I never pass up the chance to ride a Road King, no matter what the version. The King is, hands down, my favorite Harley-Davidson. If I could only have one bike in my garage, it would have to be a Road King. Want to cruise around town? The King, since there are no fairings up front or hanging off the sides, is the lightest and easiest Touring model to maneuver through traffic or in a parking lot. Want to ride across the country? Just stuff some clothes into both saddlebags and you’re off. For those that prefer to have a windshield, all it takes is 60 seconds and you’re good to go. I’m also partial to the King’s styling, since it reminds me of my first bagger, though we called them dressers, as in “full dressed,” back then. The time was the mid-1970s and the bike was a 1962 Panhead that the previous owner had fitted with late ’60s running gear. I loved that bike, and I’ve always regretted selling it, though cash flow demanded it at the time.
My choice this year for my annual ride from LA to Sturgis was a Road King Classic. I picked this model since it had a lower seat and comes equipped with H-D’s new 103″ PowerPak option as standard equipment for 2011. Though the styling of the King reminds me of my old Panhead, that’s where the similarities end. The big handling improvement of recent years is, of course, the new chassis design. When I was called out to Milwaukee to check out the new frame I first rode a 2008 Ultra and then jumped onto the 2009. If you’ve not ridden a new touring H-D yet, you’re in for a pleasant surprise! I won’t go into all the improvements here, since we covered that in the September 2008 issue. Suffice to say, the frame and swingarm changes, coupled with the improvements in front end damping rates, result in a much more stable ride, even at triple-digit speeds (love those wide-open deserts!). Those changes also include the new four-point engine mounting system, which makes a huge difference in vibration reduction throughout the bike. The only time the Classic did exhibit a negative handling trait was a minor head shake during deceleration. However, at no time or speed did it present a control issue. I mention it simply because it’s there, not because you need to be on guard for it.
As for that PowerPak option, it includes the Twin Cam 103″ engine with ABS brakes and the H-D Smart security system. Let’s start with the engine, my favorite part! The King will cruise effortlessly at 80-85 mph in sixth all day long, which is exactly what I did for most of the 1,800 miles I rode it. However, in the heat of the desert, 80-85 mph uphill was all the King could do in sixth. Downshifting did get me a little more oomph. On level ground, the 103″ runs out of steam at 100 mph on 90-octane, 10-percent ethanol fuel. Truth is, the 103″ has nice power down low, but not much up top due to the EPA cams. The EPA pipes on my test bike, however, sounded great — actually loud for a Harley — when on the throttle and the usual EPA quiet at idle. The Delphi EFI system worked well though the engine always seemed to be running a little rough. I had no issues with the fly-by-wire throttle system in regards to the low throttle position lag found on early models. The Cruise Drive six-speed did everything perfectly, including finding neutral when both hot or cold. This gearbox shifted much better than the ones I tested on 2009 and 2010 bikes, albeit with the usual clunk.
The ABS brakes worked great! I grabbed a bit of front brake in gravel, and the system did its job, since I didn’t end up on the ground as I should have. Unfortunately, for the test (but great for me), I didn’t hit any rain during my ride, so I couldn’t test it under those conditions. The Smart security system did just what it was supposed to do without me having to do anything, which is just the way I like it.
Okay, so what about that redesigned seat? It is lower and comfortable. At 5’4″ with a 29″ inseam, I’m just about flat footed on level ground. After 150 or so miles, my butt was ready to take a break, which is about normal and just when I need to make a gas and pit stop anyway. I averaged 185 miles on 4.5 gallons of the 6-gallon tank when cruising at 80 per. That comes out to 41 miles per gallon.
As for the cruise control, it also worked well but does operate differently with the fly-by-wire throttle. Grabbing the throttle and turning it down or off does nothing when in cruise control. You have to either tap a brake or turn the cruise off with your left thumb. Also, the cruise control does not work over 90 and under 30 mph.
I’m going to end this review with a warning to readers who own a pre-2009 Road King. Don’t take a new version out for a spin unless you know you’ve got the cash to seal the deal, ’cause you’re going to hate the ride home on your old bike. AIM
NEW BIKE TEST By Chris Maida as seen in American Iron Magazine