2022 Harley-Davidson Road King Special Review

Fresh off testing the fantastic new 2022 Harley-Davidson Low Rider El Diablo, I found myself on the 2022 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special. The two motorcycles have one thing in common—they’re transgenre. El Diablo is a cruiser that became a touring motorcycle, while the Road King Special is a tourer that has transitioned into a cruiser. Lacking the Road King’s iconic windshield, is the Special really a Road King? I grabbed the Road King Special to sort that out for myself.

The 2022 Harley-Davidson Road King Special differs from the Road King in a few significant ways—the Special has a Milwaukee-Eight 114 powerplant compared to the standard’s 107, the RKS is lightly slammed, it has a 19-inch front wheel (rather than an 18-incher), ABS is standard, and the windshield is nowhere to be found. Also, you pay an extra $4319 to go Special.

A quick ride on the freeway jettisons the Road King Special’s Grand American Touring categorization by Harley-Davidson. You will not want to tour America, grandly or otherwise, on the Special. The low seat and tall bars turn the rider into a sail on the freeway—it’s a cruiser, despite being a touring motorcycle under the skin. So, let’s go cruising.

While larger displacement Milwaukee-Eights are available, the 114 is more than adequate around town. Sure, more can be better if you have an extraordinarily heavy throttle hand. However, 114 cubes put plenty of distance between you and your four-wheeled competition with ease, yet keep the power delivery delightful. Keep the revs down, and it’s docile—twist the throttle to the stops, and it hauls.

Although the 19-inch front wheel may seem more about touring than cruising, it has an advantage in urban areas. The roads in Los Angeles continue to deteriorate, so you must deal with missing chunks of asphalt and alarming bumps. The larger front wheel rolls over the obstacles more easily and is less likely to drop into a hole. At 130mm wide, the front tire has enough rubber on the street for confident riding while offering needed agility when working through automobiles

The 18-inch rear tire isn’t particularly wide at 180mm, another needed nod toward lively handling for the 807-pound 2022 Harley-Davidson Road King Special. As big as it is, and even with the fork kicked out at 29.25 degrees and sporting a lengthy 6.9 inches of trail, the RKS doesn’t feel like a behemoth. The wide bars give helpful leverage, while the lack of a windscreen has a psychological advantage on city streets.

The ergonomics on the Road King Special will please larger riders. The handlebar gives you plenty of room, and the floorboards are in the forward touring position. With a seat height of 27.4 inches, most riders won’t be intimidated at stops. The tall, wide handlebar is the defining feature of the riding triangle, and it’s a nod toward profiling rather than performance. Still, it’s just what you want when riding in front of an urban audience.

One surprise is the quality of the suspension travel. We’re all good with the 49mm Showa Dual Bending Valve fork; that’s the unit on the tourers, and 4.6 inches of travel is plenty. The slammed look comes at the expense of rear-wheel travel—there are only 2.1 inches of travel in the rear. Somehow, the 18-inch wheel and Dunlop D407T tire manage to take the sting away from unexpected jolts. Make no mistake, you feel the road when it’s rough, but the suspension does enough to remind you that it’s not a hardtail.

Should you find yourself enjoying the local canyons, take it easy. You’re on an 800+ pound motorcycle with just one disc up front. While the long handlebar is stiff enough for city work, it has a less-sure feel if you push in the twisties. Likely, the limited cornering clearance will rein you in, even though you’re not even close to testing the edge grip of the Dunlops or the 114’s punch. Hey, you didn’t buy the RKS to show your speed prowess, now did you?

Indeed, the 2022 Harley-Davidson Road King Special brings gravitas to city cruising, just as the Street Glide does. However, without a fairing in front of the rider, you present more brazenly. The lockable sidebags, with the hugely convenient one-touch latches, give the Road King Special a purposeful look that forces the viewer to take the rider even more seriously. The engine guards tell others that you’re willing to mix it up, so back off.

The color choices reinforce this. The Road King Special is seriously blacked out—wheels, frame, exhaust, fork legs, handlebar, mirrors, headlight, air cleaner, and more. The engine is blacked out, with the attention-grabbing highlights on the cooling fins, plus just a touch of chrome in the valvetrain department. The Vivid Black and Midnight Crimson are dark, while the Mineral Green Denim evokes a war-time attitude. If you want to make a big splash with a racing motif, drop $2050 and get the Apex option; you must see it in person, as photos don’t do it deserved justice.

Linked braking is a hidden feature on the 2022 Harley-Davidson Road King Special. Via electronics, the system applies pressure to both the front and rear brakes when you use either the front brake lever or the rear brake pedal alone. The system is variable—the harder you actuate either brake, the more pronounced the linking effect. Fortunately, H-D engineers did a great job with this, so the implementation is completely transparent. Unless you’re the Princess and The Pea type of rider, you’re not going to notice it.

Our test model was equipped with Harley-Davidson’s Reflex Defensive Rider System. RDRS is a suite of safety enhancements that include four cornering-aware functions—ABS, linked braking, acceleration traction control, and engine braking control. Again, all of these features work great, and don’t get in the way of the ride. In the past, H-D ABS has been highly intrusive, and the RDRS version does its job without drawing attention to itself. The traction control can be switched off, which you might want to do if you find yourself riding down a dirt road or long gravel driveway. I believe the RDRS is $1025 well-spent.

Undoubtedly, the 2022 Harley-Davidson Road King Special is a cruiser—and a darn good one. It has a different feel from the Softails, and that’s what we like, as it gives you a choice of how you want to enjoy urban motorcycling. It looks cool, and it inspired me to break out the Arai Classic-V open-face helmet, even though I’m a full-face kinda guy. Sans windshield, you can enjoy the wind in your face and the occasional impact of a wayward bug. If you break character and smile frequently, bring a toothpick. Oh, and I forgot to answer my opening question. For me, it’s not a Road King, as it’s an urban motorcycle. Harley-Davidson might have dubbed it the Street King, but one can only imagine the feathers that would ruffle, so Road King Special it is.

Photography by Kelly Callan

 RIDING STYLE

  • Helmet: Arai Classic-V
  • Eyewear: Wiley-X Captivate WX Grid
  • Jacket: Joe Rocket Dakota
  • Back protection: Joe Rocket SW Spine Protector
  • Gloves: Joe Rocket Cafe Racer
  • Jeans: Joe Rocket Anthem
  • Boots: Joe Rocket Outbreak

2022 Harley-Davidson Road King Special SpecificationsENGINE

  • Type: Milwaukee-Eight 114 V-twin
  • Displacement: 114 cubic inches (1868cc)
  • Bore x stroke: 4.016” x 4.5” (102 x 114.3mm)
  • Maximum torque: 118 ft-lbs @ 3250 rpm
  • Compression ratio: 10.5:1
  • Valvetrain: Pushrod; 4 vpc
  • Cooling: Air and oil
  • Lubrication: Pressurized dry sump
  • Cooling: Air and oil
  • Transmission: 6-speed Cruise Drive
  • Clutch: Hydraulically actuated w/ assist and slipper functions
  • Primary drive: Chain
  • Final drive: Belt

CHASSIS

  • Frame: Mild tubular steel w/ two-piece stamped and welded backbone
  • Front suspension; travel: Showa 49mm Dual Bending Valve; 4.6 inches
  • Rear suspension; travel: Low-height emulsion shocks w/ hand-adjustable spring-preload; 2.2 inches
  • Wheels: Gloss Black Prodigy
  • Front wheel: 19 x 3.5
  • Rear wheel: 18 x 5
  • Front tire: 130/60 x 19; Dunlop Harley-Davidson D408F
  • Rear tire: 180/55 x 18; Dunlop Harley-Davidson D407T

    Front brakes: 300mm floating discs w/ 4-piston calipers
  • Rear brake: 300mm fixed discs w/ 4-piston caliper
  • ABS: Standard (Cornering-aware ABS optional)

DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES

  • Wheelbase: 64 inches
  • Seat height: 27.4 inches
  • Rake: 26 degrees
  • Fork angle: 29.25 degrees
  • Trail: 6.9 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 6 gallons
  • Estimated fuel consumption: 43 mpg
  • Curb weight: 807 pounds

COLORS

  • Vivid Black
  • Midnight Crimson (+$500)
  • Mineral Green Denim (+500)
  • Apex (+$2050)

2022 Harley-Davidson Road King Special Price: $23,429 MSRP ($24,954, as tested)

2022 Harley-Davidson Road King Special Review Photo Gallery