Harley-Davidson has a reputation for building really handsome motorcycles that have some serious ability to turn heads. That signature rolling thunder exhaust note reminds you of cruising down the wide-open American freeways. Now, unfortunately, we don’t have too many of those freeways, like they do in the US. Nevertheless, for 2017, Harley brings us the 1,200cc Roadster. It gets the same mechanicals as the rest of Harley’s Sportster series, but its design and execution remind you of the brand’s performance-oriented past. It also gets a few special parts that are not only a first for the bike maker, but also help make it a better motorcycle for India.
The Roadster is currently the most sport-oriented version in Harleys’ Sportster line-up. It is an alternative to the more conventional cruisers such as the Forty-Eight and the 1200 Custom.
In keeping with the Sportster theme, the Roadster gets a shortened front fender and a chopped rear one. Its 12.5-litre peanut tank sits atop a blacked-out engine. This is a big improvement over the minuscule 7.9-litre one on the Forty-Eight with which it shares some of its styling. However, it does get a part-digital speedometer that has readings for speed, odometer, trip meters and a clock, with the tachometer being an analogue unit. The only issue here is that the digital readout becomes rather difficult to read under direct sunlight. The Roadster sits on really good-looking split five-spoke cast wheels.
The new stepped single seat is reasonably comfortable and also adds to its classic and aggressive looks. Its low-set handlebar will have you leaning forward a bit and will help you change directions quicker. One small issue could be the position of the foot pegs. While they are a bit forward set, which makes for a comfortable riding position, they’re definitely going to get in the way when you have to put your feet down.
The 1,202cc Evolution motor that the Roadster comes with turns 30 this year and, as always, it’s got oodles of pulling power. However, since this bike does have improved handling capabilities, a slight bump in power would have complemented its racier looks.
The relaxed nature of the engine is quite in contrast to the sporty theme of the motorcycle. Although it pulls quite well, it still takes a fair bit of gear-shifting to keep it responsive. In fact, if you want to make a quick overtake, you have to shift down. The clutch still feels heavy, and that’s definitely going to be a hassle in heavy traffic situations. And in fairly typical Harley-Davidson fashion, there still are a lot of vibration at idle, which smooth out once you get to higher revs.
The cavernous shape of the rider’s saddle comes quite handy when pulling hard off the line. It really holds you in place and prevents you from sliding backwards. It’s also quite comfortable on longer hauls. The pillion seat, however, isn’t very comfortable for anything other than short spins around the city. It slopes towards the rear and it almost feels like the pillion rider is going to slide off.
What really sets this bike apart from its Harley stablemates is this; the Roadster gets 43mm inverted forks and twin 300mm discs at the front. It even comes with dual-channel ABS. It also has the most suspension travel of any of the Harleys – 4.5 inches up front and 3.2 inches at the rear, which is sure to come in handy on our pockmarked roads.
The 43mm inverted forks really iron out the bumps well, which gives you a lot of confidence when manoeuvring the bike. Even the rear suspension, albeit slightly stiff, absorbs uneven surfaces decently. Plus, there are the Harley-Davidson-specific Dunlop tyres that do a spectacular job of gripping the road. Combine this with the newly adjusted steering system, and the Roadster is more nimble and responsive than any of the other Sportsters. Plus, the bike gets 150mm of ground clearance, which means, unlike Harley’s other Sportster models, the Roadster can handle most of our bad roads quite efficiently.
- Engine: 1,202cc V-Twin, four-stroke, air-cooled
- Torque: 96Nm @4,000rpm
- Gearbox: Five-speed/one-down, four-up
- Dry weight: 250kg
- Length: 2,185mm
- Wheelbase: 1,505mm
- Ground clearance: 150mm
- Seat height: 785mm
- Price: Rs 9.70 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai)
This is one of those bikes that is fun to ride and still reminds you of its long lineage. We can only hope that Harley continues to push the envelope with its other models and bring them up to date. And at Rs 9.70 lakh (ex-showroom, Mumbai) for the base variant, the Roadster is quite decently priced too. What remains to be seen, however, is whether it can appeal to bikers beyond the realm of Harley-Davidson’s classic cruiser.