Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Brief Illustrated History of the Harley-Davidson Road King FLHR

I am proud of my 2008 Road King, which I custom-ordered from the factory in York, PA while deployed to Iraq. My cycle was waiting for me at Patriot Harley-Davidson in Fairfax, VA, when I returned from Baghdad.

The Road King, aka FLHR, is a popular model with a proud history. Introduced in 1994, the Road King has roots going all the way back to the first FL model in 1941.

The very first Harley-Davidsons crafted in 1903 resemble motorized bicycles. As the Motor Company developed larger engines, designers built specialized frames for track racing, off-road racing, climbing, or hauling. The modern Road King is a highly refined touring machine which evolved from the big frame bikes that hogged the American roads in the 1940s.

Following is an illustrated history of the King of the Road, Harley-Davidson's FLHR Road King.

Big frame bikes included EL, U, UL, UH, and ULH

FL is introduced with 74 cu in Kucklehead, same frame as EL, U, and UL.
FL replaced UH and ULH

FL gets a 74 cu in Panhead. U and UL with Flathead discontinued, leaving FL
and EL as the only two large frame bikes

FL gets new front suspension, hydraulically damped telescopic forks, and 
a new name, "Hydra-Glide." The "Glide" name was applied to other bikes, 
leading to some confusion.

FL gets a new transmission (hand clutch and foot shift). The EL with its old 
trans and 61 cu in Panhead is discontinued, leaving the FL as the only large frame bike.

FLH gets a high compression, highly tuned engine and the 3d letter H

FLH gets a new frame with a rear swingarm with coil-over-shock suspension 
and a new name, "Duo-Glide."

FLH gets an electric starter and a new name: Electra-Glide


FLH gets the Shovelhead and a removeable, fork-mounted Batwing fairing.
Later, when the instruments were moved to the fairing it became permanent.

Note: AMF (American Machinery and Foundry) bought Harley-Davidson in 1969, rescuing it from bankruptcy, and sold it in 1981 to a group of thirteen investors led by Vaughn Beals and Willie G. Davidson for $80 million. The AMF years coincided with a difficult period in American manufacturing owing in part to the Oil Embargo impacts.

FLs (H & T) get front disc brakes

An unfaired FLH is available called FLHS Electra-Glide Sport.
Discontinued in 1982.

Optional 80 cu in engine is offered; becomes standard in 1981

FLH gets a new frame. FLHT is an Electra Glide on the larger FLT Tour Glide 
frame. Comes with Batwing fairing instead of the Tour Glide's frame-mounted
Sharknose fairing.

All FLs get the rubber-mounted Evolution engine and 5-speed transmission

After a 5-year hiatus, an unfaired FLHT is offered under the revised FLHS Electra-Glide Sport name.

The new FLHR Road King replaces the twice-discontinued FLHS.




FLHR gets the Twin Cam 88.

Harley-Davidson launched the Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) line in 1999. Each year, the Motor Company selects a couple lucky models for a factory custom make-over. It was the Road King's turn in 2002 and the result: FLHRSEI, or FLHR + Screaming Eagle (as in racing parts) + I (as in Roman numeral one, indicating the first of many).

For the second year in a row, the Motor Company selected the Road King for factory installed upgrades in the CVO program. This is the FLHRSE2. which was also briefly known as FLHRSEI^2. But we know that one squared is still one, and the nomenclature soon changed.


FLHR gets the Twin Cam 96.

FLHRSE3 comes with a Twin Cam 110 cubic inch (1800cc) black and chrome engine, 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission, a new 18-inch x 3.5-inch chrome Road Winder forged aluminum front wheel, a new 17-inch x 4.5-inch chrome Road Winder forged aluminum rear wheel, and radial tires 130mm x 18-inch front and 170mm x 17-inch rear. 


FLHR gets a new, longer frame, a 6 gallon fuel tank, a 6-speed transmission, 
and antilock brakes.

The FLHRSE4 is a beauty! 

FLHR gets a new chassis

FLHR gets a new helical cut 5th gear for improved transmission sound (this gear noise is one of the biggest complaints I have about my 2008).

FLHR gets new security package option including factory-installed 
Harley-Davidson® Smart Security System with hands-free fob and Anti-lock 
Braking System (ABS).

FLHR gets new rubber-mounted Twin Cam 103™ V-Twin engine with
Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI),  with heated O2 sensors 
and Electronic Throttle Control (ETC), new tubeless chrome aluminum 
profile laced wheel option, and new paint color options.

The standard FLHR is essentially unchanged from the previous year's model, but H-D's 110th Anniversary edition (shown) features a new tank badge and bronze & black paint scheme. The popular Classic edition returns with leather bags and wide white walls.

The fifth CVO Road King edition (FLHRSE5) features these Road King firsts: factory-installed audio, fairing lowers, and a split windscreen. 


The 20th Anniversary of the FLHR Road King passed with little fanfare. Media attention was directed to the roll-out of Project RUSHMORE, the Motor Company's top-secret remodeling effort--a response to customer feedback and market pressure from competitors like Indian and Victory.  Pressure makes diamonds. Enhanced by Project RUSHMORE, the 2014 Harley-Davidson Road King includes the more-powerful High Output Twin Cam 103, brighter Dual Halogen headlamp and halogen fog lamps, new Impeller wheels, restyled hard saddlebags and a new easier-to-read speedometer. Reflex™ Linked Brakes with ABS are a new option for the Road King. 

Behold the beautiful FLHRSE6, the sixth CVO Road King and one of the most beautiful machines I have ever laid eyes on! The lines are gorgeous. The split screen introduced with the SE5 is still boss, but this model's blacked-out engine guard and racing air filter really enhance the smooth, elegant, powerful look of the SE6.

What does Milwaukee have in store for Road King fans? I can hardly wait to see! Watch this space when the new models are released!


  1. Made some minor updates to this post July 26, 2012. The 6-speed transmission was added in 2007, not 2008 as originally reported. I fixed one misspelled word and changed some formatting. I'll add the 2013 info when it's available. Other comments, updates, corrections are welcome. Please cite your source, and thanks in advance!

  2. Thanks for a marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading
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  3. Added the just-released 2013 information on 23 Aug 2012.

  4. vary sceatchy from 94 to 99 but they had minor changes but its was vary helpfull for my report

    1. Glad you found the summary helpful, Anon. To keep the post true to its name, i.e, both brief and illustrated, I did not include a description of every single year in which a Road King model was produced. I only included the years where there was a significant and "illustrate-able" change.

  5. I still own my 1994 Road King, 63K miles and still shining!

  6. I still own my 1994 Road King, 63K miles and still shining!

    1. Hiya, davegpete! WoW, I am impressed! A Road King from 1994, the first year of production--and still shining! Good for you, and thanks for taking the time to drop me a line. Take care, shiny side up! Dave

  7. 2002 Fuel Injection went from Magneti Marelli EFI to Delphi EFI. Also, in 2002 a new more robust swing arm was added.

  8. 2002 - 2006 1" axle replaced 3/4" as part of the more robust swingarm.

    1. Hey, Anon: I put both of your comments in my database. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Do you ride a 2002 Road King? you know a lot about it!

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. You seem to be quite the Harley Davidson enthusiast! By the way, have you heard about the Softail series coming this year? I like how it has that combination of classy design and an absolutely massive engine. But if I were to buy one, I’d go for the CVO Breakout. For me, it's the most stunning and most powerful bike that Harley Davidson has released in a long time.

    1. Hiya, Max! My Road King is my 2d bike. My first was a Yamaha crotch rocket, which I owned way before kids! But I am older and "wiser" now. I still want the power, but I trade that rocket-like acceleration for long range comfort. I am 6-2 and my Road King fits me just right.

      My dream bike from this year's crop would be the CVO Road Glide Custom (droool!). I love the looks of the new Breakout. Great cruiser! But for 5,000 miles in 2 weeks, I'd take the King in a freedom-loving heartbeat. Cheers!

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