2009 Harley-Davidson FLHTCU
Like the rest of the 2009 Harley-Davidson Touring models the big daddy of the lineup received an entirely new chassis. Although the appearance of the bike doesn't look like much changed from previous year's Electra Glides a whole new frame and swingarm were employed by the factory. The engineers had a few goals in mind while creating the platform including better road manners, heat management, and increased load carrying capacity.
Coming in as the heaviest of all Harley's two-wheelers, the Ultra Classic Electra Glide tips the scales just shy of 900 pounds. That's a lot of weight to account for and doesn't include the rider(s) or luggage. A fine line had to be drawn that included manufacturing a frame that was stout yet not overly heavy and yet retain the look that H-D traditionalists love. The solution was found by designing a two-piece frame and a beefy forged swingarm.
Comprising the new frame is the main section up front that cradles the 96ci motor and Six-speed transmission and a triangular, bolt-on rear section that includes the fender struts and top frame rails where the seat rests. The new, stiffer, swingarm has been lengthened and widened to accommodate the new Dunlop 180 rear tire. At the factory the new frame is made with 50 percent fewer parts than the old one, reducing assembly time, and allowing for stricter tolerances due to less welding distortion. As far as strength is concerned the new frame supports a 70-pound increase in load capacity, including an extra five pounds of carrying capacity in each saddlebag as well as the Tour-Pak.
Many of the changes in the frame and overall redesign were a result of market research with riders around the country. Riding habits, comments, complaints, and suggestions were all taken into account. H-D went as far as weighing people's loaded bikes to see how folks were using them in the real world. This direct feedback from consumers helped hone in on areas that needed attention from an engineering standpoint.
In keeping up with the current market trend for bigger rear tires the whole rear of the bike is wider to conceal the larger rear tire, still wrapped around a 16-inch wheel. Up front the change was made to a 17-inch 28-spoke cast aluminum wheel. Tires were developed in tandem with Dunlop to meet the needs of such a large bike that's likely to rack up serious miles. The Multi-Tread tires contain a harder rubber compound in the center with softer sections on either side to aid in handling and grip. Wear has purportedly increased by 25 percent. Tying into the new tires is newly calibrated front and rear suspension to balance comfort, handling, and stability. On the rear are air shocks that can now accommodate 50 PSI for better adjustability while the non-air, conventional damper rod front forks employ Showa damping valves to smooth the ride.
Thumbing the starter on the Ultra wakes up the 1584cc Twin Cam to a soothing rumble through the newly designed two-into-one-into-two exhaust system. Noticeable immediately is the reduced vibration felt and seen at idle. Part of the new chassis design was the addition of a fourth engine stabilizer that helps to quell that annoying vibration often felt on earlier models while waiting at a red light. Sitting on the amazingly comfortable one piece, two-up seat all of the controls and instruments look like an old, familiar friend. Information is right in front of you on easy-to-read gauges. Aside from the requisite speedometer (with trip meters, odometer, and a reserve/miles to empty readout), there's a tach, oil pressure gauge, battery voltmeter, fuel gauge, and a useless ambient air thermometer. The thermometer never seems to accurately measure the air temp and might only be included to maintain visual symmetry within the inner fairing. An oil temperature gauge might be better. Indicator lights sit between the tach and speedo alerting the rider to low oil pressure, high beam status, and blinkers.
The Ultra comes standard with cruise control and front, clear-lens reflector optic spotlights with switches for both located within the inner fairing cap assembly. An accessory switch and speaker switch also reside there. Although the stereo on the Ultra resembles the other Touring radios, the Ultra has a higher output 80-watt Harman/Kardon audio system that feeds four speakers. Two speakers are in the fairing and another two out back on either side of the passenger seat and backrest. The rear speakers can be turned on or off as well as adjusted for fade; a nice feature is the separate passenger volume control that gives the passenger some say over how loud (or not) they like the tunes. New shorter antennas came standard in '09 also, including both the radio and standard CB antennas. Although we didn't use them there is a CB radio and intercom system wired into the bike.
Out on the road the Ultra is about a smooth a ride as possible. The suspension soaks up all manner of road imperfections with ease. There is still a bit of a wallowing feeling in the big bike, likely due to the weight and the aerodynamic properties. There is a lot of air being pushed by such a large frontal area and that tends to reduce aerodynamics. The windshield is tall requiring all but the taller riders to have to look through the windshield. In addition the lower fairings that attach to the engine guard add to the rolling resistance of the bike. Although the lowers, with integrated storage within them, have adjustable vents there's still not a lot of air getting through to the rider's legs. Adjustable fairing wind deflectors are on either side of the fork-mounted fairing and can be positioned to block or direct air toward the rider. They work well too, with a noticeable difference in cockpit temperatures by changing the angle of the deflectors. The large Tour-Pak and the associated backrest adds wind resistance too that further prevents a smooth flow of air through the rider. The Ultra is definitely the most insulating of all the H-D models, which is good or bad depending on weather conditions. In the rain or cold all of this makes for a very pleasant ride, however in the heat of the summer, the lack of airflow makes for a hotter ride.
Thankfully the '09s have some new features that reduce the heat felt by the rider. The largest change was in the routing of the exhaust system. Gone is the left side crossover pipe and the catalytic converter has been moved to within the header pipe. The exhaust crossover is instead routed under the bike, from the right side to join up with the left muffler. This change also allowed for a reshaping of the rear head pipe to keep it farther away from the rider. Mid frame air deflectors placed under the seat and rear rocker box also aid in heat deflection. All of this combined with the rear cylinder ignition cutout (that pumps cool air through the rear cylinder when at idle and the motor is hot) still doesn't make riding the Ultra a cool experience. It's definitely improved but we were still getting pretty roasted riding, especially in stop-and-go traffic. Surely, and in H-D's defense, most of the unwanted heat comes courtesy of your elected lawmakers and their overly strict emissions control measures directed at motorcyclists.
This takes us to the electronic fuel injection that just continues to improve year after year. If not for the computer controlled, closed-loop system these motors might just melt from their lean running condition. The computer takes care of pinging and can adjust the ignition and fuel delivery in fractions of a second. Throttle response through the fly-by-wire throttle is very good and smooth. The throttle system is finely integrated into the cruise control for the best operating and invisible cruise control we've ever tested. Power output is average even with a regeared final ratio for '09 (look for the brand new 2010 103ci Ultra in an upcoming review.) Like many things though power is relative and depends on what type of rider you are and where you live. In the busy metropolis it's not always possible to downshift once or twice to get out of a trouble spot. But, we've been accused of expecting a canyon carver out of a Touring bike before and truthfully that's how we like to ride them.
Even with a longer wheelbase and an increase in trail the Ultra can be ridden fast and leaned over far before touching down the floorboards. It's a solid feeling bike while leaned over with no unwanted tendency to stand up or flop over in a tight turn. This particular bike had the triple disc ABS option. We haven't had many instances where the ABS kicked in but it is a welcome option especially if you ride in the rain a lot. One thing to keep in mind is the difference in brake feel between the ABS and non-ABS Brembo brakes. In our hands the ABS has a stiffer lever pull with less modulation than the non-ABS. With that said though, the braking system works great but frankly we haven't had the ABS activate in a panic stop. However, ABS is no crutch for poor riding technique.
The luggage capacity is the shining light on the Ultra. There is no other bike made that offers as much usable space. The saddlebags and the Tour-Pak are lockable as well as waterproof. The Tour-Pak has additional tail and brake lights too for added safety and visibility. For even more storage there is a rack on top of the Tour-Pak, but we'd be careful not too load up too much weight that high up on the bike.
Just load up the bags, put your favorite passenger on the back and hit the open road. Gas is all you'll need and with six gallons of super unleaded you can easily go 250 miles between stops. If you like to ride all day an comfort this is the bike for you. For more information contact your local Harley-Davidson dealer or log onto
2009 Harley-Davidson FLHTCU Ultra Classic Electra Glide
Black; $21,529 Color; $21,959, Two Tone;
$22,159, Custom Color
Shown is Two-Tone Red Hot Sunglo/Smokey Gold
ABS option, $795
3700 W. Juneau Avenue