This picture represents arriving at home in Daytona Beach at the end of a 7,500 mile round trip from Daytona to Santa Rosa, California on the new 2017 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Milwaukee-Eight powered touring machine.
When the announcement came that we were to be the Master of Ceremonies for the AMA Pro Flat Track season championship at the Ramspur Winery Santa Rosa Mile, we were contacted by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company with their plans to ship a new Ultra Classic to Daytona Beach, Florida for us to ride on the round trip. To say we were excited to do a quick 7,500 mile round trip from Daytona to Cali on the newly released Milwaukee-Eight powered Ultra would be an understatement. In Part I of this series I briefed you on my personal and family history with Harley-Davidson. Since 1989 the FLH touring line of HD’s has been my touring motorcycle of choice. First on the Evolution engined Ultra Classic’s then the Twin Cam 88. Currently I have accumulated well in excess of 250,000 miles on various models of the FLH HD’s.
The New Engine
Prior to hitting the electric starter on the 2017 I had read technical reports and analysis from Cycle World Magazine, American Iron Magazine and others. There are many great writers who are revealing the technical changes with the new engine. This is not that. My plan is to describe to you what the bike is actually like in real world touring and riding situations. This trip afforded us the opportunity to experience the bike at sea level, on mountain passes at 10,000 feet in snow/sleet/ice, the Mojave Desert at 105 degrees F and everything in between. If you are a touring rider with many miles on Electra Glides or an owner/rider of any other brand of motorcycles, I am hoping to give you information that you may find informative.
As soon as the 107 Cu In single cam 4 valve engine came to life it was obvious things had changed. The mechanical sounds of the engine itself was surprisingly quiet. The engine, transmission and primary drive have all been redesigned to make that happen. The lighter valves, optimized engine cover designs and driveline improvements has resulted in a noticeable lowering of noise from the engine. The Twin Cam isle speed was 1050 rpm’s. This engine idles at 850 rpm’s. Attached to the crankshaft is a balance weight. I am fairly certain HD spent much time working with different weights on the counter balancer. The net result is the lower idle speed combined with the carefully crafted throbbing from the still rubber mounted engine creates an all new feel at idle. Dropping the heel/toe shifter into first gear on the six speed gearbox was quiet and smooth. All gear changes are quieter and smoother. There is still a solid feel but it is more of a “snick” than a heavy thunk.
Perhaps one of the first things a rider will notice is the rich and throaty exhaust note from the completely redesigned system. Reducing mechanical noises from the driveline allowed Harley-Davidson to tune the exhaust a bit deeper and louder and still conform to the Euro 3 standards and EPA 45 foot ride by standards and the result is intoxicating. While I have not seen any discussion from any writers or the Motor Company, I feel sure I discovered one of their secret weapons in creating the best sounding touring FLH’s in history.
We only use 20% throttle 80% of our time on a motorcycle. When you exceed that on the Milwaukee-Eight there is a distinctive and rich intake sound that emanates from the air cleaner and exhaust note from the mufflers. From the riders seat it is nearly 50/50 between the two. The net result is a muscular, deep, rich and near perfect sound that is controlled by the throttle hand. It’s so good that the typically long wearing Dunlop American Elites are going to have their max service life shortened in the interest of rider entertainment. The combination of intake/exhaust is definitely audible at any speed. In the 70 to 80 mph range on the Interstate and two lanes out West the sound is so good I found myself turning the Boom Infotainment system off or way down just to enjoy it. Speaking of Interstate touring, we were two up and loaded for almost three weeks on the road. All three spacious bags were near capacity plus a waterproof leather bag on the Tour Pak rack. My seat of the pants dyno was telling me this engine had to be 15% to 20% stronger than the Twin Cam. 60-80 mph roll ons while passing were very strong and in heavy traffic it was comforting to be able to accelerate away from other motorists when conditions warranted. Upon returning home I learned that the new engine has a 10% increase in torque that equates to about two bike lengths advangage over the Twin Cam in those 60-80 mph roll on situations. The sound may have fooled my seat-of-the-pants dyno!
Departing Santa Rosa and heading out into the Mojave Desert I was aware the forecast was for 100 plus degree heat all day. It was 85 degrees when I pulled out of the hotel at 8am. Some people look at the Mojave and see nothing…I see everything more clearly. The desert was truly magnificent. Harley-Davidson used several engineering techniques to reduce (eliminate) engine heat bleeding on to rider and passenger. A redesigned exhaust system, increased heat rejection and reduced heat absorption are some of those methods. They have virtually eliminated the heat felt on the motorcycle. I tested that not only on the desert floor but in serious traffic backups during a long stop-and-go session on the Interstate.
In our next installment we will be discussing the route, sharing some possible scenic areas and hotel destinations we found along the route that may benefit you if you find yourself in the parts of the country we explored. I would like to share with you that we timed it perfectly crossing the Rocky Mountains as the Aspens were electric yellow. We also encountered some serious ice and snow situations at 8,000 feet in Utah!