Ridden by Geoff Hill
It was the sweet scent of pine in my nose, and the syncopated song of a big V-twin in my ears. It was the fact that I’ve had a soft spot for the Road King since I spent a month riding one from Chicago to Los Angeles 16 years ago for one of my books. And most of all, it was the fact that the latest version of Harley’s most enduring and endearing model is the best Road King yet. By far.
What’s so good about it? Everything, right from the moment when you engage first gear and it doesn’t sound like dropping a spanner into a tin bucket any more. The clutch is as light as an angel’s wing, and the gearbox, as smooth and satisfying as a buttered spud, is a far cry from the agricultural Harley creations of old.
But best of all is the all-new Milwaukee-Eight engine, now available on Harley’s entire range of big tourers; the Road Glide, Road King, Street Glide and Electra Glide.
The name comes from eight valves, four per cylinder, which means 50% more air flowing in and more exhaust flowing out, and 11% more torque than the previous model. Not only that, but it’s counter-balanced to make it smoother, idles at lower revs, and most revolutionary of all, is partially oil-cooled, since as we all know from a cold beer after a long, hot day on the road, liquid cools you down a lot better than air.
That may not seem revolutionary, but it is for a firm whose fans have fainted at the thought of anything other than traditional air-cooling in the past, which is why they never took to the glorious V-Rod, although they seem to have, er, warmed to last year’s incredibly good value Street 750, if sales are anything to go by.
On the ‘top of the range’ Ultra models, oil’s replaced by coolant, but in all of them Harley has done the same as BMW with its latest boxer twins and only cooled the cylinder heads, the bits that need it most, so as a result, the new engine is more powerful, quieter, smoother, cooler and more economical.
What all that means in practice is a hefty and deeply satisfying kick in your back when you twist the throttle, leaving older Harleys three bike lengths behind by the time you hit 60mph, particularly since the bike I was riding had the Stage One aftermarket bigger air intake and exhaust, which gave it even more punch, accompanied by a deliciously deep and rich soundtrack.
It may be smoother, but the engineers in Milwaukee have cleverly retained enough of the vibration that’s part of the engaging Harley character.
If you want even more grunt, the top of the range CVO models have 1870cc engines producing 100bhp rather than the standard 1745cc which I estimate using my incredible bloke superpowers gives about 92bhp, since Harley doesn’t release power figures.
Mind you, there’s no point getting to corners quickly if you can’t go around them, and just as impressive as the new engine is the new suspension. At the front are top of the range forks by Showa, and at the back, the pre-load is easily adjusted by a single knob rather than the previous fiddly air pump, with a handy guide sheet to show you where to set it for loads from anorexic solo rider all the way up to two fat ladies and kitchen sink.
And it works. Since I’m heavier than the average rider, a few clicks made the handling beautifully sweet and neutral, whether soaring through bends with a grin the size of Texas or doing full-lock turns at walking pace with an ease remarkable on a bike weighing 385kgs with fuel.
On rough roads, Harleys of yore would crash and clatter like a fight in a cutlery drawer, but this just glides over bumps without a twitch. Impressive.
Add linked Bosch ABS brakes, a slipper clutch to stop the back wheel locking under aggressive downshifting, a good screen, spacious panniers and all-day comfort from that wide, plush seat, and you’ve got the best Road King yet by far.
Even after only an hour riding it, I felt like I’d been born on it, and there is no higher praise for a bike. In fact, there’s only one thing I can think of that’s wrong with it, and that’s that I don’t own one.
Test ride one for yourself in October or November and you could win a trip to South Africa!
Price: from £18,695
Engine: 1745cc V-twin
Power: 92bhp @ 5020rpm est
Torque: 111 lb ft @ 3250rpm
Colours: black, silver, blue/silver, gold/black, orange, red flake