Three new Harley Davidson models have arrived for 2014 with an extra little gadget in their lowers. They don't look much different, and without close inspection, it might slip past your notice. But the change is there, and it's a biggie. Liquid cooling. What's that you say? Liquid cooling? Nah, that's just on V-Rods, and those aren't "true" Harleys anyway. Liquid cooling. That's exactly what I said, and those V-Rods are true Harleys anyway.
There was a time just a few short days ago when it seemed that hell would freeze over before you saw liquid cooling on one of the MoCo's vernable V Twin engines, but that all changed on August 19th. Hell is undergoing winter. Of course it was inevitable, in spite of the best efforts to stave such a change off. Tightening environmental regulations and the need to continually increase engine performance in order to stay ahead of the game demanded it. And with Victory and a newly resurrected Indian on the scene, Harley Davidson can no longer wave the flag and claim to be the only choice for an American motorcycle.
I find it particularly well timed. Indian just went to the trouble to introduce a new bike and took out a very ambitious add campaign to let everyone know that "Choice has come to American Motorcycles." The new Indian is meticulously designed and it's Thuderstroke 111 was styled to look like a modern version of the old Indian L-head (flathead for those of you who unfamiliar with the term 'L-head'). The new bike was rolled out at the Sturgis Motorcycle rally about a week ago. All this, and then Harley releases new high output twin cam engines and the new "Twin Cooled Twin Cam" engines. Harley's 'Project Rushmore' included not only liquid cooling, but major ergonomic changes to their 2014 bikes, new braking systems and new lighting systems, along with their new Boom! Box infotainment system for their big touring bikes. Indian fired a shot across the bow and Harley returned fire with six powerful shots just to let Indian know that the MoCo is very much a moving target with teeth of its own and not some sleeping giant. And lest anyone think that this is a quick response to increased competition, these changes are reflective of several years of research and development, not an overnight gimmick.
Harley has called the liquid cooling 'precision cooling' in its press release, though when I picked up a 2014 catalog the other day, liquid cooling was specifically mentioned. Thus far, the reaction from Harley's customer base has been positive, which undoubtedly pleases the MoCo. The changes appear seamless, not altering the look of the engine or the styling of the bikes, though it is unclear how they will integrate this technology on bikes that don't have engine guards and lowers. Liquid cooling is specifically for the heads, and specifically the exhaust port, which is the main source of heat buildup. This will allow for higher compression ratios which will also allow the engine to run cooler. This will be a huge boon to people who do long distance touring.
The new changes from Project Rushmore should make further inroads into Harley's lineup. Whether it will be a sweeping change or a trickle down change remains to be seen. For now, the twin cooled twin cam engine has only debuted on three models, all of them high end, one of them a trike. The other changes are more sweeping in nature, particularly the new lighting systems.
With the architecture of the current twin cam engines being nearly sixteen years old at this point (the Twin Cam 88 was introduced in 1998), it is very likely that a new engine in around the corner, though what form that new engine will take is a matter of conjecture. Harley is very conservative, so it will certainly be a 45 degree V Twin with some amount of air cooling. Whether or not it will be overhead cam, a true twin cam engine (with two cams per cylinder bank rather than a single cam for each cylinder) or a pushrod engine remains to be seen, though given the continued viability of pushrod engines demonstrated by GM, who's pushrod engines are thriving, and Harley's conservative bent, I'd bet on pushrods.
All of these changes are exciting, though I do hope that motorcycles don't go the way that cars have in terms of being able to work on them (you can't). Only time will tell, of course.
Ride free and true!