1997 Tourer Comparison: Harley-Davidson Road King

A closer look at H-D's wanderer

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The seat height on the Road King is dropped an inch due to a redesigned frame. The reshaped seat also makes it easier to touch the ground.Fran Kuhn

As with many things cruiser, Harley-Davidson could claim to have invented the touring-cruiser genre, although it wouldn’t be accurate to say that the Road King is the originator. In many ways, the King simply takes its cues from the semi-dressed Hydra- and Electra-Glides of 30 or 40 years ago. But it convincingly imitates that head-turning Hog of a more carefree era, a bike with saddlebags and a big windshield that always looked ready for a run out Route 66 or across the Lincoln Highway. The Road King was an immediate hit upon its introduction for 1994, and set a certain standard for bikes with cruiser-cool style and the amenities needed for serious travel. People who never wanted a touring bike or a Harley suddenly found themselves putting down big money for this new kind of motorcycle.

But Harley wasn’t done with innovating when it introduced the first Road King. It quickly followed up with a fuel-injected one, which turned out to be something extra-special. Harley electronic sequential-port fuel-injection turns out to be just the thing to tame the sometimes beastly manners of Harley’s engines. It eliminates the need for choke when the engine is cold, adjusts for altitude, overcomes the inexact fuel metering that makes carbureted Harleys sputter and shake at idle (owners call this character) and improves throttle response enormously. It costs and added $800 over carburetion, which in our view makes it the best value in any Harley dealership.

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The 1997 Harley-Davidson Road King’s engine is the result of the Harley engineers’ innovations with pushrods and fiddle-free hydraulic lifters to operate the V-twin’s two valves per cylinder.Fran Kuhn

For 1997, all of Harley touring bikes have a redesigned frame that drops saddle height by an inch. A restyled saddle, with a new foam and shape, is narrower at the front to make it easier to reach the ground. The electrical system was revamped with a bigger 30-amp-hour battery (which still isn’t maintenance-free), which gives it a 50 percent greater capacity, and a more convenient fuse box location under the left side cover.

Otherwise, the machine is the same basic platform familiar to FLH fans. The 1340cc air-cooled V-twin employs pushrods and fiddle-free hydraulic lifters to operate its two valves per cylinder. Dual mufflers handle spent gases. A five-speed gearbox delivers power to the quiet, smooth, clean, low-maintenance belt final drive. Both ends permit air-pressure adjustment for load changes. The nostalgic theme is furthered by a traditional wide tank (with a dummy cap housing the fuel gauge on the left side) and full fenders, complete with marker lights and bumpers, wrapped around cast 10-spoke wheels with fat 16-inch tires decorated with narrow whitewalls. Distinctive Road King styling touches include the old-fashioned headlight nacelle and a pair of 30-watt spotlights (which Harley calls Passing Lamps).

This article was originally published in the April 1997 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

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Since its introduction in 1994, the Road King introduced many riders to touring and the cruiser class who didn’t originally think they would be putting down some big bucks on a Harley in the first place.Fran Kuhn