Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 17th June 2008

Do you like your burgers with everything on them; mayo, dill pickle, bacon, barbecue sauce, cheese and a cherry on top? You do, that’s great. then the Harley Ultra Glide Classic FLHTU is the bike for you matey.

Seating to rival a Cunard liner, a big ol’ friendly engine ( 1340cc or 1450cc ) to rack up some serious miles, plus on-board music and disco lights. Only joking about the disco lights..

For two people, touring the wide open spaces in style, with plenty of luggage space for two weeks worth of clothes and oddments, the Ultra Glide takes some beating. Even at around £15,000 on the road in the UK. Happy trails.

It´s a quintessentially American feeling. You´re sat, bolt upright, at a steady 60mph, looking through a tall screen at a road that stretches before you, arrow straight, as far as the eye can see. Freeway music from the bike´s on-board radio masks the sound of a big V-twin engine whose lumpy beat can be felt through bars, footboards, and the small armchair on which you´re sitting.

This is not every rider´s idea of motorcycling fun, but for racking up the miles there´s little on two wheels to touch the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide.

The big Electra Glide seems to have been around forever, becoming as much a part of American motoring legend as the Corvette or the Mustang. In fact it was introduced in 1965, since when the ‘Glide has undergone countless updates, starred in a Hollywood film (the 1973 production Electra Glide in Blue) and fashioned a mighty reputation as a devourer of serious distances.

In fact this model, the (take a deep breath) Harley-Davidson FLHTCI Electra Glide Ultra Classic, is a special edition to mark the big tourer´s 30th anniversary. It´s also the best Harley dresser yet, for one main reason: fuel-injection.

For all the full-dress V-twin´s massive size, even a devoted H-D enthusiast could miss the significance of this model if they managed to squeeze past a parked-up Glide on the sidewalk, sorry pavement.

Plenty did, too, while I was out cruisin` and posin´ on the Harley-teeming streets of Daytona. But many others did recognise the new Glide, and respond with a barrage of questions. For while this bike retains the age-old Electra Glide look and most of the features of the previous Ultra Classic model, it incorporates the fuel-injection system that makes this bike arguably the most important to come out of Milwaukee since the Evolution-engined model over ten years ago.

Behind the familiar shiny round cover on the right of the 45-degree V-twin motor sits not the conventional Ultra Classic´s carburettor but the body of an injection system built by Weber-Marelli, the Italian firm that has equipped numerous Ducati’s and also Harley´s own VR1000 racebike. Fuel delivery is controlled by sensors for throttle position, engine speed, air density, engine temperature and ambient temperature.

Harley claims the system gives smoother running and improves fuel consumption by ten per cent. More importantly still, emissions are considerably reduced because when the throttle is shut, so are the injectors.

The rest of the engine is unchanged: the familiar 1340cc, aircooled V-twin, each big pot´s two valves operated by hydraulically adjusted pushrods. The lump is also rubber mounted in the hefty steel frame, surrounded by matching two-tone bodywork, including removable fairing lowers (complete with storage space), reasonably roomy panniers and a large, side-opening top-box that incorporates the pillion´s well-padded backrest.

The Glide rider´s pampered passenger also gets footboards, and intercom socket and their own set of controls for the stereo. (which I could imagine causing a few heated discussions on long two-up trips..). There´s far more to play with up front, of course, where the rider is confronted with an initially bewildering array of dials, knobs and buttons for features including running lights, spotlights, cruise control, CB radio, cigarette light lighter and accessory socket. This bike has no fuel tap or choke, so you turn the ignition on with the chromed, keyless knob at the steering head. The fuel pump whirs, the red ‘engine´ light below the tacho goes out (unless there´s a problem with the injection), and you hit the button.

The big motor rumbles instantly into life, and ticks over obediently at a reliable 1600rpm with a smoothness that its carburetted forebear could not have matched. There´s no doubt that the injection system does add a little sophistication at low engine speeds. When you pull away, this Electra Glide responds crisply, showing no signs of the slight hesitation that the carburetted bike tends to suffer from.

Its some time since I rode a Glide, but American tests indicate that there´s a little more midrange grunt available too. The Harley certainly pulled nicely from below 40mph in top gear, although it´s geared so tall that at an indicated 65mph the motor is loping along at just 3000rpm, with cruise control to make life even easier if you need it.

Predictably, top-end performance is nowhere near as impressive, and the heavy (347kg dry) Ultra Classic takes its time to get moving when, for example, you need a sudden burst of acceleration to pass a line of freeway traffic. The big bike lumbered up to an indicated 100mph in the end, feeling reassuringly steady, but it felt a bit stressed while doing so and was happier at a more modest pace.

The Harley certainly hasn´t got the high-speed punch or smoothness of a Gold Wing, though it matches the big Honda in most other ways. Not that lack of speed was a problem as I sat on the Florida freeway, effortlessly clicking back the miles and flicking through stereo channels to keep boredom at bay. Comfort was generally excellent, thanks to the supportive seat and roomy footboards, though being tall I found the tip of the screen came annoyingly right at eye level unless I slouched in the seat. Wind protection was excellent – good enough to make the stereo clearly audible at 60mph – but a BMW-style adjustable-height screen would have been an improvement.

Fuel-consumption is notoriously dependent on the way you ride, but Harley´s claims for the injected bike´s advantages were borne out by the American mag Motorcyclist, whose testers reported a 14 per cent improvement. I found the low-fuel light (there´s no reserve tap) come on after about 150 miles of mainly 70mph cruising, giving around 35mpg. Motorcyclist averaged 40mpg, giving a range of nearly 200 miles, and rated this Ultra Classic every bit as good for effortless 500-mile days in the saddle as its predecessors.

There´s no doubt that it is still something akin to a motorhome on two wheels. What the lumbering Glide has never been much good for is flicking through twisty roads, so it´s maybe just as well that Florida´s roads seemed to be almost all perfectly straight. The Classic has air suspension at both ends, giving a fair amount of reasonably easily used adjustability. There´s not a vast amount of travel (or ground-clearance), and bumpy curves occasionally made the big bike feel a bit short of damping (which is non adjustable), but the Harley handled okay as long as it wasn´t pushed too hard.

It also stopped reasonably well for such a big, heavy bike, too, although the twin-disc front brake required a firm pressure at the lever. The rear disc gave a very welcome addition to the bike´s adequate front brakes, although the need to lift my foot from the footboard wouldn´t have helped in a panic stop.

Panic is not something that the rider of the new Ultra Classic is likely to experience often, though, because in time-honoured Electra Glide tradition this bike is built for covering big distances in the sort of gentle, unhurried fashion that brings few unwelcome surprises.

The 1995-model Ultra Classic is a very competent mile-muncher that proves the Electra Glide concept is as valid now as it has been at any point in the model´s 30-year history. It would certainly not suit every rider or every trip, there are plenty of ways of getting to most places faster, but the big V-twin has a unique style of its own, and that Electra Glide legend remains intact.

This bike might not have created huge interest at Daytona in March, but everywhere else (with the possible exception of Sturgis, South Dakota in August) the vast and unmistakeable Glide would be treated like the famous movie star it is.

This model is currently available only in America, but is likely to appear in other markets next year, minus its anniversary-edition labels (costing $1000 more than the carburetted version) and this bike´s significance stretches further than its immediate performance, because its use of fuel-injection is a landmark feature that shows the way forward for Harley.

Injection makes this Glide run so clean that it is only the California-spec Harley that needs a catalytic converter – an encouraging sign for the long-term future of the aircooled V-twin powerplant. Some Harley traditionalists will doubtless see the adoption of such high-tech trickery as a retrograde step, preferring the carburettor´s relative simplicity. But in the face of ever-tightening emissions regulations, fuel-injection seems sure to allow Harley to keep building its V-twins in the traditional form, without resorting to watercooling or a major redesign, for a good while longer. More than simply being the best Big Twin tourer yet, the fuel-injected Ultra Classic Electra Glide represents the face of the future for Harley-Davidson.

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Vital Statistics
Engine Aircooled, 45-degree, 2-valve pushrod V-twin
cc 1340
Claimed power (bhp) -bhp @ -rpm
Compression ratio 8:5:1
Transmission Double-row chain primary, 5-speed box, belt final
Cycle parts
Front suspension; 41mm Showa telescopic, 117mm travel, air-adjustable spring rate
Rear suspension; Twin Showa shocks, 76mm travel, air-adjustable spring rate
Brakes; twin front 292mm discs, single-piston calipers
Rear;292mm disc, single-piston caliper
Tyres; front MT90 x 16in Dunlop Touring Elite
Rear; MT90 x 16in Dunlop Touring Elite
Weight;347kg dry, claimed
Brakes; twin front 292mm discs, single-piston calipers
Rear;292mm disc, single-piston caliper
Tyres; front MT90 x 16in Dunlop Touring Elite
Rear; MT90 x 16in Dunlop Touring Elite
Weight;347kg dry, claimed
Top speed – mph
Fuel capacity 19 litres