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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.

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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.

“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.”

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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 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.

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.

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 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.

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