On the other hand, buying a Harley does not enter you into any kind of brotherhood. You're a fool if you think it does. Nor does it make you a rebel or an independent spirit. You've either got that in you or you don't. If you're an insecure, arrogant prick when you go into the dealership, you're an insecure, arrogant prick on a Harley when you leave. What Harley does offer the buyer is a solid, classic motorcycle with real history; a history that you can -- in some way -- feel a part of. One that is both good and bad, gritty and sad, inspiring and depressing. How that history informs your riding experience is up to you.
So we're agreed that Harleys can only be compared to one another. Let's start comparing. Your humble servants at MO have set up the battle royale of the Juneau Avenue product line; a Milwaukee iron cage fight, if you will. Something we like to call "Smackdown in Chitown."
It's a great time to buy a Harley-Davidson. The long lines are gone. Most models are available on demand and added dealer mark ups (aka. gouging) need not be tolerated. Reliability is rock solid, as is resale value. Plus H-D offers the most diverse line of motorcycles in their history. By the numbers:
But which one to buy? That's where MO comes in. We suffer so you don't have to. We started to pare our choices down by tossing out the big touring bikes. If you need an Electra Glide, you need an Electra Glide; nothing else will address that Jones. Then we threw out the chrome poser wagons known as Softails, the bikes we all love to hate. That leaves us with three frames, three engines and four displacements. Just to make things even we eliminated the smaller displacement Sportster from the mix, which left us with a perfect three-three-three.
Next we had to pick from the many models within each platform. From the Rod family we picked the new-for-2006 Night Rod, from the Sporty line a 1200R Roadster and a new Dyna Street Bob rounded out the group. We conducted the comparison in the Midwest: Evo Don's town of Chicago to be precise. We enlisted Longride from down the street and asked Gabe to fly out to the Windy City from his Oakland, CA home.
To put the bikes through their paces we tried to hit them with everything a typical rider would. We took the bikes through downtown Chicago on city streets, back alleys and scenic Lake Shore Drive - from the Museum of Science and Industry in the South to Wrigley Field up north. Then we headed out onto 80 mph toll roads and into the suburbs - we even went to Home Depot and a few dozen Starbucks, all the time dodging SUV drivers. Finally, your intrepid motojournalists rode all the way down to the Peoria TT dirt track race on two-lane country roads. We watched the race and then tried to hotwire a few bikes. Sound like a typical week of riding in your neck of the woods? Thought so!
What about test criteria? How do we judge these bikes against one another? Do we focus on fit and finish? Reliability? Comfort? Performance? Sex appeal? How about all of those distilled down to the essential: "What would you buy with your own money?"
|FXD (Dyna Glide)||1991||2006||Twin Cam 88||1999||1450|
What bike would you want to live with, commute on, and work on? Here's how we answered that question.
Third Place VRSCD Night Rod
With a motorcycle, as its very name implies, the motor is the thing. The powerplant makes or breaks a great bike. A great engine can excuse a multitude on shortcomings in suspension, handling, and comfort. If a rider falls in love with an engine, the rest of the motorcycle is just so much metal. The Revolution is just such an engine. It is a monster. It has a great vibe and gives you wonderful feedback. It's delightfully powerful and always predictable in its delivery of grunt, not to mention an amazing exhaust note when you get on it.
Luckily the V-Rod chassis needs no excuses. Stiff is the word. Long and low are a couple others. The VRSCs are unique motorcycle animals. Not really cruisers, not sport bikes, but with elements of both. The original V-Rod had forward controls and a mondo rake; great for cruising but poor for turning. The second VRSC was the Street Rod. It dialed up the performance with upside down forks, a tighter rake and well-positioned foot pegs. This time around the Night Rod lands somewhere in between the other two. We think the result is the best combination yet.
While the Night Rod rides quite differently from the V-Rod, the specs don't seem to bear that impression out. Looking at the table, the Night Rod is basically a V-Rod with mid-mounted controls. But that change in riding position makes a world of difference. It should be noted however, that even though the lean angles are listed as identical, the mid controls position your foot to hit the ground well before the pegs. So unless you like riding with your boot on top of your shift lever, you have even less usable lean angle on the Night Rod.
The low-slung, dragster look draws J.Q. Public like a bug zapper. During the test, there were many queries as to how the Night Rod rides, how much it costs, and then the interrogators would tell us how they would really like to get one. The Rod brothers are all attention getters, but Night seems to draw the most attention.
The brakes are all Brembo. One-finger Italian stopping power is always a good idea. Riding the Night Rod is a wonderful experience. The bars are low and a bit forward and, combined with the stepped seat, put you in a perfect riding position for anything from cruising to blasting down the freeway.
The power really comes on at four grand. Below that mark some lean fuel mixture stumbles creep in. A Power Commander and freer-flowing pipes would do amazing things to this already powerful machine. The seat is comfy enough to place your behind for a tank full of miles, mostly because that tank of petrol won't get you too far. After about 100 miles you need to look for a fill up, pronto. If you like to twist the throttle hard -- and you will enjoy that on this one -- you might start looking a few miles earlier.
It has its pegs under the seat in the traditional position, as well as a set of highway pegs for stretching your legs. And stretch them you will at times, because with that low seat, the legroom is short and the cornering clearance is, too. With those low pegs there is just no way to get all the way to the edges of the 190 rear tire without some hard parts seriously throwing sparks. We never felt very comfortable cornering hard because there is no spare lean angle on this Rod. The toes on your boots are the first things that touch, and then the frame isn't far behind. If aggressive cornering and carving is your thing, the Night Rod isn't your best choice; brother Street addresses that need. However, for everyday riding it's a good choice.
|Gabe's Impressive Table of Impressions|
Styling/Build Quality: Painting the aluminum parts on this bike is a visual mistake; it looks too bland and generic. The bare aluminum on the original V-Rod gave the bike a visual center to bring the eye to; this bike just looks like a big, long cruiser. Build quality, fit and finish and attention to detail are all world class. Touches like the freeway pegs and bikini faring are slick and well-appreciated.
Ergos/Controls: The bike is actually as comfortable and easy to sit on as most any other cruiser, horror stories about the V-Rod aside. The mid-mount controls and low seat create a jockey-like riding situation, but if you are jockey-sized (like me!) it's actually pretty nice, although even my knees started to cramp after a while. Firefighter-sized people might want a bike with forward controls. The fairing and low bars actually provide a little wind protection to 80 mpg.
Motor/Transmission: Compared to any other brand of motorcycle, this motor is pretty nice, a good compromise between a screaming top-end racer and a chugging tractor. Compared to air-cooled Harley motors, it's flabbergasting.
It is smooth, perfectly fueled and makes an amazing amount of power. This powerplant has tremendous potential and I can't wait to see what else the Motor Co. does with it. My only complaint is the amazing amount of heat that bakes your right leg at stops.
Handling: It's long and low and lacks cornering clearance but it does have a rigid chassis, so it holds its line well. Like the other bikes, it's slow steering, but with modern wheels and tires it's quicker and easier than its bros.
Suspension/Ride Quality: The front is good (although the extreme rake minimizes the advantages of the giant forks), but the rear is typical cruiser; not so much travel and harsh over bumps and expansion joints.
Braking: Like the motor, the brakes are good enough to check the name on the tank. These triple Brembos have enough power and sensitivity for a mere single-finger stop, although stoppies might be unobtainable for now.
Observed fuel economy: Highway 40.79 mpg, City 34.13 mpg
Evo Don's last word: While it is clearly the most advanced and powerful bike in the group (and I want one), the sticker shock of the Night Rod killed its chances against this competition.
PAGE 2Second Place XL 1200R Sportster Roadster
2007 marks the 50th year for this old horse. It represents the first bike for many a rider and almost always leaves a fond memory in their mind. As Longride relayed to us during our stop near Wrigley Field: "I had a brand-spankin' new Sporty in 1980. That was back when rational people wouldn't have gotten caught dead on one. This was never a problem for me, because thinking straight was never my strong point. My friends told me to stay away, but I got one anyway and loved it."
The Sportster has a way of instilling a strong sense of loyalty. Its no-BS, bare simplicity is simultaneously its greatest weakness and most endearing quality. If you understand the appeal of a Sportster you understand the appeal of motorcycles. You understand why Harley-Davidson is over 100 years old.
In 1999 Harley trotted out their new Big Twin engine dubbed the Twin Cam. Back in 1957 the company released its first Sportster. They could have called its engine the Quad Cam. We're all glad they didn't, but the use of a separate cam shaft for each valve optimized pushrod geometry. Harley also unitized the transmission and engine into a single, rigid assembly - another weakness of all Big Twins until the Twin Cam. In short, the Sportster has always had a superior powerplant design to its Big Twin brethren. As a result the Motor Company has consciously kept its displacement smaller.
The first thing you notice when you hop on the 1200R is how high it sits. Checking the specs we see that the seat height is indeed almost 3 inches higher than the Dyna. Adding to this impression is a noticeably-higher center of gravity; the bike feels very top heavy compared to the Dyna. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It gives the bike flickability not found in the Big Twins. You can throw the bike into the turns using a light touch on the handlebars, whereas on the Dyna you use your hips to lean into turns. The effect this has is to make the Sportster not feel like a cruiser. This is as close to a standard as Harley-Davidson makes.
Visually the bike is impressive. The fit and finish is typical 21st-century Harley-Davidson. The paint job on the tank is almost too pretty for such a raw bike. The one sore spot is the area between the heads and the gas tank. What is going on in there? As the image shows, there are a half dozen cables, wire bundles and connectors all hanging out in the breeze. The otherwise-clean Sportster lines are disrupted by this clutter. Is there not a way to route some of this mess through the frame, or in a space between the tank and the frame? Other Sportster models eliminate this problem by dropping the tank lower. It is cool and old school to have open space between the heads and the tank, but the styling points are lost when that space is filled with unsightly cables.
|Longride's Peoria TT|
Peoria, IL is the kind of place where decisions are easy. You only need to decide if it's Bud or Bud Light, Ford or Chevy, which shift you work at Caterpillar, and most importantly, what time you're meeting to go see the Peoria TT race.
The Peoria TT is the oldest continuously-held dirt track race in the world. The track is at the bottom of a large bowl, features left and right turns, a jump, and the spectators have a choice of standing five feet away from the action by the fence, or sitting in the grass on the sides of the bowl; no assigned seating here. The track and surroundings are virtually unchanged since its inception. I've been coming here since the mid 60's and nothing has changed a bit. The crowd is still large and enthusiastic, and the police still patrol on horses. You can read more about the track here:.
Gabe enjoyed the Illinois cornfield tour on the way down, and we got to see some great racing action while we were there. We roamed the track and the pits, while Gabe got a few shots of the action. It wasn't too hot this year, but Peoria in August can get close to 100 degrees with high humidity. I can't imagine how the old-time racers did it by driving to the race and unloading all their equipment, wrenching their bikes between practices and heats, and then loading up with virtually no help. It reminded me how much tougher it was then when I was in the pits and saw one of the riders snoozing in a chair between heats, while his crew worked on the bike.
The parking area has thousands of motorcycles to check out, with pretty much everything made in the last 40 years represented. All in all it's my favorite race to attend year after year. If you ever get a chance to go, get yourself to Peoria for the TT race.
"To understand a Sportster is to know why Harley-Davidson is over 100 years old." Sitting on the bike you are struck by how narrow and lean it is. There is just nothing in front of you: a narrow tank, a tight handlebar and a couple of gauges. You feel lucky to have a tachometer. Small-diameter hand grips are just the ticket, though the mirrors mostly show you your elbows. The footpegs are just where they belong: right under your knees. If you try to grip the tank with your knees the air cleaner bashes into your right shin, just as it should on a Sportster.
The motor is now rubber mounted so the fillings in your teeth stay in place. Paint shaker no more! We almost miss it. Almost. The weakness of the old Sportsters was the speed ceiling. Seventy MPH was unbearable for more than a few minutes, but not any more. Our 1200R also had a quaint device for fuel delivery called a carburetor, complete with antique items like a choke knob and petcock. Turn the petcock to on, pull out the choke, and punch the button to hear the roar. On chilly mornings the choke has to stay on a while, as it is a little cold blooded and lean jetted. After warm up, all is well and Mr. Sportster is a willing partner.
The suspension complained loudly about Longride's 250 pounds frame. The fork is under sprung, and the shocks bottom out with the slightest provocation. If your day job is riding Sea Biscuit you might like the suspenders, but most will like a change. The brakes are average and take a firm pull, but they get the job done. The seat is the hardest on the backside of this bunch, but at the price of this bike you can afford to tailor it to your needs and style. There are just over three gallons of gas in the tank, but at around 50 mpg, you don't mind too much. Who wants to ride more than 150 miles on a laminated brick?
The power won't overwhelm anyone, but the power band starts at idle and pulls well all the way to redline. Typical of carbureted Harleys, you immediately notice the limitations of the overly-lean fuel mixture and the overly-restrictive exhaust; the engine begs to be set free. Most owners will quickly oblige. The power that is available dials in perfectly while leaning into turns.
This is the best handling of the three by far. Lay it over, dial in the power just so, and the Sportster rewards you with rock-like stability. Pushing hard will make the suspension act up and the bike tells you when it has had enough. On the highway it can run hard and not break you in half like the old days. It's stable and the vibration is only a slight thrumming through the bars. With a better seat you could go for days.
That's really the story of the Sportster. It isn't the best at anything, but can do some of everything. With a few tweaks in any direction, it can be what you want it to be.
|The View From East Bay Gabe|
Styling/Build Quality: It looks the way a motorcycle should look, to a lot of people. The styling is balanced and very masculine, with a kind of "built in prison" macho edge because of its simplicity and bare looks. I also like the way the motor fills the space between the wheels. Build quality is way better than the pre-03 Sportys and is almost luxurious. There are fewer of those Home Depot fasteners and other crude touches. The paint on the gas tank is rich and glossy.
Ergos/Controls: As close to a standard motorcycle as any Harley I've ridden. The seat is almost too high for me, and I really appreciate the incredibly slim feel-if it weren't for that absurd air cleaner bumping into your knee. Like all of these bikes, the switchgear feels nice and solid, and I liked the self-canceling turn signals. Nothing is more irritating than the middle-aged guy in front of you with his blinker on for 20 miles (unless that guy is me), and H-D has solved that one; thanks!
Motor/Transmission: Warm-up is an issue for the carbureted Sportsters, although it pulls OK once it's up to temperature. Power is merely adequate, and you'll be chasing your buddies on their Dynas, unless you get a 2007 1200R; then they'll be chasing you. The transmission can be annoying if you like to shift into neutral at stoplights; by the time you find it, the light will turn green. However, you can just hold the clutch lever in and not worry about having to buy a fringed-leather wristbrace for your carpal tunnel syndrome, as the pull is very light and manageable.
Handling: The Sportster had a solid, big-bike feel that wasn't too different from its larger brothers. It tracks nicely and only starts to come unglued in the very high-speed sweepers at over 90 mph. However, I was surprised at how much the 1200R resisted steering inputs; quick turning requires some real effort.
Around town is this bike's element, as it is light, turns quickly and is nimble at low speeds.
Suspension/Ride Quality: The best thing I can say about the Sportster's ride quality and suspension is that it gives you what might be termed a "refined vintage" experience. The shocks are stiff and lack travel. The front forks are pretty spindly and offer no adjustment.
Braking: Pretty good, although I'll keep two fingers on that lever and use the rear brake prodigiously.
Observed fuel economy: Highway 47.48 mpg, City 43.2 mpg
Evo Don's last word: Gabe hopes that riding a Sportster will get him invited to join the East Bay Rats MC. Its built-in-prison machismo is cool, but we think it will take more than that to win this comparo.
The Street Bob is the latest model in the Dyna line, a line which started in 1991 with the black and orange FXDB Sturgis. The Dynas were created to replace the FXR line with bikes that looked more like the old four-speeds of the seventies. Unlike the FXR's, which had stiff, exposed, triangular frames, the Dynas were designed around a massive, rectangular backbone which left almost no frame showing. The frame was updated in 1996 then once again for 2006.
While mostly overshadowed in the public
The Street Bob takes the stiff Dyna frame and decorates it with a flat black paint job, ape hanger handlebars, a solo seat and couples it with a 6-speed transmission and mandatory fuel injection. The Street Bob is a story of two bikes really: the one you look at and the one you ride, the image and the reality. It exudes that post-WWII bobber look, but rides like a post-9/11 cruiser.
The Street Bob we look at emulates the days of old that harkens back to a hard starting, hard-tailed, vibrating mass that oiled the road and came home (if it got home) with a few less parts than it started with. The Street Bob you ride is a different animal. A punch of a button brings a fuel-injected mill to life. No kicking till you sweat blood and no warm-up necessary. You just ride. Your ass sits low, and with a nod to the past, your hands hang high. George and Gabe always thought that high 'ape hanger' type bars weren't a very good idea, and actually riding a bike with them only confirmed their suspicions. At every stop, whoever was riding the Bob said the same thing: "Dump these ape hangers for a set of drags on 3 inch risers and Bob would be the bomb."
To hammer home the point, George did a 100 mile, non-stop, slab blast back home from Peoria. He was hanging on for dear life at the high speeds, and at the end of the ride his arms felt much like Muhammad Ali's after throwing punches for 15 rounds with Joe Frazier. But after the feeling in your arms and hands returns, you notice there isn't any oil on your legs or the bike, all the parts are still there, there is still feeling in your backside, you didn't have to ride in the slow lane, and you didn't have to fill up twice in 100 miles. This ain't your daddy's bobber.
Handlebars aside, there's a lot to like here: solid power, decent range, comfort, and lots of style. The bike handles well and the suspension is surprisingly supple. The solo seat is the most comfortable in this test, while also being the most impractical. With the new six-speed transmission, running triple digits on the highway is a breeze for this bike. It's loafing at 75 in top gear and just asks for more. That's the most dramatic change in the Dyna's 16-year history; that sixth gear really opens this bike up. In 1999 the Twin Cam engine added an easy-revving feel to the bike, but the new top-gear ratio turns this bike into a true easy rider.
When the original Low Rider was introduced it was a carbureted, rigid-mounted four speed. It defined the '70s cruiser. Now as a fuel-injected, rubber-mounted six speed the Street Bob is a quintessentially 21st-century cruiser. If you want to own a cruiser that you can ride daily, with rock solid reliability, buy this bike.
|Gabe's Impressive Table of Impressions|
Styling/Build Quality: I love that flat-black look. Kudos to Harley for bucking the frilly paint-and-chrome look and making it junkyard-dog mean. It even has a crinkle-finish instrument panel on the tank. Despite the white-trash Krylon look, build quality is top-notch.
Ergos/Controls: The Good: midmount controls and a seat that feels good for 100 miles. The Bad: I think ape-hangers give apes a bad name. Even an Orangutan is smart enough to not make a perfectly good motorcycle unrideable by putting two-foot-high handlebars on it. They do keep your armpits dry, though. Also, the small saddle locks your ass into position more effectively than the Marquis de Sade's toilet seat, which means that second hundred miles will be spent in excruciating (or glorious, depending on your lifestyle) pain.
Motor/Transmission: Compared to the Sportster, the motor has lots of rich, meaty torque and delivers a very satisfying thumpy feel with a lack of annoying vibration. It's plenty fast, but the stupid handlebars kept me from either enjoying the speed potential or even really trying it out.
Handling: Aside from having a little less ground clearance, I think I could hang with a rider of equal skills on a Sportster with a Dyna. It turns easily and tracks through high-speed turns nicely.
Suspension/Ride Quality: Nice beefy front end, although the flex from the long rubber-mounted bars makes it hard to really feel. Drag bars are a must-have for this bike. The rear suspension feels a little better than the Sportster's, but it still lacks travel and damping.
Braking: Surprisingly powerful, considering it's a heavy bike with just a single disc. You still better use more than one finger and give it a good squeeze.
Observed fuel economy:Highway 44.33 mpg, City 36.07 mpg
Evo Don's last words: You should be able to peel off the silly brushed-metal "Harley-Davidson" badges stuck on the tank without any trouble, leaving the bike completely unadorned and looking a bit more like an authentic bobber.
|An all-Harley comparison? What ever will I wear? Something black surely.|
There's always room in the closet for a new leather jacket. The Independence Jacket (98125-05VM) was an easy choice. The build quality is top notch and Harley is once again making jackets in the USA. What does Korea know about the open road? It's a classic 50's style jacket, lightly insulated, with no silly belt. The coolest part of this jacket is the built-in H-D wing patch across the lower back. Having to sew your own patch on is a pain and introduces a nice pathway for rain. This jacket is a keeper.
A bit farther afield for the typical Harley rider is a full-face helmet. The new for '06 Thunder Road Helmet (97343-06V) seemed a likely candidate. Once again build quality is top notch, though this time it is from Korea. Noise is an issue with this helmet. Flip-up-style helmets are naturally prone to extra noise because of the all the added gaps, but the Thunder lid seemed a bit louder than most. Additionally, the padding softened noticeable after only a couple of days, so a helmet that started the week fitting perfectly ended the week feeling loose. Not good. Double check the fit if you buy this model. We'd recommend buying it a little bit tight.
The Motor Company does things differently from most motorcycle companies. Engines and platforms are developed over years and then remain in production for decades. Rapid change is shunned. This slow-to-change philosophy has served them very, very well.
When you plop down your hard-earned dosh on a Harley you can rest assured that it will not be replaced next year by a completely different model. That replacement parts will be available forever. That the bike will never be in or out of style. Buyer's remorse does not exist.
Please spare me! What a bunch of cheesy claptrap. That blonde is going to look like a giant piece beef jerky under a tangled brown rat's nest after 20 minutes of riding a Hog in the desert. We ride motorcycles, not images. The reason I don't buy into the Harley-Davidson thing is because of the weepy romantic luggage that goes along with them, often packed by people who have never even ridden a motorcycle.
Because of this baggage, it's hard to fairly evaluate Harleys against their competition, if you think anything can even compete with Harleys-and a lot of people don't. That's why I was eager to do an all-Harley test, with a good cross-section of what the Motor Company has to offer. Ironically, it seems like the only way you can "objectively" evaluate these bikes purely on their own merits.
Judged that way, the Night Rod is clearly the best bike here. It goes, stops, starts and handles better than anything Milwaukee has ever built, and in fact I would seriously consider it against any other bike in the Power Cruiser category. The bike shows Harley can build a world-class product that can be purchased because it's a good motorcycle, not just because it has "Made In USA" proudly stamped on it.
Somewhere on a desert highway
She rides a Harley-Davidson
Her long blonde hair blowin' in the wind.
-Neil Young, Unknown LegendToo bad it's way more money than its competition, and it just has too narrow a focus to merit the $14,995 price tag in my mind. Against this company, for the riding we did, the advantages just aren't worth the money or the added weirdness of the liquid-cooling and unorthodox styling. Someday Harley will build a sport-tourer based on the Street Rod, and that will be very interesting. If I want made-in-USA performance, I'll buy a Buell, thankyewverymuch.
The Sportster has its charms, too. It's comfortable, great around town, has classic good looks, almost handles like a motorcycle and has entertaining performance. Unfortunately for poor Mr. 2006, I've already ridden a 2007 1200R, and that bike need make no excuses with its flowed heads, 13-spoke wheels and refined fuel injection. Upgrading the 2006 would cost too much, methinks, and as Sportsters tend to be the least-desirable Harleys (undeservedly so), that kind of money would be making a silk purse from a sow's (or a hog's) ear.
That leaves just me and Bob. I like Bob a lot. He's simple, unpretentious and has that stripped-down, slightly dangerous look I like. He makes very good power, is smooth and easy-shifting, and handles almost as well as the 1200R, if you don't push too hard. It seems like an heirloom bike: the kind of machine that you keep for years and slowly improve and alter as your tastes subtly change. That would justify the hefty $13,195 price tag.
It's not perfect, but neither am I. I'm sure both Don and George were happy to hear the last of my complaining and bad jokes after a few days. However, unlike me, Bob can change. I'd ditch those ridiculous ape-hangers, install longer shocks and get the pillion seat for The Wife. With simple maintenance and dirt-cheap parts, it would make a terrific commuter or light tourer. I can just see me now...
Somewhere on a desert highway
Gabe rides a Harley-Davidson
His long back hair blowin' in the wind...
- Gabe Ets-Hokin, Senior Editor
I can say that these are three very different bikes, with different styles and functions. Each stands out in its own way, and your mileage may vary, so here goes:
3rd Place: I really hate to do this, but Street Bob comes in third. It's a nice-riding motorcycle (handlebars excepted), but I can't get over the styling, or the handlebars. It's a really cool bike for just about anything you would want to do. It has a nice powerband, good handling, a six-speed trans, and fuel injection, but why the getup? Sorry, but I don't want a rattle-can paint job, solo seat and goofy ape-hangers on such a wonderfully-functional motorcycle as this one is. It reminds me of an Elvis impersonator. If you take off the mutton-chop sideburns, sunglasses, and white jumpsuit, it's really your next door neighbor....or a Dyna Superglide in disguise. This bike is too good to play dress-up, but I understand why they did it. Choppers/Bobbers are cool. I think the whole 'factory custom' thing is just rubbing me the wrong way. Isn't this bike like Kool-Aid in a Jack Daniels bottle? It looks hard and rides easy, but isn't something lost here? I think so, but maybe I'm just getting old.
2nd Place: Night Rod hits second place with a vengeance. It rips and snorts, and looks cool all the way from start to finish. It has the best power, styling, brakes, and presence of these three. But it finishes second. So why second, you say? Because it's too focused, and that just slips it down in the rankings by one. The seating position is a bit dedicated, the ground clearance a bit short, riding range is limited, and carrying capacity is near zero. If those things don't matter, then this is your bike. It simply hauls ass, looks great, and stops better than anything with the word Harley or Davidson on the tank. Of the three Rod brothers, this bro's got the best of everything so far, but I can't help thinking that there is another Rod somewhere deep in the loins of the H-D factory, with a bigger gas tank and more conventional seating. It will possibly have bags and maybe even a 1500 or 1800cc motor. Road Rod? Yeah, that's the ticket. Until then, this one is the Rod to own.
1st Place: A Sportster in first place? Am I nuts? Yes, but it's still first. Why? Because Mr. Sporty can do it all, that's why. It can commute, tour, and run the twisties with no apologies. It isn't trying to be anything other than what it is. It's everything you need, and nothing you don't. All I kept thinking when I rode it, is how I would like to own it. It's the one I would buy, and that really gets to the point in my book. Want to tour? Get a nicer seat, some better suspenders, bags, and a windscreen. Want to commute? Just get some better suspension and maybe slightly less restrictive pipes and a re-jet. Want a weekend canyon carver? Just dial in some cams, big bore kit and head work and 100+ horsepower is at your fingertips. Oh yeah, better suspension too. Add rear-sets and clip-ons and go to town.
How about a chopper? Well, we all know how that is done. Hell, just leave the thing alone and ride the wheels off it. In Harley Land it's a stone-cold bargain and fun to ride. I understand lots of women buy this bike, and lots of guys' egos cant' handle that but don't let that stop you. If the Harley Hard Guys want to call it a 'Skirtster', 'Chicks Bike' or 'Half-a Harley', tell em Longride ranked it Number One here on MO -- just before you blow by 'em. If the typical Harley crowd doesn't like it, I can't think of a better reason for owning one. Unless you realize you'll be just like the only guy in an all-girls school.
Here's to another 50 for the venerable Sportster!
- George Obradovich
I'm a terribly loyal guy. Do me right and I am in your corner for life. I'm also a sucker for the real thing, the engaging backstory, that hard to define feeling (and overused term) of "authenticity." That's why I like bikes from Wisconsin. Harley has always done me right. So for me choosing between three cheesehead motos takes some effort. Here's how I sorted it out:
Number three: Sportster 1200R - Great raw bike. My first bike was a 1992 Sportster 883. I loved that bike, as everyone should love their first bike. It was black and it was a Harley. Since it was my first bike I never noticed the hard edges. That's what a bike was supposed to feel like. Right? However after 14 years of riding I do notice the hard edges. Some are cool, some are just hard.
I hate the stock carburetion setup. It's hard starting and feels restrained every time you twist the throttle hard, just like every carbureted Harley I have ever ridden. As of 2007 that is no longer a problem. Harley does fuel injection very, very well in my book. It's automobile good. You don't even think about fuel delivery.
Compared to the other two bikes the Sporty feels very tall and tippy. The tight little riding position feels great for 30 minutes, but then I want more room. I can't imagine going back to a Sportster at this point, so I can't imagine picking the 1200R over either of the other bikes. But if I was to start riding all over again, this is the bike I would want.
Number two: Night Rod - I am very nearly sold on this family of bikes. The engine is my kind of engine: powerful and predictable, with no peakiness; just smooth, even power. I'm a firm believer in motor first, cycle second. Getting the powerplant correct is the key to a great bike. It is said that Micheal Schumacher owns 15 or 20 V-Rods. If anyone knows about great engines it's a seven-time world champion Ferrari F1 driver.
Its greatest weakness is its lack of corning clearance. A bike this powerful begs to be thrown around. The first time you commit yourself to the perfect line through a curve and are jolted back into harsh reality by the pain of your left foot pinned between the asphalt and your shifter, you feel betrayed.
I'd like to see the Rod line expanded and diversified even more than it already is. As Gabe mentioned, a sport-touring model is a must. I'd also like to see a direct Monster competitor, one with a shorter wheelbase and a tighter rake. Finally, as George laments every time I see him, this engine needs to be mounted in a full-dresser frame. But the Motor Company is nothing if not slow and methodical. We'll just have to wait and see.
Number one: Dyna Street Bob - This was not a tough one for me. I love Dynas, always have. They were introduced the year I started learning about bikes, so they were always the thing to have for me. All that big twin stuffed into a stiff frame with plenty of room for the rider to move around. The Softails always looked big and slow by comparison.
Taking a step back, the Street Bob is a great design exercise. The flat-black, bobber look is killer. No passenger seat or pegs. No highway pegs. Nothing but solo street riding. A lot of guys set their bikes up like this, although the ape hangers are a love it or hate it proposition. Folks used to riding aggressively have no time for them. Folks who like to putt around town think they feel cool. Me? I'm staunchly ambivalent.
When you sit down on the Street Bob it immediately feels right. The riding position is made for a guy my size. The fuel-injected engine is wonderfully easy to control. The handling is excellent for a cruiser owing to its relatively tight rake and trail numbers of 29° and 4.7" respectively. What more do you want from a cruiser? With the Dyna Glides the Motor Company continues to tread a fine line between raw and simple and car-like ease of operation.
- Don Crafts