Honestly, at first glance I was a little underwhelmed by this new-for-2016 offering from The Motor Company . I thought it was a little sparse, a little spare, and an exercise in understatement. It wasn’t until I started to familiarize myself with the bike that I realized this is the whole point of the design.
Still, my disappointment persisted as I labored under the misconception that this bike was just a lightly modified version of existing Sportster models, but again I was off target since it actually uses a slightly different frame than the other Sporties, and comes with enhanced suspension as well. At this point, I abandoned all of my preconceptions and took a slightly more objective look at the Roadster, finally willing to give it an honest chance. This is what I found.
There is no delicate way to say this, so I’ll just say it. This is kind of a peculiar-looking machine. Kind of reminds me of the earless, tailless cat named Old Bob that hung out at the shipyard docks. The rear fender comes chopped back to the struts, and the low bars and mirrors lends it the earless look. Word from the factory is that they took a number of influences and mashed them together for this project. Features from the ’50s-era KHR models and subsequent racers based on the OHV, “Ironhead” Sportsters made the DNA pool, and the new Roadster carries the same cut-down, bare-bike look.
Although the definition of the word “Roadster ” has been added to over time, the modern interpretation as it applies to vehicles carries the implication — indeed the expectation — of a rather spartan machine with minimal appointments. That’s what we have here, reminiscent of the old “gasser” bikes where everything that didn’t directly contribute to performance got cut off/removed/uninstalled. I guess one could call the fastback saddle somewhat cafe-esque, and the lightening holes in the heat shields and belt guard could really come from almost any era.
As a bonafide member of the Dark Custom series of bikes, the Roadster comes with the blackout treatment in full effect from the split-spoke cast rims to the engine, heat shields and shock springs for a final tie-in to Harley’s backyard-custom heritage. This ride carries a number of features that were newly-made for the 2016 model year, to include sportier suspension, finned timing covers, special cast wheels, special seat, and as always, model-specific tank graphics.
While largely unchanged for 2017, the factory did see the wisdom of adding a battery tender harness as standard equipment.
The factory pulled the steering head in a bit for 28.9 degrees of rake and 5.5 inches of trail, geometry it claims is optimized for agility in keeping with the race-tastic bent of the Roadster. A set of 43 mm, usd forks with tri-rate springs supports the front on 4.5 inches of travel, and a set of gas shocks with tri-rate, coil-over springs and a screw-type preload adjustment on 3.2 inches of travel.
I like inverted forks for their stability and torsion resistance, and these make the Roadster look like serious business, definitely my favorite of the new-from-2016 features. The 19-inch front, and 18-inch rear tires push the seat up to 30.9 inches high, leaving us with 6 inches of ground clearance and the potential for over 30 degrees of lean. All of this gives us more suspension travel and lean angle than you would normally expect from a Sportster model.
Twin-pot calipers bind the overkill-sized, 300 mm front brake discs, with a third dual-piston binder in back. You can add the ABS option for a few dollars more, or go old-school with the unaugmented brake system. I would point out that dual 300’s are much more than is called for on a 568-pound machine, but the dual-piston-and-anvil calipers act as the limiting factor to avoid overbraking I suppose. A 120/70R19 front and 150/70R18 rear hoop rounds out the rolling chassis with a decidedly street-racy tread profile.
The Sportster lineup has essentially used the same basic engine design since 1986, so this engine has certainly paid its dues. There have been a number of innovations and improvements over the years that make this mill superior to its forebears, no matter how much they look alike. Harley went to fuel injection across the board to meet emissions standards, but so far have kept the Sportster as an air-cooled mill in its characteristic, 45-degree V-Twin configuration.
The 3.5-inch bore and 3.811-inch stroke add up to 1202.8 cc (73.4 cubic-inches), and the mill runs a 10-to-1 compression ratio, not particularly hot, but high enough to take mid-grade at least. All this combines to produce 76 pound-feet of torque at 3,750 rpm and 48 mpg. This is plenty of power for explosive hole shots and relatively quick acceleration, but top-end is still only going to be around 100-ish, so it’s quick, but not necessarily fast.
Unlike my 2000 Sporty, rubber isolation mounts prevent much of the vibration from transferring to the frame, and so it will be less fatiguing on the highway. A five-speed transmission and belt drive makes the final connection to the rear wheel and pavement.
As usual, Harley is fairly proud of its product, and it shows on the sticker. The base model in Vivid Black with Charcoal Denim pinstripe will set you back $11,199 for 2016 with 2017 MSRP just $100 more. As usual, the King of Paint offers upgrade paint packages with the Black Denim/red pinstripe or Velocity Red Sunglo/red pinstripe for $11,649, and the two-tone, Billet Silver/Vivid Black for $11,849. ABS will run you another $795, and the security option is another $395. California brothers and sisters can expect to see another bill tacked on for your unique emissions requirements.
Triumph Motorcycles has ever been one of the traditional foes to the U.S.-based Harley-Davidson Motor Company, and Americans have always had a certain affinity for Trumpets. Even clubs with “Harley-only” in the bylaws will tolerate a Brit or two in the pack, and so I decided to take the H-D Roadster head-to-head against Triumph’s new cafe’ racer/stoplight bully, the Thruxton 1200 .
While the Thruxton is arguably as bare as the Roadster, it has a more refined cafe’ panache and a certain grace. The Roadster really looks like someone went a little nuts with the grinder and took the fenders down to a nub in the backyard, and while that is not without a certain charm all its own, it leaves the bike lacking a little something visually.
Both rides run air-cooled, twin-cylinder plants with 1200 cc displacement, but naturally the H-D is a 45-degree V-twin while the Trumpet runs a parallel-twin. The British Bulldog comes out on the dyno, with the Thruxton showing 82.6 pound-feet at 4,950 rpm, an edge over the Evolution with 76 pounds of grunt at 3,750.
The Motor Company gets some back at the till. At $11,299 in Vivid Black, it’s over a grand cheaper than the Jet Black Thruxton 1200, but the Triumph comes with ABS as standard equipment, and with that factored in the price difference is marginal. Course, the Triumph colors just aren’t quite as cool.
“This is the kind of bike that has to grow on you. Gotta kind of look at it, then sleep on it before you can make up your mind. I like the premise of the bike, but I think it just looks odd. Definitely would consider the Triumph based on looks alone, and even Harley’s name recognition wouldn’t save it in direct competition with the Trumpet. Still, it’s fun to see what Harley can cook up next for the Sportster line, a sort of blank-canvas bike for them to toy with.”
My wife and fellow writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “When my husband first called me over to look at his next review bike, I wasn’t sure just what to think. The steep rake and no fairing gives it a blunt look on the front end and the rear fender gives it a decidedly chopped-off look — like it was squished between two trucks bumpers and didn’t fall over. That being said, it is very reminiscent of the 1956 KHR. It’s very much a rider’s bike, ready for aggressive riding. The classic pin striping really sets the mood and the peanut fuel tank just says “Sportster.”
|Valves:||Pushrod-operated, overhead valves with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters; two valves per cylinder|
|Bore x Stroke:||3.5 in. x 3.811 in. (88.9 mm x 96.8 mm)|
|Displacement:||73.4 cu. in. (1202 cc)|
|Fuel System:||Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)|
|Air Cleaner:||Paper cartridge type|
|Primary Drive:||Chain, 38/57 ratio|
|Final Drive:||Belt, 29/68 ratio|
|Gear Ratios (overall) U.S.:|
|Frame:||Mild steel, tubular frame; circular sections; cast junctions|
|Swingarm:||Mild steel, rectangular tube section, stamped junctions; MIG welded|
|Front Forks:||43 mm inverted|
|Rear Shocks:||Variable rate spring over 36 mm piston nitrogen gas-charged emulsion style shock with thread style preload adjustment|
|Front:||19 in. x 3 in. (482.6 mm x 76 mm)|
|Rear:||18 in. x 4.25 in. (457.2 mm x 108 mm)|
|Caliper Type:||Dual-piston front, dual-piston rear|
|Rotor Type (diameter x width):||Front floating, Rear uniform expansion rotor|
|Front (dual floating):||11.8 in. x .2 in. (300 mm x 5 mm)|
|Rear:||10.24 in. x .28 in. (260 mm x 7 mm)|
|Anti-lock Braking System:||Optional|
|Front Wheel:||4.5 in. (115 mm)|
|Rear Wheel:||3.2 in. (81 mm)|
|Engine Torque (per J1349) North America:||76 ft. lbs. @ 3750 RPM (103 Nm @ 3750 RPM)|
|Lean Angle (per J1168):|
|Fuel Economy (EPA urban/highway test):||48 mpg (4.9 L/100 km)|
|Length:||86 in. (2186 mm)|
|Overall Width:||33.1 in. (841 mm)|
|Overall Height:||42.6 in. (1082 mm)|
|Seat Height:||Laden: 29.5 in. (749 mm), Unladen: 30.9 in. (785 mm)|
|Ground Clearance:||6 in. (152 mm)|
|Rake (steering head):||28.9°|
|Trail:||5.5 in. (140 mm)|
|Wheelbase:||59.3 in. (1505 mm)|
|Tires:||Dunlop® Harley-Davidson® Series, radial blackwall front and rear)|
|Fuel Capacity:||3.3 gal. (12.5 L) (warning light at approximately 0.8 gal.)|
|Oil Capacity (w/filter):||2.8 qts. (2.6 L)|
|Transmission Capacity:||1 qt. (.95 L)|
|As Shipped:||549 lbs. (249 kg)|
|In Running Order:||568 lbs. (258 kg)|
|Gross Vehicle Weight Rating:||1000 lbs. (454 kg)|
|Gross Axle Weight Rating:||Front: 335 lbs. (152 kg), Rear: 665 lbs. (302 kg)|
|Battery (per Battery Council International Rating):||Sealed, maintenance-free, 12V, 12 amp/hour, 200 cca|
|Charging:||Single-phase, 30-amp system (375W @ 13.5V, 2000 RPM, 405W max power @ 13.5V)|
|Starting:||1.2 kW electric with solenoid shift starter motor engagement|
|Lights (as per country regulation):|
|Headlamp (Quartz Halogen):||55-watt low beam, 60-watt high beam|
|Indicator Lamps:||High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low fuel warning, low battery, security system (optional)|
|Warranty:||24 months (unlimited mileage)|
|Service Interval:||First 1000 miles(1600 km), every 5000 miles(8000 km) thereafter|
|Model ID:||XL 1200CX|
|2016:||Vivid Black w/ Charcoal Denim pinstripe, Black Denim w/ red pinstripe, Velocity Red Sunglow w/ red pinstripe, Billet Silver/Vivid Black w/ burgundy pinstripe|
|2017:||Vivid Black, Black Denim, Velocity Red Sunglow, Billet Silver/Vivid Black|
|2016:||Vivid Black: $11,199, Color: $11,549, Two-Tone: $11,749|
|2017:||Vivid Black: $11,299, Color: $11,649, Two-Tone: $11,849|