Traditionally, Harleys are really good-looking motorcycles that leave a lasting impression on you when you see them rolling down the street. And that signature rolling thunder exhaust note instantly reminds you of cruising down the wide-open American freeways. Now, unfortunately, we don’t have too many of those freeways, like they do in the US. But Harley has been listening because, for 2017, it brings us the 1,200cc Roadster. It gets the same frame and engine as the rest of Harley’s Sportster series, but its design and execution remind you of the brand’s performance-oriented past. It also gets a few special parts that are not only a first for the bike maker, but also help make it a better motorcycle for India.
The powder room
The Roadster is the most sport-oriented version in the Sportster series since the discontinued XR1200. It is an alternative to the more conventional cruiser variants such as the Forty-Eight and the 1200 Custom. And while its looks do remind you of the Iron 883, closer inspection will tell you otherwise.
In keeping with the Sportster theme, the Roadster gets a shortened front fender and a chopped rear one. The 12.5-litre peanut tank sits atop a blacked-out engine keeping with Harley’s Dark Custom theme. While the fuel capacity still isn’t something to be marvelled at, it certainly is an improvement over the minuscule 7.9-litre one on the Forty-Eight with which it shares its headlight. It, however, does get a partially digital speedometer that has readings for speed, odometer, trip meters and a clock, with the tachometer being an analogue unit. The only issue here is that the digital readout becomes rather hard to read under direct sunlight. The Roadster sits on really good-looking split five-spoke cast wheels.
The Roadster’s styling is classic and aggressive, and reminds you of Harley’s performance-oriented past.
This new stepped single seat is reasonably comfortable and also adds to the classic and aggressive look of the Roadster. Its low-set handlebar resembles the Clubman handlebars and will have you leaning forward a bit. This position keeps things low and will help with quicker changes in direction. One small issue could be the position of the footpegs. While they are still a bit forward set in terms of seating geometry, they’re definitely going to get in the way when you have to put your feet down.
The 1,202cc Evolution motor that the Roadster comes equipped with turns 30 this year and is as likeable and torquey as it used to be. However, since this bike does have the extra handling capabilities, a slight bump in power would have complemented its racier looks. The relaxed nature of the engine is quite in contrast to the sporty theme of the motorcycle. Although this is a torque-rich engine, it still takes a fair bit of shifting to keep it responsive and avoid piston-knocking. For quick throttle response in the turns, working through the gearbox becomes quite a necessity. The clutch still feels heavy to operate, and that’s definitely going to be a hassle in heavy traffic situations. And, as we’ve seen before, there’s still a lot of vibration at idle, which smooths out once you get to higher revs.
1,202cc torque-rich engine makes launches really fun, and the steeply stepped seat holds the rider in place, getting off the line.
What really sets this bike apart from its Harley stable mates is this: the Roadster gets 43mm inverted forks and twin 300mm discs at the front, so you just know this is going to take things up a notch. It even comes with ABS, which is only for the rear tyre. It also has the most suspension travel of any of the Harleys – 4.5 inches up front and 3.2 inches at the rear, which isn’t much compared to other motorcycles, but is still an improvement over the older models.
The cavernous shape of the rider’s saddle comes quite handy when pulling hard off the line. It really holds the rider in place and prevents them from sliding backwards. The padding on the seat definitely adds comfort on longer hauls. The pillion seat, however, won’t be very comfortable for anything other than short spins around the city. It slopes towards the rear and constantly gives you a sensation of sliding off.
The 43mm inverted forks really iron out the bumps thanks to improved cartridge dampening, which, in turn, makes the bike a lot more stable around turns and gives you the confidence to lean deep into the corner. And the Harley-Davidson-specific Dunlop tyres do a spectacular job with grip levels. Even the upgraded adjustable rear shocks, while still on the stiffer side, do manage to soak up uneven surfaces reasonably well. Combine all these factors and the newly adjusted steering geometry, and the Roadster is more nimble and responsive than any of the other Sportsters. Another big bonus is that the bike gets 1500mm of ground clearance, which means unlike Harley’s other Sportster models, the Roadster can conquer most of the badly designed bumps that litter our roads (except the ones of biblical proportions).
The steed for you
Performance-wise, Harley-Davidson is just stepping up to the level other cruiser manufacturers have been at for a while. But this is one of those bikes that is fun to ride and still reminds you of its long lineage. We can only hope that Harley continues to push the envelope with its other models and bring them up to date. And at Rs 9.70 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) for the base variant, the Roadster is priced quite decently. We just need to wait and see if it can appeal to customers beyond the realm of Harley-Davidson’s classic cruiser.