2017 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited First Ride Review

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

A venerable full-dress tourer, now with more cowbell

Touring riders want it all: comfort, handling, big power, weather protection, and storage space. For years Harley-Davidson’s touring line of motorcycles, particularly the Electra Glides, have provided those requirements. The Ultra Limited carries the same batwing fairing of the ’Glides, but as the Limited designation implies, riders can expect more. Thanks to the Project Rushmore upgrades first seen in the 2014 model year, the Ultra Limited delivers first-class accommodations and the technological features touring riders expect. Just take a look at the infotainment system and the LED Daymaker headlight, if you’re unsure. The 2017 model year brings some big changes to the Ultra in the form of an all-new engine and upgraded suspension which combine to make the Ultra’s riding experience even more pleasurable.

2017 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited

Editor Score: 84.5%
Engine 18.5/20
Suspension/Handling 12.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.25/10
Brakes 9.0/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.25/10
Appearance/Quality 9.0/10
Desirability 8.5/10
Value 6.0/10
Overall Score84.5/100

2017 Harley-Davidson Milwaukee-Eight Engines Tech Brief

For 2017, the Ultra Limited receives the Twin-Cooled version of the 107c.i. Milwaukee-Eight engine. While the Ultra Limited has utilized the Twin-Cooled version of the Twin Cam 103 engine since 2014, the new engine alters the landscape with more than just the claimed 113.6 lb-ft torque peak at 3,250 rpm – a bump of 2.2 lb-ft over the regular Milwaukee-Eight 107. The Ultra Limited’s engine, like all M-E mills, has four-valve heads for increased efficiency and power. A 55mm throttle body flows the full mixture into the heads, and the hot gasses exit via a redesigned exhaust system that locates the catalytic converter further away from the rider and passenger for cooler riding. Thanks to knock sensors and aggressive ignition timing, the exhaust gasses themselves are cooler as they exit the cylinders and assist in reducing the heat that reaches the rider.

A familiar face with a new heart – and legs.

The Milwaukee-Eight engine is significantly smoother at idle. While we can’t tell if it is exactly 75% smoother, as Harley claims, the newfound smoothness should appeal to riders who were put off by the shoe-in-the-clothes-dryer appearance of the Twin Cam at idle. Once underway, vibration is not an issue until the upper reaches of the rpm range. While one might expect an engine which Harley states has 20% more flywheel mass to rev more slowly than before, that would be wrong. Instead, blipping the throttle at idle has the engine spin up much more quickly than previous Big Twins from the Motor Company.

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Out on the highway, the comparison to the Twin Cam engine is all positive. The EFI metering is spot on at any rpm, regardless of the input it is being given – be it off-on, on-off, or just maintaining neutral throttle. Coupled with the torque-assist clutch, which reduces lever effort by a claimed 7%, the riding experience is much improved. While some heat was still apparent on the right thigh in stop-and-go traffic, it was significantly reduced from the Twin Cam era. Harley’s engineers were clearly firing on all their cylinders when they designed the Milwaukee-Eight. (To find out more about the Milwaukee-Eight, read our tech briefing article.)

The Milwaukee-Eight is smoother at idle and more powerful at all rpm. The scoop to direct the heat from the Twin-Cooled radiators in the fairing lowers can be seen top right.

The Ultra Limited’s other big change for the 2017 model year comes in the form of new suspenders. The shocks are now large-piston emulsion-style items, with the left shock gaining a knob to hydraulically adjust the rear preload. Fans of Harley’s touring models will remember that the previous generation Ultra Limited used air-adjustable preload. Harley found that one of many riders’ foibles was that they didn’t buy the hand pump required to check and set the air preload of the old shocks. So, after the preload was set during the bike’s initial dealer prep, it was never adjusted again. As with the air in tires, air-adjustable preload loses pressure over time. This resulted in the bike riding too low in the shocks’ stroke, eating up the travel the rear wheel had to absorb bumps – particularly when carrying a passenger. Or some riders, seeing the valve stem for preload adjustment, decided to bump it up with the air chuck at the local gas station. If the delivered pressure was more than 50 psi, the shock’s preload seals were blown out, reducing the air pressure to zero.

Now that the left shock features hydraulically adjustable preload, the rider simply cranks on more or less preload, and it stays set, forever. The range of preload adjustability is now 30% larger than last year. To help owners set proper preload, the manual lists numbers to dial in appropriate preload for solo, two-up, or two-up with gear in the luggage. The left bag needs to be partially removed to access the preload adjuster, though.

The Ultra Limited has 4.7 cu. ft. of available weather-tight storage. The trunk easily swallows a full-face helmet or two.

While still appearing to be the same 49mm standard fork on the outside, it received Showa’s new valve-bending technology to damp fork travel. Harley says the large piston valve offers performance of a cartridge-style fork with less weight. The design strategy is to have the fork’s initial travel firm enough to keep the tire in better contact with the road over smaller pavement irregularities, while the fork’s valves flow the large amounts of oil required to absorb the big hits of broken pavement.

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Perhaps some end users may not be aware of all the suspension changes Harley made for the 2017 Ultra Limited, but they will benefit from a chassis that feels more planted on smoother or slightly irregular pavement. The front feels more solid on turn-in and under braking. Broken pavement upsets the front end much less, and the back doesn’t bottom as frequently. When the shocks do hit the bump stops, the force of the jolt has been greatly reduced. These changes combine to make the Ultra Limited a more willing and better handling tool with which to conquer both the interstate and winding two-lane blacktop.

The pilot enjoys one of the most comfortable seats in touring, but a little more room to adjust oneself on long rides would be nice.

Once you look past the big changes for the Ultra Limited, the song remains the same. For example, the brakes, though requiring a firm pull, offer good feel and great stopping power. The linked brakes also help less skilled riders, who often overuse the rear brake, shorten stopping distances by adding front brake to the mix.

The seat, though it does lock the rider in essentially one position, provides one of the most comfortable perches in touring. The rider’s upper body has a comfortable, almost 90° bend to the arms, thanks to the short reach to the grips. This promotes less fatigue during long days in the saddle. The floorboards are slightly forward but still far enough rearward to allow the rider’s legs to assist when lifting out of the saddle to absorb bumps. The passenger accommodations are roomy with floorboards and a backrest that wraps its arms around the co-rider’s torso. Couple in the great weather protection, and you’ve got a prescription for cushy travel.

Touring is about racking up the miles while still enjoying creature comforts. Consequently, the Ultra Limited features a full complement of audio and communication accouterments. The BOOM! BOX 6.5GT infotainment system delivers 25 watts from each of its four channels. The 5.25-in. speakers can be upgraded to 6.5-in. via the Harley accessory catalog. The stereo supports Bluetooth phone/music connections and the USB port is capable of playing media from an SD Card, Flash Drive, and MP3 player. The same port can also charge your mobile phone or other device. The rider/passenger intercom is standard, as is the Vehicle Information Screen (Air temperature, oil pressure and engine temperature). The screen is easy to read and manipulate with gloved fingers.

The infotainment system is chock full of information and sound options.

The Ultra Limited’s luggage holds a combined 4.7 cu. ft. and, in addition to the easy-opening lid locks introduced as part of Project Rushmore, the bag mounting system has been updated with levers that give positive feedback via detents on the final turns of the screws.

Harley-Davidson’s big changes to the 2017 Ultra Limited have taken an already comfortable and well-appointed dresser and increased the level of performance. The Milwaukee-Eight engine is, quite simply, a joy to operate, delivering ample power to motivate the Limited’s claimed 908 lb. briskly down the road, beginning with ample torque in the lower rpm and followed with the horsepower push as the tachometer climbs. The reduced engine heat and improved suspension contribute to a more enjoyable riding experience for both rider and passenger.

Where many new model years deliver moderate, iterative upgrades, the 2017 Ultra Limited feels like a different motorcycle with the boost in power and handling. Available in a wide variety of color options, including ones exclusively for peace officers, firefighters, and shriners for a MSRP beginning at $26,999, the 2017 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited is available for test rides now.

2017 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited

+ Highs

  • Milwaukee-Eight engine’s broad torque curve makes the Limited feel lighter than it is
  • Unflappable throttle response
  • Hydraulic adjuster for set-and-forget preload

– Sighs

  • Comfy seat could use more wiggle room for long stints
  • Though improved, the right leg still feels some heat in stop-and-go traffic
  • I wasn’t carrying a passenger to get the full experience

2017 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited Specs

MSRP$26,999-$28,299 Special Edition Police and Fire: $27,387
Engine TypeTwin-cooled Milwaukee-Eight, 45° V-Twin
Engine Type107 ci. (1746cc)
Bore and Stroke100mm x 111.1mm
Fuel SystemElectronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Compression Ratio10.0:1
Peak hpN/A
Peak Torque113.6 lb-ft (claimed)
Final DriveBelt
Front Suspension49mm conventional fork
Rear SuspensionDual emulsion-style shocks, hydraulically adjustable preload on left shock.
Front BrakeDual 320mm, four-piston calipers
Rear Brake320mm, four-piston caliper
Front Tire130/60-19
Rear Tire180/65-16
Rake/Trail26° / 6.7 in.
Wheelbase64.0 in.
Seat Height29.1 in.
Claimed Weight908 lb.
Fuel Capacity6 gallons
Available ColorsVivid Black, Black Quartz, Billet Silver/Vivid Black, Mysterious Red Sunglo/Velocity Red Sunglo, Superior Blue/Billet Silver, Black Hills Gold/Black Quartz, Charcoal Denim/Black Denim, Bonneville Blue/Fathom Blue. Peace Officer Exclusive Colors: Vivid Black, Dark Blue. Firefighter Exclusive Colors: Vivid Black, Fire Engine Red. Shrine Exclusive Colors: Arctic White, Concord Purple.
Warranty24 months
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.

More by Evans Brasfield

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2 of 26 comments
  • John McLaughlin John McLaughlin on Apr 27, 2017

    I'm 58 been off a Harley for almost 20 yrs. been on the couch for the last 5 not believing how out of shape I was. turns out I had a worn out liver with cancer. Now 31 days after a liver transplant I feel like a new man, time to get my ass off the couch! Went to Harley and sat on a limited, this is the bike for the ole lady and me. Didn't sound right stock so I'm in for the eagle cannons and intake also considering the Eagle IV conversion taking it from a 107 to a 114 with 120 hp at the wheel. but from what I've read about this motor not sure if that is needed.

  • CopperJohn CopperJohn on Sep 29, 2017

    Two total knees, twice fused neck...why on earth would I want to ride an "Adventure Bike" when my Ultra Limited low takes care of me all day long...My 2016 Ultra Limited is the best bike I have ever owned...

    I don't knock adventure bikes at all, they are pretty cool, but there are lots of reasons why people buy the bikes they do..but there is always that one dude...