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

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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.