2011 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra Motorcycle Review

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the Harley-Davidson Road Glide. While my current stable of bikes doesn’t include a Road Glide, I swear to you that someday it will. I rode one home from Sturgis a couple of years ago and didn’t want to let it go. Then, just when I thought I had it figured out, Harley went and made a change — for the better. The Road Glide I piloted across country in 2010 had a 96″ V-twin engine and a 2-into-1 exhaust. When we got it home, you might recall we added some accessories, namely a chopped Razor tour pack and some lower fairings. In essence, we created what Harley is offering here: a full touring version of a cool, hot rod bagger.

While the standard FLTRX Road Glide Custom is still available, Harley also introduced this new FLTRU Road Glide Ultra. At first sight, you’ll notice the obvious: the tour pack top case; the chopped-down, Electra Glide-style touring seat; a proper tall touring windscreen; and the lowers. But take a close look at the air cleaner cover; it reveals the real news here, and my favorite part of the bike, the 103″ PowerPak V-twin engine as standard equipment.

The main differences between the 103″ versus the 96″ are displacement through bore and pistons, cylinders, and cams. The 103″ also has a different clutch spring and automatic compression release. Harley dropped the 2-into-1 exhaust in 2011 and went back to the traditional 2-into-1-into-2 on all FLs. To be clear, the PowerPak is actually the packaging of the Twin Cam 103″ engine, ABS and Smart Security System. The PowerPak is standard on the Road Glide Ultra, Road King Classic, and Electra Glide Ultra Limited. It’s available as an option on the Street Glide and Road Glide Custom for an additional cost of $1,995. Take my word for it, it’s worth every penny. The throttle response and engine pull are noticeably greater from the 103″ engine than the 96″. All the while acting as docile and manageable at low rpm as the old 96″. The fuel-injected, 1690cc Twin Cam 103″ is rated at 102 ft-lbs. of torque at 3500 rpm, a 9.6 percent increase in peak torque over the Twin Cam 96″ engine, providing the extra power needed for carrying a passenger and luggage.

On a side note, in the past I was never a fan of the more popular Street Glide model: what with its fork-mounted fairing, I usually found it heavier to steer. However, the PowerPak-equipped Street Glide I rode at the Harley press event exhibited few drawbacks. Could it be that the extra grunt of the 103″ pushes the Street Glide through the air better? Perhaps. But for the first time ever, I found the Street Glide fun to ride (albeit it has to be a 2011 with a 103″).

The combination of frame-mounted fairing, tons of carrying ability, and the 103″ PowerPak make the Road Glide Ultra a new favorite of mine. While the deeper, stepped seat does not provide the hot rod ergs of the Road Glide Custom, I can see the need for long-distance passenger and rider comfort it provides. The standard, full-sized, clear windscreen is just right for me, but a 3″ taller accessory screen is also available. And the one-piece seat is narrower at the front to improve rider reach to the ground and lower back support.

The Road Glide Ultra is all about two-up, long-distance travel. The King Tour-Pak luggage carrier offers generous storage capacity, 2-1/4′ of volume, more than the sporty Razor Pack we installed on our test bike. The RGU’s Tour-Pak features side marker lights and an integrated passenger backrest. The four-speaker, 80-watt Harman/Kardon Advanced audio system features a CD/MP3 player and CB/intercom with headset. And electronic cruise control is standard equipment with electronic throttle control (ETC).

The Road Glide Ultra does differ from its Road Glide Custom brother in that the front wheel is a 17″ diameter hoop carrying a Dunlop 130/80B17 touring tire. The Custom gets a taller 18″ front wheel, but both models share the same 16″ rear wheel and tire combo.

Harley reps stated that the reasoning behind the Road Glide Ultra was their observation of what real-world riders were doing to the standard Road Glide. Real folks ride long distances, and while the Road Glide Custom is cooler than most, it needs help to handle the long-haulers. The Road Glide Ultra is the answer. If you take the Road Glide Custom’s base price of about $19,000 (for black), and add the $2,000 for the 103″ PowerPak engine (a must!), you’ll be spending about $21,000 for a touring bike that doesn’t have the extra cargo capacity, or wind protection of the Road Glide Ultra (which starts at $22,500). Adding a top case, touring seat, tall windscreen, and lower fairings to a Road Glide Custom doesn’t make financial sense anymore. Thanks for the Road Glide Ultra. RB

Words by Steve Lita, photos by Riles & Nelson

Story as published in the September/October issue of RoadBike magazine.


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