2012 Harley-Davidson Switchback First Ride

August 19, 2011
Adam Waheed
By Adam Waheed
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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.  

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