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It all started in 1903 in Milwaukee, where Bill Harley and Arthur Walter Davidson started a company in a little wooden shed which was built by Davidson’s father. They developed a one cylinder motorcycle. In 1905, they made 11 motorcycles. In 1908 they made 154 more.

The small company extended quickly and another member of the Davidson family, William, joined them. In no time they hired about 20 employees in a specially built stone-factory. And the legacy of Harley–Davidson begins. Fast forward to January 2014, I got an opportunity to swing my leg over the 2014 Harley Davison Dyna Swithcback.

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Based on Harley’s Dyna platform, Harley-Davidson Dyna Switchback FLD receives its life from a 1,690 cc air-cooled twin cam engine. The engine features a lightweight piston design which improves the power delivery and the makes it more refined. The engine cranks out a peak torque of 116 Nm at 3,500 rpm and is mated on a six speed Cruise Drive transmission, as does the rest of Harley’s Touring and Dyna line.

Abundance of power is delivered to the rear tire via a belt final drive. The air/oil-cooled engine is fuel-injected and uses a two-into-one chrome exhaust with straight-cut muffler which has been tuned to provide a deep exhaust tone. The engine and exhaust combo provides enough noise while cranking, but enough quietness while in relaxed-cruising mode.

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On the suspension bit, advanced suspension has been tuned for comfort and precise handling. Nitrogen-charged, monotube rear shocks have preload-adjustable, dual rate springs. A 41.3mm front fork with a 20mm cartridge delivers enhanced damping performance, handling, and ride comfort. It rolls on five-spoke cast aluminium wheels.

I rode this American icon to my favourite testing ground, none other than Genting Highlands. I decided to name this machine Peggy Sue… somehow I just had an urge to name it! That’s the thing about bikes with so much character.

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The minute I sat on Peggy Sue, it reminded me of the Road King, only just a bit smaller. The saddle is both sturdy and comfy offering enjoyable long interstate rides. Like the Road King, the Switchback also offers floorboards, which are a very nice thing to have on long rides. No bells and whistles on the instrument panel. The bike has a very basic huge rounded gauge placed on the fuel tank.

Crank up the engine and it exudes with Harley’s standard yet ear pleasing rumble. You’d think that it would sound a little different than the dual exhaust models but it’s indistinguishable to my ears.

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While climbing up the Highland accompanied by heavy drizzle on my first ride on the Switchback, I was going faster and faster and cutting deeper into the corners and curves. It was all good. The steering felt neutral and responsive, like a bike with a much shorter wheelbase, and the firm, well-damped suspension was decent.

Ergonomically the Switchback is pleasant. It is low and comfortable. I am so sure anybody who sits on this bike need not to tip toe because the saddle is 27.4 inches high.

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The handlebars are at a very comfortable height and width; a normal-looking pullback bar, which Harley calls a “mini-ape.” The handlebar has a relaxed bend but the sweep might be a little too narrow for a guy above 6 feet. The low saddle and the rider friendly handlebars are definitely a plus point for the Switchback.

While cruising from the Sg. Besi highway to Genting Highland, the windshield offered great protection for my 6 feet height from the bugs and all the UFOs around me, with little wind buffeting at highway speeds. But this was mostly with a 3/4 helmet on; when I wore a full-face helmet, the wind buffeting got worse, tossing my head around sporadically, especially at speeds around 130km/h.

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While in corners going up and coming down Genting, the Switchback’s firm suspension worked fine, with plenty of braking. But like any cruisers, there’s no escaping the punishment that front and rear suspension with just 3.9 and 2.1 inches of travel respectively delivers to the rider on bumpy roads, even with triple- and dual-rate springs in the fork and shocks. Harsh suspension on bumpy roads is nothing new on any cruiser. Got few unpleasant smacks on the butt from big bumps, other than that is all good.

I am surprised by the Switchback’s single front disc brake. At a 330kg wet weight, I expected dual discs would be standard. While slicing through at tight corners on the highland at speed averaging at 60kmph-70kmph, quite a bit of pressure was put to the front tire under braking. My usual three fingers on the front-brake lever always turned into two within 30 minutes of riding the twisties.

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Fortunately for most riding, the front and rear brakes are fine in combination after some understanding of how the brakes work. The Switchback also comes with ABS which is surely welcomed by any rider. The ABS is extremely reliable when engaged keeping any rider safe and sound. That said, I would really prefer dual discs on this Harley.

There is something unique about the HD Dyna Switchback that must be mentioned here. It is like a convertible. The name Switchback was derived from the fact that you can switch this Dyna from a tourer to a street bike. How? The modular windshield and the side bags can be dismantled without any tools. I thought it will take 20 to 30 minutes to dismantle it but in actual fact it took me under two minutes. Voila, once it is dismantled it is perfect to zoom around town.

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The first attempt to dismantle was at Gotong Jaya when we stopped for chapatti. I was able to dismantle everything under two minutes and my biking buddy thought it was a beginners luck. To prove him wrong, the minute I reached Coffee Bean at Genting Highland, I was able to do it again just under two minutes. And I won a free large Latte from him.

But a gentle reminder, make sure the bags are sealed properly, if not the seal can pop open when you hit a bump. Getting it right takes a bit of practice, but not that much. It took me only three attempts before getting it right.

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Ground clearance is still an issue in the twisties and bends, but is manageable once you get the hang of it. While going up the hill, the floorboard kissed the tarmac twice but on the way down, I was much careful. To avoid this, I just needed to go a bit slower.

Cruiser is all about enjoying the ride. For the new cruiser riders, who are coming from a non-cruiser environment; it will take a little bit of getting accustomed to. But believe you me; you will begin to enjoy every open highway and corners once you learn to understand the character of a cruiser.

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The engineers at Harley have always been very proud of the Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI). ESPI performed very well on the Switchback’s engine. The throttle response was crisp.

Meanwhile the six-speed Cruise Drive transmission is married to the maintenance-free belt which shifted smoothly at all situations which Peggy Sue encountered with me. The Switchback mostly remained in fourth and fifth gears on the back roads, with sixth gear only engaged at highway speeds over 110 kmph.

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While riding in the city (mostly around Golden Triangle, Jalan Tun Razak, Ampang, KLCC) I was pleasantly surprised by the light steering of this Harley. In a slow paced traffic the long wheelbase and the ‘mini ape’ handlebars is just plain sweet. You only have to put a foot down at any traffic light stops, easily done thanks to the low seat.

For short stops the bike is easily balanced upright on its wide tyres with no effort from me. But, the steering radius is limited so even though it weighs less than the Road King it’s actually a bit harder to manoeuvre at parking lot speeds.

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Harley has been in the motorcycle business for over a century and is one of the world’s most recognisable and successful brands across any genre.

The fact that Harley has managed to create a brand experience that has doctors, tech geeks and teachers transform (at least in their minds) into “big bad outlaws” is a testament to solid, continuing and relevant brand positioning. Kudos to Harley. Harley is not a motorcycle brand but a lifestyle brand.

THE HARD FACTS

Harley-Davidson FLD Switchback
Tested: 1690cc, air-cooled, Twin cam, v-twin, six speed gearbox
Torque: 136 Nm @ 3500 RPM
Range: 17.8 Litres @ 280km (estimated)
Further Information: Harley Davidson of Kuala Lumpur, 03-79687777