At the end of last year, I had the opportunity to ride what I feel are the three best looking motorcycles in Harley’s
current litany of machines: the Roadster, the Low Rider S and the CVO Pro Street Breakout. And they were each in
their own way absolutely breathtaking in design and surprisingly excellent in function. How is it that Harley
Davidson is able to create such brilliant looking bikes, each of which is wholly tapped into the prevailing
zeitgeist of modern aesthetic culture? In my opinion much of this has to do with them paying apt attention to the
bikes being created by brilliant young customisers like Charlie Stockwell of Warr’s Harley Davidson, London and Winston
Yeh of Rough
Crafts in Taipei. Says Stockwell, “When I started putting inverted forks, rear sets and twin
disc brakes on Sportsters it was relatively unheard of. It’s nice to see that Harley Davidson understood there was a
real demand for a great handling bike and came up with the Roadster.”
Of the three machines that I had the pleasure of testing, the Roadster was the greatest
revelation. Now, I’ve owned a Sportster before and found the bike top heavy, dull and in performance terms a total
anathema to the sobriquet emblazoned on its gas tank. So I was simply amazed at how a change in geometry to place
more weight on the front of the bike, an inverted cartridge type fork, twin disc brakes and .70 inches more
suspension in the rear could utterly transform the Sportster into a an absolute blast to throw around.
It felt light and effortless to handle, balanced and sure-footed even when leaned
over enough that its mid-rear foot pegs threw up a shower of sparks. Even better were the looks of the bike, which
fused a sort of boy-racer style with the classic Sportster genetic blueprint to create a bike that felt wonderfully
contemporary. It was the perfect bike for the urban landscape: small and nimble enough to squeeze between lanes,
(although watch out for the slightly wider-than-you-think handlebars) and then great fun when you take it up into
the canyons for a cathartic blast.
The Low Rider S
The Low Rider S on the
other hand owes its aesthetic lineage in equal parts to Willie G. Davidson’s iconic 1977 XLCR café racer and the FX
television seriesSons of Anarchy. Whatever the inspiration, the result is a motorcycle that is simply fantastic. And Harley’s recipe for
success consists of taking its most lithe and maneuverable Big Twin model, the Dyna, stuffing a 110 cubic inch
Screamin’ Eagle motor replete with a priapic open element air filter, and slamming it relatively low to the ground.
Everything gets blacked out, and then a decidedly XLCR style pair of mag wheels – pimped out in gold no less – and
mini fairing are added. And my God is this motorcycle fun. My first reaction to its delivery at my hotel Shutters on
the Beach in Santa Monica, was to leap onto its back and hurtle up the Pacific Coast Highway, then turn into the
canyons that connect with Mulholland Drive.
While not as nimble as the Roadster, the Low Rider S will leave you with a massive grin on your face, in particular
each time you grab a fist full of throttle and the bike explodes like it’s been smote up the arse by Mjölnir, hammer
of Thor, the Norse God of thunder. But the Low Rider S continued to please even at standstill. It’s so damnably cool
looking that you become engaged in conversation with people all the time. With its lean, black,
understated-yet-extroverted personality, it’s the perfect modern Harley and you’ll feel entirely at ease wearing
anything from a black blazer and tailored denim trousers to jeans and sneakers astride it. It’s even a motorcycle I
could imagine arriving to a black tie event on.
The CVO Pro Street Breakout
The final bike completing this latest almighty triumvirate of Harley’s new line up was the CVO Pro Street
Breakout, a bike with the same 110 inch Screamin’ Eagle Motor found in the Low Rider S. From a
purely aesthetic perspective, the CVO Breakout is as menacing and sinister as it is alluring. Taking inspiration
from drag strip racers from the ‘50s and ‘60s, Harley’s design team created a bike with a certain sense of dynamic
tension akin to a large predatorial cat about to pounce. And though it looked impressive, the Breakout was the least
nimble of the three due to its use of the Softail frame – a faux-rigid design with minimal rear clearance – as well
as the corresponding weight of the big machine. That having been said, on long straight sojourns down the highway to
dine at Manuela – something of a local farming culinary hot spot in the Los Angeles Art District – the CVO Breakout
proved a reassuring and phenomenal looking steed.
Even more interesting was when researching opinions on the bikes in question I
discovered that thanks to social media’s all-encompassing reach, we are now amid a vibrant internationalisation of
Harley culture from Taiwan to Russia, Indonesia to Thailand, Dubai to Germany. This organic grass roots
galvanisation perpetuated by the next generation of customers has transformed what was once a colloquial American
dialect into what may well be the most relevant international motorcycle language around.