Harley-Davidson’s Rocker C evolved as a showroom custom more by chance than choice. To understand that, we should turn back the clock to 1990, give or take a few years. That was about the time that American motorcycle enthusiasts had indeed rekindled their love affair with America’s motorcycle company, Harley-Davidson. The new romance led to a few problems, though, chief among them the matter of supply and demand. American bikers demanded more motorcycles than the company could supply. Result: every year when the new models debuted, long lines of love-struck customers formed at dealers’ doorsteps. They lined up like anxious suitors waiting to court the new belle in town, but many of those would-be owners were denied. There just weren’t enough new Harleys to go around.
Demand for a product always creates its own market, and in this case, new American motorcycle companies began to emerge from the primordial V-twin ooze. Names like Big Dog, American IronHorse, Ultra, and Titan formed the nucleus of a burgeoning cottage industry. Suddenly Harley-Davidson had competition. Those new motorcycle companies offered what became known as Harley clones that, soon enough, evolved into turnkey customs that allowed customers to ride straight from the dealership aboard a full-on custom motorcycle. Each year, the custom bikes improved in terms of fit, finish, and performance, leaving little doubt in people’s minds that those companies were here to stay. In fact, more marques joined the marketing fray, hoping to cash in on the V-twin booty that prevailed as the new millennium unfolded. Eventually, Harley-Davidson realized that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. By 2008, Harley made its counterattack with the Rocker and Rocker C, a pair of revolutionary models with a 37-degree front end rake to confront the turnkey choppers that had altered the landscape of the American V-twin market. The Rocker has since been dropped from the model line, but the Rocker C remains for 2011.
The 2011 Rocker C checks in with plenty of polished and chromed bling, and once you settle into its solo saddle, what Harley terms the “trick” seat because a folding passenger pillion stows out of sight under the seat pan. Grip the handlebars, place your boots on the forward controls, and the Rocker C begins to feel much like any other FXS-series Softail. Harley claims seat height of 25.1″, allowing most riders to place both feet firmly on the pavement during stops, but don’t be surprised if your left leg rubs against the protruding primary cover in the process. The forward controls are easy to reach, and the grips are placed comfortably in front of you for the ride. That massive rake angle doesn’t affect the ride as much as you might think, although you can expect to include more countersteer than you’re accustomed to when initiating a turn aboard the Rocker C.
The trick seat is unusual among motorcycles because it offers the looks of a solo saddle, but by manipulating its folding components (it takes only seconds once you master the procedure), you have a passenger pillion ready and waiting for another person to join you. The seat is engineered to support a 250-pound load, and one Harley executive jokingly referred to the fold-out pad as the “lucky” seat. But a more appropriate nickname might be the “your-place-or-mine” seat because the auxiliary pad isn’t especially comfortable for long rides. Contrarily, with the passenger pad stowed away, the rider’s seat gains a level of firmness because there isn’t much padding between it and the folded section, making it perhaps the hardest seat in Harley’s lineup. Moreover, the saddle offers no support for the small of your back.
Human comfort wasn’t an issue when designing the rear fender, but overall weight for the rear assembly was. Harley styled the big fender — the whole assembly is termed the rocker tail due to its rocking action — to fit closely to the Dunlop 240mm rear tire. The goal was to simulate the look of a rigid-frame custom. With only about a 1″ gap between fender and tire, the fender articulates in up and down unison with the wheel, tire, and swingarm. To keep weight in check and for a visually clean design, there are no fender supports or brackets, just stealthy mounting points at the base of the fender, which is a composite of two stainless steel wafer halves bonded together by a special glue to eliminate unsightly welds. To help reduce weight, the rear lighting is integrated into the turn signals that, along with the license plate assembly, are made of lightweight magnesium. Rear illumination is with LED bulbs that withstand vibration better than conventional bulbs do. Harley says the rocker tail is rated up to 100Gs. Translation: it’s overengineered.
As you might guess, the rocker tail and huge tire consume valuable space under the frame, so wheel travel is reduced by about an inch compared to that of other Softails. Oddly, the inverted fork has less travel, too. The Rocker’s spring and damping rates feel about the same as found on the other FXS models, so its shortcoming will be most noticeable over frost heaves and potholes where the shorter suspension is more apt to bottom out quicker.
Harley gave the Rocker C a few upgrades for 2011, among them the Security Package option that includes the Smart Security System with a hands-free fob and anti-lock braking system (ABS). And thanks to its new CAN wiring system, H-D was able to integrate multiple tasks on some of the hand switches. Four color options are available; our test bike had the Scarlet Red Deluxe with ghost flames paint scheme, definitely an eye-catching combination for the guy looking to put that lucky seat to use.
But the bike’s MSRP of $19,499 is what might make a Rocker C owner feel really lucky. That’s about $10,000 less than most of those turnkey customs that prompted Harley-Davidson to build the Rocker C in the first place. And 10 grand will buy quite a bit of optional shiny goodies. Maybe there’s something to be said about that lucky seat after all. AIM
NEW BIKE REVIEW By Dain Gingerelli
As seen in the April 2011 Issue of American Iron Magazine