Review: Harley-Davidson launches Roadster — in Europe – USA TODAY
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MARSEILLE, France — Showing how its American spirit is proving popular around the world, Harley-Davidson has built a new motorcycle and chose to launch it in Europe.
Harley came here to debut its newest Sportster model, the 1200CX Roadster. Harley said it chose to introduce the Roadster in France, with a ride from Marseille to a big Harley festival in St. Tropez to demonstrate the motorcycle’s more aggressive riding position as well as the improved lean angle of the bike. Both characteristics are tailored to narrow, curvy European roads.
“The Roadster has a unique stance. We used the taller suspension in the back and lowered it a little bit in the front so it pivots the motorcycle,” says Paul James, director of motorcycle product planning at Harley-Davidson, giving the motorcycle a meaner stance opposed to the more laid-back style of cruisers. In addition, the greater lean angle really “allows you to toss it around in the corners.”
Harley outfitted the Roadster with 43-millimeter inverted front forks, which improve suspension response by reducing unsprung weight. In that same vein, Harley gave the bike lightweight 5-spoke cast aluminum wheels measuring 19 inches in the front and 18 inches in the rear.
The rear suspension uses emulsion technology, meaning the shock fluid and gas mix inside the shock. Harley says the upgraded suspension gives the Roadster more travel than most other Sportster models – 4.5 inches in the front, 3.2 inches in the rear. (The Iron 883, for example, has 3.6 inches of travel in the front, 1.6 inches in the rear; the Seventy-Two has 5.51 inches in the front, 2.13 inches in the rear).
To me, the Roadster was a comfortable ride, although I still preferred standing on the foot pegs over speed humps. The pegs are mounted in the middle section of the bike, making it easy to stand.. Granted, standing wasn’t just for comfort. The position of them invited a bit of hooligan-esque riding.
The handlebars are also positioned lower and the foot controls, as mentioned earlier, are mid-mount as opposed to a foot-forward position. The gas tank is still a classic “peanut” shape and holds about 3.3 gallons of fuel. The Roadster also shares the same air-cooled 1200cc V-Twin engine as the other Sportsters.
The rest of the styling is “really stripped back, really minimal,” says Ben McGinley, who at 28 is considered the “kid” designer behind the Roadster.
The five-speed motorcycle weighs 568 pounds with fuel and fluids. It has a low center of gravity, making it easy to handle, even for smaller riders like myself. The narrow seat and 30.9” seat height was very comfortable for my 5’2” frame, although with a 28” inseam, I wasn’t flat-footed with both feet. But I still found plenty of stability in slow maneuvers and while stopped.
As Harley claimed, the bike was exceptionally easy to flick around the mountain roads, with a claimed lean angle of about 31 degrees. Many other Sportster models have lean angles in the mid- to upper-20s. (To compare, Ducati’s XDiavel “cruiser” has a claimed lean angle of 40 degrees). The higher-mounted foot controls also kept allowed for better leaning before you scrape the pegs.
The dual 11.8-inch floating disc brakes on the front and 10.24-inch dual-piston rear provided strong stopping power, though if you’re accustomed to sport-bike brakes, this will feel a bit mushier.
Being in France, we often found ourselves on two-lane roads that got backed up entering and exiting towns. So naturally, we weaved between the lanes (it’s legal), and I was surprised at how well-balanced the bike was at slow speeds.
One thing Harley’s core buyers will appreciate is the rumble and feel of the engine – it is unmistakably Harley. Many Japanese and European bike engines run so smooth and quiet at idle that you can’t really tell if it’s on.
Still, I had a few things I thought could be improved, such as lack of passing power.
Although there was plenty of low-end torque (Harley claims 76 foot-pounds at 3,750 rpm), on highway-speed roads, I felt the need to downshift for more power to quickly pass a car. But when I did that, I would hit the rev limiter, which ever-so-briefly cuts power to the engine, so I couldn’t pick up enough speed. Upshifting didn’t give me the punch I wanted, so I just had to wait for the bike to spool up to speed. I was still able to pass, just not at the pace I would have liked.
My other gripes have to do with the hand controls. The standard clutch lever is not adjustable, and for my smaller hands, the reach was a bit far and the lever felt heavy. After half an hour of stop-and-go traffic, my left hand and wrist were sore. A male journalist who had better reach also complained of this issue, so it was not just because of my small reach.
The turning indicators are separate: right blinker, right side; left blinker, left side. The problem with the right indicator switch is that it was difficult for my hand to reach it without accidentally rolling the throttle. But this could just be an issue for riders with less reach.
It’s also unfortunate that the U.S. market will not get the LED taillights that the European market will get. In Europe, turn indicators are required to be orange, while in the United States, it can be the same red color as the brake lights. To save money, Harley says it left the regular bulbs on the Roadster for the American market.
The styling, in my opinion, is on point. The short dual exhausts, chopped fenders and low handlebars give the bike a sporty, muscular look. The simplicity of it also helps showcase the engine.
Pricing of the Roadster starts at $11,199. It’s available with optional ABS brakes ($795) and keyless ignition with a proximity-based security fob ($395). For California riders, the bike will cost an extra $100 because of emissions regulations. The Roadster comes in four colors: Matte black, glossy black, two-toned black and silver and a maroon red.
Overall, the bike was a hoot to ride, but whether it will sell well in Europe is left to be seen. Many other brands offer motorcycles that perform as well, if not better, on European roads, such as the Ducati Monster 1200, BMW R nineT and the Yamaha Bolt (known as the XV950R across the pond). But Harley’s pricing beats that of Ducati and BMW, and as the Euro Festival showed, the Harley brand has a strong following in Europe. So for those who want the true American flavor, there really is only one choice.
Follow Andria Yu @sixspeedsis.
Review: Harley-Davidson launches Roadster — in Europe – USA TODAY