Brought to you by:

2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special Debuts: Exclusive Interview

2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special First Look Preview

2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special specs
2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special

A classic tourer gets an update as the 2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special–powered by the all-new Milwaukee-Eight 107–is revealed. The Road King Special gets a custom urban bagger treatment, losing its windshield and much of its chrome, while picking up lots of black paint, a 19-inch front wheel, and a whole new attitude.

In an exclusive interview, we spoke with Harley-Davidson VP of Styling & Design Brad Richards and H-D Director of Motorcycle Product Planning Paul James about the Harley-Davidson Road King Special, what the Road King name means, and how the new Special fits in with the the standard Road King.

[Visit 2017 Motorcycle Previews]

“The Road King brand is really about taking the FL formula and marinating it down to its essence,” Richards explains, “and that meant removing the fairing and taking away some of  the accoutrements the FL had evolved into over the years. It was about getting back to a simpler place with our touring models.

“If you ride a Road King without a windshield, it is a different experience,” Richards observes. “To us, that is the Road King brand—looking out over either a wide set of handlebars or, in this case, a bit higher and wider set of handlebars and seeing that giant chrome nacelle that houses our headlamp. That’s very Harley-Davidson—in the chrome version [of the nacelle] seeing the reflections of the environment  pass by as you’re riding and the wind in your face.”

“There’s an emotional lever that’s pulled when you ride a Road King versus when you ride a Street Glide or ride a Limited,” according to Richards. “What that is on the Road King is a very distilled, visceral experience of being in the wind and being out there. That, to us, is the Road King brand. Whether we dip it chrome or dip it in black paint, it’s still very Road King. This is just another personality we derived from that architecture.”

2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special horsepower
2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special

The black treatment is apparent from the front of the bike, as the cast aluminum turbine wheel is gloss black, and that continues on the forks, handlebars (and everything bolted to them), and most dramatically, the black headlamp nacelle.

Richards addressed the challenges inherent in working with an iconic model. “The challenges on some of these bikes, depending on what the contents of your project is, you might feel at first your hands are a little tied,” Richards says. “Once you start to look at the little details, like for instance, on this motorcycle we have a whole new front wheel. It’s the first time we’ve had what we call a turbine 19-inch front wheel on a Road King. It’s a wheel that was derived from the Breakout cruiser, which is a very contemporary chopper, if you will. Merely changing that wheel on the Road King—its persona is so known to be laced wheels or big, heavy cast wheels—that when you put this 19-inch, somewhat slightly more custom looking wheel on this motorcycle, that just instantly changes the personality of the bike.

“We just ran from there,” Richards continued, “with the dropped bags, the mini-ape hangers and, of course, the finishes that tied the whole thing together. Our goal was to the give it a whole new contemporary personality, which we think we nailed.”

The 2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special comes in four different colors—Olive Gold, Vivid Black, Charcoal Denim, and Hot Rod Red Flake Hard Candy Custom.

2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special 107 engine
2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special

“We wanted to have one offering in the lineup with this motorcycle that was a little bit louder,” Richards said with a laugh about the Hot Rod Red Flake Hard Candy Custom treatment. “[It’s] like your cousin who is a little bit more outgoing. It’s a different personality. We wanted to have that look at the party, too. The blacked out motor and all the details, those things stay the same on all four variants, but even within this new personality, it starts to give even another personality.”

The engine is a study in contrasts, with black tapped for the engine guard, engine covers, air cleaner cover, mufflers, and exhaust shields. Chrome is retained on the lower rocker boxes, pushrod tubes, and tappet blocks of the Milwaukee-Eight 107 powerplant.

“It’s definitely a Road King, but make no mistake about it,” James states emphatically, “we’re taking the Road King to a very aggressive stance and giving it a much more custom profile. This is about custom hot-rod bagger space. While maintaining the Road King’s traditional stance, it’s truly recognized as a Road King—a very customized one. This is a very contemporary visual direction, and it’s the first blacked-out Milwaukee-Eight powertrain. We know that many customers love that blacked-out look.”

The saddlebags are stretched saddlebags and dropped over the mufflers to give a slammed appearance, without reducing the suspension travel of the excellent emulsion shocks. The 2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special definitely captures the custom bagger ethos.

“When I think about the motorcycle,” Richards says, “I think of three points—the new contemporary personality, the visceral experience of riding without a fairing…and this is a really awesome head start for customization for our customers.”

2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special | Photo Gallery

More from Don Williams

2007 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom | Review

2007 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom Review The first thing that struck me...
Read More