2012 Harley-Davidson Dyna Street Bob Review

Harley's big-bore bobber is a likable bike with attitude

story by Pete Brissette, Photograph by Harley-Davidson, Created Jan. 12, 2012
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If you’ve had a hankering to get into the current bobber scene but don’t have the full pluck to go through the effort required to bob and chop a bike in order to get that bare-bones, simplified look, then consider the Street Bob from Harley-Davidson.

The Dyna-platform-based Street Bob takes broad-brush strokes to cover basic bobber themes, yet it manages to pull off the stripped-down look without coming across like a caricature of the real thing. And although the Bob’s appearance straddles the milder side of bobber wild, it also provides a clean, harmonious look rather than the hodge-podge cobble job sometimes seen on true bob-job bikes hand-assembled by their owners in back alley garages.

Yes, the Street Bob is a bobber as interpreted by a major manufacturer. By default that means its sensible and safe design (dictated by DOT requirements when building a bike for the masses) doesn’t incorporate many of the edgy, law-flouting styling elements found on many hardcore bobbers. But then again, the Street Bob comes with a factory warranty and Harley’s massive dealer network – no chance of that from Billy’s Backyard Bobber Emporium.

2012 Harley-Davidson Dyna Street Bob Right Side

Bob’s yer uncle

As part of Harley’s Dark Custom line, the Street Bob takes some of its cues from what the cool kids are doing with their rides these days. A target of immediate re-fabrication and hallmark styling trait of the go-your-own-way crowd is to somehow muck with a bike’s handlebar. For the Street Bob, it’s all about the fists-in-the-wind ape-hanger look.

The bar’s height (10.0-inch-tall bar with 2.0-inch rise) is legal in all 50 states, and just high enough that I didn’t feel like I was riding a cookie-cutter cruiser. But during extended freeway blasts the bar was almost too tall for my liking. Their placement means your arms are raised and open, leaving your torso to take the brunt of the windblast: fighting against the wind to keep a secure grip gets a little tiresome after 20 miles or more. How do the hardcore biker dudes ride with those mega-tall apes…?

2012 Harley-Davidson Dyna Street Bob Cockpit

Apes on the Street Bob might give the impression that they diminish handling, but it’s only during low-speed maneuvering that steering can feel cumbersome at times. Depending on your physical stature you might find that it’s a bit of a stretch to the outside bar-end when performing tight-radius turns, etc.

I had myself convinced that the mid-mount footpegs would place my knees too high to remain comfortable for long – just like I presumed about the apes. While the pegs aren’t low and forward as on most cruisers, I was surprised after the first few miles at how well the pegs’ placement complemented the rest of the rider triangle: not too low, not too high. A solo saddle is de rigueur for bobber styling. The SB has a 26.7-inch seat height, and the saddle’s shape and foam density was comfortable mile after mile.

For the past few years Harley has offered low seat heights for many of its cruiser models, and this usually comes at the cost of reduced rear suspension travel; as little as 2.0 inches on some models. The Street Bob instead provides 3.1 inches of travel for its dual coil-over-spring shocks, while the fork has a rather generous 5.0 inches. This extra travel makes itself known in the form of good damping with an overall ride quality notably more forgiving than Harleys with less suspension travel.

Good ol’ reliable, that’s what I’m calling Harley’s Twin Cam 96 V-Twin powerplant. Now that the bigger 103-cubic-inch lump – currently in the Touring models, Softails and Dyna motorcycles, with the Dyna Street Bob and Dyna Super Glide Custom retaining the Twin Cam 96 – will become the new standard for large-displacement Harleys, the likeable qualities in the Twin Cam 96 may get lost to the new kid on the block.

Though the 96 is quickly becoming yesterday’s news, it’s still an engine with lots to offer in terms of authoritative low-end grunt and plenty of power on tap to motivate a large cruiser. The powerband is linear, fueling is smooth and reliable, and the six-speed gearbox shifts effortlessly, with near Japanese-motorcycle-transmission precision.

2012 Harley-Davidson Dyna Street Bob Left Side

The SB’s exhaust note has the requisite rumble, and pop-pop on the overrun, to match the bike’s no-nonsense, tough-guy vibe. The Bob’s brash-but-cool styling statement is further encapsulated by an all-black color scheme bookended by black laced wheels with black-wall tires, matte black engine finish and limited amounts of chrome. And a special styling cue that I found particularly cool is the minimalist, retro-styled brake light housing, looking like a part pulled from a 60s-era American-made sedan. And it also looks like it was made to work effectively but without much effort– that’s true bobber ethos!

For a production-level bob job the Harley-Davidson Dyna Street Bob has a lot going for it. However, the SB has some stiff competition in the Victory High-Ball we reviewed last summer.

Vic’s distinct styling for its retro-fied cruiser elicits visions (or distant memories depending on your age!) of what it might’ve been like to chop, bob and build a cruiser in the ’50s and early ’60s. The paint is matte-black, the wire wheels have fat, white-wall tires, the bars ride high, the tank is plump, the seat is solo and there’s just enough contrasting white paint on the fuel tank to hint at custom paint jobs of an era gone by.

Perhaps more appealing than any of the above is the hard fact that the Victory High-Ball offers a larger, more powerful 106 cubic-inch V-Twin, more suspension travel and a seat height (25.0 inches) even lower than the Bob’s, all at a sticker price only $500 more than the Harley Street Bob’s $12,999 base MSRP. Shootout, anyone…?

My time thus far with large-displacement factory bobbers has solely been aboard the 2012 Street Bob, but it’s already won a special place in my heart as one of the most attractive, emotive and entertaining Harleys I’ve yet ridden.

Thanks, (Street) Bob.

Related Reading
2012 Victory High-Ball Review
2011 World Cruiser Shootout: Harley-Davidson Super Glide Custom vs. Honda Sabre vs. Moto Guzzi California vs. Triumph Thunderbird
2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow Review
2012 Harley-Davidson Dyna Super Glide Custom Review
2012 Harley-Davidson Models Updates
All Things Cruiser on Motorcycle.com
All Things Harley-Davidson on Motorcycle.com
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