Cape Town – Once you look at them without the usual attitude (and let’s face it, sneering at Harley-Davidsons is like shooting fish in a barrel - too easy to be fun) their appeal is not that difficult to fathom.
They take us back to a simpler, kinder world, where bigger really was better, where petrol was cheap and green meant somebody who didn’t know his job. They radiate an immense presence and, thanks to superb marketing, their brand value is without equal.
Which brings us to this Harley-Davidson, the 2015 FXDL Low Rider. Its styling is very 1970s, harking back to the Willie G Davidson’s original 1977 Low Rider - but late-1970s AMF build quality was dire, and this is frankly world-class.
However basic the design – and the engine architecture was finalised in 1911 – the quality of the chrome-plating and paintwork puts Rolls-Royce to shame, and the attention to detail is impressive, even if some of those details turn out be secured by cheap jubilee clips or even double-sided adhesive tape.
Decent brakes, ABS, and keyless ignition all help, as does the rev-counter in place of the ignition switch on top of the tank (that moves to between the pots on the left) and the little liquid-crystal display in the speedometer face that scrolls through odometer, time, two trip-meters, gear positions and range to empty (about 240km, starting from a full tank).
The self-cancelling indicators don’t help, however, because they only work on corners, not lane-changes, so you still have to remember to look down at your crotch (which is where the repeaters are) to make sure.
The new Low Rider (seat height, by the way, is just 680mm) comes with a removable seat bolster, to place shorter riders reassuringly close to the centre of effort, and swivelling risers to adjust the reach to the handlebars.
The Motor Company says the seating position can be tailored to fit any body from 1.55 to 1.85 metres tall, and it’s easy to believe. The rear brake lever is awkward to operate, since it’s mounted below level of the footpeg, but the rest of the ergonomics are superb.
As long as you have the round plastic fob (about the same size as an Oreo cookie) on your person, you can get on, reach down on the left to turn the ignition switch two clicks towards you (no key necessary) hit the start button and ride off.
Don’t move the Low Rider around the garage or out into the driveway without fetching it first, however; the intense, high-pitched alarm is not something you want to inflict on sleeping family or neighbours.
The 103-cubic inch (1690cc) V-twin is solid-mounted in the frame but, thanks to superbly balanced rotating masses and accurately calibrated sequential-port electronic fuel-injection, runs smoothly up to about 4800rpm; what vibration there is, is felt mainly through the rigidly-mounted footpegs.
The redline is at 5500rpm but the big twin sounds and feels stressed at anything above 5000 and, with peak torque at 3500rpm, there’s nothing to be gained by going there. Mid-range, as you’d expect from a 45-degree V-twin with a 111mm stroke, is monumental.
True top speed, measured by GPS on our six-kilometre straight, was 172km/h with 192 on the clock at exactly 4000rpm, for a speedometer error of 11.6 percent, high by any standards.
Fuel consumption over the week we had the bike - including performance testing - was a creditable 7.26 litres per 100km, starting was first time, every time, and throttle response so accurate it was almost out of place on a bike this monolithic.
The rear brake, as we’ve mentioned, is awkward to use and remains ineffective until you stomp on it with your heel, relying on the (standard) ABS to save you from the consequences of your indiscretion.
But the dual front disc brakes were among the best we’ve experienced on a Harley-Davidson, sharp and muscular enough to haul down the bike’s 302kg when needed; in fact the limiting factor in an emergency stop is more likely to be the front suspension.
As always on a cruiser style machine the front end is much softer than the rear. The low seat on which the maker prides itself restricts rear wheel suspension to just 80mm, so not even expensive tri-rate springs can prevent the rear suspension from being choppy at best.
The sheer weight of the beast bludgeons the bumps into submission, however, and only the worst of them get through to the base of the rider’s spine. I won’t presume to speak for the pillion accommodation, since She Who Has the Casting Vote pointed out that the rear portion of the seat slopes the wrong way and declined the ride on the grounds that she didn’t want to wind up sitting on the tail-light.
Mind you, this doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, as the huge variety of aftermarket seats available from Harley-Davidson - as well as specialists such as Corbin - should make it easy to satisfy the most discriminating of Significant Others.
But we rode the bike as Harley-Davidson supplied it; as a solo machine it was more stable than expected around our ride and handling track, although the steering was a little vague when pushing hard (112km/h average speed where the performance threshold for sports bikes is 120) and ground clearance would have been the next problem - I touched my heels down a couple of times.
At R181 950, the 2015 FXDL is a cruiser in the classic mould – long, low and rangy – with stonking mid-range for impressive acceleration between traffic lights, and a modern twist, thanks to up-to-date ergonomics, electronics and, especially, brakes. Unlike some of the rolling torture racks of the past, it’s a Low Rider you can actually ride.
Harley-Davidson FXDL Low Rider
Engine: 1690cc air-cooled V-twin.
Bore x stroke: 98.4 x 111.1mm.
Compression ratio: 9.6:1.
Valvegear: Pushrod with two overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 56.0kW at 5010rpm.
Torque: 126.0Nm at 3500rpm.
Induction: Electronic sequential port fuel-injection.
Ignition: Digital electronic.
Clutch: Cable-operated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by toothed belt.
Front Suspension: 49mm conventional cartridge forks.
Rear Suspension: Dual hydraulic dampers adjustable for preload.
Front brakes: Dual 300mm discs with four-pot opposed-piston callipers and ABS.
Rear brake: 292mm disc with dual-piston floating calliper and ABS.
Front tyre: 100/90 - 19 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 160/70 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 680mm.
Kerb weight: 302kg.
Fuel tank: 17.8 litres.
Top speed (measured): 172km/h.
Fuel consumption (measured): 7.26 litres per 100km.
Price: R181 950.
Bike from: Harley-Davidson Africa.