2016 Harley XL1200CX Roadster Review
CX in the city, a roadster for the road – by Dain Gingerelli
According to Harley-Davidson’s promotional literature the new XL1200CX Roadster is aimed dead-square at young riders, often termed Millennials. But tell that to the older guy — think Baby Boomer—who cast an envious eye on the Roadster, with its Velocity Red Sunglo paint shining brilliantly, which I had just fired up in the parking lot. And for the record, I’m of the Baby Boomer generation, too, and I rather enjoy this Sportster.
The older guy said nothing, though. He just stared, transfixed by the bike, soaking up the sum total of its parts and color. A chromed, low-slung handlebar catches the eye first, and behind it sits the familiar 3.3-gallon peanut-style gas tank; folks on Juneau Avenue now deem it a “walnut” tank, although if we’re going to break from tradition, I’m for calling it a “pecan” tank, even if it might send the wrong message as to its exact function and use.
So, there we were, standing in the parking lot with the older guy still wistfully gazing at the bike while I nonchalantly let the Roadster’s rubber-mounted 1200cc engine (Millennials and Baby Boomers alike would never refer to a Sportster engine in terms of cubic inches, although for the record the 1200 qualifies as a 74″) warm up, chugging and singing out the proverbial potato-potato-potato cadence that all Harleys are known for. I especially enjoy the XL1200CX’s exhaust note, a result of the new free-flowing shorty mufflers that create an unmistakable baritone burble, so unlike the wimpy, semi-flatulent sounds that resonate from most stock bikes today.
Satisfied with the engine having oil in all its internal nooks and crannies, I sought first gear — an easy task, as Harley engineers have used every conceivable trick in their toolbox to minimize clutch lever pull effort on Sportsters, so when you snick the five-speed tranny’s shift lever up or down, your foot is rewarded with a positive click — and rode away. As the engine’s rpm rose to a crescendo, the exhaust note only got better, no doubt prompting the older guy’s pulse to quicken even more. I have no idea whether or not that Baby Boomer eventually bought a Roadster on account of that little episode, but The Motor Company is hedging its bets that Millennials will use similar sidewalk experiences to decide that it’s time to step up and make a purchase. The betting, too, is that the deal includes a new Roadster. As one Harley spokesman, Michael Spaeth, who heads the marketing team that put Millennials in the Roadster’s crosshairs, recently stated on a public radio broadcast: “…the new Roadster that we just launched [is] really targeting that kind of urban demographic.”
So, what sets this XL apart from all others in the Sportster stable? Plenty, really, even though the XL1200CX, rated at 549 pounds dry, shares the same basic platform in terms of frame and engine with the other 1200 models. Besides that drooping handlebar, you’ll see that the Roadster rides on all-new, blacked-out cast aluminum wheels wrapped with Dunlop/Harley-Davidson rubber, and this is the only Sportster rolling with an 18″ rear wheel and tire. The front 19″ wheel is supported by a 43mm inverted fork — the only one in the Sportster lineup — that has triple-rate springs calibrated to its Premium cartridge damping system. The rear shocks are based on this year’s new nitrogen gas-charged units for Sportsters, which have threaded collars to precisely adjust spring preload to suit your weight and riding style. Moreover, the fork and shocks offer a claimed 4.5″ and 3.2″ of travel, more than any of the suspenders found on the other Sporties.
The suspension’s spring and damping calibration are well-matched to soak up bumps in the road, too; clearly better than any other Sportster does. The Roadster’s suspenders are less prone to bottom out, too, and the ride transmits less road surface feedback through the custom-formed seat and rubber-wrapped folding footpegs.
Things aren’t quite as pleasant at the handlebar, though. Simply, the handlebar is too wide, measuring about 32″ from end to end, which forces you to assume a riding position that makes you feel as though you’re ready to do a pushup. Here’s my fix: by nature, any Harley’s purpose in life is to be modified, and by that right I’d change the bar to better suit my riding needs. There’s enough room to shorten the bar at both ends without disrupting space for the hand controls, so I’d clip about 1/2″-3/4″ from each end. That would slightly raise the angle of your torso in relation to the steering stem, improving the rider triangle in the process. Doing so would also relieve some pressure from your wrists and hands while pulling them in for a more definitive “feel” of the front end when cornering (think road racer ergonomics).
A by-product of clipping the handlebar also means a narrower bike, essential for splitting lanes or filtering forward through an urban jungle’s stop-and-go traffic. And from a cosmetic standpoint, shortening the handlebar would reduce its gull-wing effect in relation to the bike’s styling lines.
For the most part, though, there’s not much customization necessary to make the Roadster look cool. The fenders have been bobbed to the extreme, so they’re shorter than those on any other Sportster; the belt guard and muffler heat shields have racer-like slots for a sportier look; the taillights are integrated into the turn signals that are posted onto the bare-bones rear fender struts, and the license plate attaches to Harley’s signature Dark Customs left-side mounting system. Staring back at you is a 4″ electronic analog tachometer with built-in digital read-out speedo and gear indicator. All minimalist features that are popular with urban bikers.
And then there’s the seat. Positioned 30.9″ off the deck, it’s styled in the spirit of all café racers. The seat’s rear hump helps position you in the rider’s triangle, and you’ll notice a grab strap on the rear portion. That’s for a passenger (DOT law requires the strap), making this a two-up motorcycle. The upholstery is designed to mimic body armor that’s so popular among Millennials today, but, more to the point, the seat is so darn comfortable, yet slender enough for using body English when leaning left and right while cornering on your favorite back road.
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