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Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, there is no escaping the fact that Harley-Davidson has defined the American cruiser market for over a century now. The factory created numerous different models for different purposes over the course of its history, but usually the bikes were pigeonholed by design into one category or another.The FL models were the touring bikes with the hard bags and big front ends, while the FX models ran with a narrow front end and no bags, and ne’er the twain shall meet – until the advent of the Switchback in 2012. Now we find ourselves four years later, and Harley has had time to refine this composite (chameleon?) sled a bit. Let’s take a look at what the 2016 Switchback has going on over there.

Continue reading for my review of the 2016 Harley-Davidson Switchback.

  • 2016 Harley-Davidson Switchback
  • Year:
    2016
  • Make:
  • Engine:
    V-Twin
  • Displacement:
    103.1 cubic inches
  • Price:
    17199

Design

2016 Harley-Davidson Switchback
- image 643841

All the clues you need to guess at the overall design are present in the FLD model code. The “F” is for the big frame, “L” is for the wide, large diameter front forks and “D” is for the Dyna family. Those of you who are old enough to remember the FXR family will already know that the Dyna replaced it as Harley’s rubber-mounted, big-twin cruiser base. This leaves us with a rather trim (compared to the FLH/T models, anyway) ride that boasts the plush front suspension and nacelle-ensconced headlight from FL’s of years past. Fender design and instrument console placement also invoke nostalgia, and the chrome, cigar-tube rear shock covers complete the look. Granted, it isn’t quite as retro as some Indian bikes, nor as progressive as Victory, but more like a natural evolution of an original that has no need to try and look like something that it is not.

Now, I know one can argue that the “Detachable” accessories that started in the 1990’s made it possible to make a convertible bike long before now, but we are talking about a ride that comes off the showroom floor ready to go. There’s no need to send it to the service department to install all your gee-gaws before you can go get some bugs in your teeth. (Mmmmm, protein.)

Chassis

2016 Harley-Davidson Switchback
- image 643848

Harley started by tuning the frame so you don’t feel like you are wresting a bear around the corners and set the steering head at 29.9 degrees with 5.8 inches of trail for solid tracking on the highway. A low center of gravity keeps the Switchback manageable at low speed, and the factory kept the laden seat height out of the nosebleed section at a mere 26.1 inches high. The widely spaced, large-diameter fork tubes make for a large front end, and seem even larger by the old-school FLH nacelle that both dresses the headlamp and conceals the tripletree. Coil-over rear shocks with spanner-adjustable preload get a similar treatment from the cigar-tube covers, which turn another mundane component into a showpiece.

At 718 pounds, the Switchback is comparable to other Harley cruisers but lighter than a full dresser. Still, it is a lot of bike, and I can’t help but wonder why it didn’t warrant dual front brakes. It’s not as if it has beautiful laced wheels begging not to be covered up. At least it does have a big, four-pot caliper up front, with a dual-pot in the rear and ABS to manage it all, but I would prefer to see a second front brake.

Now for the “switchable” part: a fairly large windshield gives moderate protection from wind buffeting, and the hard bags provide some cargo capacity, which is the touring configuration. Here’s the kicker; both windshield and bags come with Harley’s detachable hardware so you can quickly strike them from the bike to change it to a more “around town” look.

Drivetrain

2016 Harley-Davidson Switchback
- image 643846

There’s no mistaking the look (or sound) of the classic, 45-degree V-twin Harley engine, and the Twin-Cam 103 toes the family line, albeit with more power than previous generations. Keeping with air-cooled tradition, the jugs come shot with black wrinkle paint and polished cooling fins that highlight this tradition, as if the lack of a radiator wasn’t enough. The rocker boxes and primary chaincase cover come chromed to further showcase the drivetrain. Now, I know that chrome won’t get you home, but it does turn the engine into something of a work of art.

The 103.1 cubic-inch engine cranks out 102 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm — plenty for around town cruising with a solid 5th-gear roll on for passing on the freeway. Electronic fuel injection delivers fuel to the beast, and contributes to the 42 mpg (combined) fuel economy.

Competitor

2016 Harley-Davidson Switchback
- image 645648
2016 Harley-Davidson Switchback
- image 645646

I looked to Star Motorcycles, Yamaha’s made-in-the-U.S.A. brand, for a comparison bike. Similar in design (you are free to speculative as to why that is) and overall looks, I thought it to be a natural pairing. One quick caveat; the 2016 V Star Tourer is not out yet, but since the Switchback is changed very little from last year, I see no harm in using the 2015 V Star 1300 Tourer model.

Visually, the bikes are remarkably similar. Some notable differences include the leather-covered hard bags on the V Star add a little flavor over the monochrome Harley bags, but the 60-degree engine and radiator stick out like a sore thumb. I know that water-cooling helps emissions and such, but I will never be on board with running a big, honkin’ radiator between the downtubes.

The V Star weighs just 6 pounds less than the Switchback, yet it runs dual front brakes, which is a definite bonus in my book, and while some may count the lack of ABS as a negative, I do not. In this respect, the Tourer wins hands down.

Star plugged the 80 cubic-inch engine into the Tourer frame, and while it isn’t a small engine by anyone’s estimation, still it is smaller than the Harley by 23.1 inches. (Americans do like their big V-twins.)

The biggest win for Star in this matchup is price. (Anyone surprised? Bueller? Bueller?) Harley has always been “proud” of their product, but at $17,199, you have to really want that name when you can score the Tourer for a mere $12,390. That’s a pretty big discrepancy for fairly similar bikes below 20 grand, and will certainly be enough to pull some people to Yamaha’s side of the fence.

Price

2016 Harley-Davidson Switchback
- image 643843

You can get the Switchback in Vivid Black for $17,199, or shell out another $400 for the Velocity Red Sunglo or the Deep Jade Pearl. The security option will run you $395, and the California emissions package will set Golden State customers back another two bills.

He Said

“As much as I like Harleys, I never really got on board with the Dyna family as a whole. Partially because of the look and feel of the early Dyna models, and partially because I didn’t see anything wrong with the FXR family that it replaced. While the looks have improved over the years, if I were looking at new Harleys in this price range, the Switchback wouldn’t even be on my radar ’cause I would be in the Softail section.”

She Said

My wife and fellow writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "The Switchback is an interesting combo of around-town cruiser and light tourer. I can see where it might be desirable to kick around town on something that doesn’t look like a bagger. The detachable windshield and bags let you do that; but I’d be concerned that the bags, since they aren’t hard-mounted to the bike, might rattle a bit."

Specifications

Engine: High Output Air-cooled, Twin Cam 103™
Bore: 3.87 inches
Stroke: 4.374 inches
Displacement: 103.1 cubic inches
Compression Ratio: 9.6 to 1
Engine Torque Testing Method: J1349
Engine Torque: 102 Pound-Feet at 3,000 rpm
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Primary Drive: Chain, 34/46 ratio
Gear Ratios: 9.311, 6.454, 4.793, 3.882, 3.307, 2.79
Exhaust: Two-into-one chrome exhaust with straight-cut muffler
Brakes, Caliper Type: Four-piston fixed front, and Two-piston torque-free floating rear
ABS: Standard
Lean Angle, Right: 29 degrees
Lean Angle, Left: 29 degrees
Rake (steering head) : 29.9 degrees
Trail: 5.8 inches
Wheels, Front Type: Black, Five-Spoke Cast Aluminum
Wheels, Rear Type: Black, Five-Spoke Cast Aluminum
Tires, Front: 130/70B18 63H
Tires, Rear: 160/70B17 73H
Length: 92.9 inches
Seat Height, Laden: 26.1 inches
Seat Height, Unladen: 27.4 inches
Ground Clearance: 4.3 inches
Wheelbase: 62.8 inches
Lights (as per country regulation), Indicator Lamps: High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, engine diagnostics, turn signals, low fuel warning, ABS (optional), low battery, body controller diagnostics
Gauges: Tank-mounted electronic speedometer with odometer, time-of-day clock on odometer, dual tripmeter, RPM/Gear display, fuel gauge with low fuel warning light and countdown feature, low oil pressure indicator light, engine diagnostics readout, LED indicator lights, six-speed indicator light
Fuel Economy: Combined City/Hwy: 42 mpg
Fuel Capacity: 4.7 gallons
Oil Capacity (w/filter) : 3 Quarts
Dry Weight: 696 Pounds
Wet Weight: 718 Pounds
Colors: Vivid Black, Velocity Red Sunglo, Deep Jade Pearl
Price: Vivid Black: $17,199, Color Option: $17,599
TJ Hinton
TJ Hinton
T.J got an early start from his father and other family members who owned and rode motorcycles, and by helping with various mechanical repairs throughout childhood. That planted a seed that grew into a well-rounded appreciation of all things mechanical, and eventually, into a formal education of same. Though primarily a Harley rider, he has an appreciation for all sorts of bikes and doesn't discriminate against any particular brand or region of origin. He currently holds an Associate's degree in applied mechanical science from his time at the M.M.I.  Read full bio
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