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Harley-Davidson Roadster | BIKE TESTS

The newest addition to the H-D Sportster line-up uses the same chassis and engine as the popular Forty-Eight model

Believe the hype?

With a federal election looming, Canberra is a hot topic right now. An odd place to visit at the best of times, it recently became the place to be when it was invaded by a group of Harley-Davidson-riding journalists. The Iconic American marque chose the nation’s capital for the Australian launch of its new Roadster model. Not because there is a connection between the new 1200cc, stripped-down Sportster and our boring politicians, but because the roads through the hills of the ACT are a great place to ride.


I look forward to trying any bike for the first time, but the new Roadster really piqued my interest when the launch invitation arrived. I wouldn’t call myself a Harley-Davidson aficionado – I’m far from that – but on paper the new Roadster looked like a heap of fun. And so it proved to be.

The newest addition to the H-D Sportster line-up uses the same chassis and engine as the popular Forty-Eight model, however, the suspension and brakes are the next level up. The bike is a more realistic nod to Harley’s sporting heritage – not a café hopper.

A full test feature will appear in an upcoming issue of AMCN, along with a video review at, but for now I’ll compare my initial thoughts on the new Roadster with the marketing spiel from a company that has mastered the art of selling a lifestyle.

They say: The new Roadster puts a powerful new level of sport into the Sportster line-up.

Dobie says: You could look at the new Roadster as a Forty-Eight with better suspension and brakes, but that would be selling it very short. I’m guessing the use of the term powerful is relating to the visual impact as much as its torque output which is the same 97Nm that the Forty-Eight and the 1200 Custom generate. The Roadster does deliver its peak torque 1000rpm higher in the rev range (4250rpm v 3250rpm) than the other two, making the engine slightly more rev happy.

They say: Its refined performance package includes 43mm inverted front forks with massive triple clamps, powerful dual-disc front brakes, premium rear suspension and new dual-gauge instrumentation to complement the iconic fuel tank and chopped rear fender.

Dobie says: An inverted fork isn’t totally new to Harley-Davidson, but it’s still something to highlight as the suspension on the Roadster is one of the reasons the bike shines. The 43mm inverted single-cartridge fork has tri-rate springs, while the rear suspension is twin gas-charged emulsion coil-over shocks with adjustable pre-load. Suspension travel is 115mm up front and 82mm at the rear. Agreed, that’s not a huge amount, but it’s more than any other bike in the Sportster stable. The new suspension gives the Roadster a racier, ass-up head-down appearance. It has also altered the steering geometry from the Forty-eight’s 29.6º rake and 132mm trail to 28.9º and 140mm on the Roadster. The suspension is firm, as you would want on a sporty model, but it’s not harsh. There’s a big difference between crashing into a dip on a B-grade road and bouncing through it. The Roadster does the later. It’s not top-shelf WSBK kit so it doesn’t soak up the bumps, but it stops your spine from being compressed. On more suitable A-grade roads the firmer suspension keeps the Roadster going through a corner on the trajectory you sent it – there’s no sloppy suspension altering the steering geometry mid-corner.

The dual gauge instrumentation is new, but looks retro. It’s an attractive analogue tachometer with a digital insert that displays a scroll-through menu including speed, gear and A and B trip meter. Unfortunately, bright sunshine combined with a tinted visor make it almost impossible to read the now old-style digital display.

They say: The riding position is aggressive, but comfortable for long rides thanks to the 19-inch front and 18-inch rear offset-split 5-spoke cast aluminum wheels, lowered bar, mid-mount controls and a new two-up seat.

Dobie says: The 19-inch front wheel and 18-inch rear have a split design which borders on optical illusion. Despite its large wheels, the Roadster has well balanced handling with good feedback, however, the additional gyroscopic forces of the 19-incher up front, fitted with twin 300mm discs, can be felt when changing direction through high-speed sweeps. It’s easily managed with the standard handlebar, but if you wanted to go a bit mad and fit clip-ons you would certainly have more of a fight on your hands.

The mid-mount controls appear to be a point of contention among those who have ridden the bike – some love them while others are not sure. The wide engine and chassis mean the placement of the footpegs make it difficult to place you feet on the ground beside the footpegs without having to adopt an almost impossibly wide stance. It took a bit of brain training to work out a new position for my feet, but I settled on having my left foot in front and my right foot behind the pegs.

On the pillion front, the report from Mrs Ed is that the two-up seat is surprisingly comfortable given its diminutive size. In the real world the Roadster is a solo ride, and fitting the Café solo seat from the options list, and removing the pillion footpegs, would be the way to go.


They say: Its 45-degree, 1200cc engine delivers massive off-the-line torque. Low-end torque is the calling card of the 1200cc Evolution V-Twin motor. It’s also known for the soul-satisfying sound.

Dobie says: Soul-satisfying sound? I’ll be using that line again. And the 1200cc Evolution V-twin is certainly packed full of torque. It’s not as arm pulling as the 111Nm punched out by the high-performance water-cooled V-Rod, but it does get moving quite briskly. The 1000rpm higher maximum Nm output point means you can gleefully rev the bike to 5000rpm, but anything more than that means it is simply making extra noise. Having oodles of torque also allows you to ride just about everywhere in third gear. Use forth when you have a straight, open road section and top-gear fifth for the freeways.

Helping with the feel is the rumbling sound from the exhaust pipes, which would only improve with the fitment of Screaming Eagle Street Performance Kit. The fact that the thing vibrates and shakes at idle like a jittery thoroughbred racehorse only adds to the uniqueness of the ride.


They say: It only takes three words to describe the look of the Roadster: garage-built custom.

Dobie says: I’ll take the opportunity to use a little more than three words because this is the secret to the Roadster. It has been built to look and feel like a garage-built custom and that’s exactly what it is like to ride – but in a nice way. It’s more a case of the tank being lifted then the bar lowered – tomato/tomato. Whichever way you look at it, riding the bike feels very similar to riding a mild café racer custom, but with better handling and the comforting knowledge it was been built by someone slightly more credentialed than a garage enthusiast.

They say: You get modern features like a hands-free, factory installed H-D Smart Security System, dual disc front brakes with floating rotors, and anti-lock brakes front and rear.

Dobie says: Don’t ever change Harley-Davidson, this is why we love you. We like riding your machines without anything being rushed, including technology. If modern features for H-D include ABS and hands-free ignition so be it. Myself, and the ever-growing number of Harley owners, are happy to accept that and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Summary: Riding the Roadster provides an enjoyably simplistic, old-school experience (as well as the looks) and the addictive torque-riddled drive keeps me going back for more. I know I’ll never be a paid up member of my local HOG chapter, but the new Roadster isn’t being targeted at that demographic – it’s one for the younger generation who want a bit of style mixed with their performance.