We're not Harley-Davidson bashers here at Motorcycle Thailand. Most of them may not inherently float our collective collection, but there are a few in the range that are genuinely nice motorcycles. There's a lot to be said for motorcycles like the Vrod, Fat Boy and the 48 – mainly because they all satisfy their brief admirably, delivering a riding experience, and pre-packaged lifestyle, to their happy owners.
Harley-Davidson suffers from its popularity in its home market though, and has long profited from its ability to sell mediocre motorcycles to riders who just want the badge and don't know the difference in the saddle. It's doesn't inspire development, or excellence.
The Harley-Davidson Switchback isn't that bad, but it's firmly in the bland camp for the marque. The new 103 engine is certainly an advancement in refinement, but it lacks character when it's this silenced. While you can wind it up, it really needs a chassis to work in – and the Switchback's isn't great. It's a motorcycle trying to be all things to all men, which is its one strength, and also its biggest weakness. The pageantry of owning a bit of Harley-Davidson muscle is entirely absent here. It could almost be a Japanese cruiser for all the character it exudes, and the headline USPs of the motorcycle are weak in the extreme. The name is the clue. Harley-Davidson markets this as two motorcycles in one. It's a tourer in the guise you see in the top picture, then you pop the quick-release screen and panniers off, and you've switched to an urban cruiser. As USPs go, it's hardly impressive.
Moreover, and crucially, the ride leaves you cold. In town it's ponderous and so dull that you don't even get to bathe in the admiration of having a Harley-Davidson. Out on the open road the wind noise is intrusive, the riding position isn't particularly natural, and the lack of ground clearance calls time on any cornering fun before the engine's really got into its stride.
If you let the ample footboards take a battering in the pursuit of ever-increasing clearance, the massive frame outriggers go down, levering both ends off the ground at the same time. This is made more frustration by how nicely the Harley-Davidson Switchback steers. It's neutral enough to hold no surprises at any speed or angle, and the 160 rear tire helps to make its near 1600mm wheelbase feel much shorter than it is.
We're being a bit hard on the Harley-Davidson, but there's nothing to draw you in, or away from the better options in the range. We've already mentioned the tempters in the stable, and any one of them would offer you a better experience and greater satisfaction in the saddle.