With a starting MSRP of $21,799, the Harley Ultra Classic represents a serious chunk of change and is a serious motorcycle. It offers a great deal of features and with the 2013 model year, the engine has grown to 103 cubic inches. However, is it truly the ultimate touring bike? After a weekend and 800 miles, I don’t think so; at least not in stock trim.
The 2013 HD Ultra Classic
The particular bike that I rented was a 2013 model with about 8000 miles on the odometer when I started my ride. It was in the 2-tone paint scheme, had the upgraded wheels and the security package which includes HD security system which includes the really cool walk up and start the bike feature as well as ABS brakes. The paint was a blue sparkle and was absolutely gorgeous. Out the door price for the bike I rented topped 24,000. The 103 engine boasts 100 foot pounds of torque at 3250 rpm’s and according to Harley gets 42 miles per gallon in mixed driving.
The bike is classic Harley in looks, with plenty of chrome bits and the stunning paint. Start up is easy with the security system. The key fob stays in your pocket and you simply turn the bike to on, then start it up. The clutch is a cable clutch which for a bike in the 1600cc plus category makes for a pretty heavy duty clutch pull. However, it is still manageable. For those used to metric bikes, there is no kickstand switch and the bike is easily started in gear as well. Power delivery is very linear from a standstill and overall, the bike handles well.
Positives and Negatives of the new HD 103 Engine
The 103 engine was likely introduced to let Harley seem to keep pace with Victory and metric cruiser/touring bikes. However, compared to the previous engine in the Harley Davidson lineup, the 96, there really is no benefit to the 103. Torque is up marginally but not enough for even the most sensitive rear-end dyno to notice but vibration is up quite a bit. The other downside is the bike’s center of gravity is higher than it was thanks to the new engine. It makes the famous low speed handling of a Harley less so by a noticeable bit and it makes backing the bike up even more difficult than the previous model. In other words, the bump of 4 foot pounds of torque just isn’t worth it.
How the Weekend Went
I got the bike home from the rental shop and we loaded up the saddle bags and trunk with our clothes, etc for a weekend vacation. I noticed almost immediately that riding with a passenger on this 2013 Harley Davidson Ultra Classic was a different experience than I was used to. The bike felt slow, and shifts in the wind direction were dramatic experiences compared to solo riding. Cross winds were dealt with pretty well, thanks to the weight of the bike plus passengers but headwinds were very noticeable compared to solo riding. Unfortunately for us, we managed to time our ride with shifting weather conditions and were seemingly constantly in a headwind for the entire weekend.
Overall the bike did alright. I wish I had known about the cylinder deactivation at idle feature as there were some traffic situations we encountered where it would have been useful. Mileage was in the 40’s, even with headwinds and frequent situations where we were cruising at 75-80mph. I longed for more power the entire time but I’ll admit to being spoiled by having the power of a 1500cc horizontal 6 with 6 carbs powering my last bike. The vibrations at idle were problematic but expected and the loafing along at 2500rpms on straight back roads were the biggest problem to our bottoms. The stock Harley Davidson seat scored well on initial comfort but by the last 150 miles, I swore I could feel the frame cutting into my bottom. A firmer seat with a slightly wider pan would have made all the difference. Likewise, my passenger felt the same way, wishing for a firmer seat. She also wished that the backrest on the tour-pack was better padded and that instead of a flap of leather that it was fully padded down the entire thing. We both admit to being spoiled by an aftermarket seat on our previous bike and the design of the passenger backrest on the Valkyrie Interstate is far superior.
Conclusions about the 2013 Harley Davidson Ultra Classic
Compared to that bike, the 2013 Harley Davidson Ultra Classic fell short in most areas. Acceleration, long range comfort and maneuverability all go to my old Valkyrie that I regret selling to this day. The stereo on the Harley was much better both from a usability and from how it sounded and the Harley Davidson beat the Valkyrie hands down in the range department by delivering well over 40 mpg versus 30 mpg on a good day on the Valkyrie I used to own.
Will I buy into the Harley Davidson hype? Probably not. If I’m going to buy a touring bike, I’ll likely go with a Honda Goldwing. For the same price, I get Honda reliability, much better passing power, better wind protection, all-day comfort from the seats and even better electronics. Maintenance is a wash, between the 3 oils that a Harley needs every 3000 miles versus the 4.5 hours of labor to change the air filter on a Goldwing but overall I’m certain the Goldwing would better meet mine and my passenger’s needs better.