Bike review: Harley Roadster

Harley-Davidson Roadster
H-D Roadster: yes, it goes around corners very well!

If I sounded a bit hard on the Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight in issue 123, it’s only because it wasn’t a Roadster.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Forty-Eight and embraced its short, uncomfortable suspension and other compromises because its compromises were what make it such an endearing and focussed motorcycle.

The brand-new Roadster, though, takes my criticisms of the Forty-Eight and throws them back in my face.

“It’s a real sports rider’s bike,” Harley Australia’s PR manager, David Turney, says with conviction.

If that all sounds a bit un-Harley, consider this: Harley-Davidson didn’t run a launch for US journalists at home, but flew them to France with all those Gallic winding roads and narrow passes. This is not your average Hog.

To turn the 1200 Sportster platform into the Roadster, Harley put most of its effort into the chassis and riding position.

The more solid triple clamps, upside down forks and twin disc brakes establish the seriousness of the effort right from the start, and it continues all the way to the back where there’s a pair of shocks with more travel than on any current Sportster.

At speed, the Roadster is rock solid on the road. It loves a fast, unending corner taken as hard as it’ll go.

The suspension is a vast improvement on other Sportsters, giving a firm but comfortable ride and, crucially, holding the Roadster in line when it’s pushed.

And forget those old refrains about Harleys not stopping — these are great brakes, and it’s good that they’re backed up by ABS.

You could still knock the Hog for its modest power, although H-D did give this version of the 1200cc Evolution engine a bit of a work over.

Compared with the Forty-Eight, its identical 97Nm torque peak happens 1000rpm higher up the revs range, implying there may be a few more horsepower in the top end.

Every one of the five gear ratios is a little shorter, too, adding to the punchiness of the throttle response.

But you won’t win any drag races on it unless you’re lined up with Speed Twins and the like.

The Roadster’s riding position makes sense. The handlebars don’t feel as low as they look, so the very gentle lean you’re pulled into is the kind of crouch that’s good for a longer ride and great for a sporty one.

The chopped guards, lack of chrome and rough-finished surface on selected parts like the air filter finish off the Roadster’s businesslike styling.

The bottom line is that the Roadster gives you both the street cred of the Harley brand and the great fun of a roadholding sports bike.

Model: Harley-Davidson XL1200CX Roadster
Price: $19,495 (ride away)
Colours: Vivid Black, Billet Silver/Black, Velocity Red Sunglo, Black Denim
Warranty: Two years, unlimited km
Servicing intervals: 8000km
Engine: Air-cooled, 2 valves per cylinder, OHC V-twin
Bore x stroke: 88.9 x 96.8mm
Displacement: 1202cc
Compression: 10.0:1
Power: Not stated
Torque: 97Nm @ 4250rpm
Transmission: Chain primary drive, wet clutch, 5-speed gearbox, belt final drive
Frame: Steel double-cradle
Dimensions: Seat height 785mm, weight 250/259kg (dry/wet), fuel capacity 12.5L, wheelbase 1505mm, rake 29º, trail 140mm
Suspension: Front, USD 43mm cartridge forks. Rear, twin shocks, preload adjustment
Brakes: Front, 2 x 300mm disc, 2-piston caliper. Rear, 260mm disc, 2-piston caliper. ABS
Tyres: Front, 120/70R19. Rear, 150/70R18
Fuel consumption: 4.8L/100km
Theoretical range: 260km
Verdict: Pure retro sports bike that handles well and is fun to ride

For a full test, see issue 130 of Australian Road Rider, on sale October 13. More info on the Harley-Davidson website.