2011 Road King Classic Harley Magazine Review

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

Harley Magazine Review Road King Classic

Joe on '09 Harley Road King Classic

It’s not uncommon to hear Harley-Davidson touring bikes referred to as the kings of the American road, a statement that is no doubt echoed by the many owners of those bikes. Why wouldn’t you take pride in your machine being considered royalty? Heck, I’m down with that, and I only own a plebian FXR.

So it came as no surprise to me when I recently read that the Motor Company has been the market-share leader in the motorcycle touring segment for the past 14 years. That’s no small accomplishment in itself, but nailing the title with a platform that hasn’t had a complete makeover in almost 30 years is just awesome. Well, for 2009 the powers that be at Juneau Avenue got restless and updated H-D’s entire Touring family. The results should lock up 15 straight years as market share leader, and quite possibly put a stranglehold on the title altogether.

Harley Road King Bagger

To date there has been a lot written about this unprecedented makeover, including AIM’s exclusive sneak peek (Sept. ’08). That story was thrown together by my most distinguished and noble colleagues Chris Maida and Buzz Kanter. As such, I had to wait my turn to get some seat time on one of these new rides. As you can probably guess, my patience paid off when I was handed the keys to the two-tone Deep Turquoise/Antique White 2009 Road King Classic you see here (minus windshield of course). As if that wasn’t exciting enough, it all happened at Harley corporate headquarters in Milwaukee during the 105th anniversary celebration. My assignment was to ride the bike back to our editorial offices in Stamford, Connecticut, get it photographed, and then share my thoughts with you, the readers of American Iron Magazine. Translation: take the damn bike on a road trip and write this review.

From the moment I unlocked the Classic’s console ignition and fired up the 96″ Twin Cam power plant, I realized that it was worth the wait and things were only going to get better with this redesigned machine. Did I mention that it’s redesigned? Immediately upon the engine settling into a steady idle, I knew that this bike would be different from any of the other touring beasts I’d ridden to date. The subtle, but obvious, giveaway was not what I was feeling, but what I didn’t feel. Almost no vibration! While creating a new frame, H-D’s engineers also took the time to redesign the engine-isolation mounting system. Gone is the single front isolator, replaced with twin front isolators that meld into a single tie link. The rear engine mounts were also changed, allowing the whole ensemble to work together, providing optimal balance with perfect stiffness. As if that’s not enough, I was told the durability of all the mounts has been increased, which should allow them to last for the life of the motorcycle. That’s yet to be seen.

While loading the bike at my hotel, I finally got a chance to step back and admire my ride. It was then that I noticed this reborn King didn’t look much different than its Twin Cam predecessors. I think most people would be hard pressed to tell it apart from older Kings from a distance. For that I take my lid off to Willie G. and his styling department. What you get with this King and all the new Touring models are much improved bikes that have retained the character and iconic styling of the overall brand. The visual similarities are partially made possible because of the carryover of the bike’s front end, traditional saddlebags and a new in 2008 6-gallon fuel tank, all of which were left unchanged for ’09.

Harley Road King Classic

With the King packed, I finally hit the road heading east. My travel partner was a familiar one, Chris Maida, however, he had the responsibility of piloting the company truck. This left me in the elements on my own, but able to cruise at whatever speed I wished while having the comfort of knowing he was not far behind. Being out front clearing the way made it seem like we were engaged in our own twisted version of that ’77 classic Smokey and the Bandit. It wasn’t until days later, when I was back home, that my mom pointed out that I had no CB and, more importantly, no Sally Field riding with me.

For that 1,000-mile trip home, I just sat back and reveled in what Harley had accomplished with its makeover. Mile after mile, this King purred along, soaking up any and all the bumps the road had to dish out. Blasting the interstates shines a spotlight on improved top-end performance, which is a direct result of the new 68-tooth rear sprocket (two more than previous models) creating a lower final drive ratio. When not cranking on the highway, I marveled at the newfound stability of this bike. The combination of the wider, laced, chrome steel rear wheel, which has been increased from 3″ to 5″, and its Dunlop D407 multitread 180/65-16″ rear tire, is a welcome addition. And when paired with the new 130/90-16″ front tire and matching wheel, the results give this bike solid footing in all road conditions, especially when activating the optional ABS that came on our tester. The air-adjustable rear suspension and standard telescopic front end has been recalibrated, and does a magnificent job of allowing the new single-spar, rigid backbone frame, two-piece swingarm, wheels, and tires to work together to provide an almost ideal ride. So much so, that a 1/2″ increase in trail and a 0.556″ increase in wheelbase are barely noticeable.

While the Road King Classic was in my garage, I realized that I liked riding it so much, despite its color combination, that I took it wherever I had to go. Better still, the one passenger I had on the back never complained of heat exposure around her calves, compliments of a revised routing of the new 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust system (too bad she wasn’t Sally Field). Thanks to John over at Dyno Solutions in Brookfield, Connecticut, I know that this bike puts out just over 75 ft-lbs. of torque and has 62.8 hp at the rear wheel, which feels about right.

I have no qualms declaring that Road Kings have always been my favorite Touring models. Truth told, I’ve always favored the Classic with its whitewall tires, since it seems to exude a bit more character. And the 2009 redesign has provided a significantly improved riding experience in many ways. Overall, the 2009 Road King Classic is more comfortable, has more carrying capacity, and is more maneuverable than its predecessor. With this bike, and the rest of the Touring family, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Harley-Davidson lead the touring segment in market share for the next 15 years. AIM

–Joe Knezevic as published in American Iron Magazine, the world’s best selling Harley magazine.