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Harley-Davidson Switchback

One of the things that has helped Harley-Davidson become so successful is its ability to combine models and come up with something that is unique while being familiar at the same time.

It's no secret that design boss, Willie Davidson, keeps in close touch with prominent customizers, and regularly trolls show-and-shines and Harley get-togethers to see what people are doing with their bikes. He often takes ideas away with him after making the rounds and sometimes incorporates them into production models.

The Fat Boy is a classic example, as are the NightRod and Dyna Fat Bob, to name a few. The rarest Harley of all is one that's completely stock, and Harley can be pretty bold when it comes to borrowing custom ideas.

The latest example of Milwaukee cross-breeding is the FLD, or Switchback, which is essentially a Dyna with an FLH front end and hard bags. It's about time they put these two together, although Harley did experiment briefly with a model called the Fatster, back in the 1990s. That was basically a Sportster 883 with a touring front end, the idea being to have handling and long-distance adaptability in one package.

Which is presumably the idea behind the Switchback. The Dyna line of bikes are the best handlers in the company's "big bike" lineup, but can be a little on the basic side when it comes to touring. With the addition of a pair of detachable hard bags, a windshield, floorboards and a larger fuel tank, the Switchback makes an excellent all-day touring bike, but can carve up the corners when the mood strikes. It may lack the comfort and amenities of the ElectraGlide, but will leave it behind when it comes to performance. It's also a little easier on the body than the classic Heritage Softail, having isolated engine mounts as opposed to Harley's traditional "rigid" engine setup.

Power, as ever, comes from an air-cooled V-twin that displaces 1,690 cc and is mated to a six-speed transmission. The Switchback has sequential fuel injection, a built-in oil cooler, chain primary drive and a belt final drive. Harley never releases horsepower numbers, but according to my calculations, the FLD probably delivers something in the high 60s neighbourhood. Torque, on the other hand, is a healthy 100 lb-ft at 3,500 rpm, which, for a 320-kilogram bike, is more than enough.

This bike gets up and goes, and Harley is claiming a 0-to-100 km/h time of less than five seconds. It's an ongoing debate in the motorcycle community: horsepower versus torque, but any engineer will tell you that what really gets a car or bike or truck or any other mechanical conveyance moving is torque. Horsepower is as much about bragging rights as anything else, and Harley has never really gotten into the contest of high horsepower numbers. Yes, there are any number of other bikes out there that can leave it in the dust, but the Switchback has more than enough grunt and reserve power for the crowd it's aimed at.

That being riders who want to drop down a little in size without giving up comfort or riding quality. Female riders and greying male boomers are in this zone, as are riders who like to lean it through the turns and don't want to wrestle with the bike at low speeds.

According to Harley, the Switchback has a lean angle of 29 degrees – by way of comparison, the Heritage Softail is good for around 25 degrees, and the Road King some 32 degrees. So, on paper, it'll out-do the Heritage through the twisties, but is probably about on par with the Road King – the bike of choice for law enforcement personnel everywhere. The Switchback's smaller dimensions may be the equalizer here.

Elsewhere, the Switchback's hard bags come off at the press of a lever and can carry a modest amount of cargo. I managed to stuff a full-size riding jacket into one of mine during my time with this bike, but the Heritage Softail does have more room in its leather bags – ditto with the Road King.

I also found the windscreen on the Switchback to be about 10 centimetres too short. Some riders like to look through the windscreen, while others prefer to look over it. I like that zone somewhere in the middle, where you get the windstream, but it slips over your helmet so you don't get buffeted too much.

I suppose I can also kvetch about the black alloy wheels – I'd go for laced wheels, were I to buy this bike, but at this point, there aren't offered with the Switchback.

But that's about all I can find to complain about here. This is a comfortable, lively, attractive and toss-able bike that ticks most of the right boxes, and has an accessible price tag to boot: $17,559 to start, and another $420 if you get the pearl paint job.