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2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited—Rider Test

Greg Drevenstedt
December 3, 2013
Filed under Cruiser + Touring Motorcycle Reviews, Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on Harley Motorcycles

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2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited-

Familiar but different. Iconic Batwing fairing has been restyled and now has a slipstream vent, the headlight and fog lights are LEDs, and the fairing lowers now conceal twin radiators for the Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103 engine (filling the space previously occupied by storage compartments).

In the right-here, right-now times we’re living in, much of what we buy is built and sold for the lowest possible price, or it’s made flashy and splashy just to get our attention. But as touring riders, we understand the value of refinement. We place high demands on our motorcycles, and we know that genuine quality is what endures over the long haul. Better design, fewer rough edges, more enjoyment.

That’s what Harley-Davidson’s Project Rushmore, a four-year, customer-driven effort to improve the Motor Company’s lineup, is all about. Product planners, designers and engineers teamed up to identify the changes that customers wanted most; time and effort was invested to make those changes, test them, refine them and gather more customer feedback; and noses stayed against the grindstone until everything was done right.

2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited

Resplendent in custom Daytona Blue metalflake paint, the 2014 Ultra Limited runs stronger and cooler and is more comfortable and enjoyable than its predecessor.

In last month’s Kickstarts, Editor-in-Chief Mark Tuttle gave an overview of the many changes implemented as part of Project Rushmore, everything from reshaped buttons to partial liquid cooling on several models. After riding the Touring models that received the most extensive upgrades, he came away impressed. At the top of the non-CVO heap is the 2014 FLHTK Ultra Limited (Electra Glide has been dropped from the name), a decked-out luxury tourer that has been all but transformed by Project Rushmore.

The hell-hath-frozen-over news for 2014 is the introduction of precision liquid cooling on the Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103 V-twin that powers the Ultra Limited and Tri Glide Ultra, and the Twin-Cooled Twin Cam 110 that powers the CVO Limited. Increasingly stringent emissions standards, as well as the need for higher and more consistent engine output and better heat management, means that liquid cooling on big twins was inevitable. Harley-Davidson stylists and engineers went to great lengths to conceal the Twin-Cooled system, tucking coolant ducts out of view beneath the fuel tank and cleverly hiding the twin radiators and thermostatically controlled fans inside the fairing lowers.

2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited

2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited

According to Matt Hoffmann, senior project engineer at Harley-Davidson, the percentage of total cooling accounted for by the Twin-Cooled system depends on operating conditions, with liquid cooling providing roughly 25 percent of total cooling at highway speeds and 85 percent of the total at idle. “Combining the effects of air and liquid cooling allows us to optimize the performance of the Twin-Cooled system and still maintain the look, sound and feel of our Twin Cam engine,” said Hofffman. And should the Twin-Cooled system spring a leak or the water pump fail, the engine will run with air-cooling alone to reach service under its own power.

Partial liquid cooling allowed a bump in the compression ratio from 9.6:1 to 10.1:1, and along with a new camshaft that optimizes low-end torque and a higher-flow airbox, Harley-Davidson claims a 10.7-percent torque increase over the standard Twin Cam 103. On Jett Tuning’s dyno, our 2014 Ultra Limited test bike belted out 95.0 lb-ft of torque at 3,700 rpm and 79.2 horsepower at 5,200 rpm at the rear wheel—11.5 percent and 16.3 percent higher, respectively, than the standard Twin Cam 103-equipped 2011 Road Glide Ultra (85.2 lb-ft of torque, 68.1 horsepower; Rider, September 2010). Close to the 5,800-rpm redline, the Twin-Cooled High Output 103’s torque and horsepower advantage is even greater, exceeding 20 percent. Near sea level along the California coast, that extra grunt can be felt with every twist of the throttle, and there’s less need to drop a gear for a quick pass or a steep incline. Just as impressive is the dramatic reduction in heat coming off the engine, especially on hot days or when stuck in stop-and-go traffic. Heat from the radiators exits through vents on the trailing edge of the fairing lowers, away from the rider. The Ultra Limited is still equipped with the Engine Idle Temperature Management System (EITMS), which can be used to turn off the rear cylinder fuel injector at idle when engine temperature is high.

Central slipstream vent in the Batwing fairing

Central slipstream vent in the Batwing fairing stays open except when raining and helps reduce helmet buffeting. The vent plus the more aerodynamic shape of the fairing allowed the windscreen to be made shorter for better visibility.

Though more powerful and cooler running, the Twin-Cooled 103 has the same dimensions and architecture as before, with pushrods actuating two overhead valves per cylinder and hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters. The rubber-mounted motor shakes at idle and smoothes out under throttle, with motive force sent through a 6-speed overdrive transmission and belt final drive. Helical-cut gears and a heel-toe shifter make gear changes a quiet, easy affair. Replacing the cable-actuated clutch is a new hydraulic clutch that needs less maintenance, provides more consistent engagement and requires no additional effort, even though stronger clutch springs are used. The non-adjustable clutch lever still requires a firm pull, and I wish the gear position indicator didn’t go blank when the clutch is pulled in. The 6-gallon tank requires premium fuel, and during our 1,000-mile test we averaged 40.9 mpg.

Twin-Cooled system in Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited

In the Twin-Cooled system, an electric pump circulates coolant up and over the top of the engine, into the cylinder heads and around the exhaust valves, back over the engine and down, into one radiator and then the other. Everything is well hidden and it works extremely well.

The Limited’s steel frame and swingarm serve as a strong skeleton to support this 901-pound fully fueled machine, which weighs 16 pounds more than the 2009 Ultra Classic we last tested (Rider, November 2008). With small radiators and just 1.1 quarts of coolant, the Twin-Cooled feature accounts for only part of the weight increase. To better support all that weight, especially with the Batwing fairing bolted to the fork, the stanchions are now 49mm in diameter (up from 43.1mm), the triple clamps are stiffer and the steering stem has larger bearings. The fork has no adjustability, but the rear shocks are air-adjustable. Front and rear damping has been revised and the new Contrast Chrome Impeller cast-aluminum wheels are lighter and stiffer than their predecessors. The end result is more responsive handling and a more comfortable ride.

To increase the margin of safety, the Ultra Limited is equipped with H-D’s new Reflex Linked Brakes with ABS. For optimal low-speed control, the front and rear brakes operate independently below 20-25 mph. At higher speeds, the Reflex system becomes active; when either or both brake controls are used, a proportional control valve sends power to both front and rear brakes as needed. In practice, most riders won’t notice the difference, but they will surely benefit from shorter stopping distances, especially in emergencies. Each of the three 300mm discs are squeezed by 4-piston opposed calipers, and overall braking power is excellent. When the ABS engages there is some kickback at the lever and pedal, but the system operates smoothly without shuddering. The front rotors are now floating and have a more open design to showcase the Impeller wheel.

Ultra Limited Saddlebags

One-Touch latches on the saddlebags allow them to be easily opened and closed with one hand.

On touring motorcycles, comfort is king. Not only is engine heat lower thanks to the Twin-Cooled system, overall airflow around the bike has been improved. First introduced in 1969, the iconic Batwing fairing has been reshaped for a more dynamic, aggressive look and better aerodynamics. A new “splitstream” vent below the windscreen reduces pressure behind the screen and allowed the non-adjustable windscreen to be cut down by 3.25 inches for better visibility. At 65-75 mph, I felt only a small amount of wind at the top of my helmet, and it was quiet enough that I didn’t need to wear earplugs and was able to listen to the sound system clearly at about two-thirds of maximum volume. Extensive wind tunnel testing guided the Batwing redesign, which provides more hand coverage, as well as the shape of the fairing lowers and the new bullet-shaped turn signals. Closable vents in the lowers direct a large amount of air to the rider’s legs, and adjustable wind deflectors below the fairing block or direct air into the cockpit.

Sitting in the plush, deeply dished seat with my feet up on the large, rubber-insulated floorboards is like sitting in the lap of luxury, with plenty of legroom and no strain in my arms or back. My fiancée Carrie, a very discerning passenger, was tickled pink by the wider, longer pillion as well as the more supportive backrest, rating the Ultra Limited as one of the most comfortable motorcycles she’s ever ridden. The passenger armrests have been reshaped and the saddlebag guards and passenger audio controls have been repositioned, all in the name of comfort.

Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited Tour-Pak

The saddlebags and Tour-Pak are more sleek in appearance but have slightly more capacity.
LED lighting on Tour-Pak is new, and the rack is standard.

Other changes enhance comfort on a smaller scale. Reshaped buttons are easier to operate by feel; larger gauges with much wider numbers reduce eyestrain; One-Touch latches simplify opening and closing the Tour-Pak, saddlebags, jukebox media compartment, fuel door and slipstream vent. The restyled Tour-Pak and saddlebags are sleeker in appearance, yet both have slightly more capacity (4.7 cubic feet total), and the Tour-Pak rack and luggage liners are standard.

2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited Tour Pak

The Tour-Pak also has a One-Touch latch, as well as a self-retracting tether. Lined with soft material, it holds a ton of gear and includes a 12V socket, multi-tool and document pouch.

The all-new Harmon Kardon-made Boom! Box 6.5GT infotainment system integrates audio, communications and navigation in a single, easy-to-use module that includes a 6.5-inch color touch screen housed inside the fairing. Four large, well-marked control buttons flank the screen and five-way joysticks on each handlebar switchpod control the system. Next to the touch screen is a compartment with a USB connector and a foam holder for a smartphone or MP3 player. The Boom! Box 6.5GT’s suite of features is too extensive to list here, but it does pretty much everything you could ask of a system like this. I found it easy to use, though there is a learning curve; audio prompts provide guidance when you need it. By pairing my iPhone via Bluetooth and using the optional factory headset ($189.95), I was able to use voice commands to tune the radio, place a phone call and navigate to a particular location. Overall, sound quality from the four-speaker, 25-watts-per-channel system was first-rate.

As part of Project Rushmore, Harley-Davidson’s own marching orders were, “Respect the heritage, but move it forward.” Every change to the Ultra Limited makes it a better motorcycle. Some make it more stylish, such as the character lines on the fairing, saddlebags and Tour-Pak or the low-profile front fender that better shows off the Impeller wheels, but most make it more enjoyable to ride. It runs stronger, cooler and with better airflow. It is more comfortable, easier to operate and has a comprehensive infotainment system. The Daymaker LED headlight and fog lights provide excellent nighttime illumination, and heated grips and cruise control are standard. The total impact of the new Ultra Limited adds up to more than the sum of its many refinements. Bar none, this is one of the best Harley-Davidsons we’ve ever tested.

2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited

2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited

2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited

Base Price: $25,899
Price as Tested: $27,164 (custom color)
Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles

Type: Air/liquid-cooled, transverse 45-degree V-twin
Displacement: 1,690cc (103.1ci)
Bore x Stroke: 98.4 x 111.1mm
Compression Ratio: 10.1:1
Valve Train: OHV, 2 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: NA (self-adjusting)
Fuel Delivery: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection
Lubrication System: Dry sump, 4.0-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Belt

Ignition: Electronic
Charging Output: 650 watts max.
Battery: 12V 28AH

Frame: Mild-steel tubular double cradle w/ two-piece backbone, twin downtubes, bolt-on subframe & steel swingarm
Wheelbase: 64.0 in.
Rake/Trail: 26 degrees/6.7 in.
Seat Height: 29.1 in.
Suspension, Front: 49mm stanchions, no adj., 4.6-in. travel
Rear: Dual shocks, adj. for air pressure, 3.0-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual discs w/ opposed 4-piston calipers, fully linked & ABS
Rear: Single disc w/ opposed 4-piston caliper, fully linked & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.00 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.00 x 16 in.
Tires, Front: 130/80-H17
Rear: 180/65-H16
Wet Weight: 901 lbs.
Load Capacity: 459 lbs.
GVWR: 1,360 lbs.

Fuel Capacity: 6.0 gals., last
1.0 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (high/avg/low) 46.6/40.9/37.2
Estimated Range: 246 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 2,250

(This article Cool Refinement was published in the December 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)

2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited Engine

New, higher-flow air cleaner, hotter cams and the Twin-Cooled system boost torque and horsepower. Heat from the radiators exits through vents in the fairing lowers.

2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited Gauges

Fewer gauges (4 instead of 6) are larger and easier to read. Color touch screen for the Boom! Box 6.5GT infotainment system is a revelation.


15 Responses to “2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited—Rider Test”

  1. Charlie on January 10th, 2014 12:26 am

    I would like to know the size of cams they are installing in the 2014 ultra limited.


  2. Charles on February 6th, 2014 8:45 pm

    Just purchased 2014 Limited rode it for 600 miles and really enjoyed it. Was not running great at purchase was told it needed to break in and that’s what it did motor blew up HD is replacing motor cant wait to get it back.


  3. Thomas Scott Harmeling on May 25th, 2014 6:33 pm

    Bought a 2014 ultra limited in October of 2013 it now has 13200 miles on it almost all on southern / hotter climate roads , it’s been totally dependable I’ve had no problems as of yet , the reflex brake system has been put to the test several times and is quite impressive , the infotainment / navigation 6.5 gt is a little finicky when used with the I phone Bluetooth I’ve noticed that the music from my pandora radio account will not come back on after an incoming phone call interrupts it when not using the helmet plug in connection if I’m wheeling my helmet and have it plugged in it works if not I have to stop and turn the bike off wait a moment and start it back up then it will return to Bluetooth and play pandora radio for me other than that this bike has been an absolute pleasure to ride , even when ridden for over 600 miles in a day !


    david Reply:

    Did you say it had 13,200 and does it run cooler than last year model?


  4. The Shades on June 25th, 2014 9:05 pm

    Bought a new 2010 Ultra Classic in 2010 When the local dealers still had 2009’s and 2008’s unsold for higher. I had one oil leak factory fault. Ottawa dealer wanted $1800.00 to repair the problem, Kingston dealer wanted $1200.00 and watertown NY. wanted $595.00 but the ten hour drive where I got it from would have fixed it free. Soyves NY charged me $259.00 plus tax. 7% and they adjusted everything plus did all the oil’s change too. I have been trouble free four years. Only changed tires. Do I up grade to a 2014 ultra classic that has recalls already? Moisture in the displays and fight for warranty if I want to save $1000.00 or more to shop around. The bugs are out of my 2010. The dealers have to give the same pricing and warranty. I bought a 2008 can-am spyder with extended warranty till 2011 Feb.1 and the Ottawa dealer had the wife’s bike more than she did.$6000.00 I payed for things that warranty should have. BRP in montreal Qc. gave the dealer in Mexico NY. full warranty to repair the lemon. Things I payed for in Ottawa were never done.Still did the same thing,spark plugs fowling,backfiring and stalling. The Trenton dealer took it as a trade $1050.00 on a new 2012 and the only problem she had was the left Fox shock didn’t work. The place in Trenton wanted $519.99 ea for the shock’s and told the wife the warranty ran out even though it was less than 1yr old. I called BRP again..upset the customer rep. said warranty till June,29/ 2016. I took it to Pete’s in Pembroke,four hour round trip. They covered the one shock only under warranty and charged $269.00 plus HST for the 7000 km. oil change.Warranty is only as good as the dealer!


  5. Ed on June 28th, 2014 10:08 pm

    I’m reading this article on 6/28/2014, I found it amusing where at the bottom of the article it indicates it was published about five months in the future…

    “(This article Cool Refinement was published in the December 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)”

    Greg must be working with Jules Verne. :-)


    Rider Magazine Reply:

    Thanks for pointing out our mistake. The date has been corrected to read “December 2013.”


  6. Heinrich on July 14th, 2014 7:51 pm

    I don’t know what to do,,,,
    buy a HD or a Victory,,,


    Rob McG Reply:

    I think you should buy the Victory or an Indian.
    Electric water pump. How long will that last. The change to LED lights was to have power to run the electric fans and water pump. And the first post I read a motor blows up. This is spooky.


    Dan Hammack Reply:

    If you ride the big miles as I do, and I would think anyone buying the Ultra Limited would, consider the fact that there are Harley dealerships everywhere, and Harley puts travelers to the front of the service line. Those 2 reasons alone are enough reasons for me to tour on a Harley.


  7. Rocky Estep on September 18th, 2014 12:56 pm

    I recently test rode the 2014 Ultra Limited and cannot get it out of my mind. My wife rode with me and we both are full grown if ya catch my drift. The bike was flawless Smooth and stable. Remarkably well balanced. The seats were extremely comfortable and there were no bars or plastic rubbing our legs. The speed is deceptive. You don’t feel it like you might think but you notice you’re passing every thing on the road. The infotainment system is amazing and the touchscreen is very convenient. all the controls are easy to use. I have large hands so the over sized buttons are really to my liking. I’ve been riding for nearly 40 yrs. I guarantee you haven’t ridden a Harley like this one. If you love to ride and want that touring/cruiser crossbred feeling you owe it to yourself to test ride the new Ultra Limited. The Rushmore Project is a home run. There will be 1 in my garage in the very near future.


    Dan Hammack Reply:

    Always rode sport tourers before, and there is one of these in my garage now. The bike surprised me at first with how quickly it takes off from stops and how well it corners, and how stable it is in curves. Nothing feels or looks cheap on this bike. It really is about torque and bikes that produce torque at low rpm’s make lower HP, many don’t understand this. I like all the accessories available thru Harley, and that they’ll let you try out seats before buying, and that if you’re traveling, and need service you are given first priority. These are all great things I never knew about Harley until I owned one.


  8. William Brown on September 19th, 2014 6:19 am

    It sounds like the Motor Company got it right again. I’m glad to see they finally came over to water-cooling, albeit partial. I ride a 2012 Ultra (bought in October 2011) that currently has 50,000 worry-free miles. The only repairs were a short in one of the cigarette lighters (30 minute repair, free) and a slipping shifter shaft around 40,000 miles that was covered by a $50 extended warranty deductible, one day repair. The Heatmonster moniker is true, however, and I had the catalytic converters removed and the headers replaced with a Vance & Hines 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust with Screaming Eagle NIghtstick slip-ons. This dramatically reduced the heat and also boosted horsepower and torque by about 10%. Along with a Stage I upgrade, she rides like a dream, and I’ve ridden her in everything from 100+ degree heat to 17 degree weather with snow. Every passenger who’s been on the back for more than 200 miles has been lulled to sleep by the growl and smooth ride. My dealers were great, giving me about $2,000 in upgrades free. The fit and finish is flawless, and people still ask me if the bike is new, 3 years and 50,000 miles later. She cruises well at 75-80, but I don’t like going faster than that in a bike or a car. Acceleration is more than adequate, and pushing the limits of the engine is actually a bit scary when 900 pounds of bike shoots forward like a rocket. I’ve only rolled the throttle completely once or twice, and did not like how fast she shot out. It’s clearly there if you need it, but hopefully you will never need it. The brakes work so well I feel uncomfortable on my wife’s Softail, specifically because the Softail does not have ABS or twin Brenbo discs on the front. I make the Atlanta to Norfolk round trip run regularly on her, even in deep winter, and I don’t think I’d feel that confident and comfortable on any other bike. All in all, a well-designed machine. After reading about Project Rushmore, it seems like the Rushmore project incorporated all the changes I made to the bike’s performance as standard measures in the new bike, and then some. I would still wait 2 years for the bugs to be worked out, especially with the new cooling system, before transitioning. I’ve owned and ridden Kawasaki, BMW, Honda, Suzuki, and Harley-Davidson, and I have to say I am still surprised at how all the major brands continually upgrade their technology. If you are serious about cruising, I don’t think you can go wrong with this bike.


  9. Steve Marshall on September 24th, 2014 12:02 pm

    As an inseam-challenged Harley rider, I’ve enjoyed my 2013 Softail Deluxe since the first day. Then I test-rode the 2015 Ultra Limited Low and can’t get it out of my mind. H-D designers really did shorter riders a huge favor with this bike — I felt comfortable on it from the time I left the dealer’s lot until I returned. From my impression, nothing needs to be added or tinkered with on this bike. I had my eyes on a Street Glide Special, but I think the Ultra Limited Low will be my next Harley.


  10. William Brown on November 29th, 2014 10:36 pm

    Dan, what you mentioned is often overlooked and underappreciated. For some reasons, there are many “Harley Haters” out there, despite how well the bikes are constructed and how well they run. The fit and finish on these machines is amazing. My chrome looks deep, unblemished, and new years later. I think you can reasonably argue that inline four water cooled engines make more mechanical sense on motorcycles, but they simply do not have the feel of the air cooled V-twins. While all major brands make quality bikes, other than the sound and fit and finish of Harley’s what really differentiates them from the other brands is the service. It is decades ahead of any other manufacturer. You can test ride any model on the floor with the flimsiest waiver I’ve seen in any car or motorcycle dealership. They actually “fit” the bike to you for free, switching components until the bike is truly customized to your exact preference. Every time I switched something on my bike for comfort, I just brought it into any dealership, they switched the part for free. If I liked it, I bought it. If not, they switched it back – again without charge. And I can usually schedule a service within 48 hours, and have the bike back that day. Not to mention that their roadside service is so awesome they will find a hotel for you and pick up you and your bike if you’re in an isolated area. That kind of service is unheard of in the motorcycle community, except for Harley-Davidson. For someone who rides as much as I do, there’s a real value to that. And the number of options for each and every little part is almost endless on these bikes, which is also unique to Harley Davidson. They seem to just “get” bikers. As a full-touring machine rider, Honda lost my business when I could not find a shop willing to let me test ride a “wing”. don’t buy ANY vehicle without a test ride. And Indian lost my business when I enquired about an extended warranty and the salesman asked, “exactly how much are you planning on riding?” What does THAT have to do with anything? It’s more than just the machine. It’s the fit, the styling, the sound, the options, the customization, the customer service, and even the open socialization you get when you ride a hog. I’ve owned all the major brands, but never feel in love with a machine like the two Harleys sitting in my garage. You know, at the end of the day, it’s okay to be a “domestic” brand and still get it right.


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