Most people dread the end of summer with thoughts of returning back to work from vacation or heading back to school. For journalists in the American V-twin world the end of summer means the culmination of a year’s worth of anticipation is about to come to a head as Harley-Davidson holds its annual new model year press launch. And for 2012 we were presented with some of our favorite words: new models and more power.
The Switch is On
Dynas have gained quite a bit of popularity over the past few years with people eating up the Street Bob. For those who appreciate the performance and handling of the Dyna chassis but desire more in terms of long haul comfort and storage, Harley has released the new Switchback. Similar to the Softail Convertible with the ability to go from a touring rig complete with quick-detach saddlebags and windshield to a stripped-down cruiser in about one minute, the Switchback provides riders with a plethora of benefits. First there’s the aforementioned steady and smooth handling the Dyna platform provides. Outfitted with 41.3mm front forks with cartridge-style damping in the left fork and preload adjustable, 36mm nitrogen-charged monotube rear shocks with chromed cigar covers, the suspension provides just enough give in the rough to knock down bumps without being sloppy or too stiff. The frontend features a fully chromed headlight nacelle with chrome fork covers. Add to that the floorboards, lockable, sealed hard bags, and windshield and you’re essentially staring at a lighter, nimbler, and paired-down Road King.
With a dry weight of 696 pounds, the Switchback is about 80 pounds lighter than a Road King (775 pounds). And while the saddlebags are about 25 percent smaller than that of a standard-size hard bag, they aesthetically fit the proportions of the bike and can hold around 15 pounds of gear in each bag (about 5 pounds less than a standard bag) thanks to the three-point mounting system. The H-D designers and engineers wanted to keep the saddlebag mounting system clean and simple so that when the bags were removed the attachment points wouldn’t be obtrusive or unsightly. To achieve that they went with a three-point setup with two attachment points on the fender struts and one down at the bottom of the fender. The mounts are small and round, similar to the detachable docking hardware mounts we’re accustomed to. Other key features include stainless steel Mini Ape handlebars with chrome pullback risers, 4.7-gallon fuel tank, 2-into-1 exhaust, 103ci engine, and custom five-spoke wheels with highlighted rims (18-inch front, 17-inch rear). Actually the wheels are pretty cool and are akin to some old hot-rod wheel designs.
We were lucky enough to log several thousand miles on the new Switchback and without getting too deep (full road test to come in a upcoming issue) we will just say that we were extremely impressed with the ride and handling. The H-D engineers put a lot of research and design into the overall look and performance of this bike and it shows. Even with fully loaded saddlebags and a travel bag stuffed to the gills strapped to the passenger seat, the bike was solid from tire to tire in the corners, and the power of the 103 really pushed the mini bagger with ease. With its lightweight looks, ridability, and reasonable price tag (MSRP $15,999), Harley hopes the Switchback will appeal to a broad range of riders such as women, younger riders entering the Touring market, and aging baby boomers looking for a bike that’s lighter and easier to handle than a full-size touring bike. We think they just might be on to something with this one.
It’s a Celebration
Another new model for this year is the 10th Anniversary V-Rod. In a nod to the ’02 V-Rod, the model that brought us the MOCO’s first production 60-degree, liquid-cooled V-twin Revolution engine, the 10th Anniversary V-Rod features Brilliant Silver Pearl bodywork reminiscent of the anodized aluminum bodywork of the original V-Rod. Available for only 2012, the Anniversary V-Rod features a color-matched frame and extra chrome and polished surfaces on the engine, exhaust, and speed screen. It also features new Straight Shot exhaust with dual chrome slash-cut mufflers, new split five-spoke cast aluminum wheels with diamond-cut highlights, new pullback handlebars, new inverted frontend, and a chrome powertrain with platinum crankcase and heads. Best of all, the Anniversary V-Rod (MSRP $15,999) is less expensive than the original model (MSRP $16,995) from 10 years ago.
Actually the 10th Anniversary V-Rod and the sinister, blacked-out Night Rod Special share some common new features such as the inverted frontend, wheels, a reduced reach seating position, and new tapered tail section with flush-mount LED taillight. It appears Harley is really trying to bring more mass appeal to the V-Rod line by working on the performance and comfort. Handling has been improved by reducing the rake by 2 degrees and the addition of the inverted frontend provides better damping. The new split, five-spoke cast aluminum wheel design is lighter than previous versions with the front shedding 4.8 pounds and the rear dropping 3.8 pounds. The yoga-inducing clam-shell riding position has been eased up a bit with pullback handlebars that put the controls 3 inches closer, while Reduced Reach foot controls will be a relief for those with short legs. Staring at the new Fastback Tail section you can almost see the resemblance to the back end of a specific bygone model of another iconic American motor company. H-D designers actually had to redesign the rear section of the chassis to get the fit and finish on the tail section they were after and to get the flush-mount LED taillight to nearly disappear into the fender. The end result is a sharp and sleek design where the rear frame angles flow right into the lines of the tail section for a more finished and seamless look.
During the presentation H-D informed us that the Night Rod Special has been the V-Rod family’s biggest success with the primary customers being young adults and the secondary customers being core competitive riders. Evidently the aggressive and racy looks and powerful performance of the V-Rod is very popular in foreign markets as H-D reps state that 50 percent of V-Rod sales are outside of the US.
Spending some seat time on both the anniversary model and the Night Rod Special we can attest that the new riding position is much more comfortable and conducive to longer rides without cramping or fatigue. We also liked how we felt more comfortable in the seat and how the repositioned foot controls were more accommodating to our short inseam. By not feeling so stretched out, this new riding position should fit a broader range of riders and help inspire confidence when sitting in the cockpit of the 125hp road rocket.
OK, so that covers the new models, now lets talk about more power. Since its debut back in 1999, the Harley-Davison Twin Cam engine has proven to be a strong and reliable powerplant. However, from the time the original 88ci engine came out in 1999, Harley enthusiasts have wanted more displacement out of the base models (non CVO). In 2007 Harley appeased those desires by bumping up the displacement to 96 ci, but yet fans still wanted more. Well, for 2012 almost all of the TC family has finally crested the century mark with triple-digit displacement. Will 103 ci be enough to satisfy power mongers? Probably not, and for those individuals there’s always the 110ci CVO models, oh and let’s not forget the “race application only” Screamin’ Eagle 120R crate engine.
If you were paying attention you might have caught the words “almost all,” we say almost all because two models, the Dyna Super Glide and Dyna Street Bob still feature the 96ci mill. When we inquired as to why the Street Bob and Super Glide didn’t get the 103 treatment, the response was that these bikes have a low intimidation factor and lowest price point (MSRP $12,999) of the Big Twins therefore making them the main entry points into the Big Twin family and H-D didn’t want to add the 103 and change that.
We’ve spent some time throttling around the 103 in some of the Touring models and it’s definitely an improvement in power over the 96, even on these heavier bikes. Loaded up with gear, the Touring bikes outfitted with the 103 motor with ease and smoothly in Sixth gear and have enough remaining oomph to make a flat surface pass. However, when it comes to making an uphill big rig pass, we’ve experienced times when dropping down to Fifth gear was necessary to safely get ahead of the pack. Now with the 103 in the lighter Dyna and Softail line, we are talking about some real noticeable power. As we mentioned earlier, we really enjoyed our time on the Switchback and while it might not seem like a lot, the additional 7 ci of displacement really made the bike a blast to ride and killed ascending mountain roads with ease.
But Wait There’s More!
OK so we talked about the new bikes and the larger engine, which you would think would be enough for one year, but wait there’s more. Here are some of the other new notable changes and upgrades for H-D’s 2012 lineup.
The Dyna lineup received the same CAN Bus electrical upgrade that the Softails got last year. This upgrade includes a reduction in wiring complexity, upgraded odometer display with more diagnostic capacity, RPM and Gear indicator, updated hand control key caps with reduced effort actuation, Flash-to-pass function and toggle hi/lo beam, and trip switch on the left-side hand control. The Dyna line will also now have the ability to receive the factory-installed Security Package option. Pairing anti-lock brakes with the hands-free security fob and proximity-based Smart Security System, this optional upgrade helps provide peace of mind on and off the road. The Security Package option (MSRP $1,195) is also available for all 2012 V-Rods, Softails, and Touring models. The upgrade comes standard on all CVOs and the Road Glide Ultra, Electra Glide Ultra Limited, and Road King Classic.
To further enhance rider comfort and ergonomics, the Fat Boy and Fat Boy Lo received a new 1-1/4-inch reduced-reach handlebar. The Fat Boy now has the same low and narrow seat as the Lo. This seat further enhances comfort and gives the rider that “in the bike” seating position. The O2 sensors have been updated and are more compact so they are less obtrusive and are heated to help improve run quality while the engine warms up. The Softail Deluxe and Heritage Softail will be available with new optional tubeless Chrome Aluminum Profile Laced Wheels.
All Touring models except the Ultra Limited will also have the same wheel option. This option features a new aluminum rim with a unique inner profile. The inner tube has been replaced with a new rim seal and molded valve stem. The tubeless Chrome Aluminum Profile Laced wheel option will make for easier tire replacement and emergency roadside repair while also providing lighter weight and less spin inertia equating to better handling. Due to the heavier loads, duty cycle, and less air-cooling the Touring models experience—aside from the 103ci engine—all Touring models come with an oil cooler as well.
With six Sportsters in the 2012 lineup, there’s bound to be a bike (or two) that appeals to everyone. To help it stand out amongst its brethren, the Forty-Eight now has its name blasted on its tank in large script rather than the word Sportster. The lineup received new Michelin rubber with the XR1200 getting a set of Scorcher 11 tires and the rest of the XL models outfitted with Scorcher 31 tires.
For 2012 there are 32 models and they are:
- Sportster: SuperLow, Iron 883, 1200 Custom, Nightster, Forty-Eight, XR1200
- Dyna: Super Glide Custom, Street Bob, Fat Bob, Wide Glide, Switchback
- Softail: Heritage Softail Classic, Fat Boy, Fat Boy Lo, Deluxe, Blackline
- Touring: Road King, Road King Classic, Electra Glide Classic, Ultra Classic Electra Glide, Electra Glide Ultra Limited, Street Glide, Road Glide Ultra, Road Glide Custom
- V-Rod: V-Rod 10th Anniversary Edition, Night Rod Special, Muscle
- Trike: Tri Glide Ultra Classic
- CVO: Ultra Classic Electra Glide, Street Glide, Softail Convertible, Road Glide Custom
“The tubeless Chrome Aluminum Profile Laced wheel option will make for easier tire replacement and emergency roadside repair while also providing lighter weight and less spin inertia equating to better handling.”
As they say, with the good comes the bad, and as we’ve become accustomed to, as new models come in other models disappear. Those that are no longer with us are the Street Glide Trike, the Rocker, and the Cross Bones. It seems those that want a trike want it loaded for the road rather than stripped for the strip. As for the Rocker, well that was one bike that we really struggled with. While it did have some cool aspects to it, the Deuce tank and floating passenger seat were just big turn-offs. For us the hardest hit was the Cross Bones. Eliminating that bike means there are no Springers in the 2012 lineup and for those of us that appreciate the classic look and styling of a Springer, it cuts a little too close to the bone. However, if you recall back to the initial release of the 2008 model lineup in the late summer of 2007, the Cross Bones wasn’t there. It was actually released as a mid-year model in January of 2008. So while we’re not going to say H-D will release a new version of the Cross Bones as a mid-year model, at least there is still hope that maybe something with a Springer frontend may make it into the 2012 lineup. HB