind all that queenly luxury is a Deluxe Tour Pak top-box with interior lighting, an internal 12-volt power port, and color-matched LED brake/tail lamps. Its lock (and those for the saddlebags and ignition) is remotely operable – all at the push of a button on the bike’s key fob. Carry-out luggage liners ease the walk up a B&B’s steps, and an Air Wing luggage rack provides a place to strap on a trinket from the antique store.

Along with the typical RG cockpit features, the CVO version adds cruise control, four BOOM! speakers driven by a Harmon/Kardon 40-watt-per-channel amp, and an 8GB iPod nano that automatically charges itself when stored in its saddlebag pouch. The audio system (including XM radio and intercom) offers an iPod interface via the audio system’s screen and is controlled by handlebar switches. The Glide’s chrome 1-inch handlebar is slightly reshaped for extra comfort, and most wiring is routed internally. A tri-phase charging system generates 650 watts, enough to power all the trick convenience gizmos.

The Road Glide Ultra has a vast array of accoutrements to make its riders as comfy and entertained as possible. Heated seats and grips, dual backrests, cruise control, audio system and ABS only touch on a few of its features.The Road Glide Ultra has a vast array of accoutrements to make its riders as comfy and entertained as possible. Heated seats and grips, dual backrests, cruise control, audio system and ABS only touch on a few of its features.

The Road Glide is distinguished by its distinctive dual-headlight prow of the frame-mounted fairing. This CVO version is visually set apart by its Mirror Chrome Agitator wheels, 18 inches in diameter front and rear, and new billet muffler end caps with black spears. You’ll also notice the Rumble Collection foot controls, mirrors and saddlebag latch covers, all bathed in rich, deep chrome. Trim panels for the CB pod insert, Screamin’ Eagle 110 intake insert, and Tour-Pak lid insert feature a new diamond-cut pattern.

Harley’s CVO division always delivers superlative paint and finish work. Seen here is the Frosted Ivory and Vintage Gold with Quartzite graphics version.Harley’s CVO division always delivers superlative paint and finish work. Seen here is the Frosted Ivory and Vintage Gold with Quartzite graphics version.

Glide Ride

First impressions of the RG Ultra are of its physically imposing size and its brilliant finish quality. There’s a lot of stuff to look at on this huge machine, and all of it is of a very high quality. The RG’s massive fairing presents to a rider a lustrous cockpit with a bold instrument panel that is painted to match the body panels. The Rio Red version features deep red metallic paint that a rider can admire all day long.

Although the Road Glide Ultra is ponderous at low speeds, it can carve up a twisty road at a fair pace. Harley says it can be leaned over to the right up to 33 degrees.Although the Road Glide Ultra is ponderous at low speeds, it can carve up a twisty road at a fair pace. Harley says it can be leaned over to the right up to 33 degrees.

Speaking of all day, the RGU’s pillowy saddles seem fully up to the task – this could be the cushiest seat combo in motorcycledom, made even more pleasing by their heating elements. The newly shaped handlebar is a comfortable reach, and it also includes a mount for the Road Tech zumo 660 GPS navigation system. A small ergonomic niggle for shorter riders is the high angle of the audio display. I also had problems navigating through the iPod menu, but I have little doubt it would become second nature after more miles.

The RGU is said to scale in at 943 lbs full of fuel, and it certainly feels it when lifting the bike off its chrome sidestand. Rubber-mount handlebars and a lot of weight carried high (fairing and top case) conspire to made the RGU a little unwieldy below 5 mph – the big Glide is daunting at walking speeds.

But once underway, the newest CVO seems to shed some of its considerable weight, and it adroitly bends into corners better than you might expect. Air-adjustable shocks allow the RGU to adapt to various loads, all the way up to its 1360-lb GVWR. Harley claims an available lean angle of 33 degrees (30 degrees on the pipe side), more than many cruisers.

This Charcoal Slate and Black Twilight with Quartzite graphics version is the most understated of the three available color schemes for the Road Glide Ultra.This Charcoal Slate and Black Twilight with Quartzite graphics version is the most understated of the three available color schemes for the Road Glide Ultra.

Hauling all that weight down from speed is a fairly potent brake system. Triple Brembo four-piston calipers offer strong bite on the trio of 300mm rotors, with smooth initial power progressing linearly to the ABS system’s reasonably high limits.

Performance from the Screamin’ Eagle TC110 was muted because of the mile-plus-high elevations around the Lake Tahoe area in which we rode. But despite the thin air and a half-ton of weight, the burly TC110 never felt out of breath. Throttle response is impeccable, with ultra-smooth pickup from a closed throttle. The rubber-mounted V-Twin is exceptionally smooth on the road, with vibes only noticeable at idle. The addition of a high-torque starter ensures the big-cube motor fires up easily.

Chrome, glorious chrome! The Road Glide Ultra is slathered in it, looking especially tasty in the Screamin’ Eagle TC110 engine compartment. Note the heat deflector behind the rear cylinder to deflect hot air away from a rider’s leg. Chrome, glorious chrome! The Road Glide Ultra is slathered in it, looking especially tasty in the Screamin’ Eagle TC110 engine compartment. Note the heat deflector behind the rear cylinder to deflect hot air away from a rider’s leg.

The RGU is EPA-rated at 47 mpg on the highway (32 mpg city), so as much as 280 miles on a single 6.0-gallon full tank might be achievable on the open road.

Wind tunnel testing was used to design a new mounting angle for the 16-inch Road Glide smoked windscreen, and we found its new design to offer excellent protection for its size. Wind deflectors on the top of the engine guards force more air around a rider for greater protection from the elements.

“Throttle response is impeccable, with ultra-smooth pickup from a closed throttle.”

Suspension control is quite good, especially considering the rear end has just 3.0 inches to work with, a nominal amount that helps achieve a low-ish 29.5-inch seat height. Dunlop D408/407 dual-compound tires offer acceptable grip along with the expectation of greater life from the more durable center compounds.

Our least-favorite aspect of the RGU is its rubbery feel from the front end. Feedback through the rubber-isolated handlebar is indirect, and this makes itself known at parking-lot speeds and during quick steering inputs. I rode the RGU back to back with the CVO Street Glide, and the SG offers more secure feedback due to its lower-profile front tire and less weight up high from its smaller fairing and lack of a Tour Pak.

The Verdict

Okay, so the Road Glide Ultra won’t appeal to everyone – its price guarantees this even if its style doesn’t. In fact, like all CVOs, production numbers are finite – the RGU will be limited to about 3,000 units (never mind the fact that any Victory model would be lucky to sell 3K annual units).

We’ll bet that, even in this current gloomy economy, Harley will have no trouble finding 3,000 customers for the CVO Road Glide Ultra. After all, it’s the first time the RG has been given the CVO treatment, so there will be some measure of pent-up demand for it.

There is so much to like here, including several luxury and convenience upgrades that will coddle and soothe on road trips of every length. And, at the risk of belaboring the point, the finish quality on this and every CVO is beyond reproach. And everything is backed by a two-year warranty

Harley reps describe CVO customers as “alpha riders,” always at the front of the pack. For those who want to make a bold statement and have the bucks to afford it, this CVO Road Glide Ultra is a distinctive and stylish way to lead the parade.

The open road beckons the CVO Road Glide Ultra. Comfort will never be an issue.The open road beckons the CVO Road Glide Ultra. Comfort will never be an issue.


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