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Harley-Davidson in a newavatar

autos Updated: Apr 08, 2010 15:10 IST
Kartikeya Singhee

American motorcycling legend Harley-Davidson created the leisure riding segment and made the ‘chopper’ an icon for generations to come. H-D’s motorcycles have attitude and individuality. Since 1903, H-D’s motorcycles have kept pace with lifestyle riders.

Bikes from Harley’s five families now add up to just over forty. India was too good a market to ignore, and now H-D will finally bring bikes from its five families — 12 in all — to the Indian sub-continent.

As a sign of its commitment, Harley-Davidson India showed off its 12-motorcycle fleet on a 280 km ride from Delhi to Jaipur. Here’s a swig of the spirit of motorcycling from the world of Harleys.

Sportster
Bikes for India — XL 883L Sportster, XL 883R Roadster, XL 1200N Nightster and XR 1200X.

Despite being one of the oldest H-D families, the Sportster, born in 1957, has retained its young-at-heart feel. This is the easiest Harley to save up for and even easier to ride. In India, the Harley range starts with the XL 883L Sportster. It looks like a light motorcycle and is a breeze to ride.

But it can seem relatively weak to look at, especially from the front. Its small headlamp is sunken into the face and the single instrument pod is simple. From there on, the Sportster changes completely. The bike’s profile drops sharply from the wide handlebars down to the well-padded seat, making it look very athletic.

The ‘peanut’-shaped tank is a family signature. Even a new rider will feel at home right away on the 883R. It was easy to get the best out of the 883 cc V-twin engine without getting too excited.

Heady harley
As if in keeping with the 60-odd bhp of power on tap, the bike’s exhaust note stays muted even when revved hard. Progress is reasonably quick, though the Sportster doesn’t feel too relaxed at 110-120 kph. It could go quicker still, but not without gaining a harsh edge. This might seem underwhelming, in which case there is a choice of the 1200 cc, smooth and potent, hopped-up-on-adrenaline XR 1200X.

The XR is the wild child of the Sportster family. The tank is chiselled, the seat refuses to lope back lazily, pointing straight out instead. Its lean-forward, feet-back hooligan seating position, the bellow from its 2-1-2 up-swept exhaust and the luscious matte silver engine join hands in egging you on.

The XR has incredible bottom-end grunt, all 10.2 kgm of it, which sends the 260 kg bike shooting at the slightest provocation. A digital, orange-back-lit speedometer keeps track of speeds while the analogue rev counter is sweeps up and down as you blast your way around. The ride is a bit stiff but it’s the slim seat that causes the rider to frown.

The brakes shed speed with confidence, as expected from a wannabe sportbike. The XR is Harley’s take on sports bikes, and a tempting one at that. It packs together the right amount of visual drama to match its delectable personality. However, more power would make it a better match for other hardware on the streets today.

Softail
Bikes for India — FLSTF Fat Boy, FLSTC Heritage, Softail Classic.

The Fat Boy, one of the biggest Harley stars, comes from the family of Softails, which uses the underslung suspension to provide riding comfort. The Fat Boy’s face is glaringly distinctive — the chromed headlamp is massive and backed up by a solid chrome plate and chromed fork covers.

The bike comes with a tear-drop tank with the instruments mounted on it. Visually, the Fat Boy has a slightly heavy look. The robust-looking mudguards at the front and rear do a thorough job of covering the tyres. The slight kicks on the rear mudguard add zing to the look.

On road, the 1584 cc engine impresses with its calmness. It feels asleep at speeds below 100 kph and mildly lazy at 120 kph. The six-speed gearbox is just as clunky as any of the Harleys and demands some toe power. The engine is shared with the Dyna; however, there is an edge when it comes to the 12.24 kgm torque on tap here. The lack of a windscreen, panniers or any creature comfort highlights the Fat Boy’s tough-as-nails attitude.

The suspension offers a rather supple ride and, despite its bruiser attitude, responds with sharpness even when shedding speed quickly.The Softail family is packed with the Heritage Softail Classic — a modern motorcycle designed to look like it’s stepped straight out of the 1950s, complete with leather tassles, studded leather panniers and a big ol’ windscreen.

Dyna
Bikes for India — FXDB Street Bob, FXDC Super Glide Custom.

The big Dyna Super Glide Custom has a soft, well-rounded classic look seen on the Softails. But there is some minimalism, an attempt at lightness, as can be seen from the small single headlamp and small front mudguard.

The Super Glide Custom disguises its bulk and weight out on the road with incredible grace. When it comes to the heart of the matter, there is the big-bore 1584 cc V-Twin that’s also seen on the Softail and the Touring families. As you open up the throttle, the Dyna rumbles forward with the pace really picking up once into the mid-range.

From 3125 rpm, 12.5 kgm of torque is available, which is then channelled through the six-speed gearbox to the tarmac. The Dyna feels relaxed even as the speed builds up. Some use of the shoulders when overtaking is handy, but it loops its way with ease.

The wooden brakes left me a little shaken. Better brake feel would be welcome on a 310 kg bike that crosses 100 kph with ease. The Dyna leaves you underwhelmed, slips under the radar, and yet remains an easy motorcycle to enjoy in a wide range of conditions.


V-Rod


Bikes for India — Night Rod VRSC, VRSCDX Night Rod Special.

The V-Rod is Harley’s most tech-laden model yet. Its Revolution motor is based on the VR-1000 engine built for superbike racing in the mid-’90s. Launched in 2001, the V-Rod had fuel injection, overhead cams, liquid cooling (an H-D first) and a hydro-formed chassis. This was bundled with a new sleeker style mantra that gave Harley a shot at a younger, more hip rider.

Fully garbed in matte black, the Night Rod looks meaner than the V-Rod. The splayed-out forks lead up to a simple headlamp in a matte black fairing. The slim, minimalist tank is actually just a cover for the airbox — the fuel tank is stuffed under the seat. The seating position too is a new-age version of the chopper style, called the clam-shell.

You stretch your feet and arms forward, for the pegs and the handlebars. However, instead of hanging off the handlebars, you lean into them. At low speed, the ’Rod can be quite a handful for the uninitiated rider — a firm hand is required to keep it from deviating. The turning radius is also a bit wide.

On open roads, the 60 deg V-twin surprises with its cruising ability. Purring along at 60-70 kph is therapeutic thanks to the relaxing vibe from the motor. However, the Night Rod can scramble its way up to insane speeds in a jiffy. Gearshifts are smooth and light. Aggressive downshifts won’t faze the bike either as a slipper clutch takes care of unpleasant surprises.

ABS brakes fromBrembo make stopping this motorcycle just a bit easier. Riding the Night Rod isn’t perfect but what it does, without any reproach, is make a statement.

Touring
Bikes for India — FLHR Road King, FLHX Street Glide, FLHTCUSE, Ultra Classic Electra Glide.

Picture mile after mile of straight, seemingly endless highways, use that to spark some American-sized thinking and you will end up with the Ultra Classic Electra Glide. The bat-like fairing stands proudly like a shield. There is quite a lot to protect like a four-speaker music system with CD player, two electrical outlets, SatNav, cruise control (thanks to electronic throttle control), sofa-like seats, panniers that can accommodate enough luggage for a month, and even air-conditioning.

Well, almost. By adjusting flaps on the front fairing, you can send a stream of air in the desired direction or just keep it closed. With all its bells and whistles, this top-of-the-line H-D weighs in at 430 kg. The rubber-mounted 1584 cc engine just purrs underneath as you roll down the highway. All the excess, suddenly, seemed purposeful, almost perfect.

Despite its heft, the Electra Glide shows remarkable ability and keenness to lean and barrel its way even around corners. The 45 deg V-twin engine zaps the dash from one apex to the next with a great urgency. However, this fairy tale comes to a rude end at the very first U-turn. With all the extras, you need the strength of Hercules to slip through the little cuts on highways.

Riding the Street Glide is a far more relaxing experience. It strikes a much healthier balance between comfort and U-turning ability. The Street Glide’s seats aren’t quite as sofa-like as the Electra Glide’s, the extras are just a bit under control and the weight adds up to make this a motorcycle you could live with in a wider range of conditions. The Street Glide gobbles up the kilometres without fuss. However, a buffeting from the wind comes over the cropped windscreen to give your head a shake.

Tweaking the seating position by ducking or sitting further back doesn’t get rid of the head massage, which, perhaps, wouldn’t be a problem when riding with a full-face helmet. The Street Glide it is then, to pace down a highway soaking in the sights while letting the rumble roll calmly into the passing fields.

Autocar India.

HARLEY-DAVIDSON SOFTAIL FAT BOY
Price: Rs 18.45 lakh (ex-showroom,Delhi)
On sale: Now
L/ W/ H: 2396/ 997/ 1130 mm
Displacement: 1584 cc
Power: 65 bhp
Torque: 12.24 kgm at 3300 rpm
Engine: V-twin, air-cooled, four-stroke