By Marissa Baecker
My first motorcycle was a Harley-Davidson softail. From the moment I got the keys at the dealer, I invested endless time and money customizing my new ride. Harley-Davidson is about customizing. They have built a brand around it. There isn’t anything that they haven’t thought of and slapped their eagle wings onto right down to the post ride beer fridge.
Year after year it was always something. I was proud. I was now a bad-ass. I remember being asked more than once if I had bought a ‘Skirtster’ when I mentioned I owned a Harley. A Skirtster was the slang for a Sportster which, at that time, was the entry level motorcycle that most women were buying because of its low power and smaller size. Times have changed.
When the 2017 HD Roadster entered the market, the intention was to model its predecessor shovelhead and ironhead engines by introducing a stylish 1202 cc air-cooled v-twin named evolution as it ‘broke new ground in displacement.’ Even though the Roadster became part of the Sportster family of motorcycles, I don’t think HD had the ladies in mind. In fact, this ride is more suited to the younger male with attitude that matches the bike’s chop shop good looks that usually comes after some serious time tinkering in the garage.
Take a walk around and the blacked-out styling, low slammed bars and chopped rear fender give the bike an edge even before you get behind the bars. It is a bit of an about face for the chrome kings of Milwaukee known for polish and shine. It’s low to the ground, with a seat height of 749mm (29.5 inches) matched with ground clearance just shy of six inches and you soon realize why the foot pegs have scrape rods.
Take a seat behind the bars and the Sportster signature 12.5 L peanut tank appears angled upward as you reach for the bars. As I began getting ready to ride, a sales rep asked me who was riding the bike—assuming that I was taking the back seat. Did he know something I didn’t? For my height and leg length, the back seat would have been the more appropriate place to park my backside in order to get the leg length I needed. Honestly though, that would only have solved one ergonomic problem. The other would not be as easy of a fix.
From the rider’s position, the foot pegs are extended farther than usual out the sides of the bike yet the controls are in the normal position. Even in my thick leather HD branded riding boots, I could firmly place my feet on the pegs and move them from top to bottom on both sides completely clearing both the gear shifter and brake pad. I suppose I could have easily operated the foot controls by riding completely bow-legged but even then, the clunky transmission had me upshifting into neutral more than once.
No matter how hard I tried, my body positioning would not line up with natural operation of a motorcycle. I decided just to place my body where it felt good as opposed to where it was designed to be and upon review, my feet were on the extension bars for the pegs as opposed to the pegs themselves but even then, my right leg was angled out as the air filter obnoxiously protruded into my leg space. Trying to get out of stop and go traffic was frustrating. First because of the ergonomics of the bike but second because each time I came to a stop and put my feet on the asphalt, I smacked my shins with the feet pegs so much so, they were bruised the following day.
Finally reaching some open road without traffic lights I was irritated and opened throttle. Surprise! The Roadster lit up and it became clear this was where it was meant to be ridden. The low-end torque was apparent in city riding but exceptional on the open road. The shorty exhaust and chrome tapped, heat sheilded mufflers offer an aggressive growl in line with the custom style. Each gear shift seemed smoother the closer the RPM was to the red line.
By the time I reached the twisties, the Roadster was in its element. With the inverted front forks and 43mm suspension, paired with the sticky Dunlops and a relatively light weight of 259 kg (570 lbs.), I understood why there were scrape posts on the foot pegs. It was so effortless to throw over and back again. I returned the bike to Gasonline Alley and when asked what I thought, I replied,”There’s only one way to ride this bike,” to which my answer and that of the service manger’s chimed in tune, “That’s fast.” It’s true.
For my body type this is not my ride. If I wanted to buy a bike to ride about town this would not be my ride. However, if I wanted a sytlish custom looking Harley-Davidson that performed like a sport bike on those long winding roads, the 2017 Roadster would be worth considering. MSRP varies between $13 and $13,400 with available additional options like ABS and security.