Harley-Davidson Switchback - Long-Term Test Wrap-Up

So many ways to go.

Harley-Davidson Switchback action shot
Harley-Davidson Switchback action shotJeff Allen

Classic American-style cruiser lovers can find many things to admire about the Harley-Davidson Switchback. Primary among them is that the bike is burly in character yet approachable, thanks to a lowish seat height of 27.4 inches and relatively manageable claimed dry weight of 696 pounds. But it's the convertibility that really sets this Dyna apart. The hard bags and windscreen remove quickly and easily, taking the bike from a light-duty tourer to a stripped-down cruiser in mere moments.

Nonetheless, our Switchback saw plenty of long-haul miles since I, being its primary wrangler, do not tour lightly. And, after all those miles, I can confirm it makes a better around-town bike and occasional weekend tripper than it does a full-on long-distance touring machine. The Dyna chassis simply delivers too much of the big Twin Cam 103’s throb, making for a cool, “I’m-holding-a-huge-V-twin-in-my-hands” feel, but it translates into less comfort or missing/broken parts on extended highway-speed runs. We made a trip to the dealer to fix a cracked Screamin’ Eagle Nightstick exhaust ($329.95) and had to be vigilant in keeping fasteners on the bike’s saddlebags and rearview mirror stems tight, for example. And, if you carry a computer or other electronics, insulate it well from the vibration or pay the consequences. Don’t ask how I know.

Harley-Davidson Switchback no windscreen appearance
Harley-Davidson Switchback no windscreen appearanceJeff Allen

STEP TOWARD CUSTOM: Screen-off look is lightened a bunch. The chrome Nightstick exhaust cracked but was replaced under warranty.

Although ABS is available as an option (part of the $1,195 security package, which includes a proximity-fob-armed alarm), the bike would benefit more from a second front disc to help make emergency stops less iffy, especially when toting a passenger or a load of gear. As easy as the bike is to ride with its low center of gravity, it’s heavy. So, while we know those black five-spoke wheels are sexy at a stop, most of us would gladly hide the front rim behind a second disc and four-piston caliper.

One nearly universal complaint from testers was the head-jiggling turbulence caused by the stock windshield. On nice days and short rides, this was quickly solved by removing the screen. For the longer-term solution, we chose the H-D accessory tall screen ($349.95), which did wonders for the Switchback’s touring comfort for both rider and passenger. Cruise control would be a nice addition, but Harley currently reserves that for the touring line.

“We found the Switchback to provide the most fun and utility in around-town riding."

We found the Switchback to provide the most fun and utility in around-town riding. Weight is carried low, so the bike feels light and agile, with great waves of bottom-end torque making every roll on the throttle a satisfying leap forward. Choose the utility provided by the bags and screen, or drop all the touring stuff and you’re off to the races. Oops, I mean off to the boulevard to cruise in style.

If you happen to meet that Switchback-ready sweetie and she's up for a weekend ride, those beautifully finished saddlebags and windshield are just a finger-snap away. If the relationship turns serious and you're heading for a really long haul, you might find yourself going Project Rushmore, but you might miss the simplicity and comparative lightness of your Dyna.

PRICE AS TESTED (2012)|$17,579
RELATED CONTENT|Harley-Davidson Switchback - Test Intro
|Harley-Davidson Switchback - Test Update
Mark Hoyer: Dynas were my favorite H-D platform, but ever since the big makeover of the touring line in 2009, I’ve been a fan of the FLs, particularly the Road Glide. In the absence of an as-yet-unreleased “Rushmore” Road Glide, I’d take a Road King as my daily ride and live with its higher price and extra weight.
Jamie Elvidge: This bike was a joy for around-town rumblings. Even with the easy-to-remove screen and bags, long-distance touring wasn’t its strong suit nor was it intended to be. No, the Switchback was meant to turn heads and subtly shift styles, which it does perfectly.
Don Canet: Hats off to Jamie for piling the miles on the Switchback. Perhaps having been spoiled by H-D’s more touring-oriented platforms, I view the Switchback as a solid commuter and day-tripper, both roles in which the hard bags are of great convenience and slim enough to simply leave in place.
Harley-Davidson Switchback on-road action shot

On-road action shot #1

Harley-Davidson Switchback on-road action shotJeff Allen
Harley-Davidson Switchback on-road action shot

On-road action shot #2

Harley-Davidson Switchback on-road action shotJeff Allen
Harley-Davidson Switchback on-road action shot

On-road action shot #3

On-road action shot.Jeff Allen
Harley-Davidson Switchback static right-side view (no windscreen)

Static right-side view (no windscreen).

Static right-side view (no windscreen).Jeff Allen
Harley-Davidson Switchback studio left-side view

Studio left-side view.

Studio left-side view.Jeff Allen
Harley-Davidson Switchback studio right-side view.

Studio right-side view.

Studio right-side view.Jeff Allen
Harley-Davidson Switchback tall screen

Tall screen.

Tall screen.Jeff Allen
Harley-Davidson Switchback seat


Seat.Jeff Allen
Harley-Davidson Switchback nightstick exhaust

Nightstick exhaust.

Nightstick exhaust.Jeff Allen
Harley-Davidson Switchback saddlebags


Saddlebags.Jeff Allen