2017 H-D FLH Road King Special First Ride
Modern Styling, Showroom-Ready / Photos by Brian J. Nelson
My first sighting of an actual 2017 Road King Special came a few days before the official Harley-Davidson press launch. I was rolling into Daytona Beach for Bike Week 2017 and spied a man and woman riding two-up on a customized, dark red Road King—at least I thought it was a custom. The Candy Red bodywork sparkled in the sun, and it caught my eye even though there was little chrome. The saddlebags and rear end of the bike had a low slung look, and as I was making a turn the custom King roared off into the distance, and it was then that I realized I had been looking at a production motorcycle all along. The manufacturer license plate was the dead giveaway to the bike’s actual nature as a demo-ride bike, not a privately owned and modified custom. American Iron had a sneak peek at the Road King Special more than a month earlier, and we ran a first look one-page preview in issue 347, so you’d think I should have been able to recognize it right away. But, yeah, it fooled me at first. The custom Road King Special I had been riding next to impressed me as a warmed-over late model custom.
So with that initial personal experience, I’d say Harley- Davidson was successful in what it set out to create: an eye-catching factory custom for the masses. This is nothing new for The Motor Company. After all, it’s been offering its CVO factory custom models for decades. The Road King Special doesn’t go as far as a CVO model would, so it’s devoid of the CVO’s usual trademark move of chroming everything.
The new Road King Special takes a darker approach to customization. For starters, this is the first time you’re seeing the Milwaukee-Eight 107 V-twin engine in almost fully blacked out livery. I say almost because Harley did keep a few chrome engine parts like the lower rocker boxes, pushrod tubes, and tappet blocks to emphasize the V-twin shape of the Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine. The exhaust system is finished in satin black. There’s also a new engine-turned finish on the air cleaner insert and the tank console. The engine-turned panels, however, aren’t the usual bright silver aircraft finish; they appear tinted in a dark smoke. It’s a cool look, for sure.
Continuing the blacked-out theme are the front forks and the gloss black signature Road King headlamp nacelle. Just behind that is a new 9 inch-tall, 1.25 inch-diameter mini-ape handlebar, which I found quite comfortable to control the bike with—it’s tall, but not too tall. The Road King Special’s engine guard, hand controls, mirrors, turn signals, engine covers, gas tank console, and air cleaner cover also feature black surfaces. The gloss black, turbine-style cast-aluminum wheels look great, and the 19” front wheel is covered by a conventional, low-profile bagger fender devoid of all trim and logos. Also missing from this iteration of the Road King are driving lights, large center taillight on the rear fender, saddlebag guards, and windshield. But the Harley Genuine Accessory catalog is stuffed full of goodies to extend the Special custom look. Some of my favorites include a more modern front fender that hugs the front tire tighter and a rear fender that wraps around the dual exhaust outlets and finished rear of the bike.
Powering the Road King Special is an air/oil-cooled Milwaukee-Eight 107″ V-twin, found on all the 2017 Harley Touring models, which have an engine crashbar instead of plastic lowers (keen American Iron readers will already know that the water-cooled Milwaukee-Eight is only available with lowers to conceal the radiators). It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the M-8, with its smoother sound, higher power output, and quicker acceleration. What’s not to like? Four valves per cylinder, a quieter single-chain-driven cam, dual spark plug heads, counterbalanced crank, and rubber mounting all combine to make for reduced vibes and a more comfortable and fun bagger riding experience. Other tweaks to boost comfort in the entire bagger lineup are things like the repositioned rear exhaust pipe and the exhaust catalyst relocated rearward to move heat away from the passenger, and the engine idle speed is lowered from 1000 rpm to 850 rpm. That aforementioned exhaust on the Special is a Satin Blacked-out 2-into- 1-into-2 dual exhaust system. The Milwaukee-Eight’s improved charging system won’t have any problem providing the extra power needed for whatever accessories you might add, like lighting, heated gear, etc. A couple more comfort features came along with the switch to Milwaukee- Eight power this year, like a new, slimmer primary cover and a low-profile air cleaner cover to provide more legroom around the engine and easier reach to the ground. A lower seat height, 27.4″ (unladen), helps too. That’s almost an inch lower than a stock Road King.
The Road King Special is equipped with the all-new front and rear suspension components featured on all 2017 Harley-Davidson Touring bikes. Out back there are new hand-adjustable emulsion technology rear shock absorbers (hand adjuster on one shock), and up front the forks have new double-bending valve suspension technology. Reflex dual front disc linked Brembo brakes with ABS and the Harley-Davidson Smart Security System are standard equipment on the Road King Special.
As OEM manufacturers can’t go as radical on modifications as aftermarket part suppliers, the stretched saddlebags on the Road King Special are only slightly deeper than a conventional set of Rushmore-style saddlebags, but they do hold a few more cubic inches of cargo, and add a lower look to the rear of the bike. Look at the bike’s profile and you’ll see the drop in the dropped bags is actually an arc, the deepest point at the very rear tip to slightly flowing over the mufflers. The Road King Special comes in four color options: Vivid Black, Charcoal Denim, Hot Rod Red Flake Hard Candy Custom, and Olive Gold. With the red being my favorite and with my opening anecdote in mind—it really pops in sunlight—I would have thought Harley might offer this bike with more lively color options than sedate Charcoal and Olive.
I’d say Harley-Davidson has equipped the Road King Special with just the right features to validate this model among modern day bagger enthusiasts. The look is current, contemporary, and attractive. The Road King Special will fit right in at any bike rally these days and might even fool some folks on the show field. AIM