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Harley-Davidson Roadster first ride

Published: 27 April 2016

Updated: 27 April 2016

Harley-Davidson’s new ‘Roadster’ version of its Sportster 1200 is designed to bring genuine performance ability to its middleweight V-twin and is currently being put through its paces by MCN guest tester Phil West in the South of France. Here are his first impressions:

“Despite having a whole family of bikes called Sportsters, US cruiser giant Harley isn’t particularly known for sporty bikes – but on the basis of this first ride of the new Roadster in the south of France that could be about to change.

“Although based on an unchanged Sportster 1200 engine, which is H-D’s familiar, middleweight, air-cooled V-twin cruiser family, a significant chassis makeover with credible performance-orientated suspension, brakes and wheels and more, has turned it into a genuine café racer that’s been a surprising hoot to thrash around the switchbacks in the mountains north of St Tropez.

“A bigger 19in front, 18in rear lightweight alloy wheel combo, along with proper, longer rear shocks plus fat 43mm USD forks at the front changes the whole orientation of the 1200’s familiar tubular steel cradle frame, making it distinctly more ‘arse up, nose down’, in true café racer style. And that, allied with a decent twin disc brake set-up complete with twin four-piston calipers, semi ‘ace’ handlebars, more rear-set footpegs plus a beautifully made race-style seat adds up to a bike that’s both a doddle to get on with and one that urges you to hustle and scratch. It’s a joy to steer, which it does quickly and precisely, the ride is more controlled and sophisticated than any previous Sportster and the brakes are so good it’s as if Harley has finally discovered how good modern brakes can be.

“All in all, though still clearly a Harley at heart – the unchanged, ‘rustic’ but willing 1202cc V-twin, lumpy gearchange, fat controls and distinctive, ‘Peanut’ fuel tank leave you in no doubt of that – the Roadster is also a credible, café-racer. Or, to the Sportster what the old Triumph Thruxton was to the British firm’s Bonneville. And that, at prices starting at under £10,000, is no bad recommendation in itself. A Harley Sportster? Yes, there is, at last.”

Read our full test in next week’s MCN.

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