2012 Harley-Davidsons | First Ride Review

Spanning six model families plus the Custom Vehicle Operations division, the 2012 Harley-Davidson lineup is jam packed with more iron than a steel mill, 32 models in all. The big news, literally, is that the Twin Cam 103 V-twin, which boosts displacement by 7 percent (to 1,690cc) and claimed torque by 6 percent (to 100 lb-ft) over the TC96, is now standard on all Touring, Softail and Dyna models, except for the Street Bob and Super Glide Custom. The TC103B has automatic compression release valves for easier starting, and there are identifying badges on the air cleaner and derby and timer covers. We had a chance to ride Harley’s newest models at the company’s press launch in Park City, Utah.

2012 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline
2012 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline

Aimed squarely at up-and-coming riders who like their Harleys stripped down and their pork sandwiches greasy and served in a dirty ashtray, the new Softail Blackline ($15,499-$15,999) is dark, long and low. It features an internally wired Split Drag handlebar, 24-inch seat height and spoked wheels with black anodized rims, skinny tires and chopped fenders. Dress like Johnny Cash, assume the clamshell position and feel your heart throb in time with the rigid-mounted, 45-degree V-twin. The narrow bar requires muscle to get the Blackline around a corner and the forward-mounted pegs drag early, but swaggering style requires sacrifice. Forget walking. Ride the ‘line.

2012 Harley-Davidson Sporster 1200 Custom
2012 Harley-Davidson Sporster 1200 Custom

With a wide front end and fat 16-inch tire, the Sportster 1200 Custom ($10,299-$10,809) gets new chrome, five-spoke cast aluminum wheels, a pull-back handlebar with polished triple clamps, forward foot controls, reshaped headlight and LED taillight, and retuned suspension. Its also the debut platform for H-D1 factory customization, a new program that allows buyers to choose from a wide selection of factory- and dealer-installed accessories, including wheels, handlebars, seats, saddlebags, windscreens, foot controls, paint, engine finish and more. Over 2,600 combinations are possible. If so many choices seem overwhelming, don’t worry; Harley has several pre-configured versions to inspire you. Personalize your Sportster 1200 Custom using H-D1 Bike Builder at www.harley-davidson.com, view the bike and price as you create it, then share it with a Harley-Davidson dealer for fine-tuning and ordering. In stock configuration, the compact, lightweight Custom makes short work of tight corners, and the shuddering 1,200cc Evolution V-twin makes decent power, though at stop lights my eyeballs shook and the horizon bounced around like an earthquake. Back home, on H-D1 Bike Builder I mocked up a sinister, blacked-out Sportster loaded with accessories that topped out at $14,000!

2012 Harley-Davidson 10th Anniversary Edition V-Rod
2012 Harley-Davidson 10th Anniversary Edition V-Rod

Highly publicized but rarely televised, the Revolution happened in 2002. To celebrate a decade of building liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-twins for the VRSC (V-twin Racing Street Custom) family, Harley-Davidson has introduced a 10th Anniversary Edition V-Rod for 2012 ($15,999). With Brilliant Silver Pearl bodywork, a color-matched frame and extra chrome and polished parts that pay homage to the anodized aluminum bodywork of the original V-Rod, the Anniversary is more comfortable and handles better than its predecessor. A new pullback handlebar brings the controls three inches closer to the rider, and revised mounts for the footpegs reduce reach by more than an inch. New five-spoke cast aluminum wheels reduce unsprung weight by three pounds, and a new male-slider fork and retuned rear shocks improve ride quality. On twisty roads in the Wasatch Mountains, the new V-Rod felt more nimble if not exactly flickable, and the less stretched-out riding position felt more natural. The V-Rod has always been about smooth, immediate power, and it’s 1,250cc, 125-horsepower (claimed) engine did not disappoint. The Anniversary V-Rod also gets a new tapered tail section with trick flush-mount taillight, revised two-up seat, new exhaust and styling enhancements, including a 10th anniversary emblem. The Night Rod ($15,299-$15,609) gets many of the same changes, while the V-Rod Muscle ($14,999-$15,509) returns unchanged except for the anniversary emblem.

2012 Harley-Davidson Dyna Switchback
2012 Harley-Davidson Dyna Switchback

Also new for 2012 is the Dyna Switchback ($15,999-$16,384). Similar to the CVO Softail Convertible, the Switchback can be switched from touring to cruiser configuration quickly and easily without tools, and back again. Its windscreen provides good wind protection when you need it, and it pops right off when you don’t. The color-matched, top-loading, locking saddlebags provide the look and functionality of a bagger, yet they too can be removed in less time than it takes to read this sentence. Powered by a rubber-mounted Twin Cam 103 V-twin engine and weighing in at a claimed 718 pounds ready-to-ride, the Switchback is said to be the lightest touring cruiser in its displacement category (1,690cc). New front-end geometry, premium suspension components and a low-profile front tire deliver a plush, responsive ride. And the mini-ape handlebar, rider floorboards and two-up touring seat provided a comfortable, natural seating position. I was impressed with how easily the windscreen and saddlebags could be removed or reattached, and the Bullitt-style black mag wheels are very cool. Look for a full test of the Switchback in the November issue of Rider.

For more information about the full 2012 Harley-Davidson lineup, visit www.harley-davidson.com.


  1. This is my first time reading your magazine online. I read the complete article on the new Victories and Harley’s. I also read the road tests of the Kawa Vaquero vs the Star Stratoliner. Very good and objective writing. You call it like it is. Keep up the good work.


  2. “The narrow bar requires muscle to get the Blackline around a corner and the forward-mounted pegs drag early, but swaggering style requires sacrifice. Forget walking. Ride the ‘line.”

    Sounds like a fun machine …. NOT

    Test ride a Victory. Once you ride one, you’ll buy one. These hds handle like tug boats. Are you a rider or a biker?

  3. HDs on their own are ok, but the majority of their “riders” are still stuck in yesterday, and really people, loud pipes really suck.

  4. Mr.Doyle aparently doesn’t ride a Harley and loud pipes to some are annoying, but to others it’s music to their ears. As far as being stuck in yesterday I for one would like to go back to yesterday. People back then still had manners and common sense. I like my Harley and it’s loud pipes. Sorry Mr. Doyle, but maybe you should try it. You might like it.

  5. Harleys are Harleys. I would like to own one again if I could afford two machines. Yeah they have a mystique and a following. To each their own.

  6. Loud pipes are rude & obnoxious. Folks that have them realize that. Generally, these are the same ones “crackin’ their throttles” at stop signs and signals annoying everyone for several blocks around. Personally, I never could understand the loud pipe thing. “IT SAVES LIVES” they say. I say NOT! Adjusting riding habits, brushing up on basic defensive driving and wearing other than dark/subdued clothing WILL be more effective than loud pipes. I’ve ridden for 28 years, mostly HD’s, with an ’09 Ultra as my current machine. Folks riding with loud pipes aren’t “safe guarded” by the excessive noise as those folks still get “lane changed”, “cut off” or “right of way’d”! Todays cars feature very quiet interiors. At 55 mph, with windows up, normal conversation (or not), radio and a/c on (or not); a SIREN is inaudable. If You can’t hear a siren behind You how are You going to hear loud pipes?

  7. I’ve owned all kinds of bikes over the years, all with loud pipes. Sport bikes with loud pipes are the most annoying (ear-pearcing screech) to me now, but understand the mentality of the young riders today.

    My Harley has non-stock pipes but is quiet by comparison to sport bikes. It just sounds healthy. Anyway, a loud horn is all you need to keep safe.


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