New Motorcycle Review – 2012 Harley-Davidson Switchback

Driving Miss Dyna – Who You Calling Road Queen?

It didn’t take long. It never does. A manufacturer releases photos and press of a new model, and the media (or riding public) lays an unflattering moniker on it before anyone has even ridden it a mile. The 2012 Harley-Davidson Switchback is a Dyna with color-matched hard bags, a clear windshield, floorboards, and a highway-ready 103″ V-twin. It’s the first purpose-built touring Dyna model, and the punch line crew had a clean slate to work with. But with the Switchback’s large, chrome headlight nacelle, the family resemblance to the ever-popular Road King Touring model was uncanny, and with a 7/8-scale stance, the nickname Road Queen seemed to fit. Don’t blame me. I didn’t coin it.

Quite frankly, I’m not sure the name Switchback fits, either. The party line at the official press launch said it was because the new FLD handles twisty roads and switchback turns with ease. I disagree, and I have some ground floorboards to prove it. Maybe switchback refers to this model’s ability to switch back and forth between custom cruiser and loaded tourer by quickly shedding its traveling garb with the yank of a windscreen and the twist of a knob to drop the hard bags. Yeah, that’s my interpretation, and I’ll stick to it.

No matter what you call it or why, this bike is an instant passport to long-distance travel. I stepped up to the plate and committed to ride one back from South Dakota to Connecticut without ever sitting on one. The 1,900 miles is plenty of distance to get to know a bike, so I had tons of opportunities to put the Switchback through its paces.

I’m a big fan of Harley’s 103″ V-twin, which was put into only a few models last year. In my review of the 2011 Road Glide Ultra, I called the 103 my favorite part of the bike, and I told anyone who would listen that Harley needed to use that engine across the board. Well, I’d like to think the Motor Company was listening to me (but I doubt it), because the 103 is now the standard engine in all Harley Big Twin models except two (Street Bob and Super Glide Custom). The rubber-mounted, powdercoated, black Twin Cam engine is equipped with electronic sequential port fuel injection (ESPFI), is rated at 100 ft-lbs. of torque at 3500 rpm, breathes through a 2-into-1 chrome pipe with straight-cut muffler, and is backed up by a six-speed transmission.

Any long-distance tourer needs to soak up the bumps, and the Switchback handles the job with 41.3mm cartridge front forks and nitrogen-charged, 36mm monotube rear shocks, which are preload adjustable and have dual-rate springs. Chrome fork covers and chrome cigar-tube rear shock covers are added for looks. Black five-spoke, cast-aluminum mag wheels with machine-highlighted rims measure 18″ up front, and 17″ in the rear. A security and ABS package is available for an additional $1,195.

Ergonomics are comfortable, thanks to the bend of the mini-ape handlebar, and its pull-back riser combination with the aforementioned full-length footboards. The shifter is not a heel-toe design; you’ll need to step up to a larger Harley tourer for that. The saddlebags have a combined luggage capacity of 30 pounds and utilize locks common to the ignition key. While the Switchback’s hard bags appear slightly smaller than a touring bike’s, I only had a set of full-size liners available, and I found they fit fine. By now, Switchback-sized liner bags should be in the pipeline.

For all the things I like about the Switchback, it didn’t take me long to fall out of love with the factory windshield. The polycarbonate portion of the Switchback’s screen is reportedly identical to that of the Road King’s, so a dedicated bracket is what it takes to affix it to the Dyna’s wide front end. I found extreme amounts of wind buffeting at higher speeds, not so much shaking my head or helmet as actually tossing the front end of the motorcycle around, rendering the mirrors useless. It was so bad, my vision was blurred. Luckily, I was able to ditch the clear billboard at my first gas stop and rode the remaining 1,700 miles with my fists, face, and chest against the wind, and enjoying it tons more than with the windscreen in place. (I will say that below 50 miles per hour, the windscreen performed fine for me.)

The good news on this topic is that, as I mentioned, the mounting holes for the windshield are allegedly identical to that of the Road King, and there’s a plethora of both factory and aftermarket windshields out there to try on this tourer. Unfortunately, I had to return my press demo unit before I could do any further testing, but there’s bound to be one out there that’s more aerodynamic than the stock shield.

The Switchback comes with a one-piece, two-up seat, and I found the 27.4″ seat height suitable for short trips, but on long runs, my legs did get a bit cramped. My on-the-road solution was the addition of a Butt Buffer gel seat pad. It boosted me up about 1/2″ and worked great for the long haul home.

The 718-pound, ready-to-ride weight is almost as hefty as a full boat touring bike, but that’s what the Switchback is, not some stripped-down hot rod. To that end, the 4.7-gallon fuel tank capacity is a bit of a letdown. I think a larger tank would be welcomed by long-distance riders, and the overall size of a 1-gallon larger cell would probably still look proportional to the size of this bike. Factory cruise control is not available on the Switchback; however, an aftermarket throttle rocker worked great for me.

Overall, the Switchback gets a thumbs-up, despite a few of the components not working 100% for me. A person with a slightly smaller build would probably be perfectly fitted to this bike. It’s the idea of a road-ready Dyna with plenty of power and factory-fitted touring appointments that wins me over — and the ability to switch back and forth between cruiser and tourer in mere seconds is a neat quick-change trick.

By Steve Lita, Photos By Riles & Nelson and Tricia Szulewski

Originally published in RoadBike, Jan/Feb 2012


  1. thomas c huemme says:

    i recently purchased the FLD Switchback. within the first 230 miles, on an interstate with a very rough surface (I86, near Salamaca, NY) my left saddle bag fell off the scoot. i feel the anchor system is insufficeint for the bike. i had very little in each bag. NOW i’m trying to find a better way of anchoring the saddle bags to the scoot. also i bought the detachable sissy bar assembly, the trouble is…. anyone can remove the assemble in just a second. there also should be some sort of lock down incorporated into the assembly.