All photos by Harley Davidson, Joe Gustafson and Armando Lorenzana
What can be said about Harley that hasn’t been stated before? They are primitive, manly, rolling pieces of Americana. But what if Harley built a bike that takes all their best elements and put them into one bike. Luckily they have, and the result is the 2011 Harley-Davidson Blackline. To try it out, I received the assignment to cruise around Chicago and experience this new bike in an urban setting. And even though it rained nearly all week, the time I had thundering around on the Harley was worth the wait between thunderstorms.
To attract a younger consumer, Harley has been rolling out Dark Custom motorcycles since 2008. Dark Custom bikes feature less chrome and unique design features to give the bikes a more custom appearance. There are various bikes available, but we had access to their newest addition, the Blackline.
The Blackline is a Harley Softail dipped in a vat of black paint and evil. The results are incredible to look at. Most of the chrome has been stripped off and only a few key bits of it remain. The headlight has been slimmed down, and the wiring for the front and rear lights has been tucked into the bodywork to give a cleaner look. The rear fender has been trimmed to the minimum limit allowed by law. The tank has also been slimmed down, as has the seat, which sits only 24 inches off the ground. Along with the lower seat, the new handlebars and raked front wheel sit you in a traditional biker badass stance. To polish off the look, the multi-spoked 21” wheel in the front and 16” in the back are complimented with a black lip.
The result of these visual changes transforms the regular Softail into something new altogether. All you see is an engine, two wheels, and a place for your butt to go. It’s as pure and clean of a design you can get on a standard motorcycle.
The motor and transmission remain unchanged from the regular Softail. You get the same 6-speed transmission and Twin-Cam 96b v-twin engine. The motor is smooth since the crankshaft for the motor has been counterbalanced to give a smoother ride. However, with the changes over the Softail, the bike loses about 60 lbs. for a curb weight of 640 lbs. You get one brake on the front and one in the rear. ABS is optional.
When you first sit on the bike you really notice how low you actually sit. Luckily the seat is comfortable and wide, like sitting in a very large catcher’s mitt. Then, because of the pulled forward bars, you have a bit of a hunched posture. You reach down and notice the key slot is shaped and textured like a hand grenade, which is oddly appropriate for the sound you unleash after putting your key in there and flipping the bike on.
Two cranks of the engine and then the fury is unleashed. The resulting sound washes over your body a power chord ripped through a Marshall stack. Time seems to stop, people look, and the engine settles into its traditional rhythm. It doesn't sound overstressed in the slightest, but a twist of the throttle lets you know that this motor is a sleeping giant.
Take off is smooth as you ride a full 89 lb. ft. of torque. Since the bike is geared low you get to feel that torque right away with the meat of it coming on above 2000 rpm. The bike isn't overly powerful with 63 horsepower, but the torque makes it feel like it has much more. Like extra gravy on mashed potatoes that heaping helping of torque is nice to have in high traffic scenarios and lane changes. A little twist of the grip and you ride that torque along. The throttle is smooth, linear and responsive. The gear change is similarly reassuring, a solid click and clunk makes engaging every gear easy.
The brakes of the bike are not as reassuring. The Blackline stops adequately, but the brake lever is squishy so you never really get the sense of how hard you are squeezing it until you’ve gone too far. My suggestion is take it smooth and leave you more room than normal to stop.
The suspension is another interesting aspect of the bike. Even though the front wheel is narrow, it doesn't have a mind of its own when it comes to turning. The suspension is adequately soft for the abysmal roads of Chicago. And the bike responds nicely to lane changes and turns with a low effort front end. I would prefer a touch more feel though.
However, the placements of the foot pegs were lower than I prefer. Around town it’s difficult to turn as you’re constantly wondering about grinding the pegs. And this is not during spirited riding either, just normal everyday conditions. It takes some joy out of riding the bike since you are constantly grinding the pegs as you navigate normal 90-degree turns. You’ll notice this in areas like Chicago that are on a grid.
With the low pegs, the bike becomes somewhat cumbersome in urban conditions. You combine the soft front brake with the low pegs and the bike feels every bit as big as it looks. However, once you get rolling that feeling goes away as the smooth ride and torque rich engine just glide you along. It is definitely a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde moment, but when it’s good, it’s very good. The bike likes to be used in a smooth, slow way, not a frantic one. You have to adapt your riding style to the bike, not the other way around.
One bonus of the looks and sound of the bike is that it attracts attention wherever you go. This must be the safest bike in the world since drivers can do nothing but not see you, which means that Suzy housewife won’t swerve into your lane as she struggles to balance her blackberry and her latte. People of all types stare at it: businessmen, children, priests, everyone knows this bike means business.
Even parked it gathers a crowd. People just come up and start talking to you about when they had a Harley or that they want a Harley, sometimes sharing personal details you wish they’d keep to themselves. Forget Facebook. Forget Twitter. Forget Foursquare. The best social media device is a Harley motorcycle.The Harley Blackline is a Harley in every sense of the word. This includes the negative parts such as the soft brakes, and the low pegs. However, there are also the massive amounts of positives: the looks, the sound, the torque, and the attention. The Blackline starts at around $15,000. For that amount of cash you get the one of the best looking bikes on the market guaranteed to draw more stares than Heidi Klum walking around in her birthday suit.
Click the thumbnails below to see full versions of each photo.