Harley-Davidson Road King Classic – Road Test

Euphoria is cruising down the highway on a motorcycle and few bikes provide a more regal experience than the Harley-Davidson Road King Classic.

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103 cubic inches make for a lot of grunt

So what is it? And who rides it?

After a most trying week at work, the need to escape from the city was high.

Then I remembered. I have a Harley-Davidson Road King*, new for 2015, waiting at home. Behold, my salvation: The King of the urban escape.

I broke out of the city via the already busy N7 and had a quick bite to eat at the Wimpy, then took the back roads out behind Philadelphia. Now if you have ridden this road recently you will be painfully aware of the bumpy nature of this stretch. The King took it in its stride. It felt composed, plush and comfortable, easily hiding its 350 plus kilo’s.

Look, this is not a fast bike, but the 103 cubic inch motor (1 688 cc) works when needed, unleashing the full 138 Nm of torque around 3 500 rpm. Again, the person who buys this bike is looking for stress release, something that happens when you twist the Road King’s throttle. The grips are meaty and smaller hands may opt for the smaller grips, available as an after-market option.

Designed with the latest Harley-Davidson air suspension, this bike soaked up bumpy roads with competent ease. The big front forks (49 mm over the old model’s 43 mm) provide improved damping and fewer bumps through to the bars, for an all-round smoother ride.

Once out of the city limits the King settles down to a rhythm, moving along to the beat of its acoustically tuned v-twin engine. This is the ongoing result of Harley’s Project Rushmore, the project that took the feedback of riders and applied it to this new breed of Harley. Running on 50s-style whitewall tyres (16’’ front and rear) the bike is stopped by a linked Brembo braking system.

I ended up at Spice Route, a quaint farm restaurant near Paarl in the winelands of the Western Cape. The bike’s weight becomes evident only in tight parking areas and I was cautious on the slightly muddy surface. But the low 715 mm height height and the high ground clearance of 135 mm made it easy. This test bike did not have the after-market Screaming Eagle exhaust pipes (a must, in my opinion), but still got the attention of the late afternoon crowd. Knowing smiles were shared between the guys at the tables.

Style

Harley-Davidson tourers are distinctively different thanks to their side panniers. Faux leather belts give the King that rock-’n-roll look. The boxes are large enough for two decent sized overnight bags each. Dual front spotlights under the massive center light give superb night-riding visibility. The lights have an old-school toggle switch, with a solid feel when flipped up or down. The low seat is plush and comfortable, but the passenger seat presented a challenge – my pillion complained of sliding off under acceleration. The solution is to have an after-market back rest fitted if the missus is to be a frequent companion.

Performance

The 103 cubic inch motor delivers decent grunt at low revs. I found the bike needs to be in the correct gear, or the motor would stutter and lose a beat. The clutch action is heavy, but provides solid feedback.

Ride and Handling

The King rides on Harley’s air suspension, that soaks up everything the roads round here can throw at it. Handling is remarkably lithe for such a big bike (almost 2.5 m in length) and the 48 mm forks coupled to a 16’’ front wheel deliver a smooth ride. The turning circle is smaller than before, although this could simply be from the handlebar positioning.

Likes and dislikes

I liked the styling of the bike – the whitewall tyres lend the bike that 50s rocker look – and in keeping with the ‘escape the city’ theme, the bike has the outlaw look covered. I didn’t like the feel of the brakes, but they did have a fault that the dealer promised to fix.

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Verdict and rating

Who’s this bike for? Possibly a big Afrikaans oke named Danie, who has a kak job that pays well. By Friday afternoon he’s had enough and he grabs his toothbrush, iPhone and onderbroek, hits the road and rides until the tank needs a refill some 200 km later. But it’s actually not just for Danie. The Road King is a big bike, but it’s easy to ride. Even the rain didn’t bother me or it. The soft suspension seals the deal. I give it a solid 8/10.

Also consider (Other options)

Harley-Davidson Road Glide, Victory Cross Roads Classic, Suzuki VZR 1800

Specifications

  • Engine – 103 cubic inches (1 688cc)
  • Gearbox – 6-speed, belt drive
  • Power – n/a
  • Max torque – 138 Nm @ 3 500 rpm
  • Weight – 353 kg (dry)
  • Seat height/Ground clearance – 715 mm / 135 mm
  • Fuel capacity – 22.7 litres
  • Fuel consumption – claimed – n/a
  • Tank range – 350 + km
  • Warranty and servicing – 2 years, unlimited mileage, first service at 1 600 km and then every 8000 km
  • Price – R 287 000
  • Rode by: Mukhtar Mukuddem

* On arrival to collect the bike, I was warmly greeted at the door by Marcel. I was then offered coffee and a chocolate muffin by the delightful Patricia. The dealer principal Charl then came and introduced himself to me. We had a few minutes of friendly chat about the Harley-Davidson brand and the dealership philosophy towards customer service. Charl then handed me the key fob, and took a few minutes to highlight the features of the Road King Classic. Charl’s parting words were: ‘Ride it like you stole it!’. A very good first impression from all the guys at Harley-Davidson Tyger Valley – thank you all.

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