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Common Tread

2012 Harley-Davidson Road King First Ride

Aug 17, 2011

Motorcycle USA

Harley-Davidson’s Road King has been a staple model in the American Motor Company’s lineup for quite some time. And for ’12, it receives a few upgrades that make it more pleasing to ride than ever before.

The Road King has seen its engine size grow every few years, and now it comes standard with its biggest offering yet: the Twin Cam 103 V-Twin engine. The air/oil-cooled mill pumps out 1690cc of power and is mated to a six-speed transmission and a belt final drive. In stock configuration the engine belts out just over 86 lb-ft of peak torque at 3400 revs. This makes it easier to motor up steep grades without having to downshift and generally allows the rider more immediate passing power on the highway. The engine emits its hypnotic rumble from dual chromed pipes. In fact, it sounds so perfect stock I wonder why anyone would bother to fit an aftermarket setup. Similar to other late model Harley’s we’ve ridden lately, the engine’s fuel-injection settings and throttle response are superb.

With a fully fueled curb weight of 810 pounds, there’s no denying that it’s a heavy motorcycle. But since Harley re-engineered its touring chassis in ’09, the Road King is surprisingly maneuverable. The handlebar is placed at a reasonable level with a relaxed sweep and doesn’t demand any unusual contortions. It also offers a fair amount of leverage, which helps during low-speed parking lot maneuvers. Suspension components deliver a plush ride even over rough pavement, yet in the corners the Road King offers acceptable levels of damping for those who enjoy spirited cornering maneuvers. Ground clearance is higher than we expected too.

One of the alluring features of the Road King is its classic styling and functionality that works well whether you’re soaking up the scene in the city or cruising down the open road. We’re especially fond of the overall aesthetics of the bike highlighted by the large center headlight flanked by two auxiliary lights that can be activated via a flip switch just behind the main headlight. Another switch on the left side is available for use with aftermarket accessories. A large analog gauge in the center of the fuel tank displays speed and odometer information, and a fuel gauge is positioned toward the front left-hand side of the tank. The windshield can also be removed if so desired. Its six-gallon fuel tank gave us a range of upwards of 175 miles at cruising speed of between 75-80 mph.

In standard trim the Road King rolls on black 28-spoke aluminum rims (17-inch front, 16-inch rear) shod with Dunlop’s Harley-Davidson tires. The rear tire features dual-compound zones that allow added grip at lean without compromising durability during extended straight line riding. Laced tubeless chrome wire wheels are available as an option. The Brembo-made braking components are reasonably strong and capable of getting it slowed down from speed. ABS is also available as an option but it isn’t calibrated as well as it could be with it activating well before the point of lock up.

The standard Road King comes outfitted with fixed and lockable hard saddlebags (soft luggage is standard on the Road King Classic). A claimed 1.85 cubic feet of capacity is available, which equates to an extra pair of shoes, a change of clothes with enough space remaining for a few bottles of water. Sadly, the Road King doesn’t offer any kind of sound system; however, cruise control is available as an option and it performs flawlessly.

The Road King continues to be a classic motorcycle in the Harley-Davidson arsenal. It is just as adept at logging on miles across the interstate as it is running between stoplights in the city and could be one of the more well-rounded machines in H-D’s lineup. It is available in three solid colors and two two-tone color ways with a price starting at $17,499.