1998: Harley-Davidson Celebrates 95 Years With a New Road King and Updated Sportster 1200

Still the king of the road, Harley unwraps some presents for its 95th birthday.

To celebrate its 95th year in 1998, Harley-Davidson brought out its headliner, a new version of the Road King, known as the Classic.Brian J. Nelson

Although there was a stripped-down touring model, the Road Glide, (which wears a frame mount fairing) the headliner among the cruiser segment was a classy new version of the Road King called the Classic. It's distinguished from the standard model by hard-sided leather-covered saddlebags with quick-open pseudo-buckles on the closing straps, wire-laced wheels with whitewall tires, and slant-cut mufflers to match the angle of the saddlebags. Available only with Harley's electronic fuel injection (the standard model is available only with a carburetor), the Road King Classic is one of five cruiser models and three touring models available in 95th Anniversary trim, which includes special paint, a cloisonné tank emblem and a serialized name plate. Available in limited numbers, naturally, the anniversary trim package adds $400 the standard FLHRCI's two-tone price of $16,560. It's $15,960 in basic black.

An array of hot-rod tricks plus ignition mods gave the 1200 a major power gain in the 2000 to 5000 rpm range.Brian J. Nelson

Like the other big twins, both the Road King models get a new, nine-plate clutch which brings a 20-percent reduction in disengagement pressure at the lever. It also boasts a new hydro-forming process used to manufacture the exhaust system which is touted to provide a more consistent shape and wall thickness with fewer welds to crack and rust. This change is shared with the other touring models.

The new clutch mechanism is the primary change noticeable while riding. It allows you to engage the clutch more precisely and smoothly as well as easing the load on your hand at a long stoplight. The Classic is still very much a Road King. The saddlebags’ unique quick-release closures make the bags much easier to get into than other leather bags.

A new pop-out fuse box (which actually includes a tool) permits easier access to the fuses when problems arise.Brian J. Nelson

Most changed in Harley’s line is the Sportster 1200 Sport, which is something of a surprise, since it was introduced last year. Harley started out to fit a new coil and ended up with an entirely new ignition system with features like a manifold pressure sensor, six-blip rotor cup and two plugs per cylinder. A less-restrictive muffler, new cams, and higher-compression heads boost average torque by 15 percent with an emphasis on the rpm range where you ride most of the time—2000 to 5000. Much of this came from the Buell line, which uses 1200 Sportster engines in its sportbikes. A new diagnostic hook-up simplifies troubleshooting, and a special powder-coating process gives the engine a bead-blasted look while sealing up any pores and making it easier to keep clean. It is available in your choice of black for a suggested $8395.

Other Sportster updates include a higher-volume oil pump and a new fuse box under the left side-cover. The 883s get new backlit instruments with diagnostics, and all Sportys, except the 1200 Sport, have a new integrated timer sensor ignition module. The 1200 Custom will also be available in 95th Anniversary trim, along with the Dyna Wide Glide, the Fat Boy, and the Heritage Springer. The Bad Boy has been discontinued, leaving 18 cruiser models in the line. Harley says its Screaming Eagle EFI performance kits are CARB approved and won’t affect warranties.

Blacked-out street-racer style, the new 1200 Sport brings Buell-type power to the Sportster line, though there are few visual cues outside of dual plug leads.Brian J. Nelson

The Sportster Sport now wears a suggested $8395 price tag, an increase of about $285. The other four 1200 and 883 Sportster models saw price increases of $50. The Anniversary edition of the Sportster 1200 Custom fetches an additional $300 over the two-tone standard model ($9045 or, in California, $9165). Other 95th Anniversary machines fetch up to $475 over their standard-trim counterparts. The Big Twin line saw increases in prices; $150 more for the Heritage Springer, (now $17,145) and $300 more for the Road King (now $14,725 to $15,325 in 49-states form) and Dyna Wide Glide ($14,775 in basic black to $15,300 with two-tone paint).

Harley is planning to have a big-time bash this summer to celebrate its anniversary. The faithful will meet at various round-ups around the country, then ride together into Milwaukee.

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