When we think of Harley-Davidson, we think of outlaw motorcycle gangs, burly, fierce men and roaring choppers. However, it’s high time those myths were dispelled. In recent years, #HarleyDavidson has turned its focus to the city, targeting the young urbanite in an attempt to make this historic company relevant to bikers under 40.
Couple this with the enormous growth of the custom motorcycle scene, which has already seen the rebirth of classic styling and endless customisation packages through the Triumph Thruxton R and the BMW R Nine T, and you get a phenomenally modern brand.
So as I arrive at The Bike Shed in Shoreditch, a citadel for the custom motorcycle scene, I anxiously await the unveiling of the all-new Dark Custom range. The premise of the Dark Custom range is to fortify Harley-Davidson as one of the greats in the custom scene.
But wait, wasn’t Harley-Davidson the forbearer of custom motorcycles? Simply put, yes. From the explosion of the chopper culture in the 60’s, Harley-Davidson has been the number one motorcycle brand for customisation. But they’re now making it infinitely easier for the city chap to buy a stock bike and customise it with a seemingly endless extra-parts catalogue provided through their in-house kits.
And the whole idea is to give those who dream of riding a completely customised bike the ability to do so easily, without the prerequisite of superior mechanical knowhow.
The bike I’m offered is the new Street Bob® Special, a mammoth 103 cubic inch cruiser, which gives buckets of torque in the low end, making it surprisingly nippy, despite its 300kg weight.
I’ve always been a fan of Harley-Davidson, there’s something undeniably masculine about every bike in its extensive range. Also, the the reliability, performance and styling of its iconic V-Twin has mesmerised me since I was a young boy.
In the City
I’m excited to have this bike for the day. Although the rain is pouring and the ground is saturated, I get the beast nimbly through the London traffic. However, a motorcycle like the Street Bob® Special certainly isn’t Harley’s most practical for city living.
The Low-rider S®, the new Roadster™, the Forty-Eight®, and especially the brand-new, relatively miniscule Street 750® are all far more suited to busy streets, but the Street Bob® Special manages very well nonetheless.
On the Open Road
So I take the bike out of London and steam towards the Ashdown Forest, and my does it go. Twisting the throttle hard, you feel the engine rocket into motion and propel you at break-neck speed, even with a pillion on the back. Although the top speed isn’t much to brag about (you never buy a Harley for speed) the acceleration is beyond impressive, which is where the most fun is had.
Getting low in the corners and feeling the foot pegs scrape against the asphalt is seriously fun. When I return, I’m completely adept at riding through the traffic. A few hours of acclimatisation and I weave the enormous bike through the rush-hour traffic as if it were a scooter. I’m grinning from ear to ear, even though I’m soaked to the core; I’ve completely fallen in love with this machine.
Keyless Ignition Makes Life Easy
Excitingly, I’m allowed to keep the bike for the next couple of weeks to see what it’s like to ride from day to day, and also on longer journeys. Perhaps the best thing about it is the keyless ignition. I’m forever forgetting my bike keys, so the ability to simply leave the fob securely zipped in my pocket is not only revolutionary, but also a fundamentally brilliant tool for riding around the city, parking up, and never having to worry.
I then decide to ride to Devon. As a cruiser, I want to know what it’s really like to cruise on. And I’m blown away! I’ve never ridden a more comfortable motorcycle. The forward pegs and wide, cruiser handlebars make you feel like you’re sitting in an armchair, and you can happily bob (pun intended) along in 6th gear for hours upon hours.
Even on the country roads, the bike handles superbly. Of course, it’s no sports bike and you’re never going to get serious angles around corners, but for what it is, the Street Bob® Special is certainly up there. So I’ve discovered that it is a dream on the open road, a gem in the city, and packs enough punch to put hairs on your chest. I’m wholeheartedly impressed!
Harley-Davidson Deep Customisation Options
The Harley bikes are, as we aficionados are well aware, amazing machines. So what is the Dark Custom range really about? As every Harley dealership has a Custom King: a motorcycle guru to balance mechanical performance with artistic styling, every possible customisation you could imagine can be done at the drop of a hat.
So to decipher what’s possible, and in true Harley-Davidson fashion, some of the best Custom Kings in the UK were given the 2016 Iron 833™ to fashion into a complete one off in the Battle of the Kings. Although all the contenders were viable candidates to take the crown, London’s own Warr’s, located on Kings Road, come out on top.
As a great example of what can be done with time, an aesthetic eye and a stock Harley, the Battle of the Kings was a true manifestation of Harley’s superior custom capabilities.
I suppose the primary notion to take from this whole adventure is the diversity and usability of Harley-Davidson. It is a modern brand, perfectly tuned for life in the city, but with enough thrust to make every possible riding scenario a fun one. Now the question you should ask yourself is not; ‘should I buy a Harley?’ It’s ‘when?’
For More Information: http://www.harley-davidson.co.uk