The new all-black Harley-Davidson Road King Special really should be called Street King as it is an more of an urban crawler or canyon carver than a highway tourer.
The Road King Special arrives in late April with the 107-cube (1750cc) M8 at $34,995 ride away in Australia and $37,995 ride away in New Zealand.
We’ve been riding one from Dunedin to Queenstown, New Zealand, for the third annual Iron Run and the bike has now proved to be the sharpest tool in the Harley Touring shed!
When we first saw that it had a 19-inch front wheel, slammed rear end and wraparound panniers, we thought it would steer slower and corner less.
Well, we are humbled by the new King of the Street and have to admit that the bike really is a precision instrument.
The reason is that the rear wheel is bigger and both tyres are lower profile, so it loses only one degree of clearance on. It also effectively kicks out the front a little to make the steering lighter yet more precise.
While the Road King is a sharp tourer, pointing quickly into corners and changing direction much better than you would expect a bike of its size, the Special is even better.
It now feels more connected with the road, providing better feedback through the grips and the seat of your pants.
The trade-off is that the ride comfort is sacrificed.
With its Street Glide seat, shortened rear shock and lower profile tyres it has a more “abrupt” ride.
If you plan to ride this all day, you will be quite sore in the hands and backside from the jackhammer effect and in the arms from hanging on without a windscreen. (Although you can buy a windscreen as an option.)
But the smile on your face will show that this bike really can carve through the twisties like few other cruiser/style tourers.
Short-shift coming out of corners and it rockets along on its low-down torque.
While the cornering clearance is the same as the Road King, I find it more sturdy in corners and only scraped the floorboards on the hairpins of Coronet Peak oil Queenstown.
We have only had a couple of touchdowns with the elongated panniers which come with skid plates!
So it not only has a badass style, it also has badass performance and handling.
As for the styling, it really looks quite modern and makes the chromed Road King look rather dated.
Apart from the blacked-out Milwaukee Eight V-twin, all the usual chrome is swapped out for matte or gloss black. That includes the instrument cluster, forks, wheels, engine bars, headlamp, mini ape bars and exhaust pipes.
It looks especially good from the rear with the gap between the panniers and fender filled in and a tidier and smaller LED taillight assembly that includes the stop light inside the indicators. So now all it has is a small red reflector for ADRs.
This is Harley’s first attempt at following the custom bagger trend we first saw in a Milwaukee bike show in 2014 and that Victory mimicked in 2015 with its Magnum.
While they have dropped the windscreen and spotties, and added $1000 to the price tag, the turbine wheels alone make up that price difference. They are stunning and first featured on the CVO Breakout.
As soon as you hop on board, it feels light to pick up off the sidestand.
The Milwaukee Eight engine fires up with a deeper roar and more refined, yet more powerful vibe.
The more I ride the new Harleys with the Milwaukee Eight, the more I enjoy the engine.
There is so much torque it pulls in just about any gear at any revs above 2000, making it a much more flexible powertrain to drive.
It also feels more refined, has less mechanical noise and revs quicker and higher than before.
The fuelling and fly-by-wire throttle are perfect with no snatch off idle, making it easy to do slow-speed manoeuvres, such as feet-up u-turns.
In fact, the throttle even works out if you’ve given it enough juice when you let the clutch out in first so it may give a little extra to prevent you stalling.
And if you start the bike, pull the clutch in and it drops the initial revs a little so it doesn’t thump as much. Clever, eh?
Transmission is also much smoother with the gears preloaded so there isn’t a big clunk as you change.
You can even do clutchless upshifts from second gear that feel smooth and precise. Neutral is also now a bit easier to find.
The new Street King … sorry, Road King Special is designed to attract a younger rider to the Touring line-up.
It’s not for long tours, but shorter and more aggressive excursions.
The bagger is also not designed for two-up with the Street Glide’s rear seat sloping down at the back and rear suspension shortened from 76mm of travel to just 55mm.
Harley-Davidson FLHRS Road King Special
Price: $34,995 ride away (Australia), $37,995 ride away (New Zealand)