How To Buy A Used Harley-Davidson Touring Motorcycle: 2009–2013 FLHTCU Electra Glide Ultra

A used bagger isn't cheap so make sure you follow these Smart Money tips.

2009–2013 Harley-Davidson FLHTCU Electra Glide Ultra, side view
2009–2013 Harley-Davidson FLHTCU Electra Glide Ultra©Motorcyclist

Right around the time the Wright Brothers took their first flight, Harley-Davidson built its first motorcycle. As crude as the plane that Wilbur and Orville sent aloft, that original Harley looked like nothing more than a spindly bicycle frame with an engine bolted to it. Just as aircraft evolved over the years, H-Ds became more complex, more sophisticated, and in some cases a lot more luxurious, which led to models like the sumptuously accoutered Electra Glide Ultra.

The last of the totally air-cooled FLHTCUs—models called “pre-Rushmore” in the parlance of our time—came with a Twin Cam 96 engine, a new 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust, and a six-speed Cruise Drive transmission with a lower final-drive ratio for better acceleration, all cradled in a new set of rubber mounts. For 2011, the 103ci engine, with the 96’s stroke but an eighth-inch more bore, became standard.

But the big news was the massively upgraded chassis, with a new single-spar backbone frame that increased the load capacity by 70 pounds. A new swingarm and engine isolation system were also added, along with a 17-inch front wheel (up from 16) and a 5-inch-wide rear wheel (up from 3). Front and rear suspension was recalibrated to take advantage of the fresh chassis.

On the road the lower final-drive ratio makes the TC96 seem punchier than its dyno figures suggest—and the latter 103s are even better—and the revised chassis adds a degree or two of lean angle not offered by earlier models. Small stuff compared to the improved sense of rigidity and stability; the new platform is a huge upgrade over the willowy predecessor.

Used FLHTCUs aren’t hard to find, but they’re not cheap. The phrase “New York minute” describes the approximate interval between the purchase of a new Ultra and the addition of a boatload of expensive farkles, many to the engine. Some of these make more usable power while others just make more racket. Make sure the ones on the bike you’re looking at produce the desired effect; non-stock doesn’t always equal better. Get a list of the add-ons and check them with a reputable Harley tuner to see if it’s a good combination, and ask to see documentation showing who installed them. Generally speaking, you want an FLH as close to stock as you can find.

Harley-Davidson reliability has been the punch line of jokes for too long. Truth is, this generation of H-D is much more robust and reliable than its predecessors. The TC96 and 103 are well-developed engines—the worst thing they do is dump a lot of heat from the rear cylinder and pipe onto the rider during steamy weather. Maintenance requirements aren't much more onerous than for, say, a Japanese touring cruiser. The FLHTCU is not difficult to work on, and both parts and special tools are readily available. That's great as an owner. But as a buyer you're looking for the sure thing, so give preference to bikes with complete—repeat, complete—service records from a reputable dealer.

CHEERS

The iconic American touring rig. Buy a bike, get an extended family for free.

JEERS

Like Elvis on ice skates: big, brash, and clumsy at low speeds.

WATCH FOR

Sketchy maintenance history, ill-chosen mods, outstanding factory recalls.

VERDICT

For many, still the one true American touring bike.

VALUE

2009 / $14,800
2010 / $15,500
2011 / $16,305
2012 / $17,100
2013 / $17,480

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1985–1998 Harley-Davidson FLHTC/U Evolution bagger
1985–1998 H-D FLHTC/U Evolution©Motorcyclist

1985–1998 H-D FLHTC/U Evolution

The 1,340cc Evolution engine ushered H-D out of the Iron Age and into the Aluminum Era. Still, it was primarily a cruiser engine and sometimes felt strained two-up at highway speeds. Base-gasket leaks were an issue in the early years, and Harley went through several iterations to find a fix. Generally, though, these later Evos had become reliable, making them a good choice for budget-conscious buyers. The Ultra debuted in 1995 and introduced fuel injection.

1999–2006 Harley-Davidson FLHTCU Twin Cam 88 bagger
1999–2006 H-D FLHTCU Twin Cam 88©Motorcyclist

1999–2006 H-D FLHTCU Twin Cam 88

The TC88 engine debuted in ’99 and brought with it a more complex twin-camshaft design driven by timing chains. Tensioner failure was a headache at first, but later fixes, including gear-drive kits, largely cured it. Fuel injection was, of course, stock. Few 88-inchers stayed that way, as Harley and the aftermarket competed to see who could sell more big-bore kits.

2007–2008 Harley-Davidson FLHTCU Twin Cam 96 bagger
2007–2008 H-D FLHTCU Twin Cam 96©Motorcyclist

2007–2008 H-D FLHTCU Twin Cam 96

With a Twin Cam 96 engine that delivered more low end, and a six-speed Cruise Drive transmission for more relaxed highway riding, Harley upped its touring game in ’07. The chassis and suspension still needed some work despite air-adjustable shocks, but the amenities—an 80-watt sound system, cruise control, vented lower fairing with storage pockets, and plush seating for two—needed few improvements.