WRIST: Joe Neric
MSRP (2012): $17,579
Twelve months ago, I took the 2012 Harley-Davidson FLD Switchback for a long-term test, and what a year it has been. I accepted the Switchback assignment because even though I'm a sportbike guy at heart, I was curious about cruiser life. As I said before, there are so many cruisers (Harleys and others) on the road that there must be something to it. And there is, but I was surprised to learn that it was more about the culture than the machines. A short trip to Los Olivos, California, last summer proved to be a fantastic experience. This weekend journey, made simple by strapping a bag on the luggage rack and inviting the wife onto the back, has earned a spot on my top-five list of fun road trips. It was then I realized why I see so many couples on these machines. Usually riding bikes is a solitary thing. Taking the wife along made the trip so much more enjoyable. I'm pretty sure she wouldn't have been as happy on the back of a sportbike.
During that trip, I met a few Harley people, which brought a different perspective on the brand. We were invited to two rallies just because we were riding a Harley. I've never seen that camaraderie among sportbike guys. That, I must say, is the coolest part of riding a Harley.
Over the last year, I've had to change my riding style to suit the Switchback's lack of cornering clearance and weak brakes. Even after improving the brakes with EBC pads (see last month's long-term installment), the FLD is still no sportbike. I didn't expect the Switchback to have sporty performance, but I also didn't expect it to be this far away.
I frequently wished for more fuel capacity. Stock is 4.7 gallons, a capacity dictated by styling. That should give you 170 miles of total range based on my 36-mpg average. However, the low-fuel warning came on consistently at 110 miles. I asked Harley's tech guys to look into the issue, but they said the bike was fine. I understand being cautious, but I also don't much like running on reserve when the penalty for misestimating what you have left is pushing a 700-pound machine.
Harleys have been called unreliable in the past. If the Switchback is any indication, that's no longer true. The FLD left our fleet with more than 16,000 miles total—it arrived with almost 8,000—nothing having broken or fallen off. Besides the saddlebag I left unlatched. I prepared myself a year ago for something to go wrong but nothing did. That, along with the friendship of fellow Harley riders, probably surprised me the most over the past year.