Once in a while, a motorcycle is introduced that I believe has “woman rider” written all over it. The 2012 Harley-Davidson Dyna Switchback is one of those motorcycles. Why do I think this? Because it is a purpose-built touring motorcycle designed for riders who can’t or don’t want to handle the large touring motorcycles—and that description fits the majority of women riders.
The large touring bikes, often termed “baggers” because of their abundant storage space, are built on a chassis designed for long-distance riding comfort and come from the factory with accessories and components, like a windshield and floorboards, that increase comfort when traveling for long stretches of time. Because the average height of women is between 5-foot-4 and 5-foot-5, the majority of women riders find it difficult to maneuver these large motorcycles. Women want to experience all the benefits of touring on two wheels, but they desire a bike with all the creature comforts and handling of a large touring motorcycle, but in a lighter, more manageable package. Enter the Switchback.
If you’ve done any research on the Switchback, you’ll find that most of its advertising focuses on the bike’s most marketable attribute: the Switchback is actually two bikes in one. First, it’s a tourer because it comes stock with a windshield and hard-sided saddlebags. But it’s also an around-town cruiser when you remove the bags and windshield, which can be done easily and quickly. When you’re ready to “switch back” to a tourer, simply reattach those accessories.
I don’t think this switcheroo feature is what will attract most women. Sure, it’s nice to have the option to remove the windshield and saddlebags when you don’t need them, but what woman doesn’t need or want a way to carry extra gear? And what woman doesn’t want a way to protect her face from the ravages of the wind? OK, I’m generalizing here, but you get what I mean. I believe the biggest appeal for women is that the Switchback is a motorcycle that’s set up for touring right from the factory and is much easier to handle and costs a lot less than Harley-Davidson’s larger touring models.
When I first sat on the Switchback, I immediately thought “mini Road King.” The image of a man and woman riding side by side popped into my head, the man on his Harley-Davidson Road King and the woman on her “Road Queen,” the Switchback. His and hers—a matched set. So for couples wanting to tour together, consider these two motorcycles. Note to Harley-Davidson: I’ll allow you to use my idea of marketing these two motorcycles together as “his and hers.” With women influencing 85 percent of households’ purchasing decisions, this would appear to be a smart marketing strategy to get more guys (your core market) on the road. You can thank me later.
Comparing the Switchback to the Road King:
Weighing nearly 100 pounds less than the Road King, most women, and some men (smaller guys as well as aging baby boomers dealing with waning strength and balance), will find the lighter weight and narrower profile easier to handle. The $1,500 cheaper price tag makes the jump from midsize cruiser (750cc to 1300cc) to the world of touring Harleys financially feasible, too.
With the Switchback, a rider doesn’t have to spring for touring accessories, like a windshield and saddlebags. With most of Harleys non-touring motorcycles, you’ll plunk down hundreds of dollars for these and other touring-oriented aftermarket parts. But for a price starting at $15,999, the Switchback is ready for your long-distance journeys.
Comparing the Switchback to the Softail Deluxe, a motorcycle that’s more popular among women than the Road King because of its extremely low seat height and stylish looks, the Switchback is a bargain at $1,100 less, which includes those saddlebags and that windshield. If youre wondering why Im not comparing the Switchback to the Heritage Softail Classic, a bike that does come with bags and a windshield too, its because that bike is not as popular among women riders, at least not as popular as the Deluxe.
Comparing the Switchback to the Softail Deluxe:
It costs approximately $1,500 to add hard saddlebags to the Softail Deluxe ($800 for locking leather saddlebags) and approximately $425 for a windshield. Your “tour-ready” Softail Deluxe now costs around $18,300. So the Switchback, at $15,999, is a bargain, and it boasts the same powerful engine as the Deluxe, the Twin Cam 103 (that translates to a displacement of 1690cc). The same engine also powers the Road King and Harley-Davidson’s other touring motorcycles.
The power of the 103 engine is mightily evident on the Switchback. I’ve ridden all the Dyna models and have come to expect a certain amount of power out of these nimble motorcycles. I definitely felt the additional power of the 103—6 percent more torque over the Twin Cam 96—as I shifted through the six gears to get up to speed. Much of the torque (the muscle of the bike) is felt in the midrange of the powerband—that is, when shifting through third and fourth gear—producing up to 100 ft. lbs. of peak torque. Then when you’re up to about 70 mph in fifth gear, it’s nice to have that sixth gear to lower the RPMs so the motorcycle doesn’t feel like it’s screaming.
I cranked the throttle to 80 mph and was pleasantly surprised that the “cruising” feeling was maintained without the bike feeling like it was being pushed beyond its limits. I felt some vibration in my feet at high speeds (despite the rubber dampening on the floorboards), but nothing that adversely affected the ride.
So how does the Switchback handle corners? With grace and ease, never missing a beat. The Switchback inspired confidence, allowing me to fly through the twisties without that lumbered, heavy feeling that I’ve always said I felt on some of the Softails, namely the Fat Boy. The Switchback’s low-profile Dunlop 130/70B18 front tire and new front-end geometry contribute to the bike’s stable and planted feeling. While it doesn’t have any of a sportbike’s “zippy” qualities, the Switchback certainly feels right at home on the switchbacks, giving you an enjoyable break from the straightaways.
The stock suspension setting was ideal when I had the motorcycle loaded up with my backrest bag and saddlebags full of 25 or 30 pounds of gear. I glided over bumps, with the shocks soaking up the impact. However, my 118 pounds were not enough to compress the rear shocks with that extra weight removed, so I did feel the bumps a little more abruptly. If I owned this bike, I might have my dealer adjust the settings on the adjustable rear shocks. The stock setting may be just fine for riders weighing more than me.
The single-disc brakes in the front and rear provided adequate stopping power for the bike. ABS is available as a $1,195 option that comes bundled with Harley-Davidson’s Smart Security System.
Seat height is a low 26.1 inches—certainly not as low as the Softail Deluxe’s 24.5 inches, but the Switchback’s narrow profile makes up for what is lost in the wide saddle spread on the Softail Deluxe. That said, the feeling of a low center of gravity is not as pronounced on the Switchback as on the Deluxe.
The ergonomics were right on for my taste and my size. The seat was plenty comfortable after hours in the saddle, and the position of the floorboards in relation to the seat and handlebars (the three points of contact) flowed just right for me. However, at 5-foot-6.5, I’m taller than most women and have longer arms. Women taller than I am, and men of average height, will feel right at home on the Switchback.
Women who fall into the average height category mentioned above and want to get lower to the ground and closer to the handlebars can install Harley-Davidson’s Super Reduced Reach Solo Seat for $199.95 (part number 54384-11), which brings the rider 1 inch lower and 3 inches forward. There’s also a Reduced Reach seat providing increased reach that’s not as pronounced. These Reduced Reach saddles that the Motor Company introduced a few years ago have been very successful in positioning riders closer to the handlebars and lower to the ground without requiring them to adjust the handlebars or floorboards or change out the shocks. I highly recommend looking into these seats first to see if that improves positioning.
Harley-Davidson introduced a new type of lockable hard saddlebag on the Switchback, one that is latched on and removed from the bike differently than the bags on the company’s other touring motorcycles. I have a Harley-Davidson Street Glide with hard bags, so I was used to positioning the top lid a certain way to close it. The Switchback saddlebags have a different latching mechanism that does not interfere with packing or reduce usable bag volume. It took me a while to get used to doing it this different way, which is no easier or harder, just different. Riders who’ve never used Harley’s hard saddlebags will probably have no problem with it.
Genevieve Demonstrates How to Remove Saddlebags:
I spent some time in the passenger seat of the Switchback and found it to be comfortable enough. I think passengers may be slightly shortchanged with the smaller backseat accommodations when compared to, say, a Road King, which has more space between the passenger and the rider, along with floorboards for the passenger’s feet. But the smaller size of the Switchback doesn’t allow for either.
It’s nice that women riders now have the Switchback as an option for touring with their husbands, partners or friends. Because of the cost, a woman making the transition from a beginner Sportster to a tourer will simply outfit her Sportster with saddlebags and a windshield—still cheaper overall than a brand-new Switchback. But it’s frustrating for many women that their Sportster’s smaller engine has a hard time keeping up with the bigger bikes or that they get that “beat up” feeling at the end of the day from riding long distances on a smaller, less comfortable motorcycle. Thus, the Switchback fills a huge need in many ways.
Specs At A Glance: 2012 Harley-Davidson FLD Dyna Switchback
Seat Height: 26.1 inches
Weight: 718 pounds
Price: Starts at $15,999
Colors: Vivid Black, Brilliant Silver Pearl, Ember Red Sunglo
For women riders ready to start taking multi-day journeys on a motorcycle, the Switchback is a great option. The Switchback keeps the rider comfortable, reduces long-day riding fatigue, keeps up with the big boys, and is economical when compared to Harley-Davidson’s other touring bikes. Confident beginner riders ready to move up from their first “real” bike to one they can keep for a long time will want to consider the Switchback.
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