Harley-Davidson offers Switchback
Spring is nearly here, along with motorcycle season. So Drive On got our hands on a 2012 Harley Davidson Switchback. Here are our impressions:
If Harley Davidson isn't careful, the manufacturer is going to get a reputation for being practical.
Well, maybe not practical. Harley still makes motorcycles.
But in its Switchback, Harley has created a pseudo-convertible motorcycle, one that switches deftly from a respectable cruiser to a lightweight tourer. And while both looks suit the Switchback, the bike looks and feels best fully laden.
Sporting a removable windscreen and hard saddlebags, the $16,000 Switchback hopes to lure fans of the Hog feel, if not the $30,000 price tag for full-bagged tourers.
The price difference comes at a cost, though not in your driveway, where the bike looks as sharp as any in Harley's line. The sleek bags, along with the exposed Dyna platform chrome give the Switchback a muscular profile. While taking the bags and shield off are a snap (literally), the naked Switchback can get lost in the midrange-cruiser shuffle. A bruiser, to be sure, though that is becoming custom in today's custom bike world.
At 718 pounds, the Switchback is Harley's lightest custom touring bike -- and perhaps its easiest to ride.
The 103 cubic inch v-twin engine (also found on Softail, Touring and most Dyna models) roars to life on the first fire of the fuel-ignition switch. And with a seat height of 26.1 inches (laden), Harley clearly remains on the hunt for female and newer riders.
Need proof? There's the fuel gauge that has become standard on Harley's pricier models. You don't need a vice to pull the clutch. You'll appreciate a half hour into the ride that the manufacturer took a convenience cue from the competition.
Make no mistake: There's no mistaking this for anything but a Hog. There's still no baritone like the Harley motor. And while more flickable than, say, a Road King, the Switchback has the highway in its heart.
The big fenders, mini ape-hangers and 4.7 gallon Street Bob fuel tank nestle the rider into a comfortable saddle. The transmission has six speeds, and shifts smoothly through all of them -- though you'll never need the sixth. The bike barely works a sweat at highways speeds, and vibration dampens as the bike picks up velocity, thanks largely to the rubber-mounted motor.
Though clearly meant to do at least 55 mph, the Switchback manages its own on surface streets. The bags (25% smaller than typical FLT bags) aren't too cumbersome to prevent lane splitting -- not that you should. The bike has a surprisingly good turn radius, thanks in part to its 29-degree lean angle. A sport bike, it isn't, but won't feel dated by the ninja crowd.
Commuters looking for something with a little brawn would do well with the Switchback, a marked step up from its entry-level Sportster.
It won't hold much camping gear, and the windscreen could be slightly higher; on a 5-9 rider, buffeting can catch the tip of the helmet. And any bike that has a floorboard needs a heel-shifter.
But the Switchback does a surprisingly deft job at the everyday. It's a comfortable commuter, and the bags hold a surprising amount of cargo.
If you're ready for the Harley Big Boy Crowd (if not its spendings habits), the Switchback makes a fine entrance. Sleek, maneuverable but with enough width to give you room on the highway, the bike marks a strong step in the Dyna evolution.
• Price: $15,999 (vivid black), $16,384 (Brilliant Silver Pearl, Ember Red Sunglo)
• Engine: Rubber-mounted air-cooled and fuel-injected Twin Cam 103 cubic inch (1,690cc) v-twin
• Output: 100 ft-lbs of torque, at 3,500 rpm
• Transmission: 6-speed Cruise Drive
• Final drive: Belt
• Frame: Mild steel, tubular
• Front Suspension: 41.3mm fork with 20mm cartridge damping
• Rear Suspension: Twin nitrogen charged 36mm monotubes with 5 step preload adjustable springs
• Brakes: 4-piston 300mm front, 2-piston 292 rear, ABS available bundled with Security Package Option, which includes proximity-based, hands-free security fob
• Wheels: Black 5-spoke cast aluminum, 18 inch front, 17 inch rear
• Quick detach, fork-mounted windshield and detachable, color-matched hard saddlebags included
• Seat height: 26.1 inches (laden), 27.4 inches (unladen)
• Rake/Trail: 29.9º, 5.84 inches
• Curb weight: 718 pounds
• Fuel Capacity: 4.7 gallons
• Combined EPA fuel economy: 42 mpg