If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 22 March 2010

The Dance-off begins

Today, I had a test ride on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. This is the first time I have ever sat astride a Harley, and I didn't know what to expect. But the Sportster (in either 883cc or 1200cc guises) is a definite contender for the GFGN List Of Bikes Meeting Random And Arbitrary Requirements (listed here).

It was the XL883C Custom model, regarded by many as an 'entry-level' Harley, and by Harley riders as a bit girlie. But it's relatively light, relatively cheap, and could fit the bill for a modest Pan replacement. It fulfils all the criteria, except for the pillion accommodation, which is rudimentary, to say the least.

First thoughts - not as bad as I had feared, nor as good as I had hoped. The riding position, with feet forward, was decidedly weird, but improved after a couple of miles. All bikes I have had before have had you either leaning forward or sitting upright, but with this it was like sitting back in an armchair. The seat cradles your bum very well, but all your weight is on your butt, which means there would be no standing on the pegs to relieve biker's arse every few miles, and you feel every pothole straight up your spine. (On a bumpy road, on a normal bike, you find yourself lifting your bum off the seat a bit like a jockey to take the bumps through your legs.) Stopping was OK, as you just put your feet down, but setting off again was a bit comic, as I was milling my legs round looking for footrests that weren't where they should be. I'm sure I gave a few motorists a laugh. After about 20 minutes, I was remembering perhaps 50% of the time.

I had been expecting a rough and gutless engine, but in fact it was good. There was plenty of torque and the bike was quick enough up to 60 or so - traffic and a sense of self-preservation prevented anything more dramatic. It was possible to run down to low speeds, even in high gears, and still pull away without losing your fillings, which is certainly not possible on a single. The soundtrack was fantastic. The bike has been fitted with 'Screaming Eagle' exhausts and a Stage 1 tune, and the sound while riding was excellent. Whether the neighbours would agree is another matter - standing next to the bike, it's ear-shattering. Brakes were as expected, i.e. pathetic. Handling was unusual - even on the XT, I am used to feeling what the front wheel is doing all the time, but on this, it was remote and mysterious. Leaning over round a roundabout, it felt as if I and the engine and rear wheel were working together, while the front end was somewhere in the next county, communicating by pigeon post. Today was fairly dry - in the wet, I could see this being most disconcerting.

I like the look, I like the sound, and it's just about affordable (it's on an 06 plate with 5k miles). On the downside, I'm not sure about comfort long-distance, and I'm also not sure if I am baaaaaaad enough for the image. Is it possible to ride a Harley like a normal person, giving way to old ladies and smiling when required? I'm not sure. I'm already a big of a big lad, and have a goatee. With a piss-pot helmet, shades and a snarling Harley, I think I would be required to live up to something I am definitely not.

I'm not put off it, but neither have I lost my heart to a Yankee after one date. We shall see.

Tomorrow, I have a date with a Triumph Bonneville.


  1. That is actually the Harley review I would have written, had I got there first! The engines are far and away the best part of the experience, with a bit of character and a surprising degree of nimbleness. Sadly, that small advantage, for me, has always been more than cancelled out by the woeful brakes, vague and sometimes terrifying handling and a riding position seemingly designed to make life as awkward as possible. I found myself, more than once, having to hang off the bars (and involuntarily opening and closing the throttle) trying to cope with rough roads.

    That said, I'd take an 883 over the Bonneville any day. I had a loaner for about three weeks - although it seemed longer - and I have never come across any bike so utterly anodyne before or since. Sum of memorable characteristics: it was a hideous pale blue colour. I couldn't bring myself to hate it, but that would probably have been an improvement over complete indifference. The whole thing seemed like a fraud: a bike purely based around looks, with nothing to back them up and no fraction of the character of the original.

    But, honestly, I wouldn't spend my own money on either. It'd be a tough call if they were being given away free...

  2. Glad we agree on the Harley! Brakes, handling and riding position all outside my usual parameters, for sure.

    But I don't think we are going to agree on the Bonnie - see my next post.

  3. Actually, that's one of the things I love about biking - the tremendous variety of it all, and the way different people can have completely different takes on the same machine. But I think it more appropriate to comment properly against the later post...

  4. Oo-er. I shall look forward to your observations.


Comment is free, according to C P Scott, so go for it. Word verification is turned off for the time being. Play nicely.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...