FIRST LOOK: The 2013 Anniversary Road King
By Art Hall, Photos by Art Hall and Roger Heffley
It’s all about finding the happy medium in just about everything we do. With regards to motorcycling for me, the happy medium is somewhere between a bone shaking rigid and an over the top reverse geared Goldwing that would be a car if it had two more wheels. Last month I did a review of a 2012 Street Glide (SG) and this month got a 2013 Road King (RK) Anniversary edition FLHRAE, (how’s that for an acronym?) Both had the 103 c.i. engine and the new (since 2009), frame which gave them comparable handling characteristics, but that’s where the similarities end. One of these is the compromise for me. I will try to stay focused on the RK but unfortunately most of what I say will have some slight or direct comparison to the SG (FLHX). So I go to the corporate fleet center and find they have reserved Number 3 – Of 1750 for my test bike, seems like they would have kept such a low number for that “special” customer. You can get a serialization plaque that displays your Anniversary Edition production number as an optional feature.
The first thing I do is a little walk about the bike to get some visual impression of general appearance. I must say this is one good looking bike with the special Anniversary Vintage Bronze (Root Beer Brown) paint job, two-toned with Anniversary Vintage Black (black is black) having some metalflake mixed in both colors and set off with orange & gold pinstriping. By the way – this seems to be the only color available. There is a rather prominent badge on the gas tank cast in bronze with the bar and shield inset; most people seem to like it. The big “Hiawatha” headlamp splashes a lot of chrome on the front end and has the nostalgic look of yesteryear. The motor company chose to use the hard saddlebags rather than leather, OK but I have an issue with the ancient latching mechanism on these bags. Interesting note is that of all the available locations i.e. air cleaner, points cover, etc, to mention engine size none were used making me wonder if it was an old 96″. But fear not, it was that great, new engine the ‘torquey’ 103. Lastly something I appreciate is a large enough windshield to in fact shield me from the wind and this one had the large detachable RK unit. The two tone seat is a two-up design and has that deep contour which gives a nice comfortable feel with some support, and is accessorized with baroque brads.
So I get into this contoured puff pillow of a saddle and it feels right. When I grab the handlebars something seems different. I find that the FLHRAE is fitted with wide set handlebars. Well wide set doesn’t set well with me as it is uncomfortable on three fronts. Not trusting my own “feel” for the ergonomics I check the specs and do some measuring to find out the reason for my “feeling”. First the grip seems to poke the heel of my left hand in an uncomfortable fashion – reason – it is 1/8 of an inch shorter than my SG. Wow, only 1/8 of an inch proving size does matter! Why, you might ask don’t I just move my hand up on the grip? Good question and the answer is that I then find my thumb knuckle rubbing the switch housing which hurts a boo-boo I have on the knuckle. It’s just too short for my hand anyway. Next I don’t like pulling the clutch lever because I either pinch the pads on my fingertips or have a chafing from the lever. Hmmm … so I measure again and find the lever is about half the radius of the SG or 1/4″ verses 1/2″ which changes the contour. The 1/2″ SG lever is far more rounded and fits the grip comfortably while the RK is flatter with a bit of a sharp uncomfortable edge. Lastly the wide bars are in fact about 1 & 1/4 inch wider and require me to move just that much more forward to feel less than relaxing. All this sleuthing done, it proves that there is in fact a measurable difference that confirms my suspicions. While we are talking measurements I notice that the handlebars are about 1/4″ askew, which is not really noticeable, unless you notice it. I don’t think there is an adjustment for that. One other obvious misalignment is the highway light and turn signal on the left side being quite crooked to the tune of 9/16 of an inch, noticeable even if you don’t notice it. That however I am sure is adjustable and probably just got overlooked in the setup.
Ready? Let’s fire it up and get on the road. Again mentioning the frame, new since 2009, giving superb handling at slow speeds and confidence inspiring handling at highway speeds. Matched with the bigger 103″ engine that has more horsepower and noticeably more torque, the new touring bikes are in fact smooth and strong for really good rideability. I know the touring bikes have adjustable air suspension but I have never really adjusted mine. I say this because I noticed that the freeway ride was obviously softer than my experience has been previously. The sharp jolts usually encountered on rough roads were much smoother which may have something to do with the adjustability of the shocks – or was there some engineering change I didn’t uncover in my research? Even with the wrongly re-engineered clutch levers there has been some improvement in lessening the pull effort and it seems to engage more smoothly that the 2012 SG. That’s for go – for stop it’s the great 4 piston Brembo’s with ABS. The system may have saved my bacon at a blind alley intersection.
Now that we are moving I look for the gauges of which there are few, designed for the minimalist. We don’t really need an air temperature gauge that is inaccurate, or an oil pressure gauge to tell we are pushing zero at an idle or even a voltmeter that I have never really gotten the hang of over the old active ammeter. There is a gas gauge in the left side gas cap which I only use as a rough reference to my tanks actual fullness, or emptiness, depending on your perspective. It’s been around in this configuration on different models for a long time so I guess it has its usefulness. There is also a digital readout bar that contains extra information, one being the remaining miles you should have per the amount of gas calculated to be in the tank. I liked that feature better as it seemed more accurate or at least definitive as a number that I can relate to. Push the button on the dashboard and the readout changes to an odometer with a couple of trip counters also. All this is located in such a way as to be distracting when under way – in that you need to take your eyes off the road to view it, form over function here. Or maybe I’m just not supposed to try that…I do however miss the tachometer capable of handling the performance of an Indy car. I like to know, in numbers, what my engine is doing in any given gear. Again not necessary but an added item I find useful. All this kind of compares to the SG as I had mentioned I might do earlier. I miss my radio which is something I didn’t think could happen for all the years I rode without one. Lastly I miss my big ‘ole shade tree batwing faring that puts all those semi-useful gauges in the line of sight while riding.
This bike had cruise control – again like with the SG I didn’t use it so I cannot attest to its operation. The Dunlop multi-tread tires were a nice skinny whitewall that would be easy to keep clean and the wheels were chrome plated spokes. The six-speed transmission seemed to be smoother and easier to shift, maybe just my perception but that becomes the realty doesn’t it? Back to the Hiawatha headlamp – it really puts out the light along with the light bar highway lamp that actually project a beam you can easily see where you are going in the darkest of night.
Put all these features together and you have a very useful, smooth riding, great looking motorcycle that may fit your needs and size. Myself I prefer the Street Glide for all the reasons given which are why there are different models to choose from. I must admit that I wanted nothing to do with the SG when it first came out as it was too popular and seemed faddish. Then I got to ride one for a few weeks and canceled my order for an Electra Glide Standard.
Look we’re all different. Some want Softails. Some wanted to bridge the gap between Softail and Touring, hence the Road King. Then some still wanted a more pure tourer, but with more badass looks than the touring line, hence the Street Glide. I suggest you try them all before you make your decision as even though they may look the same, they don’t all act the same.