2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra Review

A Triumphant Return for Harley-Davidson's Longest Hauler

They say: Experience world-class aero comfort. We say: That’s not an overstatement.

Believe it or don't, the Road Glide has been the bike Harley owners ride the furthest each year. Not the Electra Glide Ultra Classic or Ultra Limited. The Road Glide. Considering that, you can imagine that it's been at the top of the list to return the Road Glide Ultra to the lineup; it's been missing since the Road Glide got a massive update for the 2015 model year. Poof. Just gone.

Which is a shame because it was one of Harley's better handling Touring machines. Why? Think about the other models on the FL platform: Road King, Electra Glide, Ultra, Street Glide. All have the windshield or fairing bolted to the fork, adding mass and aerodynamic effects to what is actually a good-handing machine. The Road Glide gets the frame-mount fairing, which decouples all that mass from the steering and makes it a totally different kind of touring rig.

Even more now that Harley’s taken all the technology applied to the new-for-’15 Road Glide and brought it forward to the 2016 Road Glide Ultra. In simple terms, the Ultra is the full-dress version of the RG, featuring a standard top trunk, “luggage protector” bars (don’t call ‘em crash bars, please), taller windscreen (now 13.5 inches tall), and fairing lowers.

Those lowers are for more than just protection, since the 2016 Road Glide for the first time gets the Twin-Cooled 103ci engine that debuted on the Ultra Limited dresser and, well, that’s where Harley hides the twin radiators. This mill is by now familiar, but the selective use of liquid cooling allows a higher compression ratio—10.0:1 vs. 9.7:1 for the high-output versions of the air-cooled 103—for better power and improved efficiency. Still largely air cooled, still two valves per cylinder operated by pushrods (just fine with a 5,500-rpm redline), and still as mechanically talkative as any Harley, the Twin-Cooled 103 has superb manners for this kind of engine. Tons of low-end torque, virtually no vibration for the rider (thanks to the rubber mounting system), and fantastic throttle response through the ride-by-wire system. Tall gearing puts typical highway speeds under 2,500 rpm in sixth, where the 916-pound (claimed, wet) Ultra has no excess of roll-on performance. Summon fifth. Maybe fourth.

But for the most part, the Road Glide Ultra feels lively. That’s what 106 pound-feet of torque at 3,750 rpm will do for you. If your Harley touchstone dates back to the 80-inch Evo era, or even one of the early Twin Cam engines, you owe it to yourself to try one of the latest big ‘plants. It revs quicker than you expect and moves the Ultra smartly in the lower gears.

Harley owners take the 103's performance for granted, of course, but what they'll find fascinating is the Ultra's touring refinements. Aerodynamics was a focal point, both with the 2015 rework of the Road Glide and with this new model, and that effort pays off on the road. While the RGU gets by with a fixed windscreen, three sets of vents in the fairing help tailor airflow for maximum comfort. A large slot just below the windscreen directs a strong stream of air up the rider's side of the windscreen, dramatically smoothing flow around his helmet. Close the vent and you'll see what we mean—less flow (for a warmer cockpit) but more turbulence. Same deal with the twin ports bracketing the headlights. You can close these off to increase weather protection, but you'll give up some of that smoothness. What's more, Harley has devised small wind deflectors between the main fairing and the lowers to help manage airflow. It all works very well, keeping the rider protected without the sensation of sitting behind a wall of plastic. But if that's a comforting sensation for you, check the Parts & Accessories catalog for a taller windscreen.

In the transition to the Ultra spec, Harley also updated the RG’s riding position, with a new 3D-modeled seat and fat 1.25-inch-thick handlebar that has much more rise and a bit more pullback than the straight RG bar. At first, the riding position feels a bit T-Rex, fists close and forearms raised. But after several hours in the saddle, the rider’s triangle starts to make sense. In a way, this is a compromise setup, as Harley’s staffers admit that a lot of Road Glides get the full apehanger treatment.

Touring amenities abound, from the slick single-latch, top-loading saddlebags, side-hinged top trunk with power outlet, adjustable rider floorboards, and BOOM! Box 6.5-inch infotainment system with touch screen and switch-pod mounted controls. Cruise control and ABS are standard. As before, the Reflex brakes are electronically linked in both directions and decoupled below 25 mph. (They remain coupled if you started braking above 25 mph, and only decouple after you’ve released the brakes.) While surely a safety advantage, the Reflex system is maddeningly non-linear during gentle stops, gaining a fair amount of braking force with just a small increase in braking effort at the bar or car-sized pedal.

For a motorcycle well over half a ton with rider, the 2016 Road Glide Ultra is surprisingly nimble, yet it’s also very stable. Click on the cruise control, cross your arms across your chest, and the bike will stay in the lane with virtually no effort. (This is not officially recommended, of course.) There’s enough cornering clearance to maintain an entertaining pace, and the suspension does a good job with the smaller bumps even if the chassis occasionally reacts with brief, jerky movements. This characteristic never rises to the point of distraction, though.

Say what you will about Harley’s building-block approach, but the similarity of design to the lesser Road Glides hides the dozens of small things that make the Ultra different. H-D brass expects the new Ultra to continue as the most-ridden machine in the fleet. We have no reason to doubt that.

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION  
Developed from the Road Glide models that debuted last year with entirely new, much more aerodynamically sound frame-mount fairings.
RIVALS  
[Harley-Davidson][] Ultra Limited, [Honda Gold Wing][], [Indian][] Roadmaster, [Victory][] Cross Country Tour
TECH  
PRICE $25,699 - $26,999
ENGINE 1690cc, air/liquid-cooled 45-deg. V-twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/belt
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER n/a
CLAIMED TORQUE 106 lb.-ft. @ 3,750 rpm
FRAME Tubular-steel double-cradle
FRONT SUSPENSION H-D 49mm fork
REAR SUSPENSION H-D shocks adjustable for spring preload
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 300mm discs
REAR BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 300mm disc
RAKE/TRAIL 26.0º/6.7 in.
WHEELBASE 64.0 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 29.7 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 6.0 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 916 lb. wet
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT [harley-davidson.com][]
VERDICT  
By taking the Road Glide back into full-dress touring territory with the Ultra, H-D has given current Road Glide customers a reason to upgrade.
2016 Road Glide Ultra
Harley's 2016 Road Glide Ultra combines the custom-styled, shark-nosed fairing from last year's Road Glide models with, well, the back half of a serious touring bike. Mix and match? Yes. Effective? Also yes.Photo: Tom Riles