Twenty-four hours. Around the clock. Twice, if you're the analog type. To push something—anything—for a full day has long been the yardstick for durability. Survive 24 hours of punishment and the rest is gravy. And yet, that kind of stress test is not what this story is about. We knew, as sure as we could know, that the new Harley-Davidson Ultra—our shortened term for what is properly called the Electra Glide Ultra Limited—would stand up to a day of our practically patented pounding. After all, this is a touring bike, not a racer; whatever kind of abuse we could apply to it during a single 24-hour period on the road is nothing like what The Motor Company has already committed during more serious and documented testing. Milwaukee's best and brightest design meticulously (inside their allowed parameters) and test the hell out of stuff. Given that view, the famed ability of Motorcyclist to bust things looked in doubt before we even began.
The Ultra, as you know, sports Harley's latest development of its famed 45-degree V-twin. From the powertrain perspective, the new 103 cubic-inch engine is distinguished mainly by "precision" liquid cooling. Look upon this advance as not so much the end of the world as we know it but instead the realization by H-D engineers that a large air-cooled engine can only take so much before that very design comes to hold it hostage. With power comes heat. Absent the ability to reject that heat, well, there's not much more power to be found. You can go bigger—Harley does in the CVO line—but there is a practical upper limit for this basic design. Liquid cooling allows Harley to up the compression ratio for more power and improved efficiency without the risk of melting pistons or riders' thighs. It's all good.
Now, about our plan. We had the bright idea of basing our adventure out of Tehachapi, California, about two hours north of the concrete tiltup we call an office. The reasons were simple: to give us four different routes from a central point that would avoid LA's notorious traffic and offer us a chance to get away from the maddening masses. That's why you go touring in the first place, right? What's more, we decided that for safety and camaraderie we would have the primary rider followed by a sweep; the Harley carried tools and supplies for itself, but helping hands are always welcome.
Because 24 hours is a brutally long time to stay in the saddle, even on a thoroughly comfortable machine, we broke the test into four segments of six hours each, four routes that varied from 250 to 345 miles. One pair would ride, get six hours off, and switch roles from tester to sweep to do it all again. Regular staffers Zack Courts, Ari Henning, and Marc Cook were joined by Baggers Editor-in-Chief Jordan Mastagni for one stint; newly hired Editorial Director Kevin Smith got his hazing over with in a hurry, coming out to ride sweep on the final stint of the test. Nothing like putting the boss' boss on the 1 a.m. shift, eh?
Our goal wasn't to break the Harley in a day; it was simply to spend an intense period with it, putting on the miles, ogling its new features, and talking about our experiences in the saddle—all while we spin once around on our blue globe.