Up until a few years ago, I never really “got” the Road King. I always thought, “If you’re going to buy a touring bike, get a touring bike. Something with a fairing, radio, and a cluster of instruments installed straight from the factory.” But then as I started to notice more and more Kings done up from stretched pro-street to low-rider styles, I began to appreciate the platform from a customization standpoint. But it still didn’t really appeal to me as the go-to Touring Harley. To that endeavor I became a Road Glide man. Sporty, aggressive, and outfitted with all the accoutrements I expected, the Road Glide was the bagger for me. Interestingly, at the time the Road Glide was probably the least popular Touring Model in the H-D lineup—I even remember hearing rumors a few years back that Harley was thinking about discontinuing the model. To me the Road King was like tiptoeing into the bagger scene while trying to convince your friends on Softails that you were still cool and not some kind of Benjamin Button anomaly.
Well, as we all know, things change and so has my opinion of the Road King as a preferred long-haul bike. Coincidentally, things have changed for the Road Glide as well, as it is now experiencing a well-deserved rise in popularity.
As of late I have been spending a lot of time on a 2012 Road King that the Moco has seen fit to loan me as a long-term project bike. Over the past couple months the King and I have developed a close relationship traveling to Sturgis and back, making a run up to northern California, and commuting back and forth from my house to the office. Now I am not saying I have totally given up on the Road Glide, it’s still my favorite Touring model, but the King has now become my number two. Where the Road Glide suffers, the King excels, and for me that’s versatility in styling and ridability.
The Road King is classically styled and simplistically versatile. With its large headlight, spotlights, nacelle, and other chrome trim, the King resonates Harley’s classic style that many originally fell in love with. And just popping on or off the quick-release windscreen can make the bike look quite a bit different in just a matter of seconds. Ditch the stock spotlights and turn signals up front, rear billboard blinkers, crash guards, and swap out the seat and front fender, and the bike can easily take on a sleeker and more hot-roddish look. Try stripping the shark-nose fairing off a Road Glide (or any of the fairing-equipped bikes for that matter) and not only will it take you a couple hours but the bike just won’t look right.
Now when I say ridability, I am not saying that the RK is a whole lot easier to ride, or handles better than a Road Glide or any other Touring model, but it is 5 pounds lighter than a RG and 77 pounds lighter than an Ultra Classic Electra Glide. So the difference in weight (as minimal as it is against the RG) does help some in maneuverability. This is especially true when riding through California traffic and splitting lanes. The lighter weight when compounded with the ability to completely see directly in front of you without the obstruction of a fairing when trying to weave between two lane-hogging SUVs makes splitting lanes a less nerve-rattling experience. The weight also makes for a better power-to-weight ratio, and for the RK that means getting even better performance out of the 103ci power plant. Once again, while it might not be a significant against the RG, the power performace is more noticeable when compared to the heavier bikes.
Over time and experience I’ve come to prefer to ride the Road King without a windshield. Sure it serves a purpose; protecting you from bugs, dust, debris, rain, snow, or whatever else the road or Mother Nature may throw at you, but it’s not 100 percent perfect. You still get wet, hit in the face, dirt in your eyes, etcetera. Fairing-equipped bikes aren’t perfect either and you experience the same exposure. But if I am on a Road King, I’d rather just pull the windscreen off and take the road and elements face-on in their full glory; if I get soaked or pelted by a swarm of bugs, so be it, it’s all part of the experience. I’ve also come to find that the top of the windscreen always seems to be right in my line of sight, causing me to have to sit completely erect or hunched down just so I can see clearly. Lastly, the windshield gets in my way when on long trips. I like to carry a camera around my neck and take pictures from the road and the windshield just causes issues, distorting the image or ruining what could have been a great photo op because the shield was covered with the blood and smatterings of insects. I’ve also come to learn that I prefer a detachable sissybar/rack on the bike as opposed to a Tour Pak for long trips. I simply throw a large travel bag over the sissybar or secure it to the rack. Then when I get to my destination I can quickly and easily remove my gear along with the sissybar/rack, and the bike is ready to cruise the main strip. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing Tour-Paks, I have one for my Road Glide and I like the ability to lock larger items in it, but removing/storing a Tour Pak at your destination can be kind of a pain.
Over the course of the next few months I will be scouring the Harley-Davidson Parts and Accessories catalog using this Road King as a project bike for tech articles. When all is said and done, the bike will look quite a bit different. It’ll be more of a dark and sinister back street King as opposed to the mild-manner gent you see here.
|2012 Road King
||Two-Tone Color option (shown) $18,279
|Weight (running order)
|Seat Height (laden)
||Cruise Drive Six-speed
||28-spoke cast aluminum; 17x3-inch/16x5-inch
||Dunlop H-D Series, 130/80-17, 180/65-16
||Dual Brembo four-piston calipers/Single Brembo caliper