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2012 Harley Davidson Switchback Review

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The Goods: Upgraded Engine, Suspension, and Changeability
2012 Harley-Davidson Switchback

The Switchback's Twin Cam 103 (1,690cc) engine produces 100 ft-lbs of torque at 3,500 rpm.

Photo © Brian J. Nelson

Unlike the Softail-based CVO Convertible, the new Switchback is based on the Dyna platform which is characterized by features including a rubber-mounted engine, visible battery box, and exposed rear shocks.

The 2012 Harley Davidson Switchback's most distinctive quality is its ability to quickly change personalities by swapping out its windscreen and hard saddlebags. Harley engineers consulted with their CVO division when they designed the Switchback's removable components, in order to learn from their experiences with developing the Softail Convertible.

Up front, the Switchback uses a quick-release windscreen that lifts off with a friction mount, allowing the entire piece to be removed by simply sliding it away from the bike; re-installation requires merely clicking it back into place. While developing the windscreen, engineers enlisted a variety of body types-- men and women of short, medium, and tall stature-- in wind tunnel tests to settle on the optimum width, height, and angle of the Lexan. Incidentally, of the five different sizes they experimented with, they chose the 2nd shortest option.

The Switchback also has hard saddlebags unique to the bike, which are roughly 25 percent smaller than typical FLT bags (with a 15 pound recommended storage limit per side.) The Switchback's color-matched saddlebags attach to the body via three points, and are secured using a small dial inside each bag. Newly developed seals and nylon/steel mounting points required extensive testing to attain just the right combination of flex and rigidity in relation to the body. The bags open by lifting the outside edge up of the lid upward and inward, in order to unlatch two hooks on the inside edge; the bags can be removed or re-attached in just a few seconds, though it takes a few tries to familiarize yourself with exactly how the bags slide onto their mounting points.

In other news, the Switchback's headlight nacelle was redesigned to differentiate itself from the Road King, which has a vertical split; the seam was moved to the side, to help create an uninterrupted reflection of the sky. The assembly is now constructed of aluminum instead of zinc, in order to aid handling through reduced unsprung weight; handling is also enhanced with new front-end geometry, revised wheel and tire specs, and cartridge forks. Seat height measures 26.1 inches (laden), and 27.4 inches (unladen.)

The Switchback's upgraded 103 cubic inch (1,690cc) v-twin engine is also found on Touring, Softail, and most Dyna models. The engine features a solenoid-operated automatic compression release function (to reduce stress on the starter), six percent more torque (for a peak of 100 ft-lbs between 3,000 and 3,500 rpm), and includes a stronger clutch and higher capacity engine compensator.

Harley-Davidson claims that the Switchback's 718 pound curb weight makes it the lightest custom touring bike in its segment-- pretty remarkable, given Harley's heavy metal reputation.

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