The Harley-Davidson Road King really is king of the road.
It’s my favourite Harley and the most suitable to Australia’s vast distances, climate and road conditions.
However, my recent 5000+km road test wasn’t in Australia; it was in New Zealand where a straight stretch of road is rare, where the weather can be vastly different on the other side of the mountain and where distances are measured in minutes, not hours.
And yet, the Road King proved it can handle all that and more in comfort and style. In fact, there was rarely an occasion I could park it anywhere without it attracting camera-wielding tourists who wanted to pose alongside.
The Road King is the “baby” of the Touring line-up with just a detachable windscreen and panniers. The Classic has leather bags for that classic styling while the standard has more practical lockable hard bags with that very convenient inside latch that allows you to quickly access them while seated.
In summer, I’d quickly detach the windscreen for that clean and classic front with the massive chromed headlight and wide bars. However, in New Zealand we found the screen gave good protection from the temperamental weather conditions.
And despite being attached to the forks, it didn’t get battered around in some howling crosswinds in the South Island.
The Harley Touring range received a major update a few years back when it was given a tauter frame that improved handling immensely. However, in 2013, Project Rushmore gave the bike a revolutionary make-over driven mainly by rider input.
The result is a bike that handles even better, with stronger linked brakes, improved ergonomics and more oomph!
That extra power comes from a new air-cooled High Output Twin Cam with a higher and earlier cam profile and a high-flow air filter that increase output by 5%.
It was readily noticeable on our two-up tour with luggage as we thundered up steep mountain passes without any struggle and, in some cased, without the need to change down a gear. It’s almost as if they have lowered the gear ratios because sixth is now usable and perfect for roll-on, non-urgent overtaking manoeuvres.
Tourist traffic moves slowly in New Zealand and winding roads provide little opportunity for overtaking, so when you see a gap, you need to launch into it. Drop a gear and the Road King responds instantly, making safe passing moves in seconds.
The winding roads also put Harley’s updated suspension and frame to the test, which it passed with flying colours. With the rear air shock pumped up to 35psi for the extra load the bike didn’t wallow or twist through the corners.
Although the static lean angle of 32 degrees remains unchanged, the real-world lean angle is improved because it isn’t as susceptible to mid-corner bumps.
The readjusted steering geometry makes the steering so light you can control your line in a corner with slight throttle adjustments rather than having to correct the bars. Despite the light steering input, it is as solid as a rock at highway speeds thanks to the stiffer and 14% thicker 49mm forks.
Linked brakes are a must on heavy touring bikes and this “Reflex” system works superbly.
They don’t operate until 40km/h, so you can still control the bike using just the back brake in slow-speed manoeuvres such as feet-up u-turns.
Above that speed, if you hit the front or back brakes, one calliper on the opposite end also activates.
There is plenty of feel in the pedal and lever, and in a couple of emergency stops the bike simply pulled up without any histrionics, squat or fork dive.
On one occasion, I had to stop suddenly on the side of the road where the rough-chip surface is quite gravelly. The ABS kicked in so smoothly my pillion was unaware.
A lot of thanks must also go to the Dunlop tyres made especially for Harley. They have a big footprint on the road which inspires cornering confidence and plenty of grip in the wet which we experienced on many occasions.
We didn’t do a lot of city traffic, but the cable clutch feels fairly light. The rest of the Touring range get an even lighter hydraulic clutch which originally encountered some teething problems, but is now fully functional.
While most of our riding was in rural areas, New Zealand country riding is more demanding on fuel economy than the flatter and straighter environs of Australia. Still, our fuel consumption was pretty low for two-up, varying from a respectable 6.5L/100km up to 8.1L/100km after some spirited sections.
Rider comfort on the Road King is supreme with a gentle reach to the wide bars and ergonomic contoured controls that makes it easier to use them without looking. The cruise control is also now on the left switch block where it belongs.
Rounding out rider comfort is the plusher saddle that is a little narrower in the front, allowing you to put your feet down on the ground a little easier for the carpark “duck walk”.
They’ve also lowered the air filter profile so your right leg doesn’t rub against it or hang out awkwardly in the wind.
However, pillion comfort is a bit of a concern. The test bike came with an optional sissy bar which helped, but the standard seat is too narrow. I’d be fitting an optional touring seat.
I wouldn’t bother with an aftermarket exhaust, though. At idle and while cruising, the Road King is quiet and unobjectionable. Above 3500 revs, a butterfly valve opens up a throaty note that is palatable without being annoying.
When you are serious about taking your cruiser for a big tour, the Road King is the king of the road.
Harley-Davidson Road King Classic FLHRC tech specs
- Price: $32,495 (+ORC)
- Warranty: 2yrs, unlimited km, roadside assist
- Service: 1600/8000km
- Engine: Rubber-mounted, air-cooled 1690cc High Output Twin Cam 103
- Torque: 142Nm @ 3250rpm
- Compression: 10.1:1
- Transmission: 6-Speed Cruise drive
- Suspension: 49mm forks, dual air adjustable shocks
- Tank: 22.7 litres
- Economy: 5.6L/100km (claimed), 6.5-81L/100km (tested)
- Brakes: 300mm discs, Reflex linked system with ABS
- Wheels: 130mm, 17-inch front; 180mm,16-inch rear
- Headlights: Dual halogen or optional LED Daymaker
- Length: 2450mm
- Width: 960mm
- Height: 1430mm
- Seat: 715mm
- Clearance: 135mm
- Wheelbase: 1625mm
- Tyres: 130/80B17 65H; 180/65B16 81H
- Wet weight: 369kg
- Grins: Power, comfort, handling, brakes
- Gripes: Saddle bags, pillion seat, cable clutch