Road Kings Compared

Road Kings Compared

Kings of the Road, now and then.

A quick spin on the venerable Kings 19 years apart.

How well do you remember 2003? If you are like us, those 19 years have flown by and it seems the time was fleeting. 

Cast your mind back. Remember Sadam and Michael Jackson in court, Lord of the Rings Part 3, Terminator 3 and Elton John topping the charts? 

Locally, Guy Sebastian and Delta Goodrem featured prominently. Penrith beat the Roosters and Brisbane beat Collingwood in the Grand Finals. Shane Warne tested positive for more than baked beans. Maurice Gibb, Slim Dusty and Ed Deveraux passed away. A high-end Canon 1D digital camera had a ‘massive’ 11 megapixel sensor.

“Goodness … what a mostly crappy year!” Mick said when I read him the list.

Fortunately, there were highlights too. We both fondly recalled the pleasure of seeing the 100th Anniversary Harley-Davidson range for the first time. That was a real delight. A cause for celebration. It was even better when we got to ride the range of stunning Silver and Black or Midnight Blue machines and the 100th Anniversary tour shindig remains one of the best we’ve ever attended.

And now …

We don’t really need to recap what a comparative train wreck 2021 was. From autotune dominating popular music, to floods along the eastern seaboard, to the ongoing Pandemic. But just like 2003, the time we spent aboard the latest range Harley-Davidsons was a consistent light in darker days. 

When Craig showed me the immaculate 2003 Road King that now graced his garage, a cunning plan came together. 


I rang our friends at Gasoline Alley H-D and asked D.P. Fergus Bell if I could borrow their beautiful 2021 Road King Special Demonstrator for a day.

From there I organised a rendezvous with ‘Hughesie’ at Pimpama, south of Brisbane and we headed out to the coast for a photo shoot on the two Kings. 

Erstwhile Heavy Duty Publisher and now Columnist Chris Beattie tagged along to pilot one of the machines. 

It turned out that putting the two bike side by side was a very interesting exercise and begged the obvious question: How far have they come?

The short answer is … a very, very long way.

Back in ’03 I thought the Road King was fabulous. I still do. In fact since that day, I’ve repeatedly extolled its virtues as the Harley-Davidson I would buy.

Craig’s 100th Anniversary unit is bone stock, still looks the goods with tons of chrome, bling and iconic style. The ’21 Demo is also stock, and a great looking machine. I love its blackness, but it’s a far more ‘businesslike’ presentation that is every bit as capable as it looks. 

The difference in riding the two incarnations makes for an even bigger contrast than their presentation.

The 2003 unit is powered by the Twin Cam 88cube (1450cc) engine producing around 67 horsepower and 110Nm of torque – in a package that weighs 329kg dry running through a rather clunky 5- speed gearbox.

The ’21 Special has the 114cube (1868cc) Milwaukee 8 that produces around 100 horsepower, 158Nm and tips the scales at 351kg. It also has a six-speed hot knife-through-butter gearbox, fly by wire, ABS, and significantly better suspension and as you would expect much better handling and road manners. 

Like many Harley riders, we do appreciate the ‘character’ afforded by a twin cam, but the M8 doesn’t shake like a paint mixer at idle and vibration at touring speeds is negligible. That can’t be said of the 88cube.

Afficionados will also know that 2008 was a watershed year in the evolution of the Harley Touring range. A new chassis rectified many of the shortcomings of earlier models (like this ’03). It addressed the tendency for the rear end to wallow in high-speed sweepers or for the front end to chatter over rough surfaces and bumps that were too close together.

Through the progression of 96cube to 103cube engines the platform continued to consistently improve, but the next true marker in the model’s timeline was 2017 and the introduction of the Milwaukee 8. This represented a quantum leap even greater than 2008’s.

With the latest rejig, the handling has become even more taut, with ensuing upgrades to suspension, frame and geometry. This latest variant is a joy to check into a tight corner or fling from side to side. A competency that belies its mass and makes the ’03 feel somewhat agricultural in almost every respect. 

Whether that makes the new one more enjoyable to ride, rather than enjoy the ‘character’ of the Anniversary model will always be a matter of personal preference. 

We fully understand ‘there’s no school like old school’ thinking too. But the new one has developed an efficiency, comfort and capability born of 19 worth years improvement and development. They both sing to us. Rose coloured retro glasses notwithstanding.

To put it all into a tech metaphor, performance wise, my phone now has three cameras built in – all of which have higher resolution and larger pixel count than that Canon D-1. 


MODEL: FLHR Road King 100th Anniversary
TYPE: Twin Cam 88
MAX TORQUE: 110 Nm @ 3100rpm
DRY WEIGHT:  329kg

MODEL: FLHRXS Road King Special
TYPE: Milwaukee-Eight™ 114
MAX TORQUE: 158 Nm @ 3250rpm
DRY WEIGHT:  351kg

No comments :