2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special Takes On Daytona
Even the blind know that Harley-Davidson is king at America’s largest biker events, most notably Sturgis and Daytona Bike Week. What kind of numbers are we talking? About 600,000 to Sturgis, and a half-million to Daytona.The undeniable sound of the 45-degree V-twin is heard on the minute at these rallies, whether resonating from a vintage Knucklehead or the latest models featuring the Milwaukee-Eight platform.
Daytona Bike Week is the official start to the riding season for most riders east of the Mississippi, making it the optimal event for Harley launches.This year, Harley-Davidson launched two of its newest machines at Daytona Bike Week—the Street Rod that caters to the newer generation, and the Road King Special.These two bikes are the first in Harley’s bold initiative to bring 50—yes, 50—new models to the market within the next five years.Story from our latest issue; subscribe for free at the Ultimate Motorcycling app.Not one for chrome, 30-inch front wheels, or ear-shattering sound systems, the new 2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special immediately appealed to my tastes.
What H-D did was simple—take the already-proven 2017 Road King with its new Milwaukee-Eight 107 powerplant, strip it down to the necessities (bye-bye windshield), and add some styling that provides a much-more muscular look.Helping to add to this tough stance are larger black turbine wheels—derived from the low-slung pro-street style Breakout—nine-inch black mini-apes, and stretched saddlebags.The engine loses some chrome, and gets shiny black pushrod tubes, tappet blocks, and lower rocket boxes. Harley also stretched the saddlebags to provide a lower look. The bags, which hold 2.5 cubic feet (about 500 cubic inches more than the standard Road King) of luggage space, appear to wrap around the exhaust, and feature the new one-click fastening mechanism for much easier access than previous generation saddlebags.The results of the Special are pleasing, which was not only confirmed by me, but many at Daytona Bike Week, from Main Street partiers to those touring the straight-lined roads that surround Daytona Beach.During the ride at Daytona, three essentials quickly surfaced—the eight-valve 107ci engine also runs much smoother throughout the beefy mid-range than the Twin Cam it replaced, it has noticeably fewer mechanical noises, and most apparent, vibrations at idle are dramatically reduced.In regards to the vibrations, Harley claims a 75 percent reduction of vibrations at idle due to the new single-internal engine counterbalancer. Again, these claims are undeniable.
A Harley with minimal engine noise may sound boring, but the Road King Special counters that comfort feature with an aggressive tone from the stock exhaust pipes. Even with a full-face lid, the typical two-into-one provides just the right amount of tone at idle to know that motor is alive. Once on the throttle, the Motor Company music only improves, potatoing best from 3000 to the 5500 rpm redline.In previous years at Daytona Bike Week, heat engine was always an issue with big inch H-Ds. When approaching the madness of Main Street, an area that features every type from serious motorcycle enthusiasts to drunkards wearing patches that say irrelevant things like “Homosexuals are gay,” you are basically walking your bike for a few feet at a time, and your legs are roasting.This doesn’t happen on the 2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special. Due to the 107’s liquid-cooled heads, redesigned exhaust pipe, and a lower idle speed (down to 850 rpm from 1000), heat was barley noticeable in downtown temps around 75 with glaring sunshine.We got the power, which has no issues moving the 818 pounds (claimed, wet) Road King Special, which is eight pounds lighter than the standard Road King. Daytona doesn’t carry any clout for serious back-road blasting, but there’s more than enough in-town slow riding to understand the Road King Special’s agility. The updated chassis makes the Road King feel 100 pounds lighter than the 2016, as did the Special’s larger wheels over the base-model 2017 Road King.The Special arrives with a larger 19-inch front/18-inch rear wheels over the standard Road King’s 17-inch front/16-inch rear setup. The design—derived from the Breakout cruiser—do not just look the part, they also help with overall quicker turn-in and agility around town. The Road King Special’s wheels are also shod with Harley-Davidson branded Dunlop American Elite tires, which provided excellent grip under hard acceleration and braking.The Road King Special is a bagger created for no-nonsense cruising and the lower seat height and bag design backs that sentiment. The Road King Special has a seat height of just 26.4 inches, almost an inch lower than the standard Road King’s perch.Comfort is identical due to both the standard and Special using the same seat, but the ergos are slightly tweaked due to the mini-apes, which i prefer over the base-model’s bars.Because we weren’t touring, the lack of the windshield was welcomed, also. The bike doesn’t provide annoying windblast sans windshield, even at 65-70mph highway speeds, and the breeze kept me much cooler when the temps were climbing.This Road King chassis excels over all previous generations, and not because of chassis dimensions, which are slightly tweaked. The wheelbase is still 64 inches, and the rake still 26 degrees, though trail was increased 0.2 inches to 6.9 inches due to the change in wheel sizes. The lighter feel is directly attributed to the new Showa Dual Bending Valve fork and emulsion rear shocks with no-tool spring-loaded adjustment.U-turns on side streets and maneuvering between crowds of doo-rags and bikes was simple on the new Road King Special. Be warned—you will scrape floorboards in tighter situations. Right side lean angle is 32 degrees, but left side decreases from to 31 degrees from 32.1 on the previous model.On the few fun corners on my 155-mile route just north of Daytona Beach, handling was much improved for my 180-pound weight when I had the preload cranked up nearly all the way. This provided a bit of a harsher ride, but it kept the chassis from walking away mid-corner at quicker speeds.Slowing the Road King Special is no issue due to the Reflex Linked Brembo brakes with ABS, which arrives stock on the Special along with cruise control—all useful features which help the Road King Special retain its touring credibility.Harley’s ABS provided barely noticeable intervention when hard on the brakes (triple 320mm discs are used), but this was while replicating emergency stops at 70 mph. I was also directly behind a Road Glide that got slammed by a driver, and was able to safely brake while steering away from the wreck without losing any confidence.Ultimately, the Road King Special caters to those riders who crave minimalistic styling and maximum horsepower over shiny chrome and a loud stereo. I’m one of these types, which makes me slightly bias.I’m obviously not alone. Harley spends an exorbitant amount of time researching existing and prospective riders, asking what they want before building a new product. Many want just what the 2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special delivers—a minimalist sketch of a Milwaukee-Eight bagger that is capable of comfort and style, while not sacrificing handling.This minimalism arrives at a $2000 premium over the standard Road King, and a grand higher than the top-selling Street Glide. It’ll be interesting to see the sales numbers after the Road King Special spends a year in the showrooms.Photography by Brian J. NelsonRiding Style