7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday
The air is crisp and the sun is pouring golden rays over the hills as I ride out of Tehachapi on the first leg of this 24-hour test ride. I can't think of a better way to start the day. As the guy riding during the "good light," I have the honor of piloting the Harley for ace photographer Kevin Wing. That means dozens of U-turns.
Forget what I said before; this is an awful way to start the day!
I was apprehensive about all the about-facing, but get this—the Ultra may well be the easiest bike I've ever U-turned. Unshakable stability and massive steering sweep meant I could execute a smooth reversal with room to spare. You certainly feel every ounce of the Ultra's 900 pounds when you're lifting it off the sidestand, but add just 2 or 3 mph to the equation and the Hog feels like it sheds 400 pounds and sprouts outriggers.
Once Kevin had fired off a few thousand shots, I was released with my tail, Zack, on his long-term Ducati Multistrada. We headed north toward Lake Isabella on Caliente Bodfish Road, a famously twisty, narrow, and dirty thoroughfare. Once again my prejudices were repudiated and much to my pleasure. Once I calibrated my brain to the Harley's handling—it's willing but needs extra time and space to maneuver—I was impressed with how quickly the Ultra glided down the road.
Quick enough to keep a Multistrada rider happy? No, but fast enough to keep him from getting frustrated and at a pace that felt like I was doing the curves justice. Steering is light despite more than 6 inches of trail and all that stuff bolted to the fork, and the bike feels planted while leaned over. Suspension action is excellent. Cal-Bod is a bumpy ride, but the Ultra countered every crack, dip, and frost heave with compliant, yet supportive, suspension. Cornering clearance is the best I've experienced on a bike from Milwaukee, with the floorboards touching down only a few times and only when I encountered big dips mid-corner.
If you're used to a sportbike, the Harley is slow to shed speed, but it does so better than you'd think a half-ton hunk of iron would. Linked brakes help. There is a caveat: The system is unlinked below 25 mph but linked above and remains linked until you let off the brakes, so unless you keep an eye on the speedometer while you're hustling the bike down a canyon road, you never really know what kind of whoa! the lever or pedal is going to yield.
I don't know how the other guys fared, but this 5-foot-10 rider experienced a lot of helmet buffeting when the speedo needle swung past 75. And as it turns out, it's worse with a passenger. A week before this 24-hour "Hog Slog," my wife and I rode the Ultra Glide to Las Vegas and we both ended up with headaches from the incessant battering. It was bad enough that I eventually unbolted the windshield and threw it in the trunk. In my opinion, that adjustable vent below the windshield, said to reduce buffeting by 20 percent, is simply an admission that the batwing fairing has horrendous aerodynamics.
The Electra Glide is too big, too heavy, too slow, and too expensive to interest me, but after all that time in that cushy saddle, I get it. I might not be a bar-and-shield guy right now, but once I shake my addiction to performance (and win the lottery), I can see myself setting off into the sunrise on my own Harley-Davidson.