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2017 (and a half) Harley-Davidson Road King Special

2017 (and a half) Harley-Davidson Road King Special

H-D does what it does best: Riffs on a classic to make the 2017.5 Road King Special

By Mark Hoyer Courtesy of CycleWorld

Let the games begin! Or shall we say, continue… Harley-Davidson’s empire is built on the thoughtful and stylish riffing on its visually malleable platforms.

Enter the 2017.5 Harley-Davidson Road King Special, a darker, more sinister take on the classic, 1950s-inspired standard Road King.

First thing you’ll notice is the deletion of most chrome, from that great big headlight nacelle and down to the powertrain, with just a few choice bits remaining on the engine.

“We took as much chrome and as much of the ’50s era DNA off the motorcycle and add as much contemporary DNA as we could,” said Brad Richards, successor to Willie G. Davidson and head of styling and design. “That meant dark finishes, that meant debadging the front fender; we added stretched bags to try to get the rear of the bike to appear to be lower to the ground. Then we removed the windshield and added the mini ape hangar.”

Harley-Davidson Road King Special - courtesy of Harley Davidson


The stretched saddlebags do lend a longer and lower look, and their use here is the first appearance of these special parts outside of the CVO line. But to further accentuate the lowness, the Road King Special is actually lowered slightly, by use of the same “low-profile” rear suspension used on Street Glide Special and Road Glide Special.

“The Road King is our biggest bike without a fairing and it’s a really unique riding experience,” Richards says. “You kind of feel like you’re on a locomotive with that big nacelle kind of haunching out over the front wheel. The visceral experience of riding the bike is really unique, and it’s pure Road King. Through redesigning the bike we got invigorated about the Road King again and we wanted to strip FL back down to its essence.”

“Pure Road King” really is a thing. It’s the lightest FL and really is a dramatically different ride even than a Street Glide. FL is also the most comfortable and capable chassis Harley-Davidson offers, particularly with the new dual-bending valve fork and new shocks that debuted in 2017 on the Milwaukee-Eight-powered bikes.

Harley-Davidson Road King Special - courtesy of Harley Davidson


Like the “Specials” that came before it, Street Glide and Road Glide, the Road King Special takes a swing at the hot-rod bagger segment and in the process looks to extend the “core of the core buyer” demographic for the Road King to a “more youthful demographic.”

“When we started talking about this project inside the studio we were really excited about what we could get away with and what we could do with the FL platform to make it appeal to the younger rider,” Richards says. “So we started talking about very graphic, bold, but rather simple colorways with the bike and proportions.”

There is but one set of badges on the bodywork: The Harley-Davidson affixed to each side of the tank. There are no waterslide graphics or any other badges on the bike. That is, except on the engine, where engine-turned inserts were used on the air-cleaner-cover insert, the timing-cover insert, and the gauge console to visually tie those elements 

Harley-Davidson Road King Special - courtesy of Harley Davidson


One of the parts from the extensive H-D bin is the 18-inch multispoke rear wheel taken from the chopper-inspired Breakout. The design team then set out to make a 19-inch, 19-spoke front to complement it. It’s no 30-incher…but the 19 works well with the low-profile fender to give a custom look.

Power comes from a standard 107-cubic-inch Milwaukee Eight V-twin, again, the only alteration being it’s the first of the all-new powerplants to get blacked out.

Harley-Davidson Road King Special - courtesy of Harley Davidson


Now more than ever, Harley-Davidson is courting the younger rider, and the Road Glide and Street Glide Specials have appealed to not only a younger demographic, but a more diverse group of customers than the more traditional product offerings. “Street Glide Special is the number one selling bike to young adult, to women, to African American, to Hispanic riders,” says Paul James, product portfolio manager. “It is our most popular bike and it leads in every customer segment because it has a very strong appeal across a spectrum of owners. But overall we expect the Road King Special customer will be younger, like that of the Street Glide Special.”

Harley-Davidson Road King Special - courtesy of Harley Davidson


Harley-Davidson is highly focused on “voice of customer” and follows customizing trends very closely. So it’s no surprise it admits inspiration for the Road King Special flows in from the streets. “We aren’t doing anything necessarily totally new here, but we are reflecting what customers are doing and giving them an awesome starting point for a lot of people,” Richards says. “We wanted to create a great canvas for customization,” Richards adds. “If you took a standard Road King with all the chrome and the whitewalls and the doodads and do what we did with this motorcycle, you would really be set back financially as well as timewise. We wanted to give that younger customer who wants to reinvent herself or himself on an FL in a darker more sinister kind of fashion a huge head start.”

Richards’ final thought? “To me, what’s so powerful about the bike when you see it is its simplicity.”

The Olive Gold pictured has an MSRP of $22,449, as does Charcoal Denim; Vivid Black is $21,999; and Hard Candy Custom Hot Rod Red Flake is $24,399.

Harley-Davidson Road King Special - courtesy of Harley Davidson

Harley-Davidson Road King Special - courtesy of Harley Davidson