2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special | First Ride Review

Road King Special
Harley’s iconic Road King gets a makeover in the Special version, which is nearly devoid of chrome. Even the new Milwaukee-Eight 107 V-twin is blacked-out. Photos by Brian J. Nelson.

Before the Street Glide took over as Harley’s bestseller about a decade ago, the Road King was its chartbuster for many years. All of the first-year 1994 Road Kings were snatched up immediately, in fact, and some buyers even tried to flip them a few months later for a tidy profit. With its removable windshield and bags the Road King easily converts from a practical traveler into a cool custom profiler, and its classic ’50s styling with acres of chrome, fat Hydra-Glide-like front end and big headlight drew the Harley faithful like bees to honey.

Road King Special
More power, smoothness and cooler running plus better suspension bring serious performance and ride quality to Harley’s Touring family.

With the introduction of the new Milwaukee-Eight V-twin for 2017, all of the bikes in Harley’s Touring family, like the Road King, make more power, run cooler, vibrate less at idle and get slightly better fuel economy. And all-new Showa suspension, with dual bending-valve technology up front that emulates a cartridge fork and hand-adjustable emulsion shocks in back with 15-percent more preload adjustability, does a much better job of soaking up bumps and maintaining control. The improvements have brought fresh attention to the H-D Touring family, which presented Harley with an opportunity to reinvigorate the Road King line with a custom version that should appeal to both current owners and converts.

Road King Special
Engine-turned finish on the tank console is also on the air cleaner.
Road King Special
Saddlebags flow over the mufflers to give the rear a slammed appearance.

The Road King Special is the first Milwaukee-Eight model to feature a blacked-out engine, and in fact the only chrome on the entire bike is on a few key engine covers. Virtually every component that would normally be chromed is finished in black or gloss black, right down to the engine guards, handlebar, hand controls and turn signals. Big front wheels are also hot right now, and the Road King Special’s new gloss-black turbine cast-aluminum wheel set is fronted by a 19-incher topped with a low-profile fender. At the rear, stretched saddlebags drape over the mufflers to give the back a slammed appearance without reducing suspension travel. A fascia panel fills the space between the saddlebags and rear fender, and a low-mount license plate holder completes the custom look of the rear end. To complement that big blacked-out headlight shell, the finishing touch in front is a 9-inch tall mini-ape hanger handlebar.

Road King Special
Saddlebags flow over the mufflers to give the rear a slammed appearance.

That bar and the Special’s seating position proved quite comfortable at the bike’s introduction in Daytona Beach earlier this year, where I took the Special for a 70-mile putt. The bike idles and runs smoothly yet accelerates quick and hard thanks to its new powerplant, and its Reflex linked brakes with ABS stop the bike with authority. The reach to the grips creates a slight forward lean that helps you fight the wind at speed, and the whole bar-seat-floorboard triangle feels natural and relaxed. For more extended rides an optional windshield from Harley’s Detachables line would make the bike just as versatile as the standard Road King, since the Special also has a 6-gallon fuel tank and its locking, top-loading hard bags are slightly larger.

Road King Special
Gloss-black turbine wheels include a large-diameter 19-incher up front.
Road King Special
The Road King Special is the first bike to get a blacked-out Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine.


In case you’re wondering, Harley says the Special’s black finishes are just as durable as chrome, but if its blacked-out looks don’t do it for you, the standard Road King has all of the same functional features for $3,000 less. But once you see the Special in person it’s hard to imagine the bike finished any other way.

Mark’s Gear:
Nolan N87
Jacket: Olympia Richmond
Pants: Olympia X-Moto
Boots: Dainese Long Range

Road King Special
2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special

2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special Specs
Base Price: $21,999
Price as Tested:
$24,399 (Hard Candy Hot Rod Red Flake paint)
Website: harley-davidson.com
Engine Type: Air/oil-cooled, transverse 45-degree V-twin, OHV, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 100.0 x 111.1mm
Displacement: 1,746cc
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated assist-and-slipper clutch
Final Drive: Belt
Wheelbase: 64.0 in.
Rake/Trail: 26.0 degrees/6.9 in.
Seat Height: 27.4 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 818 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 6.0 gals.
MPG: 91 PON min. (low/avg/high) NA



  1. Love the look of this bike, problem is the price. Why does black components cost so much more than chrome? That never made any sense to me. This bike is priced within (and above) Street Glide and Road Glide prices. That’s a tough sell even if it looks so cool. Plus at that price they can’t even include a removable windshield which comes standard with base Road Kings?
    I rode one of these in Americade and really really liked it. But not at 22K. Would have to go with a Street Glide at that price point.

  2. The Road King is not designed to be ridden without the saddlebags. Sure they come off, but you look like an idiot riding without them. Your comment in that regard is wrong, it does not become a cool custom profiler. Sheesh.

  3. Haven’t ridden a bike in 20 years, bought a 2017 Road King because it has everything I want in a bike. Classic looks and styling, high reliability, and the ability to morph from a local runaround bike to a long distance bike. I will add cruise control for that, and have already added an external power port for a gps.
    Not concerned about the price point, the Harleys hold resale better than any other bike I looked at.

  4. Just some facts to chew on. 2017 Black Roadking is 18999. Optional abs at 795. optional security system at 395. These two options are not for everyone. Cruise control is standard. The turbine wheels that are not available on regular Roadking would be around 1250. option and stretched bags are not available on non-special would be about 1500. option. Lets face it black is the new younger consumers chrome. As for the metric comment, not worth commenting until you bike can hold some value in any market place. Resale equals lower cost to ride. HD is king of resale, its where you can find all the riders on the weekends.
    So, the Street glide special at 23699 in black does not have stretched bags available from the factory and turbine wheels are also not available. If you add 1500. and 1250. to the Streetglide price its 26449 vs. 21999. that’s compairing apples to apples.

    • Well put Barry, also comparing the RK at 18,999 to the RK special at 21.999:
      For that extra 3k you get the stretch bags, ABS & security standard & turbine wheels.
      however you do lose the two head lamps % windshield.
      After mulling it over I opted for the RK special & will add aftermarket windshield.
      Bad Ass!


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