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2016 Harley Roadster

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  • 2016 Harley Roadster

    Hit or Miss?

    2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster - FIRST RIDE REVIEW
    Another simple refresh, or a legitimately sportier Sportster?
    By Joseph Gustafson Posted May 3, 2016

    Riding a Harley-Davidson in America is a stereotype that makes sense in practice. Our roads are straight and wide, and our love of the big and the loud fits into the Harley-design ethos. But the new-for-2016 Roadster is different. Its design and execution have one foot in Harleyís performance-oriented past, and one foot in the current international-custom scene.So instead of a press launch in The States, we were invited to the south of France. Here, winding roads and tight spaces are ideal to spoil the Roadsterís debut by making the event a peg scraping, suspension pogoing affair. This was a bold move on Harley-Davidsonís part. Bringing us here also underscores Harley-Davidsonís aggressive international expansion efforts. They are determined to convert more riders to buy Harleys by building products that are more than ďjust a badge.Ē And it has worked. Sales in Europe are up 8.8-percent over this time last year. While South America has gone backward, and the U.S. has stagnated, the largest drivers for growth are coming from overseas, not here at home.

    Svelte, athletic, and with roots in the original KHR, the Roadster's design stands apart from its siblings. Which explains the Roadsterís place in the lineup. Itís the most sport-oriented version of the Sportster since the discontinued XR1200. It offers an alternative to the more conventional cruiser variants such as the Forty-Eight; Itís a serious effort to reach outside Harley-Davidsonís classic customer. This was the intention, according to Harley Industrial Designer Ben Mckinley; to make a more urban-minded Sportster that would reach back into the history books and take cues from early performance models and bring them into the present.

    Dual disc brakes and USD fork upgrades are a game changer for the bike. And they're set against striking five-spoke wheels. ABS is optional. The emblematic peanut tank is perched on top of a blacked-out 1200cc EVO motor. A refined gauge cluster has been added, and the headlight is tucked in farther. The rear fender has been chopped, a new seat added, and beautiful split-five-spoke cast wheels, and clubman-ish handlebars. The end result is a mish-mash of Hooligan tracker, Cafe Racer, and original KHR. Itís difficult to pin the look down, but it all works together. Pundits will say that creating the Roadster should be easy and that every Sportster variation just has different parts thrown at an existing chassis. But after speaking with Harleyís design staff, you quickly learn that every detail, color, and design choice is carefully made to provide a fresh model identity. Wars are fought to push the envelope further in each variant.

    Lower bars aid in making the riding triangle more aggressive.

    The decision to use those cast wheels was an agonizing one. Intricate in detail and expensive to manufacturer, they add a key differentiator compared with the other models. Without them, the Roadster would have looked too similar to other Sportsters. The designers won that round.
    But it is the engineers who scored a victory in terms of the suspension and brake system. Unique to this model is a 43mm upside-down fork. It isnít adjustable, but has significantly better damping, and less dive under braking. The shocks are the same emulsion units found on the current Forty-Eight. The Roadster has the most suspension travel of any of its stablemates: 4.5 inches up front, 3.2 in. out back, and shares the same geometry as the old XR1200. Of all the unique features, the brakes alone make the Roadster worth it. Up front a pair of 11.8-in. discs clamped by twin-piston calipers are used, and the additional stopping power makes hustling the bike on a twisty road a much more controlled experience. As for functional improvements, thatís where the buck stops. For example, the mid-mount bike controls are unchanged from other Sportster models, and stick out too far to complement the aggressive handlebar placement. This results in a seating position halfway between upright and a slight crouch. Itís comfortable enough, but doesnít encourage an outright aggressive riding experience.

    Emulsion shocks from the 2016 Forty-Eight round out the suspension package. Preload is adjustable.

    Further awkwardness is found when trying to put your feet down. Since youíre leaned farther forward you want to put your legs in front of the foot controls, but you canít. Instead, youíre forced to put them behind the pegs, making parking-lot crawling and parking maneuvers uncomfortable.
    The engine and transmission are unchanged. The Evolution motor turns 30 this year, and is as affable and torquey as ever. However, with the extra handling capabilities, some additional power would be welcome to back up its racier looks. Is it the sportiest Sportster of all time? No, that distinction goes to the XR1200óa bike that has been brought up repeatedly by readers as a better option.

    But that comparison also brings up an interesting marketing discussion between product strategies, market demand, and luck. The XR1200 debuted before Hooligan racing lit up Instagram, before the massive exposure given to custom performance-minded Sportsters such as those from Speed Merchant, Suicide Machine Co., Rough Crafts, and Roland Sands, etc. Before dealers accepted that there were more options to the Bar and Shield experience than poker runs and bad leather vests. The XR1200 was the right product, at the wrong time. And it died because its appeal wasnít wide enough. The Roadster is a better fit for the current market. It is compromised, but also more palatable to dealers and the buying public than the XR1200 was. It is a better blank canvas for customization, since most parts that bolt to other Sportsters will bolt on here, too. The Roadster has a wide appeal. It is exactly what people who want a Sportster without the cruiser leanings are looking for. Should you buy it? If you are looking for the best handling new Sportster, then you should get it. At $11,200 itís a relative bargain in the Sportster lineup considering the extra braking power and improved suspension, plus you get those striking split-five-spoke cast wheels. However, if you are brand agnostic, itís an intelligent play in the fast-growing retro-modern field, but it lacks the full-bore commitment to bending apexes that its competition (like the Triumph Thruxton R) features.

    2008 Super Glide Custom (FXDC)

  • #2
    Glad to see they brought it back but the 1200R from 10 years ago was better looking IMO.
    Electraglide Roadtripper
    Twizzle, twazzle, twozzle, twome; time for this one to come home.