Over the past two years, we’ve spent a bit of time riding a range of Harley-Davidson bikes, from Sportsters to Touring models. Unfortunately, I missed the launch of the 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster due to my US trip. So I decided, fresh off a tour of Montana on a fleet of Harley-Davidson Road and Street Glides (with an additional three or so weeks riding 883s and Forty Eights around New York) it was time for our first official motorbike review.
I’m not a motorcycle journalist. Nor am I car journalist for that matter. However, I’ve driven far more cars and possess far more knowledge for comparisons than I do motorcycles. But let’s be honest, I’m probably the exact consumer Harley-Davidson is trying to attract to the Roadster. Twenty-nine years old, 100% disposable income, has ridden or owned a motorcycle for brief periods of his life, and ultimately can’t quite decide whether it’s the cafe or cruiser style bike that appeals to them more.
Specifically, I think it’s the last point I made that has shaped the design of the 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster – trying to bridge that gap between a performance bike and your typical Harley-Davidson. Even for the less storied Harley fans, it’s clear that the lines of the Roadster convey a different riding style. Despite utilising the same frame and motor as the rest of the Sportster range, the new Roadster gets a flatter seat, repositioned pegs/controls and a suspension set up with 43mm inverted forks that gives the bike a more balanced stance.
The resulting angle of the chassis combined with the seating position, over the mid controls, allows for greater rideability, cornering and braking, aided by a pair of 300mm discs up front. The inverted forks provide better damping and less fork dive under braking stress. This allows you to ride the bike more aggressively, more so than a Forty-Eight or 883, sans ABS, with forward controls and less travel on the rear suspension.
So what’s it like around town? In short a complete breeze. When people who haven’t ridden Harleys talk to me about Harley-Davidson, they always reference weight. In fact, I’m sure it’s the major reason people avoid them because they see a listed weight of 259kg and worry it’s too heavy. In reality, it’s not the lightest bike on the market, but it’s not worth getting worried about. It’s completely manageable and manoeuvrable in the city, even though the peg location on the Roadster is a tad awkward for parking. I can assure you that after spending time on the brand’s touring motorcycles, the weight of a Sportster goes almost unnoticed.
The 1200cc engine is not intimidating in any way, so don’t rule the Roadster out because you think it’s too powerful. In fact it even felt a little choked up with the standard pipes fitted – hence why the majority of Harleys you see and hear on the road have a Stage 1 conversion. The long gear ratios allow you to keep the bike in the three lowest gears when nipping around the city. Keeping it in gear and accessing the exciting burst of midrange torque is what the bike enjoys most.
Looks wise, as a stock bike, I’d say pretty hard to beat. New split-five-spoke cast wheels, gorgeous seat, chopped fenders, and sunken headlight complements an individually designed set of handlebars and instrument gauge to deliver and clean and handsome bike which will have the fans swooning. Like previous Sportster models, the aftermarket will no doubt provide a plethora of excellent customisation options meaning these Roadsters are only going to get more attractive.
As I said above, I haven’t ridden a lot of bikes, which means I’m even more confused about what I want to get out of my next bike purchase. The 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster makes that decision a fraction easier appealing to a new audience who crave the Harley image but also want a performance bike for a Sunday ride.
Here’s a quick clip we filmed of the bike in action around Pittwater and out to West head.
For more info on the 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster head to their website.