Easily the most iconic Harley-Davidson is the ElectraGlide or FL series. Favoured by law enforcement agencies and horizon-chasers around the world, it’s pretty much the company’s signature model and, with its distinctive “bat-wing” fairing, is instantly recognizable. In one form or another, it’s been in the company’s line-up since 1941.
These days, it represents the pinnacle of motorcycle luxury and refinement for the Milwaukee manufacturer. Offered in a dozen different trim and equipment levels, it can be had with things like hands-free Bluetooth, rider-passenger intercom, iPod presets, and a 25-watt sound system. My test bike, the Ultra Limited, had all of the above, as well as cruise control, adjustable air vents, and an information screen mounted above the handlebars.
Power, as always is delivered by an air-cooled V-twin that in this case, displaces1700 cc and features fuel injection, twin camshafts, and a six-speed transmission. This is the classic Harley drivetrain…. traditional yet up to date at the same time. Definitely not the fastest bike on the road, it still has more than enough power to provide flawless all-day cruising while returning surprisingly frugal fuel economy. It’s rated a 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres, combined rating….a figure that always catches me by surprise, because despite its heft and oversize dimensions, this is still a remarkably cheap way to get around.
It also has that most important ingredient of all in spades: presence. Whether it’s unmuffled or not, the ElectraGlide announces its presence as soon as it arrives. Admit it: when a Harley pulls up, you look. The Ultra is a visually stunning piece of equipment and still has a gravitas that other manufacturers can only emulate. This is one of the reasons law enforcement personnel still favour the ElectraGlide. For whatever reason, disobedient motorists take it more seriously than other makes. Both BMW and Honda have taken a serious run at this market and it is still owned by Harley.
The other reason cops like the ElectraGlide so much is that it has unmatched low-speed stability. This is a bike that can almost stand on its own….without a kickstand. Not quite, of course, but in traffic and during low-speed trolling, it’s firmly planted and rock-steady. There are other, equally sybaritic, touring bikes out there – Honda Goldwing, BMW K1600, for example – that are faster, but they can’t match the FL when it comes to dead slow crawling.
That said, if the ElectraGlide does decide to topple over, there’s no bringing it back. At almost 400 kilograms (880 pounds) in weight, once this little puppy starts to go, it’s all over but the crying. A fact I was conscious off the whole time I had it.
As well, for shorter riders, it can be a bit of a stretch. My bike had the “low” option, which drops the seat height down to 740 mm (29 in.). This is an excellent feature for those a little inseam-challenged, but it’s still a bit of a reach to get both feet flat on the ground.
But the bike has so much going for it and is so enjoyable to ride, we can put up with its various – minor – shortcomings. Crack the throttle and you’ve got endless amounts of torque and take-off power. On the highway, it’s a smooth, stable dreadnought that eats up the kilometers effortlessly and has you in one of the most comfortable saddles ever bolted to a motorcycle. I struggled somewhat with the infotainment set-up, which can be risky during highway riding, and learned to have everything ready to go before I hit the blacktop. Handlebar controls make things like volume control and station selection straightforward enough, but you don’t want to be fiddling around with buttons and knobs while clipping along at freeway speed.
I also couldn’t help but feel that the ElectraGlide is a bit of a dinosaur. Yes, it’s a joy to ride and has years of research and development and rider experience behind it, but I found myself wondering just how long bikes of this size can hang on. For – ahem – older riders, the ElectraGlide may be the cat’s pajamas, but younger riders may not appreciate its charms, and view it as just an oversize, bloated piece of rolling furniture. It’s no secret that Harley’s customer base is fading, and the company is addressing things by bringing out models like the Street series, specifically to bring younger riders into the fold.
And it’s expensive. With a two-tone paint job, my Ultra Low will run you $33,179 before extras….$31,899 for the basic black version.