2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra - First Ride Review

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

Return of the Ultra-Tourer

Harley-Davidson cognoscenti are familiar with the hole in the Motor Company’s touring line up. Well, after two years absence, the Road Glide Ultra returns as a 2016 model. The vacation appears to have been good to the Ultra, which rejoins the model line tanned, rested, and with a new body to show off.

2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide First-Ride Review + Video

The most obvious change from the previous generation of the Road Glide Ultra is the addition of the frame-mounted shark nose fairing which was introduced on the base Road Glide last year. While the fairing is sharp looking, the real purpose behind its redesign was to eliminate the buffeting that is, ironically, often felt behind the weather protection on motorcycles. Harley’s engineers solved this issue with its Triple Slipstream vent system. We loved it on last year’s base Road Glide, and a model year later, we are even more impressed with the exact same venting on the Ultra. The lower, central vents can be closed to keep air from hitting the rider’s chest in cooler weather, but as long as the top vent is left open, buffeting around the helmet at highway speeds is almost eliminated – at least for this 5-ft. 11-in. rider.

The 13.5 in. windshield may be a bit tall for some riders.

The Glide’s improved fairing brings along with it the raft of upgrades developed during Harley’s Project Rushmore. On the inside, the rider has access to the Boom! Box 6.5 GT audio system with GPS and touchscreen. The stereo is also Bluetooth-friendly. On the outside, a Dual Daymaker Reflector LED Headlamp lights the road with a bright, white light beam. All of these can be controlled via the comprehensive hand controls.

Functional changes from the pre-Rushmore Road Glide include: 49mm forks, Reflex Linked Brakes with ABS, and Impeller cast aluminum wheels differentiate the Ultra from other Glides. As with it’s other Rushmore siblings, the Ultra gets its motivation from Twin-Cooled, High Output Twin Cam 103, an engine that cleverly hides its liquid-cooling in the fairing lowers. But all of that is Rushmore and not Ultra.

What sets the Ultra apart from mere Road Glides are things like premium saddlebags with liners and the newly updated premium Tour-Pak. For 2016, the Tour-Pak gains a sharp-looking LED stop/turn/tail light bar that really pops in both daylight and after dark. The Tour-Pak also adds 2.4 cu. ft. of storage capacity and a 12-volt charging port.

Great ventilation from the gills beside the headlights and liquid-cooling, the Harley tourer gets serious.

Riding the Road Glide Ultra points out, once again, what a great engine the HO Twin Cam 103 is. Acceleration around town and on the open road is abundant, and the ride is mostly vibration-free. One cool feature of the engine is the Rider-initiated Engine Idle Temperature Management Strategy (EITMS), a feature that causes the engine to kill its rear cylinder when the bike is idling or in neutral once it hits a specified temperature. Anyone who has spent time on a Big Twin can tell horror stories about baked right thighs in stop and go traffic. While the engine sounds quite different, not having the heat escalate at a stop is a boon. As soon as the throttle is rolled on, the rear cylinder returns to firing as normal.

Since, according to Product Planning Director Paul James, “Road Glide Ultra riders rack up more miles per season than owners of any other Harley-Davidson model,” the riding position on the Road Glide Ultra has been altered by changing the handlebar bend to place the rider in a more sit-up-and-beg position for longer stints in the saddle. While I prefer a little more forward reach, my informal survey of the other journalists returned a split decision. So, perhaps the designers are on to something. As is usual with most Harleys, rear suspension travel limits the shocks’ ability to handle abrupt bumps, but you were probably expecting that complaint, right? The ground clearance on the Ultra is good for touring duties on undulating roads.

The Road Glide Ultra receives new wheels in the Impeller design.

The 2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra has taken the base Road Glide and given it tons of features that long-distance riders will want. The bike should be a hit with the Harley touring set since the Ultra builds on a bike that we’ve tested and enjoyed enough to name it Honorable Mention: Best Touring Motorcycle of 2015. The color choices are: Vivid Black, Billet Silver/Vivid Black, Mysterious Red Sunglo/Velocity Red Sunglo, Purple Fire/Blackberry Smoke, Cosmic Blue Pearl. The MSRP options are $25, 699 (black) to $26,299 (other solid colors), $26,799 (two-toned colors), and $26,999 (custom colors).

Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra

+ Highs

  • Great weather protection with venting
  • Redesigned Tour-Pak
  • Comfort and power

– Sighs

  • Handlebar position may not appeal to all
  • More suspension travel, please
  • No cross-country tours on our schedule
Evans Brasfield
Evans Brasfield

Like most of the best happenings in his life, Evans stumbled into his motojournalism career. While on his way to a planned life in academia, he applied for a job at a motorcycle magazine, thinking he’d get the opportunity to write some freelance articles. Instead, he was offered a full-time job in which he discovered he could actually get paid to ride other people’s motorcycles – and he’s never looked back. Over the 25 years he’s been in the motorcycle industry, Evans has written two books, 101 Sportbike Performance Projects and How to Modify Your Metric Cruiser, and has ridden just about every production motorcycle manufactured. Evans has a deep love of motorcycles and believes they are a force for good in the world.

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5 of 8 comments
  • Jim L Jim L on Sep 10, 2015

    How does it compare to other touring bikes? May be it's time for a grand touring shootout: Goldwing, K1600, R1200RT, HD Ultra Limited/RG Ultra, Roadmaster, Voyager and Vision/Cross Country Tour. Might be interesting. MCN did something similar several years ago in the UK with a GW, Ultra, Vision and K1200LT. I'd love to read it.

  • DAVID DAVID on Sep 20, 2015

    Well for 26 K there are way better options out there for touring people.....I get a kick out of riders who buy these over priced (2 cylinder) and never take it touring.
    At high altitude and in hot weather you need all the power you can get when loaded down, I've seen this 2 cylinder work so hard it almost over heats and get 30 mpg or less.

    • See 2 previous
    • Jim L Jim L on Oct 30, 2017

      The first couple years of the K16 could be problematic. Switch gear, water pump, squeaking front end and in some cases, serious oil burning issues. My advice to anyone looking at a used one is to go 2015 and later and get a warranty. I have a 2009 RT, which is as complicated as I want to get. I think the HD is a more reliable bike, easier to maintain, but the extra weight does nothing for me. I went from a Nomad to my RT and losing 250lbs of bike was transformational. It was like riding a motorcycle again and one that does everything well. The extra weight is a penalty. It's like being obese, and I know something about that... That said, I wouldn't buy a K bike without a long warranty and most likely will never own one because of the cost, so I guess that takes me out of the HD realm too. At least at my current income.