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Review: The New Harley-Davidson Roadster

First Ride: The Definitive Review of the new Harley-Davidson Roadster.
Colors on offer include Vivid Black (gloss), Black Denim (matte), Billet Silver / Vivid Black and Velocity Red Sunglo, each with different color pinstripes running down the center. Only the tank and tail are colored: everything else is done in either matte or gloss black, with a subtle lick of chrome to cap it off.

I picked red as my favorite livery, only to be told by a Harley-Davidson staffer that it’s not a very popular color among the regular clientele. It’s perhaps telling of who the Roadster is aimed at.

First Ride: The Definitive Review of the new Harley-Davidson Roadster.
There’s very little plastic and a generally solid build quality (though different style fasteners in various places had my scratching my head).

It’s a mash-up of styles that somehow works, resulting in a bike that rides the line between café racer and street tracker. Look at the Roadster from the side, and it reminds you of the Harley flat-trackers of old. Glance at it from the front, and you might mistake it for an older British bike.

First Ride: The Definitive Review of the new Harley-Davidson Roadster.
Numbers

Revised styling aside, the Roadster (officially listed as the XL 1200CX) is still a Sportster. That means it has the same frame, motor and drivetrain as the rest of the range.

At its heart is the Sportster’s rubber-mounted, air-cooled, 1202cc Evolution v-twin mill. Harley-Davidson doesn’t publish horsepower figures, but lists the torque as 97Nm at 4250 RPM. And that’s really what this engine’s all about: boatloads of midrange torque.

First Ride: The Definitive Review of the new Harley-Davidson Roadster.
The power’s managed by fuel injection, via a 5-speed transmission and a belt drive. We’ve already mentioned the dual brake discs up front—they measure in at 300mm, with a single 260mm disc doing duty out back. ABS is optional in the ‘States, but standard issue in Europe.

First Ride: The Definitive Review of the new Harley-Davidson Roadster.
There are some numbers that stand apart from the rest of the Sportster range though. The Roadster has a seat height of 30.9”, with ground clearance coming in at 5.9”.

That’s a jump over the Forty-Eight’s 28” and 4.3”. Unfortunately it’s also heavier than its sibling, with a curb weight of 571lbs (259 kg).

Pricing starts at $11,199 in the US, and climbs depending on your choice of color and optional extras (like ABS).

First Ride: The Definitive Review of the new Harley-Davidson Roadster.
Ride Impressions

On paper, the Roadster certainly looks like the sportiest Sporty on offer—but is it really any more rideable?

To answer this, Harley-Davidson Europe summoned us to the South of France, to ride the Roadster back and forth between Marseille and St Tropez. The tight and twisty mountain roads of the Côte d’Azur seem like an illogical setting for a Harley-Davidson test, but I’m convinced it was a calculated decision.

First Ride: The Definitive Review of the new Harley-Davidson Roadster.
Because, really, this motorcycle handles better than a Harley has any business doing.

Let’s get the obvious question out of the way: yes, the flashy suspension works. It doesn’t go ‘clunk’ on potholes and rough bits of road, and it doesn’t wallow much under braking. And it tracks well in corners, aided by the radial Dunlop tires (developed specifically for Harley-Davidson).

First Ride: The Definitive Review of the new Harley-Davidson Roadster.
The dual disc and ABS setup works well too. It’s the reason I’m writing this review, rather than being peeled off the back of a truck.

As for the motor, I reveled in the Harley’s midrange torque and long gear ratios—it’ll pull strong from low down, without forcing you to cycle through gears like a madman. Flicking through gears does require a solid hand and foot though, and I pined for a lighter clutch.

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