Harley-Davidson has some deep roots in the motorcycle industry, and frequently draws on them when designing newer models. Detractors say the brand is mired in the past, but I submit that some of us appreciate the old is new again approach that gives the brand a certain continuity and connection to the models that made it great in the first place.

Harley’s ’15-’16 FLHR Road King is just such a model. The FLHR replaced the Electra Glide Sport as Harley’s non-faired bagger, but if you look hard enough you can see shades of the old “Duo Glide” FL in the front end, fuel tank and tank-mount instrument console from the late ’50s.

Although the folks at the factory bill this bike as a touring model, I kind of feel like it’s more of a cruiser with light touring capabilities, especially when compared to Harley’s full-dresser touring models. Let’s take a look at the Road King together and you can make up your own mind on that point.

Continue reading for my review of the Harley-Davidson Road King.

  • 2015 - 2016 Harley-Davidson Road King
  • Year:
    2015- 2016
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    Air-cooled, High Output Twin Cam 103™ with integrated oil cooler
  • Displacement:
    1690 cc
  • Price:
    18799
  • Price:

Design

2015 - 2016 Harley-Davidson Road King
- image 685250

From the ground up this ride is built to exude a certain weightiness that isn’t just a trick of the eye, it’s very real with an 814-pound curb weight. Fat tires and full fenders pull the visual weight down low along with the seat at only 28.2-inches high, and the chrome trim and skirt on the front fender ties into classic details from earlier models.

Skirted, large-diameter forks and a beefy headlamp nacelle bulk up the front end with whisker bar-mounted pimp lights (passing lamps) and large windshield that further add to the nostalgia. In fact, the front end looks as though it could have come off almost any FL in the last 50 years or so, so it presents a very classic face when viewed from head on.

Since there is no front fairing, the instruments are mounted in a tank-mount dash with an analog speedometer and digital display that can cycle through the odometer, tach, trip meter and more via the new trigger switch. The upper lines flow back from there, over the tanks and across the broad saddle and P-pad with no luggage rack or Tour-Pak to clutter up the look.

A set of paint-matched hard bags with One-Touch latches — courtesy of Project Rushmore — and chrome guards complete the ensemble, and give the Road King its only stock storage capacity. So yeah, at 2.3 cubic-feet you have enough capacity for a short trip for two or longer trip for one, but sooner or later you are liable to run short on storage space. Like I said, a somewhat casual tourbike.

Chassis

2015 - 2016 Harley-Davidson Road King
- image 685248

Made from mild steel tubing with a rectangular backbone for extra strength, the Road King comes built on Harley’s heaviest frame. The double-downtube, double-cradle assembly mounts the engine on rubber mounts to dampen through-frame vibration transfer from engine to rider, definitely good news no matter how far you plan on riding at a stretch.

Steering geometry is most definitely conducive to low-fatigue, long-distance riding with 26 degrees of rake and 6.7 inches of trail, plus tires that lend even more stability by virtue of their width. The tires come in a 130/80-17 up front with a 180/65-16 in back, and you can get them in black wrapped around cast-aluminum Impeller rims or with “gangster” whitewalls on laced rims.

Massive, 49 mm front forks support the front end, but still Harley runs with fixed-parameter forks that leave it a step behind some of the other major players in the world market. Maybe we can look forward to some dial-in forks in the near future, but in the mean time we are stuck with these old-fashioned struts. The rear end is significantly better with a set of adjustable air shocks, so at least you can count on some adjustability and a cushy ride in back.

A Rushmore bike, the Road King gets the Reflex Linked Brakes that balances braking efforts between the dual-disc front and single rear, with ABS as an available option to manage the four-pot, opposed-piston Brembo calipers. Front and rear floorboards help define the relaxed cruising posture and provide a final layer of isolation to help combat the effects of the high-frequency engine vibration on your feet.

Drivetrain

2015 - 2016 Harley-Davidson Road King Exterior
- image 581490

Not content to use its standard Twin Cam 103 to power the Road King, the factory tucked in the High Output version for a little extra power for pulling hills and making passes. Air cooled, the 45-degree V-Twin keeps up a traditional appearance while sporting an intergated oil cooler that removes even more waste heat while adding a layer of protection for the engine’s lifeblood.

As the engine name suggests, a pair of cams — one for each jug — times the dual valve heads via hydraulic lifters and external pushrods. Undersquare, the 98.2 mm (3.87 inch) bore and 111 mm (4.374 inch) stroke adds up to a total of 1,689.5 cc (103.1 cubic-inches), a displacement that leaves it the smallest of the Big Twin-type motors produced domestically, and falling short of Victory’s Freedom 106 and Indian’s Thunder Stroke 111.

That said, it’s still one of the largest production V-Twins in the world, just not quite as big as some of the closest competition, and it cranks out some respectable numbers with 104.7 pound-feet of torque at a low 3,250 rpm. The 2016 engine comes with a reduced-width primary cover and derby cover (clutch inspection cover) for easier ground access, and both the ’15 and ’16 models run a six-speed Cruise Drive transmission for reasonable cruising rpm and an average of 42 mpg.

Pricing

2015 - 2016 Harley-Davidson Road King
- image 685247

As usual, Harley offers a fistful of colors with optional accessories sold al la carte for a range of prices. The basic black model is the cheapest at $18,749, and the range goes up to $19,749 for the top-of-the-line, custom color option. Security will set you back $395, and the ABS is another $795. The optional laced wheels and whitewalls run $510, and as always, our California buddies take a $200 whack for their special emissions package.

Competitors

2015 - 2018 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring
- image 758032
2016 - 2018 Indian Chief Vintage
- image 685253

Speaking of California, my first thought for a competitor was the Moto Guzzi “California” 1400, but then I decided that, because it’s a Harley, I would go with a competitor with a little more cultural overlap. That started me eyeballing the Indian Chief Vintage instead. What I found was a bike that displayed similar DNA to the Road King, and with good reason, both companies were building bikes when this style evolved, and so now they each get to draw on their own authentic design characteristics.

For the most part, the differences are subtle. The Chief Vintage carries the full-skirt fenders with the Indian headdress ornament, and the way the rear body panels flow right into the rear fender is definitely a classic Indian feature.

Fat front ends, pimp lights, headlamp nacelles and windshields are all present and similar across the board. Indian isn’t quite in a position to challenge Harley as the King of Paint, but the classic-looking two-tone paint schemes are really sharp, if I do say so myself, and the fringed, Desert Tan leather saddle and bags really gives it a different vibe than the hard-bag Harley.

While the frame layouts are similar, Indian uses a lightweight, cast-aluminum frame while Harley sticks with the traditional welded-steel skeleton. Dual front brakes come standard across the board, but while Indian sends the Chief Vintage out with ABS as standard equipment as well, Harley holds it out as an accessory. Laced wheels and whitewall tires are available across the board, which is fine with me, but some will prefer the cast-rim option Harley offers with the Road King.

Harley’s High Output Twin Cam 103 is a product of decades of evolution, but Indian’s Thunder Stroke 111 is a bit younger than all that even if it looks like it could be much older. Plus, it’s a very pretty engine that doesn’t look like it’s trying too hard, and it puts out some solid performance numbers. Don’t get me wrong, the Harley mill is no slouch with 104.7 pound-feet of torque, but the 111-inch Indian mill boasts a crushing 119.2 pound feet that can certainly be felt in your heinie-dyno.

Harley actually picks up a minor win at checkout with an $18,749 base-model sticker on the Road King versus $19,999 for the Chief Vintage. It’s not often that Harley gets topped at the till, and as usual, I wonder if Indian is banking too much on residual name recognition and losing some sales to Harley just on pricing.

He Said

“I’ll be honest, the Road King is actually my least favorite Harley. I have to admit the look has been polished a bit over time, but the early Road Kings were butt ugly, and to me looked like an FLT/FLHT that someone forgot to finish assembling. In short; I’m still not really a fan of the family, and it’s not what I consider a proper tourbike either. To fans of the look; don’t take it personally, one of Harley’s bike lines had to be my least favorite, it just turns out that the “Road Thing” is it.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “I don’t know about all that. I like the look — the valanced fenders, no fairing, the big nacelle flanked by pimp lights, and the big windscreen. I like that look in the California, in the Chief Vintage, and in the V Star 1300 Tourer as well as the Boulevard C90T and C50T but the Japanese manufacturers miss the mark a little by not including the pimp lights.”

Specifications

ENGINE:
Engine: Air-cooled, High Output Twin Cam 103™ with integrated oil cooler
Valves: Pushrod-operated, overhead valves with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters; two valves per cylinder
Bore x Stroke: 3.87 in. x 4.374 in. (98.4 mm x 111.1 mm)
Displacement: 103.1 cu. in. (1690 cc)
Compression Ratio: 9.7:1
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Air Cleaner: Paper, washable
Lubrication System: Pressurized, dry-sump with oil cooler
DRIVETRAIN:
Primary Drive: Chain, 34/46 ratio
Final Drive: Belt, 32/68 ratio
Clutch: Cable actuated, 9 plate wet, with high performance spring
Transmission: 6-Speed Cruise Drive®
Gear Ratios (overall) U.S.:
1st: 9.593
2nd: 6.65
3rd: 4.938
4th: 4
5th: 3.407
6th: 2.875
CHASSIS:
Frame: Mild steel; tubular frame; two-piece stamped and welded backbone; cast and forged junctions; twin downtubes; bolt-on rear frame with forged fender supports; MIG welded
Swingarm: Mild steel; two-piece drawn and welded section; forged junctions; MIG welded
Front Forks: 49 mm telescopic
Rear Shocks: Air-adjustable full travel air ride rear suspension
Wheels (Chrome Steel Laced with Whitewall option): Impeller Cast Aluminum
Front: 17 in. x 3 in. (432 mm x 76 mm)
Rear: 16 in. x 5 in. (406 mm x 127 mm)
Brakes:
Caliper Type: 32 mm, 4-piston fixed front and rear
Rotor Type (diameter x width): Dual floating rotors (front), fixed rotor (rear)
Front (dual): 11.81 in. x .2 in. (300 mm x 5.1 mm)
Rear: 11.81 in. x .28 in. (300 mm x 7.1 mm)
Anti-lock Braking System: Optional
Suspension Travel:
Front Wheel: 4.6 in. (117 mm)
Rear Wheel: 3 in. (76 mm)
PERFORMANCE:
Engine Torque (per J1349) North America: 104.7 ft. lbs. @ 3250 RPM (142 Nm @ 3250 RPM)
Lean Angle (per J1168):
Right: 32°
Left: 32.1°
Fuel Economy (EPA urban/highway test): 42 mpg (5.6 L/100 km)
DIMENSIONS:
Length: 96.5 in. (2450 mm)
Overall Width: 37.8 in. (960 mm)
Overall Height: 56.3 in. (1430 mm)
Seat Height:
Laden: 26.7 in. (678 mm)
Unladen: 28.2 in. (715 mm)
Ground Clearance: 5.3 in. (135 mm)
Rake (steering head): 26°
Fork Angle: 29.25°
Trail: 6.7 in. (170 mm)
Wheelbase: 64 in. (1625 mm)
Tires: (Dunlop® Harley-Davidson® Series, bias blackwall front and rear)
Front – D408F: BW 130/80B17 65H
Rear – D407T: BW 180/65B16 81H
Fuel Capacity: 6 gal. (22.7 L) (warning light at approximately 1.0 gal.)
Oil Capacity (w/filter): 4 qts. (3.8 L)
Transmission Capacity: 1 qt. (.95 L)
Primary Chain Case Capacity: 1.4 qts. (1.3 L)
Weight As Shipped: 779 lbs. (353 kg)
In Running Order: 814 lbs. (369 kg)
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: 1360 lbs. (617 kg)
Gross Axle Weight Rating:
Front: 500 lbs. (227 kg)
Rear: 927 lbs. (420 kg)
Luggage Capacity: 2.3 cu. ft. (0.064 m3)
ELECTRIC:
Battery (per Battery Council International Rating): Sealed, maintenance-free, 12V, 28-amp/hour, 405 cca
Charging: Three-phase, 50-amp system (585W @ 13V, 2000 RPM, 650W max power @ 13V)
Starting: 1.2 kW electric with solenoid shift starter motor engagement
Lights (as per country regulation):
Headlamp: Dual halogen headlight 55-watt 625 lumen low beam, 65-watt 1570 lumen high beam with switchable 26-watt 440 lumen halogen fog lights. Total of 986 lumen output at low beam with fog lights.
Tail/Stop Lights: 8W/28W
Front Signal Lights: 8W/28W
Indicator Lamps: High beam, running lights, directional light bar, neutral, low oil pressure, engine diagnostics, turn signals, battery, security system (optional), low fuel warning, cruise control, ABS (optional), Gear/RPM display, miles to empty display
Auxiliary Lamps (except where prohibited by law): Two LED @ 35W each
DETAILS:
Model ID: FLHR
Colors:
2015: Vivid Black, Morocco Gold Pearl, Superior Blue, Brilliant Silver Pearl/Vivid Black, Mysterious Red Sunglo/Blackened Cayenne Sunglo, Deep Jade Pearl/ Vivid Black, Black Magic
2016: Vivid Black with Med. Silver pinstripe, Billet Silver with Burgundy and Charcoal Metallic pinstripe, Velocity Red Sunglo with Med. Red and Pale Gold pinstripe. Deep Jade Pearl/Vivid Black with Lt. Green and Pale Gold pinstripe, Crushed Ice Pearl/Frosted Teal Pearl with Gray and Teal pinstripe, Purple Fire/Blackberry Smoke with Gray and Teal pinstripe, Cosmic Blue Pearl
Price:
2015: Vivid Black: $18,449, Color: $18,899, Two-Tones: $19,249, Custom Colors: $19,449
2016: Vivid Black: $18,749, Color: $19,199, Two-Tone: $19,549, Custom: $19,749
What do you think?
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