New Review 2013 Harley-Davidson Switchback
The concept of a two-in-one bike isn’t new: manufacturers have offered plenty of presto change-o touring and cruising motorcycles, and more extravagant examples include Harley-Davidson’s $30,000 CVO Softail Convertible, which has since been discontinued from the H-D lineup.Currently handling multi-purpose duties for the Motor Company is the 2013 Harley-Davidson Switchback, whose dual purpose personality is enabled via a quick-release windscreen and easily removable saddlebags. The Switchback is priced at $16,199 in Vivid Black, and unlike the late, great (and pricey) CVO Convertible model, which was based on the Softail platform, the Switchback is Dyna-based, so it boasts the usual hallmarks including a rubber-mounted engine, a visible battery box, and exposed rear shocks. The Lexan screen simply folds forward and detaches from the bike, leaving little evidence of its fitting points when removed. Similarly, the color-matched saddlebags use nylon and steel joining points to connect to the body at three spots, and mating the two requires angling the outside edge upward an inward as it slides towards the bike; just twist a dial on the inside of the bags to tighten or loosen their connection to the body. The 2013 Harley-Davidson Switchback is powered by a 103 cubic inch (1,690cc) air-cooled V-twin, which produces a peak torque figure of 100 lb-ft at 3,500 rpm. The mill is mated to a 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission, and is fed by a 4.7 gallon fuel tank. Together with the bike’s combined estimated fuel economy of 42 mpg, the Switchback should be good for nearly 200 miles of riding range. Though it weighs a hefty 718 pounds in running order, Harley says the Switchback is the lightest custom touring motorcycle in its category, thanks in part to the headlight nacelle which was switched from zinc in its previous application to aluminum, helping reduce unsprung mass. Handling improvements have also been made thanks to revisions in the suspension geometry, updates to wheel and tire specs, and the internal cartridge fork structure. Riding Impressions Though the saddlebags add incremental width to the bike, it’s easy to swing a leg over and settle into the Switchback’s low, 26.1 inch saddle. The first thing you’ll notice about the seating position is the surprisingly compact relationship with the bike’s controls. The rider triangle– that is, the relationship between floorboards, handgrips, and seat– is relatively small, which effectively gives the impression of shrinking the perception of the motorcycle’s size, making it feel more like an urban runabout than a roomy long distance machine. The Switchback fires up with a signature Harley-Davidson snarl, and the engine’s vibrations come through loud and clear at idle, due to the v-twin’s non-counterbalanced internals. Pull the heavy-ish clutch in, click into gear, and ease into the throttle, and there’s plenty of low-end grunt available from the big twin engine. Vibes smooth out as the engine gathers momentum, and at speed the bike responds surprisingly well to light steering input; you won’t confuse the Switchback with a sportbike, but with carefully managed turn-in, the 29 degree lean angles enable reasonably paced cornering maneuvers which avoid scraping. Gearing is tall at highway speeds, resulting in a relaxed rev range for the engine– 65 mph translates to a lazy 2,400 rpm– and the windshield allows for some buffeting and negative pressure (ie, wind at the rider’s back) on the freeway. The saddle is reasonably comfortable under most circumstances, though prolonged riding revealed a pressure point from the curved rearward portion, suggesting the form-fitting seat is more geared towards short term support than long-term cushiness. Ditch the windscreen, and a constant flow of air offers a more consistent (if noisier) experience for the rider. Removing the saddlebags will also somewhat lighten up the bike’s handling, though they’ve got a modest 15 pound capacity on each side, making this more of a daytripper than a multi-day touring bike. The optional Security Package adds $1,195 to the price and includes anti-lock brakes and a proximity based security system. The ABS works reasonably well under most conditions, though hard, panic-style braking can result in slightly sloppy stops; the Switchback is in its element when being ridden in a more laid-back, cruiser-like setting, making it more of a versatile tool for casual riding and slightly longer trips, rather than serious all-out touring excursions. Who Should Buy the 2013 Harley-Davidson Switchback? While it falls short as a pavement gobbling tourer due to its limited cargo capacity and form-fitting saddle, the Switchback succeeds in its mission of offering a more versatile variation of an urban cruiser theme. For those purposes, the removable windscreen and saddlebags enable a quick-change transformation that alters the bike’s personality without much fuss, while leaving the bike’s silhouette generally clean and free from visually distracting attachment points. And while some owners will likely not bother with attaching and detaching the removable parts, the procedure is quick and painless enough to encourage doing so at a moment’s notice. Though it’s generally easy to handle this bike’s considerable curb weight due to its low center of gravity and 26.1 inch saddle height, beginners will find a more suitable ride in smaller engine offerings below the 1,000 cc mark. Intermediate riders will likely gravitate towards the Switchback’s robust torque and strong acceleration, while more advanced riders should find this bike’s on-road performance and substantial road presence satisfying enough to fill their needs.