Maybe Not Fast, But Certainly Quick

Honestly, at first glance I was a little underwhelmed by this new-in-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.

Continue reading for my review of the Harley-Davidson Roadster.

Design

2016 - 2018 Harley-Davidson Roadster
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Features from the '50s-era KHR models and subsequent racers based on the OHV, “Ironhead” Sportsters made it into the DNA pool and the new Roadster carries the same cut-down, bare-bike look.

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 from 2017, last year the factory did see the wisdom of adding a battery tender harness as standard equipment.

Chassis

2016 - 2018 Harley-Davidson Roadster
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The Roadster has more suspension travel and lean angle than you would normally expect from a Sportster model.

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.

Frame: Mild steel, tubular frame; circular sections; cast junctions
Swingarm: Mild steel, rectangular tube section, stamped junctions; MIG welded
Rake (steering head): 28.9°
Fork Angle: 27.4°
Trail: 5.5 in. (140 mm)
Right, Lean Angle (per J1168): 30.8°
Left, Lean Angle (per J1168): 31.1°
Front Forks/Travel: 43 mm inverted/4.5 in. (115 mm)
Rear Shocks/Travel: Variable rate spring over 36 mm piston nitrogen gas-charged emulsion style shock with thread style preload adjustment/ 3.2 in. (81 mm)
Tires: Dunlop® Harley-Davidson® Series, radial blackwall front and rear)
Front Tire: 120/70R-19 M/C
Rear Tire: 150/70R18 M/C
Wheels: Offset-Split 5-Spoke
Front Wheel: 19 in. x 3 in. (482.6 mm x 76 mm)
Rear Wheel: 18 in. x 4.25 in. (457.2 mm x 108 mm)
Brake Caliper Type: Dual-piston front, dual-piston rear
Rotor Type (diameter x width): Front floating, Rear uniform expansion rotor
Front Brake (dual floating): 11.8 in. x .2 in. (300 mm x 5 mm)
Rear Brake: 10.24 in. x .28 in. (260 mm x 7 mm)
Anti-lock Braking System: Optional

Drivetrain

2016 - 2018 Harley-Davidson Roadster
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The tried-and-true Evo has 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.

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.

Engine: Air-cooled, Evolution®
Bore x Stroke: 3.5 in. x 3.811 in. (88.9 mm x 96.8 mm)
Displacement: 73.4 cu. in. (1,202 cc)
Compression Ratio: 10:1
Engine Torque (per J1349) North America: 76 ft. lbs. @3,750 rpm (103 Nm @3,750 rpm)
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Primary Drive: Chain, 38/57 ratio
Final Drive: Belt, 29/68 ratio
Clutch: Multi-plate, wet
Transmission: 5-speed

Price

2016 - 2018 Harley-Davidson Roadster
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MSRP hangs in there at least year's prices, but with new colorways to choose from.

As usual, Harley is fairly proud of its product, and it shows on the sticker. The base model in Vivid Black will set you back $11,299 for 2018, same as last year. As usual, the King of Paint offers upgrade paint packages for $11,649, and the two-tone 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.

Warranty: 24 months (unlimited mileage)
Colors:
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
2018: Vivid Black, Corona Yellow Pearl, Sumatra Brown, Electric Blue/Silver Fortune, Industrial Gray Denim/Black Denim
Price:
2016: Vivid Black: $11,199, Color: $11,549, Two-Tone: $11,749
2017, 2018: Vivid Black: $11,299, Color: $11,649, Two-Tone: $11,849

Competitor

2016 - 2018 Harley-Davidson Roadster
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2016 - 2018 Triumph Thruxton 1200 / 1200 R
- image 757003
While the Thruxton is arguably as bare as the Roadster, it has a more refined cafe' look and a certain grace the Roadster lacks.

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 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.

He Said

“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.”

She Said

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 say. I was never a Roadster fan (the model, not the style — love the style). 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. Quick, but not fast is a good description.”

Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: Air-cooled, Evolution®
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. (1,202 cc)
Compression Ratio: 10:1
Engine Torque (per J1349) North America: 76 ft. lbs. @3,750 rpm (103 Nm @3,750 rpm)
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Air Cleaner: Paper cartridge type
Lubrication System: Dry-sump
Primary Drive: Chain, 38/57 ratio
Final Drive: Belt, 29/68 ratio
Clutch: Multi-plate, wet
Transmission: 5-speed
Gear Ratios (overall) U.S.:
1st: 9.315
2nd: 6.653
3rd: 4.948
4th: 4.102
5th: 3.517
Chassis:
Frame: Mild steel, tubular frame; circular sections; cast junctions
Swingarm: Mild steel, rectangular tube section, stamped junctions; MIG welded
Rake (steering head): 28.9°
Fork Angle: 27.4°
Trail: 5.5 in. (140 mm)
Right, Lean Angle (per J1168): 30.8°
Left, Lean Angle (per J1168): 31.1°
Front Forks/Travel: 43 mm inverted/4.5 in. (115 mm)
Rear Shocks/Travel: Variable rate spring over 36 mm piston nitrogen gas-charged emulsion style shock with thread style preload adjustment/ 3.2 in. (81 mm)
Tires: Dunlop® Harley-Davidson® Series, radial blackwall front and rear)
Front Tire: 120/70R-19 M/C
Rear Tire: 150/70R18 M/C
Wheels: Offset-Split 5-Spoke
Front Wheel: 19 in. x 3 in. (482.6 mm x 76 mm)
Rear Wheel: 18 in. x 4.25 in. (457.2 mm x 108 mm)
Brake Caliper Type: Dual-piston front, dual-piston rear
Rotor Type (diameter x width): Front floating, Rear uniform expansion rotor
Front Brake (dual floating): 11.8 in. x .2 in. (300 mm x 5 mm)
Rear Brake: 10.24 in. x .28 in. (260 mm x 7 mm)
Anti-lock Braking System: Optional
Dimensions & Capacities:
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)
Wheelbase: 59.3 in. (1505 mm)
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)
Weight As Shipped: 549 lbs. (249 kg)
Weight 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)
Electric:
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)
Details:
Model ID: XL 1200CX
Fuel Economy (EPA urban/highway test): 48 mpg (4.9 L/100 km)
Warranty: 24 months (unlimited mileage)
Colors:
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
2018: Vivid Black, Corona Yellow Pearl, Sumatra Brown, Electric Blue/Silver Fortune, Industrial Gray Denim/Black Denim
Price:
2016: Vivid Black: $11,199, Color: $11,549, Two-Tone: $11,749
2017, 2018: Vivid Black: $11,299, Color: $11,649, Two-Tone: $11,849

References

See our review of the Triumph Thruxton 1200.

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: harley-davidson.com, triumphmotorcycles.com

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