Harley-Davidson recently released the sportiest machine for some time in its seven-bike Sportster line-up. Dubbed the ‘Roadster’, or XL1200CX in Harley’s traditional alpha-numeric methodology, the $19,495 twin is the best-handling Sportster since the long-departed and oft-lamented XR1200X;and which the new Roadster shares its basic chassis geometry with.
The Roadster has more available lean angle than any other machine in Harley’s current Sportster range, but still a little less than the Road King or V-Rod models.
That said, the Roadster does keeps its undercarriage off the deck better than any of the Dyna or Softail models, but its 31-degrees of available lean-angle is a long way off the 40-degrees of the XR1200X, a machine I still have a soft spot for.
In fact, if an XR1200X came onto the secondhand market at a reasonable price, I would actually consider buying it. It is still the best Sportster in the model’s 59-year lineage, but the new XL1200CX Roadster is the best Sportster you can currently buy. It’s strange that the best-handling Sportster ever made sold in such low numbers Harley discontinued the model in 2013. Tells you a lot about the average Harley customer though, doesn’t it?
Clearly, most Harley buyers care little for handling dynamics, particularly as the biggest sellers in the Harley range are amongst the poorest handling of all its offerings. For those of us who do like the idea of a Harley that can really hustle, we ask that H-D brings out a new version of the XR1200X, which would be a great way to mark the 60th anniversary of Sportster next year. And while we’re are at the wishing well, a new FXDX Super Glide Sport too, thanks Milwaukee.
But Harley certainly does understand its customers. It sells more road bikes in Australia than any of the Japanese big four. In fact, Harley sells more than three times as many road motorcycles as Suzuki – 4685 in the first six months of this year compared to 1464 for the Hamamatsu-based brand.
The XL1200CX delivers better suspension and brakes than the rest of the current Sportster line-up, so it’s easily my new favourite among the current offerings. It displaces the Iron 883 in my favours, which at almost five grand cheaper than the larger capacity 1202cc Roadster, still has an arguable case in its favour.
The Forty-Eight is a great looker, but with its woeful cornering clearance and tiny fuel tank it would never be on my radar as a viable proposition. Again, it sells like hot cakes though, proving form over function to be the way to a typical Harley buyer’s wallet.
The Roadster does mimic the 48 somewhat, with its peanut-shaped tank which, at 12.5-litres in capacity, is a lot more generous than the stingy 7.9-litre tank on the 48.
But it really does shine with the added suspension travel. At 81mm, shock travel is still very short, but a lot more useful than the almost hardtail-like 41mm of the 48. See what I am getting at? The Roadster does a much better job of being an amenable motorcycle than the 48 does.
Inverted Showa 43mm forks offer 115mm of travel up front and the Roadster steers quite nicely on its 120/70-19 front hoop. The 18-inch rear also helps with bump compliance, compared to the 16-inch rears worn by most Sportsters. The wheels themselves are the most labyrinthine cast rims yet produced by Harley. They are also lighter than those found in most of the range, contributing further to the handling advantage enjoyed by the Roadster.
The Roadster also gets two 300mm discs up front, compared to the single rotor found on its kin. Feel at the lever remains quite terrible however, thus its handy that ABS is there in the background should you manage to deploy the bear-like strength in your paws and can reef on the lever hard enough to lock the front wheel. And ABS is always a handy thing to have in poor traction situations.
Instrumentation is minimal, but acceptable, and helps with the minimalist feel from the cockpit that is an appealing part of the Sportster experience.
The seat is new in design, and as with everything Harley, form is integral to its design. Aesthetically it is one of the most impressive details on the machine, and as a perch it’s actually not too bad either. At 785mm the seat height is taller than most Sportsters but the narrow girth of the bike ensures that shorties should have no problems finding the ground. The pillion seat is surely for emergency use only, as nobody would want to spend much time back there.
The mid-mount controls of the Sportster always take some getting re-accustomed to. You’re constantly snagging your foot or the cuff of your jeans as you put a hoof down at the lights. On the highway too it feels very strange at first, but you quickly adapt and work with it.
As you do with the slow but smooth-shifting five-speed gearbox that terminates via Harley’s traditional belt-drive arrangement.
Now three-decades old, the Sportster version of Harley’s EVO motor is, thanks to modern engine management systems and EFI, more of a peach than it has ever been. It still shakes, rattles and rolls around at idle but once on the move is smooth as silk and suits the character of the machine down to a tee. It’s still pretty slow in motorcycle terms, a modern SS Commodore or XR8 Falcon would see it off from the lights, but you don’t exactly buy a Sportster to go fast.
That said, it can be a whole lot of fun trying to wring every last ounce of performance from the Sportster while hustling in the hills. There is a certain amount of joy to be found in trying to cut a corner perfectly, while managing to keep the undercarriage from scraping. Anybody can scrape them and make sparks, but I find joy in the challenge of trying to get around as fast as possible while keeping the pegs off the deck.
And that, my friends, is, along with the obviously fine aesthetics, and the cachet that comes with riding motorcycling’s most iconic brand, why the new Roadster is such an appealing beast.
Harley-Davidson XL1200CX Roadster Specifications
Engine – 1202cc, air-cooled, 45-degree, v-twin
Claimed Torque – 97Nm at 4250rpm
Bore x Stroke – 88.9 x 96.8mm
Compression Ratio – 10.0:1
Induction – Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Fuel Injection
Drive – Five-speed box and belt final drive
Forks – 43mm Showa forks, 115mm travel, no adjustment
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