First Ride: 2009 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic

Harley’s touring range, the most important bikes in the company’s vast and baffling line-up, have been given a thorough going-over for 2009. Big-mile ability and charm? Believe

Click to read: 2009 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic owners reviews, 2009 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic specs and to see the 2009 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic image gallery.

Into another long, third-gear turn and things are getting laugh-out-loud funny. The road, Highway 23 west of the LA sprawl, is an obscenely twisty stretch of classic California hill riding; all perfect pavement, roller coaster cambers and churning topography. Not cruiser country, or so you’d think.

Thing is, at the helm of a 2009 Road King Classic – the Harley tourer that mixes a little retro cool with its hard luggage and cruise control – all is well. The King changes direction with a surprising readiness, slows with real conviction if the effort’s put in at the lever and steams around every corner, regardless of severity, with a determined composure. All this with a week’s luggage casually slung in the bags, a rich V-twin soundtrack and the occasional metallic scuffing of footboards; bliss.

After decades of glacial research and development, Harley-Davidson in the 21st century are keen spenders, ploughing great chunks of their profits into bettering their bikes. Over the last three years the touring model range, which runs from the basic but beautiful Road King to the range-topping Ultra Classic Electra Glide (fullblown tourer, all the toys) has received numerous upgrades, including the more powerful 1584cc Twin Cam engine and 6-speed gearbox, 22.7-litre fuel tank and ABS-equipped Brembo brakes. For 2009 the bikes get a new chassis to meet the demands of the improved engine and brakes.

The new frame is 20% more rigid, to aid handling and to take the strain of a heavier generation of riders, passengers and payloads, while the engine mounts have also been revised to reduce vibration, particularly at idle. The 17” front wheel is also new (previously the touring bikes used 16-inchers; the Road King Classic still does) as is the wider rear tyre, as much to boost tyre life as for increased grip. Admittedly it’s all pretty detail stuff, and from ten paces you’d be hard pushed to spot the differences, but that’s the nature of the game. These are Harley’s bedrock bikes, their buyers united in their desire to see the timeless styling uncorrupted by anything as uncouth as a beam frame.

H-D Road King Classic Review

But while a 2009 Road King may look like a 2005 example, the truth is the riding experience is markedly superior. The fly-by-wire engine is the perfect big-distance ally; torque-laden, smooth enough, responsive, pleasingly vocal when pushed, fuel efficient and possessing of an indefinable feel-good funk that sees time and miles slip by. The front brake lever may be unforgivably unadjustable for reach but it brings about safe and significant braking.

And the chassis is impressive, steadfastly refusing to wobble or weave regardless of lean angle, speed and surface quality, while the bigger front wheel lends the handling a reassuring solidity. Tackling faster, sweeping corners is now less of an act of faith while the unnerving floppiness that used to blight big Harleys when you slowed to a walking pace has been largely banished.

The Road King remains impressively easy to live with, too. The riding position may take some acclimatisation for those new to the foot-forward thing but the (frustratingly leak-prone) hard luggage, huge seat, enormous fuel tank, tall screen and the laid-back, undemanding character of the bike make covering ground easy. The Street Glide and Electra Glides may up the ante with fairings and toys but the Road King remains the pick of the bunch with its timeless looks and more modest weight; Harley quote 355kg dry for the Road King compared to a full 400kg for the Ultra Classic Electra Glide.

So that’s it then, if you want a tourer, buy a Road King. Well, kinda. Many British riders wouldn’t even think to look to Harley-Davidson for a mile-muncher and that’s a shame; after serious investment and improvement in recent years these are genuinely capable and very likable bikes. But they do ask to be judged on different criteria to the touring establishment, bikes like Kawasaki’s 1400GTR. Next to such a device a Road King appears out-gunned, outbraked, less than perfectly finished (surface rust on the exhausts of brand-new bikes isn’t too clever) a little expensive and worryingly weighty. Certainly for a family of bikes whose update brief was apparently dominated by the need to make them easier to live with, the fact that Harley’s tourers actually gained weight with this raft of updates is inexplicable: low-speed manoeuvres need care; parking some careful forethought.

But if you’re ready for a Harley-Davidson, why go for a stripped-back chopper when the touring range offers farting-in-the-bath fun with Marseille-in-a-day practicality?

Harley-Davidson Road King Classic Specifications

Price: £14,115
Engine: Air-cooled, 4-valve, 1584cc V-twin
Power: N/A
Torque: 97ft.lb @ 3500rpm
Front suspension: Telescopic forks
Rear suspension: Twin shocks, adjustable preload
Front brake: 300mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 300mm disc, four-piston calipers
Wet weight: 368kg
Seat height: 715mm
Fuel capacity: 22.7 litres
Top speed: 115mph (est)
Colours: Black, Silver, Blue, Silver/White, Turquoise/White, Red/Gold

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