Harley Davidson is often known for its laid-back, chrome-laden cruisers with big V-twin engines that scream ‘Ain’t no replacement for displacement’. But, some riders wanted a simple, no-frills, performance-oriented motorcycle that doesn’t break away from the cruiser credentials and Harley came up with just the thing for them- the Sportster series. I got to sample the ‘Harley’ life for a day with their latest offering- the Roadster. Does it really live up to the Sportster moniker? Read on to find out:
Design And Features: The first thought that sprung to my mind when I first laid my eyes on the Roadster was, “Damn, this thing is muscular!” That high-set walnut tank draped in that luscious ‘Velocity Red Sunglo’ tinge, with contrasting low-reach, chromed handlebar; the discreet two-up seat and the chopped rear fender hugging the meaty rear tyre makes you feel that this machine is really looking forward to tearing up the streets in style. The bike looks butch from all angles, yet feels quite compact for a Harley Davidson. The front forks are blacked-out and are held together by beefy triple clamps. Nestled right between the forks is the round headlamp. The small size of the headlamp makes the bike look even more muscular from the front.
The single pod instrument cluster is minimalistic yet useful. It consists of a big analogue tachometer and a small amber-coloured digital display showing a plethora of crucial information such as speed, dual trip readings, gear indicator, tachometer, range, fuel level, odometer and time. The analogue gauge also houses a discreet low fuel light, H-D security light (security system is optional), check-engine light, battery light and an ABS indicator light. The handlebar clamp houses all the other important tell-tale lights like neutral, high-beam, left and right indicators, and oil pressure lamp.
Coming to the fuel tank, I particularly like how it is designed. There’s a faint crease that runs down the length of the tank which is flanked by two red pin stripes of a lighter shade that runs all the way down to the fat rear fender. It is subtle, yet manages to give a tasteful, sporty look to the motorcycle. The tank can hold a decent 12.5 litres of fuel, which is much better than the Forty-Eight whose tank capacity is only a measly 7.9 litres! All that hot looks do come with a small compromise though - security. The screw-type chrome tank lid cannot be locked with a key. So, you’ll have to be careful when parking in insecure areas.
The power plant nests right under the tank and the 1,200cc V-twin engine looks quite humongous. I’m glad Harley did not slather it with chrome. Instead, it’s greyed out and that makes it look stealthy and menacing. But this bike is not all black mind you. There are traces of chrome at specific spots which blends well with the overall attitude of the motorcycle. The dual, blunt-cut exhausts for example- They are nicely done in chrome and are covered with blacked out, slotted heat shields. Do note that the bend pipes do not have heat shields, so one has to be careful while maneuvering the bike manually.
The Ride: I swung my leg over the low-slung saddle and reached for the slammed, wide handlebar. One nudge and I could immediately feel the difference in heft when I realised the front tyre is as fat as the rear tyre of my Thunderbird! The seating position is forward-biased with just the right amount of body weight falling on your wrists. Before I start the bike, let me tell you how horrible the key is! Have a look at it:
Hell, I’ve even seen wardrobe drawer keys that look classier than this one. So I turned the key and pressed the starter button, the motorcycle rumbled to life. It’s not just the engine, it’s the whole motorcycle! The V-twin just seems to palpitate with power, throbbing the whole bike. The exhaust note is equally brawny, but not loud at idling speeds. I pressed the gear lever and the gear slotted into place with a loud, mechanical clunk. It almost feels like the gear is punching through metal and then meshes into place. For a motorcycle that’s designed to give you the feel of a garage-built custom, it is quite manly I’d say. Even though the gear shifts are clunky, they are precise. People looking for refinement can have a look at Japanese motorcycles or some other big bikes. The Roadster is meant to feel ripped, raw and feral. I slowly released the clutch and the bike hauls forward with enthusiastic urgency.
The contoured seat cocoons your rear with a comforting assurance when accelerating hard. You can’t really grip the tank because the air-box comes in the way. The faster you go, the more comfortable it feels because the wind blast takes some weight off your wrists. The seat is called a two-up unit but the pillion seat is so small that it is only good for your size-zero girlfriend. The foot controls are mid-mounted which makes the riding stance a bit odd because your upper part of the body is leaning forward while your legs are relatively relaxed.
As you build the revs, the V-twin rumble mutates into a wrathful bark and the vibrations dial down proportionately (At least up to 4,000 rpm). The 1202cc V-twin, air-cooled Evolution engine makes a massive 96Nm of torque which peaks out at 4,000 rpm. Since the engine is low-revving, the powerband is rather concentrated between 2,000rpm and 4,000rpm. Do note that the engine tends to knock below 2,000rpm. So, in first gear, you’ll have to hold the clutch up to 20kph. The clutch is quite heavy and it’s a nightmare handling this monster of a motorcycle at crawling traffic. Speaking about thermal management, the engine is air-cooled and it tends to make tandoori out of your legs at slow speeds although things do get better as you pick up the pace. The gears are really long- legged and at just 2,500rpm you can comfortably do about 60kph in third gear and 75kph in the fourth. The gearbox is a 5-speed unit but you never miss the presence of a sixth gear. You can comfortably cruise at a shade above 100kph in the fifth at around 3,000rpm, where the engine feels properly relaxed. As long as you keep the revs above 2,000rpm, overtaking in any gear is a delight, thanks to the dollops of torque the engine makes. The bike is capable of doing high speeds but beyond 4,000rpm, the vibrations are so much that I felt like I was riding two Classic 500’s at the same time. This engine would definitely be better if it’s counterbalanced. Conforming to the Harley tradition, the power is delivered via a belt drive and if you’re interested in the fuel efficiency of the Roadster, I got 15.7kmpl with fairly generous throttle input in sparse traffic. The fuel economy is likely to go down further if ridden in city traffic.
Handling: The Roadster is surprisingly agile thanks to the redesigned steering geometry and 43mm inverted forks at the front and emulsion type twin shocks with screw-style preload adjustment at the rear. The suspension is on the firmer side but it effectively helps the bike stay composed when going over road irregularities at high speeds. The compression at low speeds could have been slightly better to suit our Indian roads.
The tyres are Dunlop’s Harley Davidson black-walled series. The 120 section front is anchored by twin 300mm discs with dual pistons while the 150 section rear tyre is restrained by a single 260mm disc. As far as the braking performance goes, they are progressive and work in tandem quite effectively to bring this 260-odd kg hunk of metal to a stop in a composed manner. ABS is of course standard but apart from that, there are no electronic nannies to keep you in check. I wish it came with traction control because all that torque can be a handful sometimes, especially in wet conditions. The tyres are grippy and the aggressive riding position eggs you to lean further. The Roadster has one of the highest lean angles and no wonder the bike feels confident while carving corners. Now you don’t usually expect that in a Harley!
Verdict: The Roadster, with its compact dimensions, is almost perfect to be used as a daily bike but the heavy clutch and unmanageable engine heat hinder its versatility. The Roadster is best enjoyed as a second bike to satisfy those late night urges of two-wheeled freedom. This minimalistic motorcycle craves to be ridden hard on deserted roads, roaring through empty urban alleys and all that unbridled waves of torque make up for pure motorcycling nirvana. At an ex-showroom starting price of Rs 9.7 lakh, this steed sure is expensive but offers fun quotient that’s tough to match with any other Harley.
P.S. More detailed pictures are in the thread below.
The Roadster's design is minimalistic, but seethes with raw sex appeal:
The thing that's really bothersome are the exposed wirings. It not only looks crude but will also be cumbersome to clean.
These wires will really bother people with OCD. The key is in the bike's ignition slot and the little key slot above it is the steering lock. Slotting in the key in either of the keyholes in this bike was really difficult and frankly, frustrating. For some weird reason the keys would go in only if slotted from a particular angle! What a shame, Harley.
Another little issue is the fuel tank cap. The quality of the lid could’ve been better. The bike feels solid while going over bumps at high speeds but the feel is ruined by the constantly rattling fuel lid. I hope it’s a one-off case.
The switchgear is of good quality and is glove-friendly as well. The handlebar grips are quite umm, grippy! The left handlebar houses the low/high beam switch, left indicator and the digital-display toggle button. The indicators are self-cancelling so that you don't have to bother turning them off. It nicely complements the bike's road-focussed attitude.
The right side consists of hazard lamps button, right indicator button ignition button and engine on/off switch.
The headlamp in this particular bike needed some adjustment as the light throw was way off. Switch it to high beam and it beautifully illuminates overhead flyovers instead of the road ahead of you.
The holes are for installing other types of seats. I'd definitely recommend a longer one if you're riding with a pillion frequently.
The Chrome casing tends to get scratched by the boots. The foot-peg feelers will let you know if you're pushing the bike too hard.
No comments here:
The huge belt-drive. The advantage of belt drive is they don't need as much maintenance as chain drives and are relatively silent too.
I like this little detailing on the rear shocker:
The tail-light and indicators are all neatly housed in a single unit:
The Roadster comes with a single horn which is mellow, in contrast to the bike's appearance.
I love the colour used in the digital display. Gives the bike a proper 'Industrial' aura. The 'R' represents the range left in kilometers. The orange fuel light (near the 6000 rpm mark in the analog cluster) turns on when the fuel is below reserve. The toggle button on the left handlebar can be used to toggle between range, odo, trip A, B, time and tachometer. The engine check light and oil light disappears once the engine is turned on.
Front and rear tyres:
I had an absolute blast roaming around the streets of Old Delhi, dominating the night. (Sorry Bajaj )
The sparse traffic in Chandni Chowk was oddly satisfying. I stopped to have some hot tea:
Excellent write up Praveen I rode this bike briefly from office to the AutoCross Event and back. Unfortunately, most of my riding was in traffic and that heavy clutch was quite a pain to handle, literally. However, when I did get some open road, it felt very eager to cruise at 90-100 kmph. It does not like speeds below 30 kmph, as it keeps snatching, and you have to get into first gear. It's ideally meant for open roads, not city traffic.
Roshun Thank you. Yes, the Roadster hates being restrained to city speeds. Long winding roads is where it belongs. Apart from the clutch being heavy, I also noticed it tends to leave black stain marks on your fingers. It is best to ride this bike with gloves. And one needs to use all the four fingers to operate the clutch, which can be quite tiresome in traffic.
I think the Roadster is one of best looking Harley Davidson bikes in production now. Here is a video review of the same done by Autocar India. [youtube_video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QF4a_e4NNA[/youtube_video]