Until today, Harley-Davidson’s Dark Custom line contained eight models. However, Dark Customs are more than just a selection of motorcycles. At the introduction of the Dark Custom Iron 883 and Forty-Eight, Marketing Manager Jen Hoyer positioned the line, thusly: “The Dark Custom, for us, it’s not just about the motorcycle. It’s about growing the sport of motorcycling.” With the unveiling of the 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster the Dark Custom line gains a new member to tempt riders and potential riders, alike, into becoming members of the H-D fold.

2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S First Ride Review

Based on the Sportster 1200, the Roadster takes the already elemental Sportster lines and pares them down to the bare essentials. Harkening back to an era where customizing a motorcycle was more about what the rider took off of the bike rather than accessories that were put on it, the Roadster openly nods to history in the slotted belt cover and muffler shields which mimic the lightening house that racers drilled into their machines.

With a low-rise handlebar and mid-controls, the Roadster puts the rider in a relatively aggressive riding position.

With a low-rise handlebar and mid-controls, the Roadster puts the rider in a relatively aggressive riding position.

“Since its introduction in 1957, the Harley-Davidson Sportster has proved capable of constant reinvention, and the Roadster writes a new chapter in that story,” said Harley-Davidson Director of Styling Brad Richards. “We’ve watched our customers take the Sportster in so many different directions. The Roadster is a mash-up of styling genres, but the intent was to build a rider’s motorcycle, a Sportster that’s lean and powerful and connects the rider to the road.”

2015 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom Review

The Roadster features a lanky, stripped-down profile wrapped around the classic air-cooled 1200cc V-Twin Evolution engine. To accentuate this minimalist look, the rear fender is chopped shorter than previous bobbed Sportster fenders by an inch-and-a-half. The turn signals mount directly to the fender struts and act as the brake light, leaving the fender tip essentially naked.

“We wanted to give the Roadster some DNA from the high-performance KHR models of the mid-50s, and later Sportsters tuned for the dragstrip,” said Richards. “Those bikes had fenders cut to the struts, the small fuel tank, and were stripped to their bare essentials to achieve a singular performance purpose.”

The seat cover was inspired by armored leather jacket design.

The seat cover was inspired by armored leather jacket design.

The fastback seat’s upwardly curved rear section adds to the purposeful look by holding the rider in place under acceleration. “The seat’s profile flows into the very short rear fender,” said Harley-Davidson Industrial Designer Ben McGinley. “The cover features a series of pads inspired by an armored leather jacket, and the rear of the seat is designed as a passenger pillion, to give the Roadster added versatility.”

To match the aggressive seat, a low-rise handlebar connects via a beefy triple clamp to a 43mm inverted single-cartridge fork with tri-rate springs. Tri-Rate springs also play a role out back on the preload-adjustable gas-charged emulsion coil-over shocks. However, the real story of interest in the suspension is its travel – 4.5 inches in front and 3.2-inches in the rear – more than any other Sportster model. Although 3.2 in. isn’t huge, it’s 0.7-in. more than the Sportster 1200 Custom we sampled in September 2014. We’ll be interested to see how the extra legroom for the shocks affects handling and ground clearance.

One of the big stories told in the Roadster specs is that of increased ground clearance.

One of the big stories told in the Roadster specs is that of increased ground clearance.

For sporty styling, a 4-in. tachometer, with an inset digital speedometer, tucks neatly between the top triple clamp and the round headlight. The Roadster-specific wheels measure in at 19 inches in the front and 18 inches out back. The Offset-Split 5-Spoke design for the cast aluminum wheels were, according to McGinley, “inspired by classic laced wheels, and are the most intricate cast wheel we’ve ever created.” He also notes, ”These wheels are also very light for their size, which contributes to the Roadster’s handling performance.”

The belt cover and heat shields are styled like lightened race parts.

The belt cover and heat shields are styled like lightened race parts.

Mounted to that 19-in. front wheel is a pair of 11.8-inch floating rotors (300mm for you metric fans) which are squeezed by four-piston calipers. Out back, a single 10.24-in. (260mm) disc handles speed attenuation. ABS is a $795 option.

The cast aluminum wheels are meant to resemble laced wheels of the past.

The cast aluminum wheels are meant to resemble laced wheels of the past.

The 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster will be in showrooms in May, starting at $11,199 for basic black. The optional colors, Black Denim or Velocity Red Sunglo, both sporting a red pinstripe, bumps the MSRP to $11,549. The two-tone Billet Silver/Vivid Black with a burgundy pinstripe moves the price up another $200.

041816-2016-Harley-Roadster-6

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  • Tod Rafferty

    I remember the lightening house, over near the old Same place.

    • john burns

      nobody goes there anymore, too crowded.

  • Mahatma

    I like it.It’s one of the few areas the HD can work in.Seat doesn’t look particular ergonomic,but looks good though.

  • Mark Vizcarra

    GTFO here. The roadster has been selling everywhere else around the world except for here (U.S.) for a long time. They have finally realized that people want a more performance oriented bike. So adding this new model in their lineup literally cost them nothing.

    Nice details though

    • Evans Brasfield

      Are you sure you’re not thinking of the 883 Roadster – which has been out a while. HD is preparing a world launch of the Roadster with 8 waves of journalists in Europe over the next week or so, and they wouldn’t be dropping that kind of change over a bike that was already on sale.

      • Mark Vizcarra

        Could have fooled me. But yes I was thinking about the 883 R. But they dropped it for 2016. Looks like there could only be one Roadster in Harley’s lineup

  • SRMark

    The closer it can get to the XR1200 the better (except for the XR’s warping tank shroud)

    • Stephen Philips

      Agreed! A pox on those plastic fuel tanks. Argh!

  • JoMeyer

    So given the target market, you can have this, or for example a Thruxton normal or R… Choices, choices…

  • 12er

    Brakes? Suspension? Whats Harley thinking?

    • Stephen Philips

      Don’t say it out loud, you’ll scare them!

  • Randy Darino

    victory is eating your lunch harley.time for a new water cooled engine with some HP.

    • Brian E. Trumpower

      Harley has a 35% market share in the U.S. while Polaris as a whole has a 5% share. I wouldn’t call that “eating your lunch.”

  • Born to Ride

    It’s partway between an XR1200 and a Nightster. Unfortunately more the latter than the former. It will be heavy and slow without the horsepower of the XR nor the ground clearance. Also no radial tires. Nice try Harley, I see what you did there. Looks nice though.

    • Kevin Butler

      Ths bike has Radial tires

      • Born to Ride

        Noop, Dunlop GT502s are definitely Bias-Ply.

        • Kevin Butler

          Care to make a bet on that fella ? :)

          • Kenneth

            I just checked the specs and confirmed that you are correct; the tires are radials.

    • Brian E. Trumpower

      The engines are exactly the same. The 1200cc Evo.

      • Born to Ride

        I’m not a Harley guy, but I do know that the XR1200 made about 20 more horsepower than the standard sporty. Which I think would be heavily advertised if that were the case. But I don’t actually know, so I won’t press the issue.

  • Gabriel Owens

    I don’t need a super fast bike. But I would love an American, lightweight standard with good handling that’s fun in the twisty bits and don’t cost 18k. The octane looked promising but I’ve heard the lean angle is crap. Would love an American Sv650.

    • Gabriel Owens

      I mean, for less money, I bet a triumph street twin would obliterate this in a comparison. And I know the new T120 would. Is it too much to ask for an American bike company to make a bike I truly want to buy?

      All that being said, I love the looks of this bike. I’ve read the article twice.

      • PrepHaitch

        Obliterate it how? Do spec sheets matter that much in a ride? I own a Street Triple. Amazing bike. I rented a Fat Boy last summer and had a fucking amazing time. I could have cared less about what other bikes could “obliterate” it.

        • Gabriel Owens

          Lol. Just stop talking.

      • Ser Samsquamsh

        Not that I disagree but a 10 year old CBR929 could whoop either for way less. Not really the point though is it?

        • Gabriel Owens

          I believe we were talking naked standards. Not sport bikes

          • Ser Samsquamsh

            Fine. A 919 hornet would beat both for peanuts. Still not the point.

          • sgray44444

            Something that is sporty enough, with classic looks, would be it. Newer Hondas have no soul. This comes very close. A little more performance and they would have it. Even still, it might just be good enough. I look forward to reading the reviews. I think the rubber mounted engine is likely a problem due to a lack of chassis stiffness, but what can you do with an unbalanced odd firing single-pin twin otherwise? Hard mounting would buzz you off the seat. The wheel sizes are odd, so no good tires. Pegs are a little too far forward. I wonder if the exhaust will drag in right-handers.

          • Ser Samsquamsh

            If a bike that touches down its pipe in a corner and throws you into a ditch has the soul then it’s that of a tequilla sodden stripper. A Honda has the soul of a sexy librarian. Both can be fun:)

          • Old MOron

            LOL, when you put it that way, I’ll take the librarian!

          • Ser Samsquamsh

            Indeed: the classic balance between romance and logic. That’s the human experience. However since logic is out the window when talking about bikes, which one are YOU likely to ride more?

    • sgray44444

      Lean angle on this from the Harley website is not much different than their other bikes, like the RoadGlide. I guess we shouldn’t expect much in the handling department, unfortunately.

      • Max Wellian

        Have you ever ridden a touring Harley? Granted it ain’t an R6, but it the right hands it’ll put about 98% of riders to shame.

        • sgray44444

          I know an excellent rider and friend following me on my Speed Triple had absolutely no chance of keeping up, and was giving it everything while I was barely trying. This guy did ride that Road Glide in ways that I would never have believed, but in the end wasn’t able to really keep up due to the bike’s limitations. If I had been truly motivated I could have put miles between us.

          • Max Wellian

            The RG leans 32° before the boards touch. It’s probably got another 3-4° once the boards fold up. Call it mid 30s. A god awful uncomfortable sportbike with heels up the ass might have what 40-45° if you really want to risk loosing grip and taking out a guardrail. Either way, most guys riding them have chicken strips big enough to fit a federal law on, so ain’t getting near that much out of them anyway.
            In any event, the Sporty is wearing great big curb feelers that could be unscrewed to provide mid 30° lean without even touching a peg. That’s plenty to have a good time on the streets for most people. Personally, that seat and those bars would have to go. Put a Sundowner seat on there with some standard Custom handlebars and that would make a great little bike to beat around the local country roads on.

  • schizuki

    A functional Sportster. Me likey.

  • Craig Hoffman

    Inverted forks and mid mount controls? That is a big deal in Harley Land.

    To be fair, this bike, with a silly amount of Screaming Eagle and suspension work mod money thrown at it, could really fun and it does look cool. Such a project would make no sense, but we are talking bikes, which inherently do not make financial sense.

    Old enough now to not really need 180 hp and 13,000 rpm anymore, but wanting something with substantial pull that I can carve a sweeper on without “accidentally” blipping up to 155 mph down the straightaway. This bike could suffice, but the Thruxton R is calling my name. Come hither sweet British lady, this ugly American wants to play :)

  • Buzz

    I liked the Roadster that came out in 2004 or so when they first started using rubber mounting.

    This looks cool but that riding position might get old after a while. I guess that’s what the 3 gallon tank is for.

  • ADB

    Getting a little closer! Almost there. Move those pegs back six inches, raise that seat four inches, and they’ll finally have it.

    Upside down forks and some real travel front and rear. Who would have thought. Keep going HD, keep going. Let’s hope they sell this one in the thousands, and we might finally see the breakthrough Standard we have all been looking for. Great first step.

    • PrepHaitch

      Such a pretentious comment.

      • ADB

        Sorry. I was just trying to show a little levity. I apologize.

      • DickRuble

        Not as pretentious as yours is moronic.

        • PrepHaitch

          how dare

      • Stephen Philips

        Now, now boys – let’s be civil.

    • James Battaglia

      In this case, they don’t need to raise the seat much (it’s already at 30″ or so on this), but rather lower the tank by creating a higher tunnel and widening the sides a tad to compensate.

      Definitely agree on the rear sets though. It would most likely require a different exhaust (development $$$), but the XR already had rear sets so we know they can do it. Some smaller wheels (18/17) would also be better looking/performing and save some weight/cost. Good for them on this effort though. It’s easily the best looking (good proportions, tasteful details, timeless aesthetic) Sportster in their lineup.

      • ADB

        Aah, I see what you mean on the tank. Indeed a 1-2 inch drop, combined with a little more fuel would work great in getting to a Standard. Maybe even something along the lines of an XLCR?

    • TheMarvelous1310

      I know, right? Now all they need to do is to stiffen the frames and engine/swingarm mounts, and they’ll have done everything necessary.

    • toomanycrayons

      You know you want one:

      “Vintage 1979 Kawasaki KZ 1000 Cafe Racer Muscle Bike – Excellent Condition”

      http://www.ebay.com/itm/Kawasaki-KZ-1000-LTD-/301939400009?forcerrptr=true&item=301939400009&rmvsb=true

  • Starmag

    It’s a shame the XR1200 didn’t sell enough because this is a pale imitation. Even that had joke passenger accommodations and a ethanol warping plastic gas tank though. With 80 ish hp I can see the charm of this balancer-shaft engine, but with the stock quiet ish exhaust it was pretty clattery.

    • Kenneth

      This doesn’t at all seem to be “…a pale imitation” of the XR1200; it’s a continuation of the earlier XL1200R. Unlike the XR, it’s instantly recognizable as a Harley, which should bode well for sales.

      • PapaD57

        It is damn nice looking in person. Went to see the Low Rider S and salesmen directed me to this ..Sh*t I don’t need another bike..do I?

  • Johnny Nightrider

    I like this Harley in Velocity Sunglo red.43mm Upside down forks,Triple discs,dual seat,and the 3.3 gallon gas tank should take it to 120 miles.That’s when I take a break.Good price.I like the Triumph Bonneville T120 also but there are more harley dealerships around where I live and ride.I like the Low Rider S but you can only take yourself on it with a solo seat.The regular low rider is not for me as I hate forward pegs.I would ride it for fun and weekend Vegas Getaways.I used to ride thousands of miles.Now I don’t as 2-5.5 hours is enough for me.The more you ride in a big city the more your chances of going down.I used to be a 100% Biker.Now I’m part time Biker not full time.It’s too dangerous in the city.I like riding the coast,the beach,the mountains.Not work anymore as that is the worst.You have to split lanes for miles going and coming home.Yeah you get there faster but all it takes is one bad driver that doesn’t see you and your over the handle bars.The concrete hurts and is unforgiving.I’ve left blood and bone on the road.Bone grafts are painful.And than we get right back on the next motorcycle cause it’s in our blood.People especially orthopedic surgeons think we’re crazy though we give them lots of complex cases to put back together.

    • Brian E. Trumpower

      The standard low rider also comes with mid controls. Oddly, I was just thinking how much more I’d love the roadster if it had forward controls.

      • Johnny Nightrider

        That’s cool.The reason I don’t like forward controls is on my left foot it doesn’t have alot of extension,up and down motion,or else I would like forward controls also.I hope to see you out on the road and may God bless us both with a couple of new Harley’s before the summer riding season.Alright Brian have a good rest of the year!

      • Stephen Philips

        Both are very easy fixes. I’ve been planning to modify a current 103 Dyna Low Rider by fitting fully adjustable, progressive suspension components at both ends, lifting the bike at least an inch and a half and installing performance brake pads. The stock pegs aren’t that bad but regular mid controls can be easily fitted. Personally I can live with the 103 engine, I just want better suspension, more cornering clearance and better brakes.

  • KLRJUNE .

    Did Harley write this? It reads like it. I’ve noticed lately all Harley road tests seem to be nothing but a press release. How much is Harley paying to write their own reviews?

    • Evans Brasfield

      A couple things: This is not a review. This is the announcement of a new model. So, yes, my information source was a Harley-provided press release. You’ll get my riding impression when I get back from the Roadster introduction in about two weeks.

      Second, here is your homework assignment:

      http://www.motorcycle.com/features/evans-off-camber-that-thing-we-do.html

      The last three paragraphs directly apply to your comment.

      Have a nice day.

      • KLRJUNE .

        I read your article and I agree, I should go elsewhere for factual unbiased reporting because I’m not going to find it here. Adios.

      • Brian E. Trumpower

        I’ve gotta admit: I’ve always wanted to fart in an elevator.

      • Tom Dinchuk

        Evans,
        Have you noticed many of the people who are quick to make judgements about others intentions and biased opinions rarely use their real names?

        • Evans Brasfield

          Coincidence?

          • Tom Dinchuk

            Keep up the good work Evans; Looking forward to your road test on the bike.

      • Old MOron

        Not a bike review? LOL, if you look at the top of this page, the breadcrumbs clearly read, “Motorcycle.com / Bike Reviews / Harley-Davidson / Harley-Davidson Unveils 2016 Roadster”.

        It’s probably an accident, but here’s another one: This story was really just a press release for a new Screaming Eagle kit. But if you look at the breadcrumbs across the top it says, “Motorcycle.com / Features / Bolt-On Big Ones for Your Harley”. http://www.motorcycle.com/features/bolt-on-big-ones-for-your-harley.html

        I’m trying to be confrontational. Just wondering how you decide where to put a story. The MO homepage basically has two main sections: “Latest Articles” and “What’s New”. How do you MOrons decide where to surface your content?

        Seems to me that press releases and EOM announcements are normally slotted into the “What’s New” category, and “Latest Articles” is reserved for MOronic reviews and features.

        I have too much time on my hands, so let me look around…

        In the “What’s New” section, I found some recent model announcements, none of them for Harley:
        March 22: Energica Taking Pre-Orders For The Eva Electric Streetfighter http://blog.motorcycle.com/2016/03/22/motorcycle-news/energica-taking-pre-orders-for-the-eva-electric-streetfighter/
        March 16: Indian Presents The Frontier 111 Custom Springfield http://blog.motorcycle.com/2016/03/16/motorcycle-news/indian-presents-the-frontier-111-custom-springfield/
        March14: EBR Unveiling Limited Edition Models http://blog.motorcycle.com/2016/03/14/motorcycle-news/ebr-unveiling-limited-edition-models-march-17/
        March 8: 2016 Triumph Thruxton, Thruxton R Specs Released http://blog.motorcycle.com/2016/03/08/manufacturers/triumph/2016-triumph-thruxton-thruxton-r-specs-released/
        March 4: Limited Edition Jack Daniel’s Indian Springfield http://blog.motorcycle.com/2016/03/04/motorcycle-news/indian-springfield-jack-daniels/
        February 16: Victory Announces The Return Of The Magnum X-1 For 2016 http://blog.motorcycle.com/2016/02/16/motorcycle-news/victory-announces-the-return-of-the-magnum-x-1-for-2016/

        So how come Harley announcements achieve the lofty status of “review” or “feature”, while their competitors are relegated to a separate “news” section? I know it’s probably by accident, but you have to admit the temptation to raise an eyebrow.

        • Kevin Duke

          We love having your keen eyes on our stuff, OM. The simple answer is that the Roadster announcement deserves highlighting in our featured section. The rest of the items you note are smaller pieces that belong on our news/blog section, including the Screamin’ Eagle “Big Ones” piece, which actually belongs more appropriately in the news section but mistakenly landed in the a feature spot because of the author’s choice when posting, so don’t read too much into that. We actually have a new term around the office, a mini feature, which kind of straddles the two sections but leans more toward the feature side. Make sense?

          • Old MOron

            Yes, “mini feature” makes sense. Thank you for your reply. And as I posted, I knew there had to be a simple “accident” involved. I even thought about erasing my post…

            But I have this strange allegiance to MO. I left my post up so that you MOrons could reply and prove yourselves beyond reproach. Thanks, again.

  • Kevin Butler

    Who would like to see an S version of this bike besides me ?

    • Old MOron

      Yes, I welcome anything sporty from Harley.

    • Stephen Philips

      Me! Me!! Me!!!

  • c w

    What? a standard made from a Sportster. Whomever would have guessed?

    The Bonnie T120 is sure to be positively chuffed to finally have a proper comparo playmate.

  • mackja

    All it really needs is the Buell engine used in the xr1200x, 100+hp would make it fun on the street. Nice job on the bike, looks like a winner to me!

  • Kenneth

    This new XL1200 Roadster – what I’d hoped for the Victory Octane to resemble, and the only H-D I’d consider buying – is welcome news to me. ‘Anxiously awaiting the review.

    • Old MOron

      Excellent thought. This is so much more of what the Octane could have been.

  • TheMarvelous1310

    I love how they act like A) midsets and usable suspension travel are new concepts, and B) they haven’t been selling the Roadster for YEARS in Europe/UK. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we got the thing(with upgrades, no less!I might buy one tonight if any dealers are open 24 hours), I just think it’s hilarious how everything has to be spin-doctored into informed greatness.

  • Bmwclay

    We had this bike plus, 5 years ago. The XR1200X had upgraded suspension, Buell like power and rear-set (ish) pegs. We let it die on the vine, shame on us!

  • Stephen Philips

    Love it! I’ve been stalking a current model Dyna Low Rider and planning some performance oriented suspension mods to coax it around the corners. Harley-Davidson just built the bike (mostly) that I’ve been waiting for since the plastic tank fiasco harpooned the XR1200X. All this new Sporty needs for me is a larger gas tank and I know where to get one. Keep going in this direction HD. I can’t wait to see the new Roadster when they land in May. I think I just found my next bike!

  • Gary

    Yaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwnnnnnn. Scratch scratch scratch.