2011 Harley-Davidson Blackline Softail

H-D riffs on the Dark Custom theme with a new Softail

The Softail family grows a little bigger and a little badder with the introduction of the new 2011 Blackline, the latest addition to the Motor Company’s successful Dark Custom line.

“Lean as wire, hard as iron, and dark as a tar road at midnight,” is how H-D describes what is essentially just a variation of the high-end Softail series, but the Blackline has several notable features that grabbed our attention when we saw it at its New York City media reveal last week.

The Blackline brings in a new “Black Denim” powerdercoating for its frame and swingarm, laced aluminum wheels with black-anodized rims, a fresh FX front end topped with a new “Split Drag” handlebars mounted directly to a thin upper triple clamp powdercoated black.

2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline

Inspiration for the Blackline came from H-D Senior Industrial Designer/Stylist, Casey Ketterhagen, who emphasizes the importance of the bike’s proportions, wanting it to look like “a person just riding a motor.”

2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline

To that end, graphics are subtle (with no raised badges), chrome is minimal (black is the main accent), and slenderness is emphasized. A Softail’s 5-gallon fuel tank is stripped of its tank-top instrument console to lower its profile and is substituted by a small gauge atop the triple clamp. The analog speedo is augmented with a miles-to-empty LCD readout, replacing the old fuel gauge that looked like a filler cap at the top of the tank’s left side.

Although the Blackline is fundamentally a familiar Softail, the H-D boys have made changes that pushed the legal limits. It all began by pulling the rear fender down as low as possible – the first thing done to this project – which helped bring the seat height down to 26.1 inches, the lowest two-up seat offered by the Milwaukee crew. Similarly, the mirrors are pushed inboard to the DOT minimum, and the upper triple clamp was made as thin (1 inch) as they could get away with while maintaining structural integrity.

“We tried to make it look as illegal as possible,” says Ray Drea, VP and Director of H-D Styling Department.

The minimalist theme carries over to the rear of the bike. A narrow (144mm) tire, borrowed from the pre-’08 Touring platform, is a middle finger to the tired fat-tire movement. Its rear fender is nicely bobbed and further cleaned up with Harley’s combination stop/tail/turn lights. A composite license-plate holder mounts to the lower edge of the fender. The rear fender struts are left in their raw forged finish and powdercoated matte black.

The stripped-and-lean theme is continued with the wide spacing of the FX 41mm fork tubes that make the 5.75-inch headlight look tiny, and a gap between the nose of the seat and the fuel tank exposes the top of the frame, contributing to the bike’s airiness.

2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline 2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline

Just like other Softails, Harley’s counterbalanced TC96B powers the Blackline through a 6-speed transmission, but it boasts a fresh two-tone look. Its lower end is powdercoated gloss black, accented with silver powdercoat on the cylinder heads with machined highlights. Chrome brightwork is provided on its derby and timing covers and its simple, round air cleaner, followed by a chrome over/under shotgun exhaust. “Just enough shine to make the black parts look blacker,” says Harley.

Not Just Glides For Geezers!

2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline

As the average age of H-D owners creeps upward, the MoCo’s Dark Custom line has been successful at reaching a younger demographic.

Michael Lowney, Director of H-D’s Market Outreach, says Harley sold more bikes to the 18-to-34 year-old segment over the past two years than the total sales of Aprilia, BMW, Ducati, Triumph and Victory combined!

Harley now has the #1 market share position in all displacement classes among the 18-34 demo. Lowney says H-D’s 18-34 customers are split into thirds: first-timers, conquest sales, and repeat buyers.

For whatever reason, younger riders are attracted to the black-intensive Dark Custom line, which includes the Iron 883, Nightster, Forty-Eight, Street Bob, Fat Bob, and Crossbones. But Harley has been proffering the dark theme for decades. It may have begun back in 1981 with the Sturgis, a blacked-out FX platform, followed more recently by the Night Train, which was dropped only a couple of years ago and also sold well among young adults.

The Blackline’s riding position is aggressive, with a fists-forward reach to the narrow, internally wired handlebar. H-D’s designers first tried to fashion clip-on handlebars, but they proved to be hard to fit while maintaining adequate steering sweep, and they’d also take away customization options. Forward foot controls are polished.

The axles of the 21-inch front wheel and 16-inch rear are set 66.5 inches apart, while the rake angle is laid down to 30 degrees. As is typical of Harley’s slammed cruisers, lean angles when cornering are quite limited: just 24.4 degrees to the left and 25.9 to the right. Rear-suspension travel is a decent 3.6 inches.

Braking duties are handled by 4-piston calipers biting on 292mm rotors front and rear, which should be adequate for the Blackline’s 683-lb fully fueled weight. Anti-lock brakes are available in an optional $1195 package that includes H-D’s Smart Security System.  

2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline

Although the Blackline began as a side project for Ketterhagen, Harley’s team of 12 designers all had their input, including the legendary Willy G Davidson. Harley’s Ray Drea describes the styling process as organic, adding the team reviews everyone’s projects each week. “We expect to have the garbage can filled with ideas,” Drea says about the synergetic progression.

The Blackline is now en route to dealers, retailing for $15,499 in its Vivid Black base version. An extra $499 buys your choice of Cool Blue Pearl or Sedona Orange.

2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline

Related Reading
Harley-Davidson unveils 2011 Blackline
2010 Harley-Davidson Sportster Forty-Eight Review
2008 Harley Davidson FXSTB Night Train Review
2009 Harley-Davidson Iron 883 Review
2008 Harley-Davidson FLSTSB Cross Bones Review
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