There’s much to recommend Marseille, southern France’s famous port city, an important immigration and trade hub that is centuries old. There are sleepy squares and meandering steps, busy 19th-century style boulevards and even open air markets that remind this Dubai resident of his beloved souqs. But mostly, and this is perhaps a minority opinion, I love Marseille immeasurably for simply not being Paris— this world traveller’s least favorite major metropolis, due to... je ne sais quoi.
Thundering out of the city and into the verdant countryside, I can just manage to see through the dense fog over the drag-style handlebars of my 2016 Harley Davidson Roadster, and that’s a strange thing because the bike’s diminutive steering rig is the opposite of the ape hangers Peter Fonda clung too in Easy Rider, which I suppose, makes me Dennis Hopper.
Actually, I should save the Easy Rider references for a different bike (just couldn’t resist) as this impressive cruiser is represents a more modern iteration of Harley’s unmistakable design DNA, albeit of a somewhat minimalist, modern variety.
“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.”
Today’s Roadster model augments the Dark Custom lineup with a minimalist design inspired by classic racing motorcycles and current trends in stripped-down, naked custom bikes and a profile reminiscent of racing Sportster motorcycles from the 1950s and 1960s. “We wanted to give the Roadster some DNA from the high-performance KHR models of the mid-50s, and later Sportsters tuned for the drag strip,” 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 bike’s thoroughly modern performance is supported by a combination of new wheels and tyres mated to premium suspension components and an air-cooled 1200cc V-Twin engine that delivers a strong pulse of mid-range torque. The 19-inch front and 18-inch rear Offset-Split 5-Spoke cast aluminum wheels were designed specifically for the Roadster and contribute to its balanced, athletic stance.
“The wheels were inspired by classic laced wheels, and are the most intricate cast wheel we’ve ever created,” said Harley-Davidson Industrial Designer Ben McGinley. “The interlacing spokes shoot outward toward opposite sides of the wheel, creating a dramatic visual effect. These wheels are also very light for their size, which contributes to the Roadster’s handling performance.”
Harley improved the bike’s suspension with a new 43mm inverted single-cartridge forks with tri-rate springs, gripped in robust triple clamps and rear suspension featuring gas-charged emulsion coil- over shocks and tri-rate springs with adjustable preload and offers greater suspension travel than any other Sportster model – 4.5 inches in front and 3.2-inches in the rear. Outstanding stopping power is achieved with dual floating rotors on the front wheel. The Roadster is available with ABS brakes as standard.
On the back of the bike you’ll find yourself tending toward a more aggressive posture with a new low-rise handlebar and mid- mount foot controls that center the rider’s weight over the classic profile of the 12.5litre Sportster fuel tank.
In addition to the cool-guy riding stance it encourages, Sportster pilots will have their choice of several impressive colour palettes for maximum visual impact, including Vivid Black with a charcoal denim pinstripe; Black Denim with a red pinstripe; Velocity Red Sunglo with a red pinstripe; and two-tone Billet Silver/Vivid Black with a burgundy pinstripe.
The Roadster’s stripped-down styling is complimented by clipping the the rear fender shorter than the previous bobbed Sportster fenders we’ve seen from Milwaukee. The slotted belt guard and muffler shields mimic the lightening holes drilled through race-bike components and a single four-inch diameter instrument tucked low in front of the triple clamp features a sweeping analog tachometer with an inset digital speedometer. Rear turn signals mounted directly to the fender struts, a new license plate and rear lighting module and fast-back seat design give the rear of the bike a tight and uncluttered look.
“The seat’s profile flows into the very short rear fender,” said 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.”
As we reached our final destination I thought back on all the terrain we’d handled— we’d seen the best of this country on the back of the most iconic type of bike. You’ll hear people go on about bikes in the UAE, how the weather makes it impossible— they’re wrong, a good Harley can handle it all, it’s more a question of what you’re made out of.
Author: Adel Habib