2012 Harley-Davidson Switchback

The 2012 Harley-Davidson Switchback works like an Autobot, but it might really be a Decepticon.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

Powerful, smooth and comfortable, its ability to swap options off an on in little time transforms it from a cruiser to a touring bike, depending on a rider’s needs and preferences. But, while its length and adjustable bulk can deceive you into thinking the 2012 Switchback feels heavy and unresponsive, its construction and technology provide a fun ride.

We had a couple weeks to road test a gleaming chrome and silver variation of the the 2012 model, and we hated to give it back. New to Harley-Davidson’s Dyna lineup as of last year, it’s a bike that earns its name. You might consider the Switchback a direct, more affordable descendant of the elite, top of the Harley line 2011 Softail CVO Convertible. Milwaukee’s bike maker applied the same concept of change on the go for the Switchback for significantly less money.

While the CVO models can run as high as $30,000+, the Switchback comes in between $15,999 and $16,384, depending on color and other options.

To make the quick transformation, a rider removes the fork-mounted windshield and color-matched saddlebags – without tools. You can pull off the entire operation in about a minute, even without a lot of experience with motorcycles. I proved that by inviting a non-riding neighbor over to both take off an reinstall those adjustable elements. She pulled it off without a hitch and got a free ride out of the deal.

Between your legs you get an air-cooled Twin Cam 103 V-Twin with electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection. Having ridden a couple of the SVO versions, I found the Switchback to be a much lighter ride – both in balance and in the control department. While I found the clutch handle and brakes on the SVO formidable, the Switchback serves up a more deft touch.

At more than 90 inches in length, the Switchback (thought visually striking in its chrome glory) looks like another big Harley-Davidson from a distance – the kind of bike your backside will be grateful for on longer rides, but might lack a little maneuverability, the Switchback is a pleasant surprise. By using composite materials in the body and engine block, there seems to be enough weight stripped out of the body to allow a little more lean and a little more play in the corners. And you can enjoy all of that along with the stability at speed you want when taking your cruiser out on the freeway.

Most importantly, the design experts at Harley-Davidson really got it right on this Dyna. It’s a striking, aggressive design with its low signature and and slung handlebars. While I can’t say what reaction its other color schemes might pull in, the gleaming chrome machine I tooled around the streets of LA drew ample attention. It’s a bike that either inspires onlookers to wish they owned one or to get out of the way.

While it’s not the most expensive motorcycle in the Harley-Davidson line, the Switchback is one of the more sophisticated. Its ability to change appearance and function almost on the fly is a bonus when added to its impressive, broad-shouldered styling.