Harley 72 is a rolling work of art

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IOL mot pic jul2 Harley Seventy-Two 1 Dave Abrahams Very special Sportster is a superb evocation of all that was best about 1970s custom bikes.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time of free spirits and experimentation - sometimes with dangerous chemicals. Motorcycling in particular had moved beyond the post-war rebellion of the 1950s as custom builders such has Uncle Bunt, Arlen Ness and Ben Hardy (who built the iconic FLH 'Captain America' for Peter Fonda) fostered the concept that a motorcycle could be a work of art in its own right.

Granted, some of their creations couldn't even be ridden, but they pushed the boundaries of what was possible and the best of them were finished to a standard that still raises eyebrows.

So, when Harley-Davidson built a bike to pay tribute to those early custom builders, it was fitting that it should be resplendent in the signature metal-flake paint of the era - in a deep, rich red - that all the engine covers should be flawlessly chromed and that less should definitively be more.

UNEXPECTEDLY NARROW

Which is why your first impression of the Seventy-Two is of just how small it is. The 1202cc V-twin is unexpectedly narrow from the rider's perspective, the 7.9-litre 'peanut' tank is tiny and the little single seat is just 710mm away from the tar.

And that's it: there's no pillion seat, no rear footpegs and no tail light - they're in the rear indicators, Nightster style. The 21” front tyre is only 90mm wide, those improbably glittery mudguards are as close to the rubber as is practicable and instrumentation is limited to a speedometer about the size of an old-fashioned alarm clock with a row of idiot lights (sorry, warning icons) across the bottom.

IOL mot pic jul2 Harley Seventy-Two 2 Seventy-Two is resplendent in the signature metal-flake paint of the era, in a deep, rich red; all the engine covers are flawlessly chromed. Dave Abrahams

That bum-dragging ride height is achieved by fitting a 16” rear wheel and dual rear shock absorbers with only 54mm of travel - which means that, even on the softest of the five preload settings, the ride is as firm as a Quaker's morals.

The base of your spine takes a beating on bad roads as the rear suspension repeatedly bottomed out, particularly as the footpegs are way out front and you can't lift your weight off the saddle to minimise the effect.

More than that, I constantly found myself sliding off the back of the single seat on to the mudguard, especially in traffic; I couldn't help thinking that a slightly larger, more deeply dished aftermarket saddle might make a world of difference in terms of comfort.

1202cc OF MILWAUKEE MUSCLE

The engine is standard Sportster issue, with a lumpy idle, stonking midrange and very little top end, driving through a noisy but positive five-speed 'box and the ubiquitous Milwaukee belt final drive - why don't other manufacturers go that route?

It's difficult to quantify without a rev counter, but the bike will pull really hard, short-shifting through the gears, and surprisingly quickly up to an indicated 140km/h, but needs a long run to hit its true top end of 161, with 170 on the clock.

IOL mot pic jul2 Harley Seventy-Two 3 Average speed prosecution cameras and more police on the ground will be used to put the brakes on speedsters, officials say. File photo: IOL Dave Abrahams

The real problem is that by then the rider is hanging on for dear life to the high 'ape-hanger' handlebars, with feet too far forward to play any part in controlling the bike or supporting the rider.

Handling is compromised more by the disparity in wheel sizes than by lack of ground clearance or even the lack of rear suspension travel. Long sweeping bends often inducing a slow weave when pushing on, but the seating position doesn't encourage high-speed cruising anyway, so the point is moot.

Thanks to sophisticated (by Milwaukee standards, anyway) sequential-port fuel injection, today's Hogs aren't nearly as piggish on petrol as 1970s models were; the Seventy Two averaged a creditable 5.9 litres per 100km - including performance testing - over the week that we had it.

But that still gives you a tank range of less than 140km, and begs the

question: what is this bike for?

VERDICT

IOL mot pic jul2 Harley Seventy-Two 4 Bike's best feature is the stonking mid-range of its V-twin engine. Dave Abrahams

The Seventy-Two doesn't have the range - or the basic creature comforts - to be a weekend getaway tool, its saddle is too low for comfort in heavy traffic (ideally you want to be able to see over the cars around you) and the footpegs are too far forward to make the most of its best feature - its exciting mid-range acceleration.

But it is a superb - and superbly finished - evocation of all that was best about 1970s custom motorcycles. It is a rolling work of art, and should be ridden as such. Peter Fonda would understand.

Price: R122 000.

Bike from: Harley Davidson Africa.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: 1202cc air-cooled V-twin.

Bore x stroke: 88.9 x 96.8mm.

Compression ratio: 9.7:1.

Valvegear: Pushrod with two overhead valves per cylinder.

Power: 49.0kW at 5250rpm.

Torque: 96m at 3500rpm.

Induction: Electronic sequential port fuel-injection.

Ignition: Electronic.

Starting: Electric.

Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.

Transmission: Five-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by toothed belt.

Front Suspension: 39mm conventional cartridge forks, non-adjustable.

Rear Suspension: Dual hydraulic shock absorbers adjustable for preload.

Front brake: 292mm disk with twin-piston floating calliper.

Rear brake: 260mm disk with single-piston floating calliper.

Front tyre: 90/90 - 21 D402F 54H tubeless.

Rear tyre: 150/80 - 16 D401 71H tubeless.

Wheelbase: 1525mm.

Seat height: 710mm.

Kerb weight: 253kg.

Fuel tank: 7.9 litres.

Top speed (measured): 161km/h.

Fuel consumption (measured): 5.9 litres per 100km

Price: R122 000.

Bike from: Harley Davidson Africa.

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