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The History of the Harley-Davidson Road King: A Legacy on Two Wheels

Road King - Fiona 2017 Road King - Fiona

I ride a 2017 Road King with a 131 crate motor and too much chrome, but I like it. it's my dream bike. In fact, My Wife and 2 sons both have Road Kings also. When it comes to iconic motorcycles, few names resonate as profoundly as Harley-Davidson. Among the many legendary models produced by this historic brand, the Harley-Davidson Road King stands out as a true classic. Known for its timeless design, powerful performance, and long-haul comfort, the Road King has cemented its place in motorcycle history. This blog post dives into the rich history of the Harley-Davidson Road King, tracing its evolution from its inception to its current status as a beloved touring motorcycle.

49938075 10158080476903272 8795040209759633408 nThe Birth of the Road King

The Harley-Davidson Road King was introduced in 1994 as part of the company's FL series. The FL series, which began in 1941, featured larger-framed motorcycles with big V-twin engines, setting the standard for American touring bikes. The Road King was designed to blend the classic styling cues of Harley-Davidson's heritage with modern performance and comfort features.

Early Models: 1994-1999

The first Road King, the FLHR, had an 80 cubic inch (1340cc) Evolution engine. It featured a nostalgic design reminiscent of the 1960s Electra Glide, with a large headlamp, chrome nacelle, and hard saddlebags. The bike's retro looks and modern functionality quickly made it a favorite among riders who wanted a versatile motorcycle suitable for cruising and long-distance touring.

In 1996, Harley-Davidson introduced the FLHRI, an updated version of the Road King that came with electronic fuel injection (EFI) as an option. This upgrade improved throttle response and overall performance, further enhancing the bike's appeal.

The Evolution Continues: 2000-2008

The turn of the millennium saw significant advancements for the Road King. In 1999, Harley-Davidson replaced the Evolution engine with the new Twin Cam 88 engine, offering increased displacement (1450cc) and improved reliability. This engine upgrade marked a significant leap in performance and durability for the Road King.

In 2004, the Road King Classic (FLHRC) was introduced, featuring leather-wrapped hard saddlebags, wide whitewall tires, and spoke wheels, accentuating the bike's vintage aesthetic. The Classic model quickly became a staple in the Road King lineup, appealing to riders who valued nostalgic styling.

Project Rushmore: 2014

One of the most significant updates in recent years was the introduction of Project Rushmore in 2014. Project Rushmore was a comprehensive overhaul of Harley-Davidson's touring models, including the Road King, aimed at improving performance, comfort, and technology.

Key changes brought by Project Rushmore include:

  1. Improved Engine Performance: The Twin Cam 103 engine became standard, providing more power and torque. This upgrade enhanced acceleration and overall ride quality.

  2. Enhanced Braking System: Reflex-linked brakes with ABS were introduced, offering better braking performance and stability. This system automatically links the front and rear brakes for improved stopping power and control.

  3. Improved Handling: The frame and suspension were redesigned for better handling and a smoother ride. The new front forks and rear shocks provided enhanced comfort and stability, especially during long rides.

  4. Advanced Infotainment System: While the Road King does not come with a built-in infotainment system like other touring models, the Project Rushmore updates included improvements to the bike's electrical system, allowing for better integration of aftermarket accessories.

  5. Aerodynamic Enhancements: Improved wind management was achieved through redesigned windshields and air deflectors, reducing buffeting and increasing rider comfort.

  6. Upgraded Lighting: The introduction of Daymaker LED headlights provided brighter and more efficient lighting, improving visibility and safety.

These updates significantly enhanced the Road King's performance, comfort, and safety, making it an even more attractive option for touring enthusiasts.

The 131 Crate Motor: A Personal Upgrade

In recent years, Harley-Davidson has offered the 131 cubic inch (2147cc) crate motor, the most powerful engine the company has ever produced for touring bikes. This high-performance engine boasts 121 horsepower and 131 ft-lb of torque, providing an unparalleled boost in power and acceleration.

275730460 10161634677953272 4303319648591992132 nI upgraded my Harley-Davidson Road King with the new 131 crate motor. The installation was expertly handled by custom bike builder Shane Gatto at Utica Harley-Davidson. The process was a thrilling project, transforming my Road King into a beast on the road. The increase in power and performance has been remarkable, making every ride an exhilarating experience. This personal upgrade exemplifies how the Road King continues to evolve with the latest advancements, allowing riders to customize their bikes to meet their performance needs and desires.

Famous Riders and Pop Culture Appearances

The Harley-Davidson Road King has attracted many famous riders over the years. Celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jay Leno, Bruce Springsteen, and Mickey Rourke are known for their love of motorcycles and have been seen riding Road Kings. The model's blend of classic styling and modern performance makes it a favorite among high-profile enthusiasts.

In addition to its celebrity fan base, the Road King has made several appearances in movies and television shows. For instance, it was prominently featured in the movie "Wild Hogs" (2007), a comedy about four middle-aged friends embarking on a motorcycle road trip. The Road King also made an appearance in the popular TV series "Sons of Anarchy," further cementing its status as an iconic motorcycle in pop culture.

The Road King Today

Today, the Harley-Davidson Road King remains a cornerstone of the company's touring lineup. It continues to offer a blend of classic styling, modern technology, and long-distance comfort. Features such as electronic cruise control, Reflex Linked Brembo brakes with ABS, and high-performance suspension ensure that the Road King meets the demands of contemporary riders.

The Road King's timeless design, characterized by its iconic headlamp, spacious saddlebags, and comfortable riding position, continues to draw admirers from around the world. Whether used for cross-country adventures or weekend cruises, the Road King exemplifies the enduring appeal of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.


The Harley-Davidson Road King is more than just a motorcycle; it is a symbol of freedom, adventure, and the open road. Its evolution over the past few decades reflects Harley-Davidson's commitment to preserving its heritage while embracing innovation. As the Road King continues to capture the hearts of riders, it stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of Harley-Davidson and the timeless allure of the open road.

Feel free to use this comprehensive history of the Harley-Davidson Road King for your blog. If you'd like any specific details or nuances added, let me know!

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