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Harley-Davidson Dyna Switchback

2012-03-20 13:42

FULLY DRESSED: Two hard and lockable panniers and a police cruiser windshield attached in moments and the Harley-Davidson Switchback's ready to cross America. We went to Hermanus instead.


Harley-Davidson's new-for-2012 Dyna Switchback is a new kind of motorcycle - its maker calls it "a convertible" because it has not only quickly-removable panniers but also an almost-instantly removable windscreen. Which, once you've ditched it , you'll probably want to leave off for ever.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Harley-Davidson
Model Dyna Switchback
Engine 1690cc V-twin
Torque 134Nm
Transmission Six-speed
Zero To Hundred Five seconds
Fuel Tank 17.8 litres
Fuel Consumption 4.7 listres/100km (tested)
Weight 330kg
Boot Size Two panniers, 7kg each
I'd just taken delivery of the shiny, brand-new Harley-Davidson Dyna Switchback - Milwaukee's version of a two-wheeled convertible - for 10 days but was only 20 kays up the West Coast out of Cape Town and heading for home when I decided the bike sucked.

Well, not the whole bike, just the police-style windshield - the turbulence it produced at 120km/h was trying to suck my open-face helmet right off my head and, because it didn't succeed, lost its temper and instead started rattling the visor like a grumpy child.


The 1690cc (103 cubic inches, as made plain on the engine covers) Switchback, however, is accurately described by its maker as a master quick-change artist, and that gives the machine a unique position in the big-bore cruiser market. Quick-release and lockable hard panniers such as those on the Switchback are old hat (my 14-year-old BMW 650 Funduro has a pair) but I don't keep them mounted any more than I would those on this Harley.

What is better, though, is that once they're removed only a couple of mounting studs remain - no ugly support frame. Apart from their extra aerodynamic drag, both bikes (my BMW, this Harley) are made ungainly and less nimble in city traffic. In fact, with "saddlebags" (Harley-speak for panniers) attached the bike is forced to stay in line with the traffic - lane-splitting is just not on - which kind of kills the point of have a motor-cycle in the first place if you plan to use it to commute as well as tour.

What my BMW doesn't have, however, is a quick-release system on its windshield. The Switchback does and as soon as I reached home in Melkbos I took it off in less time than a Honda S2000 takes to shrug back its folding roof. Face the headlight (wear sunglasses to handle the sunlight reflecting off all the chrome), take a firm grip each side of the whole screen assembly and pull mightily (as any hunky Harley rider would)...

No screws, catches, clips - each of the four anchors slides smoothly out of its rubber housing and the whole thing lifts away. At speed on the open road the screen is held in place mainly by slipstream pressure; I didn't, however, remount it until the morning the bike was due back with the Harley Boys; I only have one helmet...

...AND STRIPPED FOR ACTION: The quick-change Switchback has chromed strips where the panniers used to be and an empty dimension where before the giant windshield created minor tornadoes.

Not only does the Switchback look better without the extra hardware but it's also a lot more comfortable to ride at anything more than 80km/h. And long-range comfort is what most Harley-Davidsons are all about - certainly this one as its big V-twin power-thudded its well-muscled way along the Western Cape section of the N2 to Somerset West and then south-east along the east coast of False Bay through Rooi Els  towards Hermanus.

The road is smooth and modestly winding - great terrain for the hefty Switchback as it ate up the kilometres with hardly a gearchange needed.

The Switchback's muscular Twin Cam 10 V-Twin delivers strong performance and, as the lightest custom touring motorcycle in its displacement category at 330kg ready-to-ride, is 43kg lighter than a Harley-Davidson Road King. It's certainly no sluggard - though running against the clock is not on the normal Harley riders' daily to-do list - and, once the sheer size of the machine has been mentally absorbed, it brings a new dimension to taking a curve.


The Twin Cam 103 engine displaces 1690cc - a righteous size indeed - and is rubber-mounted within the frame. You get the vibration but your fillings stay in place. It's rated at 126Nm of torque at 3500rpm, but no horsepower is given, and drives through a six-speed Cruise Drive transmission. The Twin Cam 103 powers all 2012 Dyna, Softail and Touring models with the exception of the Dyna Street Bob and Dyna Super Glide Custom.

Its gases exit through a 2-into-1, chromed parallel exhaust with a straight-cut muffler tuned for a deep exhaust tone. It caused a few neighbours' curtains to twitch each morning.

The fuel tank takes 18 litres but the gauge proved hopelessly inaccurate, showing close to empty with more than half a tank left; fuel consumption proved exemplary - 4.7 litres/100km over the coastal trip - less than the Suzuki GS600 my partner for the day was riding.

New front-end geometry, premium suspension components, anti-lock brakes and a low-profile front tyre (Dunlop 130/70B18) give the Switchback a stylish ride and responsive handling. Brian Scherbarth, Harley-Davidson product engineer, says: “The new front-end geometry, wheel and tyre specs, and cartridge fork have been engineered to work together to produce steering that’s light to input and immediately responsive. It's a touring bike that's also really fun to ride.”

Nitrogen-charged, monotube rear shocks have preload-adjustable, dual rate springs. A 41.3mm front fork with a 20mm cartridge delivers excellent from damping, handling and ride comfort.


Sans saddlebags, the Switchback is a handsome bike; its heavy body, large headlight nacelle and thick five-spoked rim/tyre combinations may not appeal to sport bike fans but Harley-Davidson makes no attempt to pander to their prejudice. Forget streamlined seats, too; those on the Switchback are thick and super-comfortable, stepped for the pillion passenger. As Harley's media material says:

"Designed to look great with or without its saddlebags, the Switchback is styled to evoke a classic proportion and clean, straightforward lines from its 17.8- litre fuel tank to the sweep of its full-coverage rear fenders. The bend of the mini-ape handlebar and its pull-back riser, full-length rider's foot boards and a two-up touring seat offer most riders all-day comfort."

Suggested retail price from R189 000.

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