Blackline Softail, Harley’s newest Dark Custom

Over the past few years, Harley-Davidson has chosen to make new bike announcements gradually. Usually we’ll hear about most of next year’s models around July, but then a couple more releases will come in the dead of winter. I’m not sure why H-D does this. Perhaps certain models aren’t ready for production, or maybe H-D wants more press over a longer period of time. Fortunately for us, the unveiling of the 2011 FXS Blackline Softail took place in New York City, about 50 miles from American Iron Magazine’s offices, this past January. I was on hand for the evening’s festivities and was excited with the newest Dark Custom.

Once the drape was pulled and the bike was shown to the eager reporters, none other than Willie G himself got up to speak, and in his off-the-cuff presentation said, “You can call it a bobber, you can call it a custom. There’s a lot of words you can use for it.” Initially, I scratched my head. A bobber? Really? I just don’t see it. But when he capped his speech with “I think it’ll look great parked in front of any bar in the whole country,” I could see that. But I had to wonder, who is Harley building bikes for? Barhopping hipsters who take undue risks with their lives? Or real riders who want to enjoy time in the saddle? Due to record snowfalls in New England (and most everywhere else in the United States), it would be two months before we had a chance to actually ride the new Softail.

The nuts and bolts of the FXS are similar to other Softails. It uses a fuel-injected 96B V-twin engine with a six-speed Cruise Drive transmission and rear belt drive. This combo moves this 682-pounder down the road just fine. But the differences between this Softail and the others in the lineup are where the FXS shines. Lots of detail work went into making this powertrain distinctive. From the top down, the rocker box covers are gloss black, the cylinder heads feature a silver powdercoat finish, and the cylinders are finished in black powdercoat. The crankcase has a wrinkled black finish, and gloss black powdercoat covers the outer primary cover and transmission side cover. Other parts such as the derby, cam, and air cleaner covers are featured in mirror chrome. The finished product is impressive-looking, to say the least. An old-school chrome round air cleaner cover lends the bike an overall minimalist look.

The engine package is carried in a new Black Denim powdercoated frame with matching swingarm. Up front hangs a FX conventional front end with black powdercoat triple clamps and black fork lowers. The real eye-catching centerpiece of the bike is the new Split Drag internally wired handlebar arrangement, which mounts directly to the top triple clamp. The instrument gauge is nestled deep between the two downturned bars. The left bar is separate from the right and looks like no other in the Harley lineup. For function, I find the overall width of the bars too narrow, and they don’t provide much leverage for maneuvering the bike. But they get big styling points. A by-product of the narrow bars is that they place the mirrors too far inboard and only provided a clear view of my elbows. Any look to the rear required me to tuck in my arms and crane my neck to see what was back there. Without a doubt, the new handlebars are a form-over-function decision. However, by the time you read this, H-D’s P&A department will have wider bars and other accessories available.

I appreciated the left switch-mounted mode button, which allows the rider to toggle through several functions on the single gauge instrument. The speedo is analog, but the inset LCD displays a tachometer, clock, gear, odometer, A and B tripmeters, and miles to reserve. The entire package is low profile and tucked cleanly in the gap between the bars.

Flowing back through the cockpit, you’ll find an attractive, smooth, die-cast top gas tank panel atop an asymmetrical, 5-gallon Softail fuel tank. This is  clean on the left side, with a low-profile fuel fill on the right. This is the only place you’ll find color on a Blackline, which can be had in Cool Blue Pearl ($15,998), Sedona Orange ($15,998), or Vivid Black ($15,499). That clean top panel with tasteful Bar & Shield logo is primarily there to cover fuel pump hardware. The seat’s hung low and is advertised to be a mere 26.1″ from the ground (unladen). While some shorter riders might be attracted to this, I met one vertically challenged test rider who found the reach to the bars too far. But for my 6′ frame, the ergonomics were comfortable, even if the seat padding isn’t.

Pulling strings and dropping names got me an extended ride on the 2011 Blackline, and, unfortunately, I regretted it. I couldn’t see spending much time riding the Blackline long distances. This condition was worsened by the harsh suspension and the heavy steering feeling. To me, a true bobber is small, light, and taut. I don’t see the large Softail line as an appropriate foundation for a bobber. The 21″ front wheel, combined with rake and trail figures of 30 degrees and 4.84″ respectively, plus over 680 pounds of heft, produced lethargic steering and required muscle to maneuver at low speeds to keep the front end from flopping over. At speed, it was perhaps a bit too easy to touch down a footpeg on corners, and I noticed the right forward control footpeg protrudes a bit farther than the left. Perhaps that is to allow the rider’s right leg to bend around the air cleaner.

Some final high points of my impression of the Blackline include the attractive, smooth black rim lips on the spoked wire wheels, the use of a simple plastic license plate bracket, which is bound to be removed and discarded by the owner anyway, and a trendy grenade-like coil cover on the left side of the engine. Simple styling with attitude is the perfect summation of my overall impression of the Blackline. If attitude is more important to you than comfort and function, this is the bike for you. Unfortunately, it’s not the bike for me. AIM

Check out the January Blackline unveiling story here

Story as it appeared in the June 2011 issue of American Iron Magazine.

Sam’s Led Sled Custom Harley Sportster

If you think this little golden beast is absolutely stunning, you should have seen it before. Way before. “Yeah,” notes Pat Patterson, the guru behind Dayton, Ohio’s Led Sled Customs. “Most people bring us new or almost new bikes. In terms of how they usually look when they’re brought to us, yours was kind of an exception.”

And with those words, Pat exposes himself as a generous master of understatement. This Sportster was a wreck when it first darkened Led Sled’s door, the battered victim of a fairly spectacular end-over-end, game-crushing incident that involved, among other things, a frozen front brake and me barrel-rolling 50 yards down the road. I’m not exactly proud of that little stunt. I am, however, proud (extremely proud) of this bike. At least as it stands today. It’s mine, and I’m one lucky dude. Now, with that out of the way we can get down to business.

After my header, I was left with a totaled 1996 XL 1200, a sorry state of affairs by any measure. Always quick with a solution (not to mention a snarky comment), AIM Editor Chris Maida suggested we turn my balled-up bike into a magazine project. I believe Chris’ words were something to the effect of “We haven’t done a Sportster in awhile and so, being the $#@?&% idiot that you are, you just helped us out.” He’s such a kind man.
Anyway, we didn’t have to wrack our brains for long to agree on who would be ideal to tackle such a potentially heinous project. Pat and his Led Sled crew were the obvious choice, as they specialize in Sportsters, and their builds tend to involve chucking everything stock, except for the motor, about the only part of my bike that had managed to avoid the carnage. Okay, maybe my gas cap survived. Regardless, one call to Pat and the party was on.

For those unaware, Led Sled has fast become renowned for its thoroughly unique treatment of Sportys. However, not too long ago, Pat was making his cake as an overland trucker, a job he held for 10 years, starting at age 21 with his own rig. He eventually ended up with six semis and a team he posted on various Midwestern routes. All the while, though, he was toying first with his 1993 XL and later with other people’s rides. When he wasn’t hauling freight, he was in his garage trying to make Sportsters look cool with little more than a bench, grinder, and MIG welder. Pat also discovered he could lay down some killer paint. That led to him going to vocational school and learning how to work a lathe. Then, of course, he needed more room in a real shop.

Although he didn’t realize it, the seeds for Led Sled were quickly being sown. “$#!% just happened, until I was so busy working on bikes one day that it dawned on me: I couldn’t drive trucks anymore because if I’m not here at the shop all the time, this place ain’t gonna grow.” That was around 2003, when Led Sled officially opened its doors. Pat was 31 and destined to become “The Man” in XL land.
“We’ve been really blessed,” admits Pat, considering the state of the custom world today. “I never started this company thinking we’d have a niche or that I was going to roll the Sportster market. I’ll do a big bike for somebody, no problem. But Sportsters are what I want to build. That’s where my heart is. Hell, I still have a million parts in my head that would make a Sportster look cool.”
At this point does anyone doubt Pat’s enthusiasm for Sportsters? Let’s hope not.

And so, with my wadded Sporty in hand, Pat and the boys went to work putting Led Sled’s hardtail kit to the test. The kit comes with a rear fender, battery tray, and oil tank already mounted. First of all, they ripped my bike apart and threw everything away, save for the motor and the front half of the frame — all the easier to register and insure it, given the stamped VIN numbers. “We cut the frame right behind the top motor mount on the backbone and then 3″ underneath the rear motor mount,” explains Pat. “Those welds and cuts are right at motor mounts. So even though you’ve just welded it, the rigidity of the mill, which adds a lot of the structure to the frame, basically holds the entire bike together anyway. You could probably run these kits without even welding because of where we strategically place the slugs to slide into the tubes. From there, we just started throwing our parts on it.” Like their new floorboards and that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it covert license tag. “We call it our fleeing and eluding bracket because … ” Just take a guess, please.

Things came together pretty quickly, and Pat claims the build was just plain fun and simple. “After all, our goal is to make it as easy as possible for a dude in his garage to install our parts,” Pat says. “Your bike mainly consists of our hardtail kit. We wanted to show how good your bike can look with just that. When it came time to give it flash, Paughco gave us that bitchin’ front end. Then I narrowed the tank to bring that skinny feel into play.”

And does anyone notice those bars? “With those, we went for an edgy, out-there, hardcore feel. Nothing traditional. You can change the whole attitude of a bike with just handlebars.” Mission most definitely accomplished. “It’s funny. The bike is really so simple, but you still just have to stare at it.” And stare at it people do, often in a trance. After a prolonged meditation, one transfixed friend (an Irishman) mumbled, “It’s amazing, like, Steve McQueen meets Liberace.” Priceless.

On that note, perhaps it’s time to address the way this golden knockout rides. Being a suicide-foot-clutch, jockey-shift, no-front-brake conundrum, it takes some getting used to. For most people, it’s probably not the most ideal machine to tackle the mean streets of, say, New York City. Then again, most people wouldn’t even think of riding this bike — even if they could figure it out, that is. In that respect, it’s got a form of natural theft protection. The truth is, once you get in the groove, it’s an incredibly fun, fast, and nimble animal to bang around on. Just try to avoid the many yahoos who almost crash into you trying to catch a glimpse of a machine they may have never seen the likes of before. It’s not easy being gold. And a Led Sled.

As much as I’d like to beat my chest and say that I’ve logged many miles on this beauty, the honor belongs to Chris Maida who cranked it all the way up the East Coast from Daytona to New York, except for a 200-mile trip to Charlotte to fix a blown head gasket, in three days! I had to fly home. Does that make me soft? Maybe. But my time will come. For the moment, though, Chris, bastard that he is, reigns as the true warrior. You don’t know how it pains me to write that.

Now I’m going to stare at my gorgeous golden girl. AIM

2011 Saxon Reaper Motorcycle Magazine Review

As I’ve written in my column, to have the best of both worlds everyone should own a bagger and a hot rod. The bagger is like a wife, designed to go for long distance rides in comfort. The hot rod is like a mistress, just the ticket for a few hours of adventure. And while doing this with two women can get you in deep trouble, it’s the perfect setup when it comes to motorcycles. After blasting around on Saxon’s Reaper for several hundred miles during the Sturgis rally, there’s no doubt in my mind this little bobber fits the hot rod requirement nicely!

Weighing in at 430 pounds dry, the Reaper is an excellent, fully street-legal example of the breed. Nimble, easy to handle, and quick, this little bobber was a pleasure to ride both on the highway and while trying to get around the extremely congested streets of Sturgis. Powering my test bike is a S&S 96″ (1573cc) Evo-style mill, which has rightfully earned a reputation for being as dependable as a hammer. The 3-5/8″-bore, 4-5/8″-stroke, and 10.1:1 compression 96 moved the lightweight Reaper along easily. And I had no pinging or other issues in the heat of a South Dakota summer on 10-percent ethanol fuel. (You get to carry 3.25 gallons of the stuff in that Sportster-style tank.) The engine’s S&S Super E carburetor never gave me any trouble on starts and had excellent throttle response at all points, just what I’d expect. Like on a stock Evo-powered H-D, the bike is equipped with a VOES to advance and retard the ignition timing. That made it easy to drop idle down and let the engine chug like a Shovelhead to keep engine heat down, since I was often in heavily congested rally traffic. My test bike also had a nice sounding exhaust: a good rumble but not anything that will get you in trouble with the local police or your neighbors late at night.

The transmission is a Rivero-Primo six-speed, which shifted nicely through all gears. It was also easy to get into neutral, until it got very hot. Then it took a try or two, just like with a stock H-D five-speed tranny. The chain primary and wet clutch system worked well, and I had no issues with it whatsoever, even when very hot. But that’s all moot now, since from this point on the Reaper will be equipped with a BAKER six-speed. How­ever, there was a slight seep from two bolts on the primary cover. Definitely not a leak, only enough weep to collect a little dirt in the dusty conditions of the Buffalo Chip. In sixth gear on the highway, the Reaper cruises nicely at 75 mph at about 2500 rpm and at about 3000 at 80-85 mph. I can’t tell you exactly what rpm in either case since the tach uses a dot indicator system. The speedo, tach, and other indicators are all contained in one gauge, which worked very well, but, as always with this setup, it’s hard to read in direct sunlight.

As for the chassis, the frame geometry (2″ stretch in backbone, 34-degree rake) is nuts on! The Reaper was easy to control and handled great. For those interested in specs, wheelbase is 68″ and total length is 95″. Being a rigid, the only suspension is via the DNA springer front end and sprung solo seat. And while the springer worked well in turns and such on smooth roads, it was bouncy on bumpy ones, which is about the norm for a springer front end. However, a couple of helper springs inside the present ones would stiffen up the ride a bit. The seat is comfortable, and the springs do a nice job of smoothing out the bumps. Seating position in relation to the handlebars was very comfortable for me, too. My short legs (30″ inseam) had no problem reaching the forward controls or ground (27″ seat height). Joe, however, at 6’1″ was scrunched. The Brembo calipers front (four-piston) and rear (two-piston), which grabbed floating discs, worked very well once they were broken in. The 80-spoke wheels, which are wrapped with a 90/90-21″ Metzeler up front and a 200-18″ Metzeler in the rear, looked great. Ditto for the simple black paint job with silver panels.

Many times it’s the little things that make or break a bike. Here again, the Reaper did very well. For example, it was very easy to check oil in the 3.5-quart tank. Just rock the filler cap from side to side to get it out and read the dipstick, no need to remove the seat. The handgrips were comfortable, and the H-D-type hand controls and switches were familiar and easy to operate. The Saxon team designed nice supports for rear and front fenders. I also liked that the rear chain guard was well-designed and welded right to the frame. The key switch is in a good location on the lower left side of the bike in a natural position for your hand. I also liked the fact that all the DOT-required running gear (front fender, mirrors, front and rear turn signals) is easy to remove, and their wires can be tucked away out of sight. This way, if your state is not anal about this stuff, you can strip the Reaper down even more and run it bare bones for an even cleaner look. The only negative in the details department were the rear axle adjuster collars and big Allen axle bolt, which were plain metal. Before my test week was done they were starting to rust. When I inquired about this I was told by the Saxon crew that this is not how a customer’s bike would be. I didn’t think so, but it was on the test bike, so it ends up in the review.

The bottom line is that the Reaper, called the Henchman outside the US, is a cleanly designed bobber that’s nicely executed. Plus it comes with a two-year limited warranty, and that never sucks! Neither does its MSRP of $19,845. AIM

NEW BIKE REVIEW By Chris Maida as seen in American Iron Magazine

Working Mans Special Motorcycle

Sucker Punch Sally Bobber Motorcycle

I don’t know what your Daytona trip was like, but mine was a blast! Though most of what happened I can’t put into a family magazine, I can tell
you about this cool little bobber I got to run around on all week. Built by the Sucker Punch Sally’s (SPS) crew in Phoenix, the Working Man’s Special is a low-cost version of the company’s flagship bike, the Traditional Bobber.

Simple and to the point: my test bike was well-built and fun to ride.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll tell you some of the particulars. My Special was powered by a stock 80″ (1340cc) Harley-Davidson Evo mill fitted with low-compression (8.5:1) pistons, which meant I could put 2.25 gallons (max) of any grade of gas in the thing, and it ran fine. The motor is connected to an Ultima six-speed tranny via a 3″ BDL open belt drive system. As you can see, the final drive is a standard 530 chain wrapped around a 51-tooth rear sprocket. The clutch is also from BDL and it, like the primary system, worked like a charm. As for the Ultima tranny, while it did its job efficiently, it was noisy, shifting felt a bit clunky, and it was almost impossible to get into neutral once stopped. However, by the time you read this, Ultima gearboxes are no longer used on SPS bikes. A RevTech is now standard and you can upgrade to a BAKER transmission if you choose.

The chassis for the Special, being based on the Traditional, is well-planned and constructed. Up front, the SPS-proprietary 30-degree rake, no-stretch rigid frame is held up by a DNA springer that rolls on a Midwest 60-spoke, all-chromed wheel wrapped with a 3.00-21″ Avon tire. The Special is also available with a standard tube front end, if that’s what you prefer. Out back is a 180/60-16″ Avon wrapped around another all-chromed Midwest 60-spoker. Stopping power up front is supplied by a four-piston polished HHI caliper grabbing standard issue 11-1/2″ chrome Drag discs. Out back, there’s a four-piston, black H-D caliper doing the hard work. Braking power was definitely adequate, since the Special is a light bike.

This chassis combo results in a nice handling, 495-pound (dry weight) bike with a 65″ wheelbase, 4″ of ground clearance, and a 24″ seat height. With numbers like that, you know even a short stack like me has no problem being flat-footed at all times, or reaching the forwards. The apes also put my hands in a comfortable spot, though they were a bit over my shoulders. The sprung seat was fine during all my short blasts up and down the interstate, as well as around town.

The only glitch I had during my test was a lighting issue, as in the front right blinker did not work. But that was fixed in short order by the SPS crew, and the rest of my test was pleasantly uneventful.

Since the Working Man’s Special is the budget version of the Traditional (the price starts at $18,995), you don’t get all the glitz of the flagship bike. (For example, it only comes in solid colors.) However, you do get all the usual quality of a Sucker Punch build, plus a one-year warranty.

Sounds like a good deal to me! AIM

–Chris Maida as published in American Iron Magazine, the world’s best selling Harley magazine.

Sucker Punch Sally’s
14982 North 83rd Place
Suite 100, Dept. AIM
Scottsdale, AZ 85260