Hitting the tarmac on Harley's new Roadster
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TEST AT HOME REVEALS BEAUTIFULLY WELL-ROUNDED BIKE
It's amazing the differences you notice between a vehicle's launch and a test in your own backyard.
It wasn't long ago that I was across the Ditch with Harley-Davidson for the Australasian launch of the Roadster. Now I've put some real distance under my wheels, I can say a few things have changed from that first impression in Australia. The new Roadster shares many of its components with the 1200cc Sportster, but instead of the traditional forward-mounted pegs it has centrally mounted units and an all-new suspension system.
The Roadster is the largest capacity bike in the Harley Sportster range that has centrally mounted footpegs, with the Iron 883 and learner-approved Street 500 sitting below it. As those bikes are considered the "entry-level" Harleys, it's fair to say that the Roadster is the current pinnacle of that corner of the range.
Harley opted for 43mm USD forks for front suspension duties, as that style is expected by many riders in the market Harley is so strongly aiming many of its new models towards, the under-40s.
While the units found on the Roadster aren't the fully adjustable units found in many other bikes in the same price bracket they do the job without being either too harsh or too squishy. In the rear are new, taller preload adjustable shock absorbers than those in the rest of the Sportster family. These push the spine of the bike up, enabling Harley to achieve the Roadster's high ground clearance and high seat position while keeping the bike anchored to its conservative roots. The suspension system as a whole is therefore nothing ground-shattering, but it doesn't need to be. While the Roadster is hands-down the sportiest of the Sportster class, it's not a full-on sports bike.
Its styling reflects that of a home-built machine, without the harsh edges and poor build quality you'd get if Bob down the road built you a bike in his shed.
The mudguards have both been "chopped" and "bobbed", reducing weight and adding to the sporty look.
The downside of those good-looking guards is that on wet or dirty roads they lose some of their functionality.
Commuting in typical winter weather, I found this out the hard way with road grime plastering the back of my riding jackets, my boots and lower trousers covered in spray.
At the Aussie launch I was given the chance to ride the Low Rider S, complete with Harley's huge high-performance 110cu Screamin' Eagle engine. Hopping off this and jumping back on to a Roadster may have tainted my view of the 1200cc (103cu) engine for the remainder of the trip.
Having ridden more than 700km on the Roadster I may have been a little harsh on the 103 in my initial assessment. While it could definitely use a bit more grunt, it isn't quite the gutless wonder it felt like after riding the Screamin' Eagle-equipped bike.
When I picked up my test bike from Auckland Harley-Davidson it had a mere 30km on the odometer. Starting it was quiet and smooth -- definitely not what comes to mind when you think of a Harley engine.
As the kilometres rolled by, the engine's true character started to reveal itself. It became louder and was noticeably loosening up and feeling better and better as the countryside rolled by.
Attached to the engine is a five-speed gearbox which has quite long gearing for a bike that I imagine will spend a decent chunk of time within city limits.
The engine feels at its happiest revving above 2500 rpm, which means in the 50 km/h zones you'll find yourself in second gear. On the highway it ticks over comfortably in fifth gear at 2800 rpm. I'll freely admit I managed to stall the Roadster in heavy central Auckland traffic more than once due to the long first gear.
Once out of the central city and its awful traffic I finally managed to put the Roadster's sporty nature to the test. Flicking between second and third gears as I darted around a series of corners I finally felt I "got" the bike.
It's not a sports bike, it's nowhere near as sharp on turn-in or as easily flickable from side to side. What it is, is a beautifully well-rounded bike, even more so when you remember its origins as a feet-first small cruiser.
The Roadster makes picking the perfect line and speed immensely rewarding.
Photos / Mathieu Day, supplied