The Road King has long been an alternative for Harley-Davidson riders who want a tour-capable bike sans barn-door fairing. It keeps getting better in the 2017 model year with the new Milwaukee-Eight engine and a special trim package called — wait for it — the Road King Special. Updated looks and performance are the main selling points here, over and above the usual litany of reasons to consider the Road King, and the recent demise of Victory Motorcycles makes this ride even more important to H-D in the long run.

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

Design

2017 Harley-Davidson Road King & Road King Special
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(Road King Special)

My husband is not a fan of the early Road Kings. He says they look like someone partially disassembled an FLT and marketed it as a net-new bike. That and it was ugly, unfinished and his absolute least favorite of Harley’s offerings. Let me be clear, I like the Road King; but even if you agree with TJ, this is not that Road King.

The new generation has a finish and polish that obliterates all of the arguments against the original. The beefy front end of the base model sports the classic chrome headlamp nacelle with whisker bar-mount pimp lights / turn signals and the big windshield that used to be all we had before the full front fairing was a thing.

Blackout treatment replaces the chrome on the custom-looking Special, and the front end leaves the extra lighting on the shelf while moving the turn signals to the handlebars for a cleaner look. Additionally, the Special does without the classic chrome trim and fender skirt that dresses up the base model for more of that homejob-custom appeal. The differences continue from there with classic chrome pullback bars and tank-mount instrument panel on the base model versus blackout mini-apes and console on the Special.

While the rider enjoys the same, deep-scoop saddle on both models, the Special has more of a “I’d rather ride alone” pillion opposed to the full-butt passenger seat on the base model, which is quite comfortable and one of the few saddles that I don’t instantly think about changing. Both come with hard bags that use Harley’s One-Touch latches that are easy to open, even while wearing gloves, and the regular King rolls with chrome bag guards and passenger footboards that its custom cousin shuns.

As always, there’s no shortage of chrome to be had on the King, but the Special has just a few touches of bling on the jugs to keep the mill from disappearing into the black hole under the fuel tank while accentuating the 45-degree V. All-in-all very different bikes for vastly different buyers, but really just different sides of the same coin at the end of the day.

Chassis

2017 Harley-Davidson Road King & Road King Special
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Gotta say I’m disappointed in the wheels on the base-model King. Chrome laced wheels would be much more appropriate here, but the cast wheels fit the Special’s look perfectly. The same FL frame holds everything together for both bikes, but a difference in wheel size changes the overall length and steering geometry just a bit.

While the base King runs a 17-inch front hoop and 16-inch rear with 6.7 inches of trail, the Special bumps that up to 19- and 18-inches respectively for 6.9 inches of trail from the same, 26-degree steering head. Needless to say, these bikes are stable in the straights if a little reluctant in the corners, and are nearly effortless to control at highway speeds. Although the front forks are still non-adjustable, Harley has employed the bending-valve technology that marks an improvement over the fixed-value forks, and emulsion technology in the air-adjustable rear shocks provides a smooth ride as well as stepless and infinitely tweakable preload adjustment.

Brembo brakes provide the stopping power fore and aft with an ABS safety net available as optional equipment. What isn’t optional is Harley’s Linked Brakes that shares a certain amount of pressure between front and rear calipers for balanced, hence safer, braking. Don’t worry, it only engages with pressure at the rear brake pedal, so you can still lock up the front independently for the burnout competition at your favorite crash-in-the-grass.

Seat height on the King is fairly low for a tour bike at 28.2-inches high, but the Special shaves almost a whole inch off that for a 27.4-inch unladen seat height.

Drivetrain

2017 Harley-Davidson Road King & Road King Special
- image 705461

(Road King Special)

Probably the most exciting news here lies with the all-new Milwaukee-Eight engine that moves past the so-yesterday Twin Cam mills into what is hopefully a new era in H-D engineering.

Probably the most exciting news here lies with the all-new Milwaukee-Eight engine that moves past the so-yesterday Twin Cam mills into what is hopefully a new era in H-D engineering. This 107 cubic-inch (1,753 cc) beast runs a typical under-square ratio with a 3.937-inch bore and 4.374-inch stroke — one of the keys to generating its unstoppable torque. At a mere 3,250 rpm, the Mil-8 pounds out a punishing 111.4 pound-feet of torque and delivers a decisive fifth-gear roll-on for passing.

The four-valve, dual-spark heads play an important role here too, and the electronic fuel injection helps the mill meet emission standards while delivering a combined 45 mpg. One thing I notice is that H-D stuck to its air-cooled guns, and resisted throwing a radiator on the downtubes for at least one more generation of engines. They’ve also stuck to the uneven firing, 45-degree V-twin configuration while simultaneously taming the vibration at idle just a bit. Before the Harley-haters wind up their whining flywheel; yeah, it’s a tractor, and that’s what we like about it. Either you get it or you don’t. If you get it, no explanation is needed; if you don’t, no explanation is possible.

Competitor

2016 - 2018 Indian Chief Vintage
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2017 Harley-Davidson Road King & Road King Special
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For such a timeless, classic ride such as the Road King, there can be but one worthy adversary; the Chief Vintage from Indian Motorcycles. In the looks department, both rides enjoy deep roots that go back half-a-century, and that clearly comes out in the design. Of course, Indian takes it a step further by imitating the look of the old flat-head, side-valve engines popular way back in the day, and that really adds some QWAN to the whole project, but both bikes look like they could have been ripped from the pages of a history book with little, brand-specific details. I’m talking about the full skirt and Indian head fender treatment versus the classic Harley trim and skirt mainly, though Indian adds a really nice touch with its tan leather seat and bags, which is a departure from the tiresome ubiquity of the black saddle favored by Harley. Whisker-bar lights and full windshields finish off the look from the front and make the final connection to days long past.

Indian doesn’t get too complicated with the brakes. The all-around, 300 mm discs use non-linked calipers, but ABS comes as part of the standard equipment package whereas H-D holds its ABS for an $800 ransom, though it’s standard on the Special. Suspension is likewise fairly unremarkable with neither factory availing itself of the fancy fandanglery that can be had on some of the large Euro-tourers.

Power generation for the Indian falls to the Thunder Stroke 111. Air cooled and fuel injected, it displaces 111 cubic-inches (1,818 cc) total, so neither the name nor the engine itself is an exercise in subtlety. Don’t believe it? I invite you to grab the throttle and experience the ball-crushing 119.2 pounds of grunt for yourself and get back to me; I’ll wait. H-D isn’t far behind with a total of 111.4 pound-feet of torque, but really, it’s kind of a moot point since neither of these bikes is likely to see the business end of a drag strip, and both are plenty capable of delivering the fun on the highway.

Pricing is close enough to suggest collusion with a $19,999 tag on the Chief, and a range of prices from $18,999 on up through $21,399 on the Road King, depending on color. Hate to say it guys, you’re both a little bit too proud of your products.

He Said

My husband and fellow motorcycle writer, TJ Hinton, says, “I’m really pleased with the direction Harley went with its Road King Special. Blackout is hot nowadays, just as has been with custom builders for decades now, and the finished look just really blows away all of my complaints about the original Road King. Oh, well, I’ll just have to pick another to be my least favorite. The Street Glide is a strong contender for that title with its butt-ugly, shark-nose fairing, but that’s a story for another day.”

She Said

"For a big heavy bike, this thing handles like a dream and it corners surprisingly well for its class. For the competitor, I went with an Indian, but if engine size weren’t a consideration, I’d probably go with the California 1400 Touring from Moto Guzzi. I think that classic look would appeal to the same buyer that would be looking at a Road King, and at $18,490, he’d get a little break on the price. I’m not a fan of the mini-apes on the new Special, but I know plenty of folks out there that will go apeshit over it."

Specifications

MODEL: Road King Road King Special
ENGINE :
Engine: Milwaukee-Eight® 107 Milwaukee-Eight® 107
Bore: 3.937 in. 3.937 in.
Stroke: 4.374 in. 4.374 in.
Displacement: 107 cu in 107 cu in
Compression Ratio: 10.0:1 10.0:1
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI) Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
DRIVETRAIN:
Primary Drive: Chain, 34/46 ratio Chain, 34/46 ratio
Gear Ratios (overall): 1st 9.593 1st 9.593
Gear Ratios (overall): 2nd 6.65 2nd 6.65
Gear Ratios (overall): 3rd 4.938 3rd 4.938
Gear Ratios (overall): 4 4
Gear Ratios (overall): 5th 3.407 5th 3.407
Gear Ratios (overall): 6th 2.875 6th 2.875
CHASSIS:
Exhaust: Chrome, 2-1-2 dual exhaust with tapered mufflers Black, 2-1-2 dual exhaust with tapered mufflers
Wheels, Front Type: Impeller Cast Aluminum Black, Turbine Cast Aluminium
Wheels, Rear Type: Impeller Cast Aluminum Black, Turbine Cast Aluminium
Brakes, Caliper Type: 32 mm, 4-piston fixed front and rear 32 mm, 4-piston fixed front and rear
PERFORMANCE:
Engine Torque Testing Method: J1349 J1349
Engine Torque: 111.4 ft-lb 111.4 ft-lb
Engine Torque (rpm): 3250 3250
Lean Angle, Right (deg.): 32 32
Lean Angle, Left (deg.): 32.1 31
Fuel Economy: Combined City/Hwy: 45 mpg 45 mpg
DIMENSIONS:
Length: 94.3 In. 95.4 in.
Seat Height, Laden: 26.3 in. 26.4 in.
Seat Height, Unladen: 28.2 in. 27.4 in.
Ground Clearance: 5.3 in. 4.9 in.
Rake (steering head) (deg): 26 26
Trail: 6.7 in. 6.9 in.
Wheelbase: 64 in. 64 in.
Tires, Front Specification: BW 130/80B17 65H 130/60B19 61H
Tires, Rear Specification: BW 180/65B16 81H 180/55B18 80H
Fuel Capacity: 6 gal. 6 gal.
Oil Capacity (w/filter): 5.2 qt. 5.2 qt.
Weight, As Shipped: 791 lb. 781 lb.
Weight, In Running Order: 826 lb. 818 lb.
Luggage Capacity -Volume: 2.3 cu ft 2.5 cu ft
ELECTRIC:
Lights (as per country regulation), 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 High beam, running lights, directional light bar, neutral, low oil pressure, engine diagnostics, turn signals, battery, security system, low fuel warning, cruise control, ABS, Gear/RPM display, miles to empty display
Gauges: Tank-mounted electronic speedometer with ergonomic hand controls with intuitive design for improved tactile feel. Includes new trigger switch for odometer, trip A, trip B, clock, range to empty, tachometer, and gear indicator Tank-mounted electronic speedometer with ergonomic hand controls with intuitive design for improved tactile feel. Includes trigger switch for odometer, trip A, trip B, clock, range to empty, tachometer, and gear indicator
PAINT:
Colors: Vivid Black, Billet Silver, Black Hills Gold/Black Quartz, Superior Blue/Billet Silver, Laguna Orange, Hard Candy Hot Rod Flake Vivid Black, Charcoal Denim, Olive Gold, Hard Candy Hot Rod Flake
PRICING:
Vivid Black: $18,999 $21,999
Color: $19,449 $22,449
Custom Color: $19,999 NA
Hard Candy Custom: $21,399 $24,399
ABS Option: $795 Standard
Security System Option: $395 Standard

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Image Source: harley-davidson.com, indianmotorcycles.com

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