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Avid motorcyclist & freelance writer, specializing in motorcycles & motorcycle related topics, with a healthy dose of good humor, good vibes & general advice on simply being a good person.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

PRODUCT REVIEW! Road King Special Handlebar UPGRADE!

Product Review- KST Kustom's 12" StraightJacket bars

If you watched the long-term review of my 2017 Harley-Davidson Road King Special that I did on my YouTube channel, you will no doubt know that my biggest point of contention with this motorcycle was the absolutely awful handlebars that the MoCo installed on this, otherwise fantastic, machine. I don't claim to be a great video blogger, hell, I don't claim to be a great blogger... but I do consider myself to be an extremely fair and impartial judge of motorcycles, moto-gear and moto-parts. It's in that fair and impartial judgement that I try to bring you good folks- my devoted readers- some insight and some, hopefully, helpful information to help you decide on what to spend your hard-earned dough on. So, if you've dropped a stack of Benjamins on a Road King Special and you are tired of the pinched wrists and numb fingers from those stock bars, keep reading because this review might just help you decide.

Now, without further adieu, let's talk about these bars!

KST Kustoms- company background

KST Kustoms is based right here in the good ole' US of A, operating in the sweet southern air of Bremen, Georgia. According to their website, they build their handlebars in a 21,000 square foot facility using over 30 years of experience in the motorcycle industry dealing with several major manufacturers, to include Harley-Davidson, Victory and Indian. Why is that important, you might ask? Well, simply put, they understand the importance of high quality parts with premium finishes and high grade materials. In other words, you aren't likely to buy anything from this company that is going to bend, twist or corrode.

Google Earth view of KST Enterprises 21k sq ft facility

Another interesting note from their website is that they "strive to exceed" their customer's expectations with a "commitment of respect and honesty." Well then, color me intrigued. Those aren't values commonly seen in many of the companies we deal with these days. The folks over at KST, Brett Kent and Ret Tolleson, also claim to design their handlebars "to maximize handling and minimize fatigue all while looking aesthetically pleasing." If you watched my video review all the way through, you probably noticed that I spent an unfortunate amount of time complaining about the bars on my beloved Road King Special because, while the finish was nice, the shape was awful. My fingers would go numb, my hands would hurt and my wrists would get cramps from the angle of the grips. I also noted that one of the most significant things that attracted me to this bike was the appearance- it is an absolutely beautiful motorcycle- so putting a set of cheap, crappy handlebars on it was simply not an option for me. Being a working man, though, spending a thousand bucks on bars wasn't an option either. There is always a middle ground and that's what I found with these bars. 

Opening the box

My first impression of opening the box was pretty basic- a big, more or less, empty box with a set of very well wrapped bars in it. I don't need much more than that. The bars were wrapped from tip to tip, with nowhere for any of those pesky scratches to get in. The label was attached to the bars and the wiring was attached to the label- simple, basic and to the point. I liked it. Not sure if you need the wiring extensions? No problem, their website explains what you need for your particular bike. If you still want to make sure, just shoot Ret a message and he'll tell you exactly what you need for your bike. If you have a 2017 and up Road King Special, though- you can take my word for it- you only need the wiring extensions and KST sells them for $35. Your stock hydraulic brake and clutch hoses are long enough.


These bars feel good and have a nice weight to them. They feel like a high-quality component. Installation was pretty straightforward- a few basic hand tools and a couple of beers paired up with some good music in the background for... ambience. But seriously, you just need to cover your tins with blankets to protect them from dings or scratches and take your time. You can always pay someone else to do it for you, but why would you? It's an easy job and you'll have the satisfaction of telling your wife (or husband) how much money you saved. One thing to note- when you are removing your brake and clutch assemblies, take a couple of plastic bags and bag them. The handles are great for suspending them up and out of the way, and the plastic makes sure that they don't inadvertently leak fluid onto your paint. This is a review, not a how-to, so I'll spare you the detailed steps, but basically it goes like this- remove the clutch and brake controls from the bars (DO NOT remove your hydraulic lines from the reservoirs), remove your headlight to get to the wiring behind it, remove the handlebar clamp cover and remove the clamp. Once you have your stock bars off, take it to your work bench and swap the hand controls over to the new bars. 

One thing to note- the largest of the plugs need to be removed from the wires. It's easy to do, (google it, if needed), but just make sure that you take note of which wires came out of which slots (the slots are numbered and the wires are color-coded). I used baling wire to fish the wiring through the new bars, but you can use whatever you have- just make sure it's strong enough to pull your wiring without breaking. Once you have your controls set up on your new bars, plug in the new wiring extensions and head back over to the bike. I left the protective wrapping on until I had them mounted and adjusted to the position that I wanted them in- no need to invite scratches to the party this early, after all. 

GET A Grip!

The stock Harley-Davidson grips are exactly what they need to be- functional and cheap so that there is no regrets about taking off a good quality part to replace it with something that looks or feels better. Grips, mirrors, pegs (or floorboards) and exhaust are the most common things to be replaced first on a motorcycle, so it's best that the MoCo doesn't put too much time and money into these particular items. I've always chosen Avon grips for my Road Kings and Biltwell grips for my Sportster and my Dynas. The Avons have durable rubber inserts over a really nice aluminum core with a beautiful finish that goes perfectly with the look and style of the elegantly refined, highway cruising, Road King. The Biltwells are inexpensive, soft and offer just the right amount of vibration dampening needed for those loud, shaky boulevard bruisers. I've owned three Road Kings and I've haven't been disappointed by Avon grips yet.


Rusty stems on my stock mirrors
Talking about disappointment though- another point of contention with my Road King was the stock mirrors- the finish was truly despicable for a motorcycle that costs as much as a small car. The ironic part is, I actually like the factory Harley-Davidson mirrors. They have a unique, "Harley shape" and they have a great field of view. Most of the time, the finish on their stock mirrors is good, if not great, but for some reason, I guess my bike got the "Friday at 5 finish"- you know, the "it's almost quitting time, this is good enough" workmanship. Maybe they were just a bad batch or maybe some little road gremlins took a leak on them when my bike was parked, but either way- I wasn't about to keep these crusty, rusty pieces of crap on my flagship cruiser. Now, I'm not an uppity person. I don't require brand names or high price tags. I like what I like- functional components with a nice design. The better the price- the happier I am. 

When I found these mirrors on eBay, I kept a close eye on them. The seller claimed them to be new old stock "Kuryakyn Hex II" mirrors. I honestly didn't care who made them, I just liked the shape and the price- under $50. They came wrapped in bubble wrap and when I pulled them out, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality. They are all aluminum and have crystal clear glass. When I installed them, though... they didn't look right to me. There was just something funky that didn't set right, so I contemplated my next move- buy another set and shelf these, or make some kind of modification to them. I had an epiphany and decided to swap the mirror heads from one side to the other. The result was a much more aggressive look, that had a lower profile and a more streamlined shape. It was definitely the right thing to do. Whoever made these mirrors needs to be proud of their workmanship. They are well made with an aluminum body and aluminum stems. They have a clear field of vision and hold steady even on the worst roads I've found. Not bad for less than $50.

Final thoughts

The guys at  KST make some bold claims about their products and company and I'm here to tell you- they back them up. They are friendly, helpful and very responsive and the best part is, they deliver exactly what they promise- high quality parts with a great price and exceptional customer service. These bars are well designed and perfectly executed and best of all, they look like they were designed for this motorcycle. No more suffering with numb fingers and pinched wrists. The height on the 12" Straightjackets are perfect for my five foot, nine inch tall "dad-bod" and I've even noticed that they make the bike feel even more nimble than before, probably because of the additional leverage gained by the extra 3" in height. 

Look, I'm a simple guy. Harley-Davidson hit a homerun when they first introduced the Road King in 1994. It had everything that a rider could need, a big comfortable seat perched atop a big frame that was purpose-built to stand up to hours out on the open road. It had lockable saddlebags to keep your gear dry and secure and a basic, removable, windshield to keep most of the bugs and some of the rain off of you. Over the years, the engineers in Milwaukee refined that machine, over and over, making it more comfortable, more fuel efficient and more powerful. In 2017, they gave it a makeover to give it a more aggressive look and, in my humble opinion, they knocked it out of the park. I absolutely love this bike, but over the past twenty thousand miles, I've grown to despise the sorry excuse for handlebars that the Motor Company mounted on top of that majestic Hiawatha headlight. If anyone from the best damned motorcycle company in the world is reading this blog, I would strongly encourage them to give Brett and Ret at KST Kustoms a call about giving this badass bike an upgrade on the assembly line. In case they don't though, and you have a set of those awful, 9" tall atrocities that came stock on the FLHRXS, check out the products offered by KST. Place your order, grab your service manual, crack open a tasty beverage and get to work making your Road King Special, truly special.

Until next time, ride safe and make good choices, y'all... I've got some riding to do.

Stock grips are... well, stock grips- cheap and easy to replace

The new bars behind the stock H-D CVO Windsplitter windshield

Just a couple of upgrades from factory-
J.W. Speaker headlight, KST Kustoms
Straightjacket 12" bars, and some "mystery"
mirrors from eBay.

The new mirrors didn't look right to me...

...but with a simple swap of the mirror heads, I got the look I was going for.

Before and after, showing the height difference

These bars look good with the windscreen...

...and without.