Harley-Davidson Project Rushmore (2014) Review

2014 harley-davidson project rushmoreLoose lips sink ships. This was the word to the wise as Harley-Davidson quietly assembled a massive suite of technical and cosmetic changes that have now come together in a 2014 operation known as Project Rushmore

When you build an iconic bike with a loyal following that happens to be the best selling model in the segment, you have a problem. You can’t rest on your laurels, as laurel resting has never been the road to success. And so it was that in September, Canadian Biker was invited to Denver, Colorado where Harley-Davidson introduced its most ambitious upgrade campaign ever. Code-named Project Rushmore, this multi-pronged performance and stylistic revision program involves at least eight key models—including revisions to the Sportster family (See, page 50)—but specifically targets monumental changes to the Touring models, including a functional rethink of the Batwing fairing, a new High Output version of the Twin Cam 103, and a liquid-cooling system for the Electra Glide Ultra Limited. Though there are literally dozens of minor aspects to Project Rushmore models including a new infotainment and lighting system, linked brakes, and a trick new luggage solution, the revised fairing and liquid cooling are the stars of the show.

WHEN YOU SET OUT TO FIX WHAT many customers might say isn’t broken, you must tread carefully. If you’re Harley-Davidson you have the additional problem of your own success and history. No matter how you choose to evolve the product, ultimately, it must still look like a Harley-Davidson. The massive suite of changes wrought by Harley under the Rushmore banner could not happen before The Motor Company took the temperature of its loyal followers through crowd-sourcing overtures on Facebook and other social media campaigns. You can give the people the future, you can give them the V-Rod, but that isn’t necessarily the future they want. So, you better be sure you know what they do want. These loyal followers are going to tell you, especially if you ask them, what they would like to see improved, but they aren’t going to tell you how to do it. It became Harley-Davidson’s job to address change without dramatically altering its legendary winning product.

Project Rushmore came about very quietly and under tight wraps. There was a stringent “loose lips sink ships” rule about the project, and how the changes would send a very strong tremor through the Harley lineup, and perhaps shake the very foundations of the most successful bike in the stable. The focus of the Colorado press event was the touring platform, specifically the Electra Glide Ultra Limited ($29,529), Electra Glide Ultra Classic ($26,529) and the Street Glide ($23,289). 

With Rushmore, Harley-Davidson chose to emphasize the separation between the “performance” and the “experience” aspects of its bikes. The two are separate. One is the thrill of twisting the throttle, while the other is the enjoyment of spending hours in the saddle. The rubber meets the road interface versus the butt meets the saddle interface. At the point on the graph where both interfaces peak together, you have the ideal experience. Both in large and small ways, Harley chose to pursue that interface meeting point. 

As an example of the “Experience” interface, the saddlebags for the Touring bikes are now operable with one hand. People who don’t spend weeks in the saddle might shrug this off, but high-milers instinctively understand that this little change can make the interface with their machine that much better. The small things that are often used can either be invisible in their efficiency or a source of constant annoyance by their clumsy design. That’s when the devil truly is in the details. From the saddlebag clasps to making the handgrip controls more intuitive, Rushmore was definitely a detail driven project.

An example is the Electra Glide Ultra Limited’s revised and larger gauges, and new infotainment system called the Boom Box 6.5 GT. It features a touchscreen with mercifully few buttons, and ease of operation. Connectable to hands free, it takes phone calls, plays music through your iPod and has GPS, which I used as the default screen. Code-name: Harley-Davidson Project Rushmore

If you don’t buy the Limited bike, you can still get the infotainment system, but it’s smaller, doesn’t have all the bells and whistles to accompany its slightly smaller screen and touching the screen only leaves smudges. It will still play music, which is really more than half the way there.

So you have the GPS, you know where you are going. What about seeing where you are going? New LED headlights called DayMakers now reside in the single round unit on the Electras. Combine them with the fog lights and the swath they cut through the darkness is, well, enlightening.  (The Street Glide makes do with a dual halogen bulb headlight.) 

Behind the Electra are LED taillights. Taillights lead to braking. Specifically linked brakes combined with ABS. This is a development that falls into the unobtrusive category. You will be extremely happy to have them when you need them and extremely happy to have them and never need them. The linked brake system works from a speed of 40 kmh (25 mph) and above. Applying either the front or the rear brake above that speed will activate front and rear calipers to a level determined by the computer. Even though the linked brakes do not activate until 40 kmh, they will stay in effect as the machine drops below that mark when braking. 

For riders who rely primarily on the front brake, the “Reflex” linked system reduces the amount of dive under hard braking by engaging the rear brake. When just the rear brake is engaged, the system incorporates the front to help shorten the stopping distance. Augmenting the new linked system is an upgraded 49mm front fork.

In the engine department, there are two new developments. One is the High Output Twin Cam 103 engine fitted with a new camshaft and high-flow airbox that work to deliver a factory-spec five per cent more torque than the standard Twin Cam 103. The HO Twin Cam 103 is featured in the 2014 Road King, Street Glide, Street Glide Special, and Electra Glide Ultra Classic models.

Code-name: Harley-Davidson Project Rushmore

Also new is the liquid-cooling system Harley calls “Twin Cooling.” This liquid-cooling is well disguised and only casually mentioned in Harley’s promotional material, which leads one to suspect The Motor Company, for its own reasons, is trying to downplay this aspect of Project Rushmore. 

The Ultra Limited and Tri-Glide Ultra are currently the only models to get the liquid-cooled version of the HO 103 engine because they are able to hide the two small radiators in their lower fairings. The engine looks virtually the same as the air-cooled version. You would be hard pressed to notice the difference in a drive-by and you would have to know what you are looking for. Liquid-cooling does not result in a dramatic increase in power or performance, but it does address the problem current owners experience over a long day on the road. Harley’s 103 and 110 mills can run quite hot and as the engine changed temperature it would lose power. Twin Cooling complements fin-based air-cooling to maintain a more even operating temperature and therefore more even power delivery over the long run. What gets cooled are the cylinder heads around the exhaust valves, for a factory spec 11 per cent torque increase. It isn’t a conventional liquid cooling system but it is compact, making it simple to integrate into the lower fairing without changing the appearance of the engine. 

Both engines are very smooth even when kept within the higher rev range, but a seat of the pants estimate of the power increases was difficult to make in Colorado’s sky-high riding environment that never went below 1,584 metres (5,200 feet) in elevation and ranged up to 3,657m (12,000 ft.). 

Code-name: Harley-Davidson Project Rushmore

The transmission is still Harley’s six-speed “Cruise Drive” but there is a new hydraulic clutch control. It is a light shifting system that Harley says will maintain its feel and performance without periodic adjustment for the life of the vehicle. Just to clarify, the Street Glide gets the upgrades of the Electra Glide Ultra Limited with the exception of the Twin Cooled motor, the high-end infotainment system of the Limited and the LED headlamps. The Ultra Classic gets the lights but not the engine or the infotainment system of the Limited. But all three get the new clutch and six-speed transmission.

The fairing was the most surprising change because the Batwing has been an iconic feature of the Electra Glide, and has remained mainly unchanged in appearance since the late ‘60s. There have been a few developments in computer aided design and wind tunnel testing since you had to feed punch cards into your three-ton IBM to play Pong and this fairing has taken advantage of those developments. It still looks undeniably like the Batwing of 1969 but it works like 2013 to create one of the cleanest, quietest and least turbulent pockets of air you are likely to find behind a fairing. 

Generally, I never use the radio in a motorcycle primarily because I prefer the sound of an engine, but also because most stereo systems sound garbled at highways speeds (or even sooner). But the new Batwing allows the rider to leave the radio on a constant volume—there was no speed at which I could not hear the music clearly while wearing an open face. I attempted this at a wide variety of speeds with the same result. Remarkably quiet. And with a passenger on the back it was easy to hold a conversation at 110 kmh (70 mph).  This is accomplished without an adjustable windscreen. It is Harley’s contention that most people with an adjustable fairing do not adjust it very often but instead find the level that works for them and leave it at that. When designing the “new” Batwing the company chose a one size fits all approach that, surprisingly, works. 

The pleasant environment behind the fairing is due in part to the most identifiable feature of the 2014 bikes, which is the vent in the front of the fairing below the screen that splits airflow between both sides of the screen, neutralizing turbulence. 

Being able to speak with Harley’s engineering staff during the Colorado event was an educational experience. An unfair conclusion drawn by many is that Harley-Davidson and tech advances have not always been mutually compatible terms. Why? Could it be that the company has held to air-cooled V-Twins for too long, although it was what the customer wanted? It’s a problem of perception when your brand works to stay true to a historical ideal. 

As an example, at a technical briefing there were sketches of other designs for the fairing that didn’t look anything like the Batwing. Effective? Perhaps. But not what fits the criteria. Is the road less taken the better one? In this case, no, but the opportunity to go down that road may be extremely enticing. Is the move to liquid-cooling the better road? The V-Rod engine showed the advantages 10 years ago. But the V-Rod didn’t fit the historical ideal and it’s this ideal that is a constant when Harley engineers, who are as number and data driven as engineers anywhere, attempt to draw a clean sheet bike.

Code-name: Harley-Davidson Project Rushmore

Are the changes to the touring models intended to create new customers or satisfy existing customers—the Rushmore crowd-source voices? The changes are subtle. Your average non-Harley rider would be hard-pressed to identify a 2014 from a 2013 and someone new to the Harley brand is unlikely to buy an Electra Glide as his first Harley product. In the end it might be a little of both but mostly it is a case of not resting on laurels, of meeting or exceeding the performance of equivalent competitor models even if a Gold Wing or BMW rider is unlikely to switch brands. 

The Rushmore Project and the initial 2014 Touring platform acknowledge an exercise in improving the bikes as a whole—both the road interface and the saddle interface. The changes, both dramatic and minor, are subtle in appearance and that is significant, when it comes to the most iconic of Harley-Davidson models. It is true you can’t fix what isn’t broken but you can certainly make it better. 

By John Molony

Has Hell frozen over?

For the Harley-Davidson faithful, liquid-cooling on Big Twins has always been the stuff of nightmares. Often heard from said faithful regarding the prospect of hoses and radiators dangling from Fat Boys and Wide Glides: “Impossible! When Hell freezes over! Over my dead body! The Motor Company will never do such a thing!” Well, actually, for 2014, Harley has done it. So, is this the Apocalypse? Has Harley gone insane? Has The Motor Company lost its way? Are we alone? Nope, nope, nope, and who knows? Stepping out of the purist’s parallel universe and back into the real world, it appears Harley-Davidson’s Project Rushmore solution actually represents a very smart path to liquid-cooling. 

On the Electra Glide Ultra Limited, which was launched just before the 110th anniversary celebrations at the end of August, the new-for-2014 High Output, Twin Cooled Twin Cam 103 feels pretty much like the standard Ultra Classic’s also new, but non Twin Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103. While modest, the increase in acceleration compared to last year’s motor is present, but the biggest benefit, according to Harley-Davidson, is sustained power in high ambient temperatures. As far as sound and feel are concerned, literally nothing is changed.

Harley-Davidson

Actually, in terms of shocking changes and in the context of how completely invisible the liquid-cooling system has been made, I’d say the redesign of the Batwing probably represents a higher risk item. Designers told me there were “strong” exchanges as to how much the iconic shape should change, and also that this was one of the last projects involving Willie G. before his retirement. 

To my eye, it’s a job well done. Air flow is noticeably improved, recognition is instantaneous, and in no way does the new shape make the old fairing look out-of-date or less classy. Finally, regarding chassis changes, the front suspension action is indeed improved, as is steering precision during cornering. All in all, the components of Harley-Davidson Project Rushmore include a typically prudent but solid evolution of the Electra Glide.

~ Bertrand Gahel

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