The 2017 Harleys are here and the first one we've gotten our hand on in India is the Roadster. Firstly, let me tell you that I'm mighty impressed. If this is how the new Harleys are going to be, I'm quite happy.
If you know what the Sportsters look like, then the Harley-Davidson Roadster will look familiar to you. But only at first glance. The tank might look a lot like what the Forty Eight and the Iron had/has, but other than the shape of the tank, it is a completely different motorcycle. First off, that Forty Eight looking tank isn't the "peanut" tank that we've all been familiar with. The Roadster uses the "walnut" tank that takes 12.5 litres. It also gets new, lower mounted handlebars, mid-set footpegs, chopped fenders and even digital-analog instrumentation.
In short, it looks like a Sportster, but sportier.
Well, it uses the 1202cc motor that also does duty in the 1200 Custom. It makes 103Nm of torque at 3,750rpm and uses a 5-speed gearbox to transfer all the power to the wheels. Off the line, it does tend to bog down a bit unless you're slipping the clutch a lot, but that isn't what this motor is meant for. Harley motors have always been about torque and this one is no different. It's got lots of low down torque and with a determined mind, you can overwhelm the sticky rubber quite easily. And since it has no electronic aids, laying darkies isn't a problem.
The feel of the motor, though, is typically Harley 1200. It's is a vibey motor and that does tend to become an annoyance on long rides. Around 100-120kmph, it's very happy, but when you start revving to the redline, it starts protesting. It likes being in the low to mid ranges and performs best within that bracket.
For me, this is where the meat of this new bike lies. The Roadster uses a new 43mm upside down fork up front with triple rate springs. It also has a rake of 28.9 degrees, which is lower that the 1200 Custom. The rear suspension too is all new and gets a screw type preload adjuster.
All the changes mean that the vagueness that the older Sportsters had is now gone. In its place is a new found sure-footedness that you will notice the first time you hit a set of corners. The Roadster is incredibly poised all through the corner. Turn in is measured and accurate. It holds it's line really well and also doesn't nose dive every time you grab the front brake. The front end offers a lot of feel and confidence while riding the motorcycle hard. It points to a suspension setup that no longer feels old but instead feels like a sophisticated unit that is at par with most new motorcycles in the market today.
The flip side, though, is that the sporty suspension means the ride quality has suffered. The Harley-Davidson Roadster is a stiff motorcycle and over our roads it feels as much. You can feel all the bumps and potholes as a direct result of the sporty setup. The result is a motorcycle that handles well but can get quite tiring over extended periods out on the highway.
It deserves to be mentioned that the improvement isn't restricted to just the suspension. The brakes too have been upgraded. The bike gets twin discs up front that have decided to spend their time stopping the motorcycle rather than pretending. The combination of the two seems to have worked wonders for the way this motorcycle handles.
This motorcycle makes a lot of sense if you like your Harleys to be super sporty and focused. My grouses with the bike are that the foot pegs are a bit too wide apart and stick out from the sides in the verge of being a pain and that they aren't as rearset as I'd like. That, of course, is in addition to the harsh ride. But at Rs 9.7 lakh ex-showroom, Mumbai, the price is quite good. But the real question is whether Harley will be able to break away from their cruiser mentality and get their valuable customer base to accept the Roadster as another nice little motorcycle. Because that is just what it is a nice little motorcycle.