Review: Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Unlimited

Review: Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Unlimited

I am on my way to a party, a gathering of several thousand leather clad revellers intent on squeezing every last drop of enjoyment out of an eclectic mix of bands and entertainers. I, too, am ensconced in bits of dead cow, less for the dubious fashion statement and more for the undeniable protection.

The party begins tonight, in East London. I started the day in Jo’burg, torn between the practicality of hopping on a flight and the desire to arrive at Africa Bike Week on the appropriate means of transport.

The flight option would probably have won had I not been confronted by a bike that replicates business class travel on two wheels. The Ultra Limited is Harley-Davidson’s top tool for covering distance, and is basically the legendary Electra Glide with an updated engine.

Despite my shamefully thin veneer of journalistic objectivity, I have always been an unashamed fan of this range-topping model. I cannot argue that there are undoubtedly several continent-crushing mega-tourers from other manufacturers that perform the role more dynamically, more efficiently and with a damn sight more performance.

But I can argue that none of those technological marvels enriches a journey in quite the same way as the Ultra Limited.

This is a huge bike, and it’s a Harley-Davidson; both factors guaranteed to provoke frequent interactions with Joe Public. Wherever you stop you can be sure you’ll soon be chatting with the locals, and for me that’s an integral part of any touring holiday.

I have no use for chatting now, though, because I’m riding to a deadline. I don’t even take my helmet off at the fuel stops, a splash and dash is all I have time for before it’s back on the road, cruise control engaged and the stereo cranked to 11.

Yes, it does have a stereo, and it is very loud. Risking incarceration in the name of thorough testing, I discovered that you can listen to music all the way up to 150km/h. It’s a monster of a system, helped by a barn door-sized fairing that keeps the breeze from ripping away all those lovely tunes.

That level of protection is good for your comfort as well as your sounds, and with a hand-stitched leather seat that could pass as an armchair in most homes there’s no more accommodating riding position in all of motorcycling.

The Ultra Limited is, on paper at least, at a bit of a disadvantage compared to its greatest rivals. Honda’s Goldwing and BMW’s K 1600 GT can both boast half-a-dozen cylinders, a magic number if you’re after smooth power.

A V-twin – the only thing you’ll find in a Harley-Davidson – is known for its vibes, and vibrations are the enemy of long distance touring. The new Milwaukee 8 (named after the move to 4-valve heads for the two cylinders) is undoubtedly the creamiest V-twin I’ve ever ridden, defying your senses by sounding and performing like a 1746cc twin, yet doing it as if powered by batteries.

For a bike that weighs in excess of half-a-tonne with rider on board, it’s no strain or stress to pitch into a series high speed sweepers. The suspension has been beefed-up in line with the new engine, and it does an admirable job of hiding the weight and flattening any creases in the road that threaten to spoil the ride.

As the sun sets over my whirlwind journey, the lights of East London mark the end of a nine-hour blast that has transported me across the Republic in almost unbelievable comfort. For a bike that is as much an event as it is a method for going to an event, the Ultra Limited is a brutally efficient tool.

Africa Bike Week, a misnomer for a long-weekend bash, met all my debauched expectations. The venue was great, the entertainment top notch, the company even better; but I was glad when it was over. Not because I wanted the party to end, but because 1 000km of a different sort of celebration awaited me.

They say there’s a bike for every occasion, and I say if that occasion is on the other side of the country then the bike is a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited. – Mat Durrans

Fast Facts: Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Unlimited

Engine: 1 746cc V-twin
Power: 70kW estimated
Torque: 152Nm claimed
Fuel capacity: 22,7 L
Dry weight: 398kg
Price: R379 000