Harley-Davidson Road King Custom

It's Good To Be King

With an inviting ribbon of two-lane unfurling ahead and 88 cubic inches of Milwaukee's finest down below, life has a way of decelerating to a more manageable pace. Let the hypercaffeinated Type A inhabitants of the fast lane rip past. Basking in the adulation of his passing subjects, the King is unconcerned. A Paris Hilton lookalike slows her Porsche to gawk. Three-piece suits in four-door sedans are visibly covetous, wondering what it's like to be this cool.

Things are really quite grand on the Road King Custom's leather throne, thanks.

This counterbalanced rubber-mounted version of Harley's iconic, air-cooled, pushrod V-twin standard-bearer-otherwise known as the TC 88B-is eminently well-behaved in the completion of its appointed rounds. It rumbles along dutifully at 70 mph, producing perfectly adequate thrust and minimal vibration, along with the requisite levels of made-in-Milwaukee soul. Hold the huge, tank-mounted speedometer under 80 mph and you can get 190 miles of all that between fuel stops.

Leather-covered hard saddlebags swallow a fair number of essential accoutrements. They're not lockable, though, and the latch mechanism leaves little room to get bulky items inside. The Custom version is more fashionable than Harley's standard Road King, but that style requires various functional concessions, especially if your destination is a couple of states away.

There's no windshield in the Custom equation, which is no hardship for urbane trolling. Factor in the spread-out, laid-back riding position, however, and you'll wish for one after 40 miles of freeway. Make that 20 miles against a stiff headwind. You'll probably want to swap the H-D beachbar handlebar as well. The standard bend twists human wrists into an angle more natural for shaking hands than hanging onto a big, heavy motorcycle. It also makes smooth U-turns more difficult than they should be if you're short of sleeve length. Beyond that, the King's road manners are quite regal for a 765-pound (wet weight) motorcycle.

With a relatively modest 68 horsepower on tap, acceleration is predictably stately. On the plus side, the Twin Cam 88 starts making acres of torque just a few hundred rpm above idle. Power flows seamlessly from there, so shift when you feel like it. Aside from the endemic H-D clunk between gears, the five-speed gearbox on our bike shifted flawlessly.

Although it's best suited to a relaxed pace on any sort of pavement, the King is surprisingly athletic on a gently meandering Saturday morning back road. Scrubbing off speed takes a firm squeeze on the steam shovel-sized front brake lever and a skillful boot on the rear brake pedal. Still, braking power is more than adequate. Those expansive chrome floorboards limit cornering clearance, but His Highness can get down the road at a surprisingly sporty clip as long as the pavement is smooth. If it's not, limited rear suspension travel means a punishing ride, especially if you're packing a passenger and some gear in those bags. That blacktop-skimming profile looks cool, but it also makes every bump in the road a potential pain in the butt. Air-adjustable shocks do their best, but despite an inordinate amount of fiddling around with pressure, riding with the King is way short of plush.

OK, so this minimalist interpretation of retro-touring Road King ideal leans toward the stylish end of any form/function continuum. As delivered, it's more suited to crossing town than crossing the country, but that won't shorten the line of people ready to lay down $17,495 (Pearl or Sunglo paint; $17,195 for black) for one. If you have your heart set on the Macon to Sturgis run next summer, there are more than enough bolt-on bits in Harley's accessory catalog to make the Custom an amenable traveling companion.

Besides, we're pretty sure if Elvis were still with us, he'd have one of these parked in the Graceland garage. Like we said, it's good to be King.

Harley-Davidson Road King Custom

MSRP $17,495
Type a-c 45-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement ohv, 4v
Displacement 1450cc
Transmission 5-speed
Weight 764 lb. wet (347kg)
Fuel capacity 5.0 gal. (19.01L)
Wheelbase 63.5 in. (1613mm)
Seat height 26.1 in. (663mm)
Front 42mm fork
Rear dual shocks, adjustable
for air pressure
Horsepower 68 @ 5500 rpm
Torque 71 lb.-ft. @ 3000 rpm
Corrected 1/4-mile* 14.02 sec. @ 91.6 mph
Fuel mileage
(low/high/average) 32/37/46

*Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level standard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury)

The latest iteration of Harley's eternal 45-degree V-twin is at least as well behaved as allegedly more modern Japanese renderings.
The weird-Alice handlebar cocks human wrists at an angle more practical for maneuvering a wheelbarrow than a motorcycle, but they're easily replaced.