The Switchback in its mini bagger form.
Lose weight fast! BOGO! Just a couple of highly effective marketing terms we felt Harley could have easily incorporated into the promotional material for its latest model, the Dyna Switchback.
It seems everyone and their physical trainer is always seeking out the latest fad to quickly drop a few pounds. And why not, slimming down helps you look and feel better and you can move quicker and are more agile. Well, what if we told you there was a weight loss program where you could shed nearly 100 pounds without cutting back on your Big Mac intake or jogging a single mile? It’s possible. Simply roll into your local Harley dealership and trade in that 812*-pound Road King for a svelte 718*-pound Dyna Switchback. And best of all, with a price tag that rings in $1,500 cheaper than a King (pricing on Vivid Black models), with the Switchback you’re essentially scoring yourself a BOGO (buy one get one) deal, seeing as the Switchback is basically two bikes in one.
Of course the idea of two bikes in one isn’t a totally new concept from Harley by far, the Factory has offered convertibles in the FXR, Dyna, and Softail families. What is unique and different about the Switchback is that with its 41.3mm frontend, chromed headlight nacelle, 130mm front tire, floorboards, hard saddlebags, and full swept FL-style fenders, it looks like a descendant of the Touring lineage rather than just a Dyna with hardbags and a windscreen. Then when you peel off the windscreen and saddlebags, well, it still kind of looks like part of the Touring family, just stripped down, cleaned up, and sexier.
Once you throw a leg over the saddle and hit the streets it becomes evident this bike isn’t the offspring of some overweight sofa glide. It’s agile, powerful, and likes the twisties—ah ha! It does have Dyna DNA. I spent quite a bit of time on the Switchback and was impressed with everything from its looks and handling to the performance, storage capacity, and versatility.
The Harley engineers really did their homework when it came to setting up the steering and suspension to ensure the bike had the comfortable and plush ride of a Tourer, but the maneuverability and handling of a Dyna. The frontend geometry, tire specs, and suspension were all designed to work together to provide crisp and lightweight steering. Within the beefy fork legs is a 20mm cartridge which helps provide enhanced damping, while at the rear is a set of Nitrogen-charged monotube rear shocks with dual rate springs. The rear shocks are preload adjustable, which make it easy to set up the rear suspension for solo, two-up, or loaded-up riding. Back up front a 130mm Dunlop provides a nice steady footprint while bombing down the highway, but the low-profile design of the tire helps get the bike over and in and out of tight turns with ease. One thing I definitely noticed was that unlike the members in the Touring family which can sometimes provide unwanted feedback in the form of shimmying or shaking when upset by inconsistencies in the road at high speeds and/or high-speed turns, the Switchback was solid from tire to tire at excessive speeds, tight sharp turns, and when loaded up and leaned over in high-speed sweepers. Even when I gave the mini ape handlebars a good shove while cruising straight down the highway, the bike steadily kept its line without the rear getting squirrely or needing time to settle down.
Powered by the 103ci engine and backed by the six-speed transmission, the Switchback gets to where it needs to be or where you want it (in front of that big rig) with ease. Granted its not going to break any land speed records, but with the saddlebags fully loaded and a touring bag strapped to a luggage rack, I was able to easily slip past slow moving traffic on inclines without having to drop it down into Fifth. Weighing in 43 pounds lighter than the Heritage Softail Classic (761* pounds), and only 12 pounds heavier than the next heaviest Dyna, the Fat Bob (706* pounds), the Switchback is easy to unload off the kickstand but not so heavy that it hinders the performance or potential of the triple-digit-displacement engine. (If you haven’t done the math already, the Switchback is 94 pounds lighter than the Road King.) Bolted to the right side of the rubber-mounted engine is a chromed 2-into-1 straight-cut exhaust which offers a decent note and gives the bike more of a performance look as opposed to the classic look of duals found on Touring models. And unlike the Touring models in which the exhaust is secured to the rear of the saddlebag supports, Harley engineers designed the rear exhaust hanger bracket to mount off the back of the drivetrain and to actually move with the drivetrain. With overall weight a main concern, Harley opted for an aluminum rear hanger bracket as opposed to steel.
Slowing the Switchback down or coming to an immediate stop safely is assisted by a four-piston fixed front caliper and 300mm uniform expansion floating rotor, with a two-piston torque-free rear caliper cinching down on a 292mm rotor. The bike I tested was outfitted with the Security Package Option (additional $1,195) which bundles the Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) with the Smart Security System with proximity-based hands-free security fob. As we’ve experience with other ABS-equipped bikes the pulsating brakes in tight situations works well.
The Switchback looks like it could be the Road King’s younger sibling, which is great since the King has been such a favorite among Harley enthusiasts. The proportions of the bike are just right with the saddlebags being about 25 percent smaller than a standard FLT saddlebag and a 4.7-gallon fuel tank instead of the 6-gallon tank found on the King. Even though the bags are smaller, I was surprised how much crap I was able to stuff into them (a jacket, a few shirts, a tool roll, and a camera in one bag alone) and by installing a sissybar/luggage rack and adding a large travel bag, I was able to carry enough gear with me for a two-week road trip.
I found the mini ape bars to suit my 5-foot-10-inch frame perfectly, they weren’t too high or so short that I felt aching in my shoulders or arms even after hundreds of miles in the saddle. Speaking of the saddle, the two-up seat was comfortable and conducive to long hauls, but aesthetically it was just too puffy for me. I like a seat that has a bit thinner profile and blends into the lines of the bike. I love floorboards for long distance travel and was glad to see Harley outfitted the Switchback with floorbaords. While many people like to add highway pegs to their bikes, I find that just by shifting my feet far forward or all the way back to the end of the floorboards, I can get enough movement in my legs to stay comfortable for 150-plus-mile stretches with ease. The windshield was nice to have but often times I found myself either slouching down or sitting straight up to avoid the top of the shield being in my line of sight. At times it was sort of annoying. But when the rain came I was thankful for the windshield. The addition of the new black five-spoke cast aluminum wheels (18-inch front/17-inch rear) are pretty cool and help give the bike some hot-rod style.
Versatility is where the Switchback really stands out. In less than 30 seconds it can be stripped of its saddlebags and windscreen and be ready to turn heads down the boulevard like a sleek and slender supermodel. Unlike the Touring models, which can be rather unsightly with the saddlebags removed with their exposed lower saddlebag supports, black shocks, and accompanying hardware, the engineers and designers wanted the Switchback to be just as sexy with the bags off as it is with the bags on. To accomplish this they came up with a three-point mounting system for the bags with two points at the fender strut and the third down towards the tail end of the fender. Similar to the docking points found with the detachable sissybar, tour-pak, and luggage racks, the mounting points are small and round which help them become almost unnoticeable with the bags off. And with the bags removed, the chromed cigar tubes over the rear shocks add to the classic hot-rod look.
Actually one of the main cosmetic differences between the Switchback and the Touring models is that the rear shocks are exposed, mounted in front of the saddlebags rather than hidden behind the saddlebags. Removing the bags is easy with a simple turn of the locking mechanism inside. As for the lids, they have a double-hook system to help keep them closed. Actually the latching method is a little different than the standard saddlebags and takes some getting used to before you become accustomed to opening or closing them. Just like the Road King, up front, the windscreen simply pops on and off with quick-detach mounting points. And while the headlight nacelle is a two-piece unit similar to that found on the Road King, instead of being split vertically like the RK, the Switchbacks nacelle is split horizontally. And to help cut weight, the nacelle is aluminum die cast rather than zinc die cast. The backside of the nacelle, features four holes (top and bottom on each side) exposing the bolts securing the fork legs to make it easier to remove/service the fork legs.
I was really pleased with the Switchback. I liked the aesthetics, performance, comfort, touring capabilities, and its stripped-down styling. If there were one major thing I would change about the bike it would be the windshield. Instead of the standard classic detachable windshield I would have preferred the more aggressive styling of the fairing/windshield found on the Dyna Super Glide T-Sport or some iteration of the mini fairing found in the P&A catalog in a quick-detach version. Other than that, I enjoyed my time with the Switchback and with a base price of $15,999 in Vivid Black, ($16,384 for Brilliant Silver Pearl, or Ember Red Sunglo) it’s a rather sweet deal for essentially two bikes in one. Best of all you can tell your friends you bought a bagger and got a Dyna for free, or vice-a-versa. HB
|Engine/DisplacementmTwin || Cam/103ci|
|Induction || Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection|
|Clutch || Multi-plate, wet|
|Transmission || Six-speed Cruise Drive|
|Final Drive || Belt|
|Front Brake || Four-piston, fixed caliper, 300mm floating rotor|
|Rear Brake || Two-piston torque-free caliper, 292mm rear rotor|
|Front Wheel/Size || Black five-spoke cast aluminum w/highlighted rim/18x3.5|
|Rear Wheel/Size || Black five-spoke cast aluminum w/highlighted rim/17x4.5|
|Front Tire/Size || Dunlop D420F/130/70B18 63H|
|Rear Tire || Dunlop D401/160/70B17 73H|
|Fuel Tank || Capacity 4.7 gallons|
|Seat Height || 27.4 (unladen)|
|MSRP as tested: Ember Red Sunglo +Security Package Option || $17,579|
|*Harley’s weight in running order|