Drag site icon to your taskbar to pin site. Learn More

2012 Harley-Davidson Switchback First Ride

Friday, August 19, 2011


Videos Our Sponsor
2012 Harley-Davidson Switchback First Ride Video
Click to view video
Harley-Davidson offers motorcyclists two bikes for the price of one with its new Switchback. See what it’s like to ride in the 2012 Harley-Davidson Switchback First Ride Video review.
Adaptability is the name of the game with Harley-Davidson’s new Switchback. This American-built cruiser features classic styling with a modular windshield and hard luggage that makes it the only motorcycle you need in the garage, regardless if you're running around town or going for an interstate tour.
 
Based off Harley’s Dyna platform, the Switchback features the Twin Cam 103 V-Twin engine with a six-speed transmission (as does the rest of Harley’s ’12 Touring and Dyna line). Power is delivered to the rear tire via a belt final drive. The air/oil-cooled engine is fuel-injected and uses a two-into-one chrome exhaust that terminates on the righthand side of the bike. It rolls on five-spoke cast aluminum wheels.
 
Swing a leg over and it feels remarkably similar to the Road King, only just a bit smaller. The handlebar has a relaxed bend but the sweep might be a little too narrow for taller than average riders. The seat is both plush and firm and offers excellent support for all-day rides. Like the Road King the Switchback features floorboards which are a nice thing to have on long rides. Instrumentation is basic with a large circular gauge centered in the fuel tank. 
 
Thumb the starter and the engine fires up with Harley’s standard yet ear pleasing rumble. You’d think that it would sound a little different than the dual exhaust models but it’s indistinguishable to our ears. 
 
A clever mechanism on the windshield allows the rider to take it off within seconds.
The Harley-Davidson Switchback is that one do-it-all cruiser.
The Harley-Davidson Switchback is a capable light-duty touring bike as well as being a good fit for around town use.
(Above) A clever mechanism on the windshield allows the rider to take it off within seconds. (Below) The Harley-Davidson Switchback is a capable light-duty touring bike as well as being a good fit for around town use.
Get into the throttle and the Switchback feels like it has a little more pep than the larger touring bikes due in part to its reduced curb weight. All gassed up with a full 4.7 gallons of fuel it weighs 718 pounds which is nearly a 100 pounds lighter than the Road King. The 103 engine doles out a wide spread of power and can tackle pretty steep inclines without having to downshift to spool the engine up. Gear shifts are made with a standard shift lever instead of the slick heal/toe set-up on the touring bikes and the drivetrain is very refined and feels precise when switching gears.
 
Although the windscreen appears a little smaller than the Road King’s it still works well and keeps the rider away from wind and road debris. But the best part is that you can remove it via a clever latch system, which allows you to take it on or off within seconds exposing the oversized chrome headlight.
 
In terms of storage the removable and lockable saddlebags aren’t quite as big as the Road King’s but  are still capable of storing a change of clothes or some gear for an overnight ride. Even better is the ability to peel off the bags exposing the shapely rear fender.
 
On the highway the Switchback delivers a very comfortable ride soaking up bumps and pavement blemishes like they didn’t even exist. It also performs adequately in the corners, however, it doesn’t offer as much ground clearance as the touring bikes. The steering radius is also more limited so even though it weighs less than the Road King it’s actually a bit harder to maneuver at parking lot speeds.

Surprisingly, the Switchback only comes with only one front disc brake as opposed to the dual-set-up on some of the other models. As expected braking performance wasn’t as reassuring as the double front set-up but was still plenty capable of getting the bike stopped. ABS is available as an option but the system feels rudimentary with it activating well before the point of lock-up.
 
With a retail price of $15,999 the Switchback is definitely an option for a cruiser rider seeking the best of both the cruising and touring worlds. When outfitted with a windshield and luggage we’d have no qualms going on an overnight touring adventure and when you arrive at your destination it’s nice to have the ability to remove those components when your seeking maximum street appeal.  
2012 Harley-Davidson Switchback Photos
View Gallery
View Gallery
View Gallery
View Gallery
View Slideshow
Recent Cruiser Reviews
2015 Indian Roadmaster Review
We've spent the last couple months and over 3000 miles in the saddle of the 2015 Indian Roadmaster, an impressive touring motorcycle with big power and premium comfort.
2015 Indian Chieftain v H-D Street Glide Special
It's a bagger battle royale as we pit the upstart 2015 Indian Chieftain against the 2015 Harley Street Glide Special in this comparison of American-made, V-Twin-powered motorcycles.
2015 Indian Roadmaster Passenger Review
Perspectives from the pillion often get overlooked in touring motorcycle reviews, so we break down the 2015 Indian Roadmaster exclusively from a passenger's viewpoint.
Harley-Davidson Cruiser Dealer Locator

Login or sign up to comment.

Comments
PALCO   July 8, 2012 02:35 AM
Hi there fellow motorcyclists. I have just bought my first Harley Davidson and I am totally impressed. I got the 2012 Switchback FLD and it is great. Previously I had a VT750C2 Honda Shadow Spirit and it was suitable for my needs but the Harley at $25000 AUD was well and truely worth the stupid grin I now have everytime I fire it up and go for a cruise. The bike looks great in the city and is excellent on a long day cruising down the highway. I am now a converted Harley person so will even look at joining HOG now even though I am a Ulysses member as well. Safe riding folks...
comberjohn   October 13, 2011 11:57 AM
Just thought it might interest some of you to hear an opinion on Harleys from outside the USA, you know, the rest of the world. I live in Northern Ireland, ride a BMW K100LT and thought it might be time for a change next spring. So I road tested my first ever Harley Davidson, a Switchback, this very morning and loved it! Recently tried out an R1200R(hated it) and an R1200RT. Both handle better than the Harley, have better brakes and are (slightly) quicker. Hell, my old K100 would probably leave it for dead. But you know what, while the BMW's make you feel smug, the Harley puts a stupid grin on my face. It feels like a MOTORCYCLE and that's my choice! My point is, I don't really care about whether it would hurt the American economy if Harley went bust. (I would really!) But it wouldn't effect me personally and won't influence what I buy. Harleys have a strong and loyal following in the UK and Ireland and they are bought because that is what these riders want, not because we stand to attention to the Stars and Stripes. If you want a sports bike, go and buy one. If you want a Japanese bike, go and buy one and stop whining about other peoples preferences. Consider yourself fortunate that you have that choice and you still have a motorcycle industry to call your own. I read somewhere that 70% of the components for Triumphs are now manufactured in the Far East. Last note. I am seriously considering buying one despite the fact that here, its going to cost me $22,500.
ccrider77   October 9, 2011 05:53 PM
@ Piglet2010 - If you dislike Harleys so much and would never own one and prefer your Honda Elite scooter & Honda Civic, then why are you wasting time over here arguing with Harley owners? I think you just like to stir the $hit. Go have fun with your little scooter. @ woodco100 - all good points. People buy and ride various things for various personal reasons. It's nobody's business but their own. Some sport riders have made snide comments about my Triumph Bonneville being underpowered, with "only" 70 horsepower. There's always a bigger fish, a richer man and a faster bike. Speed and efficiency are not the end-all and be-all of the buying formula - fortunately... Ultimately we all should feel good about our purchases. Some look for the intangible, tactile and ineffable qualities in things which denote character, style and personality, while others simply want an affordable & efficient machine to get them from point A to B. People like you and I proudly live in the first group, while others are content to exist in the latter. I doubt either side will ever fully understand each other - but it's nice to know that we can at least get along...
ccrider77   October 9, 2011 05:10 PM
Just test rode the new "Switchback". Yes, Harley has a penchant for coming up with goofy model names. The bike itself does everything reasonably well. The acceleration isn't exactly neck-snapping, but it's more than adequate for touring and cruising. The six-speed is a little on the heavy side but shifts positively. There's a small amount of driveline lash that's annoying during slow-speed maneuvering when rolling on & off the throttle. The suspension is firm but does a great job soaking up bumps. Freeway grooves and ruts have no affect on the steering. The cornering is excellent for a 700-pound cruiser and is better than my previous FXR and my wife's 1200 Sportster. The non-ABS brakes I used were very good, modulate well and bring the machine to a stop quick. It doesn't need triple discs. The hard bags are not as easy as they should be to quick release and reinstall, but they look awesome - even better than the traditional FLH bags. The slimmer bag profile is sporty and the slant matches the shock profile perfectly. The windshield rattled quite a bit at speed, and the front end had some flex to it when worked hard in the twisties. The seat and handlebars were comfortable and perfect for my 5'11" - 185 pound build. The 5-spoke wheels are one of the coolest parts about the bike. They're simple, easy to clean and look very nice. Overall I think they have a hit with this one, but add a bat-wing fairing and a low trunk, and it will make the perfect high-performance alternative to an 850 pound geezer glide.
gunner   October 5, 2011 11:49 AM
That's whats wrong with this country....No one has any loyalty to American products anymore. I've been riding Harley's since 1975 when I was 15. Most of the arguements I hear from the metric side are about bashing Harleys. I don't care what anyone rides. There are more reasons for me personally to own a Harley and yeah tradition is one of the reasons. I buy American made cars, trucks and bikes. the MC I ride for now does not have a Harley only requirement (though my past club did)but I still only ride HD's. I could care less why someone chooses to ride an off shore bike. I won't, simple as that. keep your arguments about water cooled, sales BS, innovations, etc. and let me cruise my Harley in peace....
POlsenSr   October 4, 2011 11:41 AM
Bought one, now I wished I would have kept my 08 FLSTC. Both Saddlebags have fallen off. HD refuses to deal with it. If anyone else experiences this problem, please let me know. There is absolutely NOTHING FUNNY about a saddle bag that passes you on the road. Now I will give credit where credit is due (none to HD in this case). I did install a passenger sissy bar (quick connect style) to the bike. This called for removing the bags, removing 3 bolts on each side, installing 3 1/4" spacers and 3 longer bolts to each side. OK, as I said, in industrial maintenance for my entire adult life... I do know what a cam lock is... Solution for now is to duct tape the cam lock handle so that it can not twist open. As I said, if you experience this problem, please let me know.
Piglet2010   August 30, 2011 04:21 PM
woodco - Cruiser sales are a much smaller part of overall sales in other markets, where buyers are looking for serious but fun transportation, rather than weekend toys to show off as part of a clique. Clever marketing could reach those who do not currently ride, but really would be happiest on an updated version of the UJM of the mid 1970's to mid 1980's - a combination of good handling, brakes, acceleration, comfort (including reasonable noise levels and low vibration), and fuel economy. Both cruisers and sportbikes are too compromised for regular use, so they spend most of the time in the garage.
woodco100   August 28, 2011 05:44 PM
Piglet. Valid points, HD needed help 30 years ago. I did a term paper on it in college. More evidence of Ronald Reagans genius.

Persoanlly I do not care what sells in Europe or Asia. I live in the USA. 125s are the best selliing bikes worldwide.

Bikes are not generic. I cannot think of a more personal choice for an item. Sportsers outsell sportbikes every year.

Bottomline is. Folks buy Harleys because they want Harleys. People buy metrics because they want bikes that look like Harleys. The only metric cruisers that sell are the ones that copy HD best. Kawasaki has figured this out. Vulcans sell very well. Yamaha and Suzuki are dying hard in crusier sales.
Piglet2010   August 28, 2011 05:18 PM
woodco - H-D worldwide sales leader, or just in the US? As MotoUSA columnist Jason Giacchino wrote, "After all, the entire cruiser segment is one based very seriously on tradition, heritage, and style..." So if you want to be part of the "lifestyle", buy a H-D. If you want more value for your money and 21st Century engineering and design, get a "metric" bike. By the way, don't forget without government socialism, H-D would have gone bankrupt and been out of business 30 years ago. Only draconian import tariffs on Japanese bikes, government backed loans, and "Buy USA" policies by police departments saved H-D's bacon (pun intended) from the free market. The more recent sales successes have been driven by marketing and faddishness. Would H-D sell many bikes if all bikes had generic "motorcycle" labels and were ridden back-to-back against "metric" bikes prior to sales? I admit, I would be a lot less hard on H-D were it not for all the "Jap bikes are crap" and "loud pipes save lives" nonsense from H-D owners. P.S. My Honda scooter with liquid cooling has higher specific HP and torque than the standard 103 Twin Cam engine. :)
woodco100   August 28, 2011 06:13 AM
Piglet,

You could not be more wrong. Aircooling is the better choice becuase a "publicly traded for profit company" in a freemaket capitalistic society has chosen it over watercooled bikes. And is far and away the sales leader. If you want a watercooled bike with fake fins, stop at any metric dealer. Still plenty of '08s left on %40 markdown.

Dont tell me what I want, sell me what I want.

They tried leeting the goverment run the market. It was called comunism.
Piglet2010   August 26, 2011 07:56 PM
Glen - I would rather be seen riding a Honda Elite scooter than a H-D cruiser. Guess which one I own?
Piglet2010   August 26, 2011 07:55 PM
Air-cooling was the better choice before the carbon-seal water pump was invented, since prior to that, water-cooled engines would boil off their coolant and need it replenished often. Of course that was 70 years ago, when H-D stopped being a leading edge motorcycle company. And emissions controls are nothing to be afraid of. My Honda Civic (sorry to mention a car here) has the same 103 cubic-inch displacement as the current H-D "standard" engine, yet puts out 127-HP and 114 lb.-ft. at the crank while meeting California ULEV standards which require 100,000 mile testing (and this with a muffler that reduces exhaust noise to almost nothing). H-D can always use some of their profit from merchandising licensing to hire Porsche to design emission compliant engines, and add fake cooling fins on the outside.
Glen   August 24, 2011 02:24 PM
Adam, What's up with full face helmet on this one and a 3/4 on the Night Rod? Do you not want people to see you riding the Switchback? :)
Bob59601   August 24, 2011 07:42 AM
Hey .357 what are the "first ever" features that you are referring to? Kinda looks like the same ole to me.

.357 Magnum   August 23, 2011 01:15 PM
Yay, the rabid harley-haters did not disappoint! Good-ol' Scoot, right down there in the bottom comment, ignoring the fact that this model introduces a feature never before seen in any Dyna, and bitching that this is another "parts-bin special." How stupidly stereotypical!

Okay, yes, part of that might be author Adam Waheed's fault for not highlighting the first-ever features of this bike. But that doesn't really excuse Scoot for being an ignorant moron either, does it?

Also, you'll notice the other completely predictable trope Scoot trots out: the need for a "new bike," completely ignoring the "new," thoroughly modern, water-cooled, overhead-cam, race-winning bike in Harley's lineup... because it doesn't sell for crap! Turns out, people who have nothing better to do with their time than spew bitter jealousy on the internet have no MONEY with which to back up their words. Imagine that.

Hey Scoot, when are you gonna get around to whining about how Harleys are out of date and fifty-year-old designs? Harley RIDERS only laugh at that one... it's the OTHER MANUFACTURERS who are scrambling to catch up with their ABS, EFI, fly-by-wire throttles with cruise control, Aramid belt drive... heck, even self-cancelling turn signals are giving some of the Metric-makers fits... they're the ones who HATE it when you make those dumbass stereotypes. Come on! Trot it out there! We wanna see some Japanese engineering PMs cry!
woodco100   August 21, 2011 07:12 PM
Docnick,

1 more point, HD may never run out of names, stupid or otherwise. My local dealer did run out of RoadKings last year. Sold eveyone HD would or could sell him.

Many metric dealers still has 06-08 bikes on the floor and ebay!
woodco100   August 21, 2011 02:11 PM
Docnic,
Sounds like you are happy that over regulation by goverment will cost 1000s of US jobs.
DocNick   August 21, 2011 01:43 PM
You are mistaken. Harley will NEVER run out of stupid names.

I will say this: if motorcycle emissions rules tighten up significantly, the Harley air-cooled twin is DOA.
Scoot   August 21, 2011 12:31 PM
Harley comes out with another parts bin bike with another idiot name. When will HD build a new bike? They are running out of stupid names and ugly high priced over weight bikes. This thing is just plain ugly.