Biggest Harley-Davidson is a bike of plenty

18:51, Oct 14 2012

Normally, the quick-detach windscreen fitted to some Harley-Davidson tourers and convertible models gets left behind any time I take one for a long ride.


Engine: 1690cc air-cooled ohv pushrod V-twin, stoked by electronic fuel injection to develop 50kW (67.4bhp) at 4750rpm and 120Nm at 3150rpm.

Harley-Davidson Road King
Bike on the bay: Surprisingly at home.
Harley-Davidson Road King
Big twin: 103 cubic inches in the US, or 1690 cubic centimetres anywhere else.
Harley-Davidson Road King
Harley-Davidson Road King: It really couldn't be anything else, could it?

Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, belt final drive.

Frame: Steel-tube twin cradle frame and steel tube rear swingarm; 43mm unadjustable Showa front forks, Twin air- adjustable rear shocks.

Price: $34,250.


Hot: Harley's best engine in the company's best frame in the brand's best model.

Not: Nervous ABS calibration, cable routing could be neater, breaking-glass sound effect when you select first gear.

Not: Nervous ABS calibration, cable routing could be neater, breaking-glass sound effect when you select first gear. The screens often reflect all the shiny bits of the steering head and instruments, making it annoyingly hard to read the oncoming road surface with complete clarity.

Click on photo at left for views of the Harley-Davidson Road King.

However, the weather was looking dodgy when I decided to take the 2012 FLHR Road King on a little ride from Orewa to Tauranga and back, so the screen remained on board for the duration of the 500km tour.

It proved an inspired decision as it kept my crotch and torso dry through the thunderous spring showers we encountered, and this allowed the Road King to truly shine. I've had a soft spot for the FLHR ever since my first ride on one in 1994 allowed me to experience new insight into the Harley-Davidson legend, and the model has gotten consistently better with age.

The last three years have seen quite an increase in the pace of development of Harley's touring model range. In 2009, a new chassis provided more isolation from engine vibration, better suspension, and that rare commodity for a Harley - decent cornering clearance. Stability through high-speed turns became more secure, and manoeuvrability at parking speeds also improved thanks to the new frame's better balance and weight distribution.

For 2012, what are arguably the best-handling bikes of Harley's range get the motor company's most powerful air-cooled V-twin engine - the 103-inch (that's 1690cc to you and me) big block motor that was first allocated to the muscular FX cruisers. The result is a marriage of frame and engine that could have been made in heaven, where the Big Guy evidently also rides Milwaukee if you believe some of the T-shirts worn by the Harley faithful.

With more engine capacity on board, the hefty 368kg Road King is more immune to road inclines, less fussy about the rider's gear selection, and more enthusiastic to overtake slower traffic. The 103 still possesses a lazy long-stroke delivery, but the harder thumps it provides add extra steam to propel the bike along with, helped by the well-sorted fuel injection. Once sixth gear is realised on the open road, riding the largest-capacity Harley becomes a simple twist-and-go proposition. Such is the omnipresence of copious amounts of torque, you can let top gear take care of every situation from 75kmh upward.

Some may consider the newish frame's better isolation of engine vibration to be a backward step in terms of reduced character, but the powertrain still offers plenty of proof that this is a genuine Harley you're riding and no mere imitation. First up, you still feel every combustion stroke of the engine as it generates the torque that turns the back wheel, however, it's an impression that's now communicated with a slight massage via the King's throne-like seat rather than felt in higher- frequency vibes through the fingers and feet. Second, it still sounds like a 45-degree American twin, and still utters the name of the state plant of Idaho in an endless syncopated repetition at idle. Meanwhile, I personally hope that the future owner of this Road King does nothing to the bike's neatly hushed stock exhaust system, as it's only as loud as any bike should be. With the new frame came a proper-sized front wheel for the Road King, and the 17-inch hoop tracks with more immunity to bump-steer than the smaller diameter wheel of previous Road Kings.

The revised suspension still features spring rates that were chosen for the Harley's state of origin - where bumps are such rare occurrences on some roads that signposts warn of their presence as you approach them. The soft-riding suspenders therefore sometimes bottom out of NZ back roads, but not with the same regularity as those fitted to pre-2009 Road Kings. Out back, the resistance of the twin shocks can be adjusted by adding or subtracting air pressure.

Applying a handful of the powerful Brembo front brakes, the forks quickly use up most of their available travel, causing the Road King's over-nervous ABS system to react and reduce hydraulic pressure. A decent kick of the rear brake pedal will also quickly have the control pulsing with what feels like unnecessary ABS intervention.

None of the above stopped me enjoying the Road King however. Nor did the inclement riding conditions, nor the congested state highways traversing the Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions. I arrived at the latter destination with a big grin on my face, having ridden a Bike of Plenty to get there, and immediately relished the thought of riding it home again.