A cool start to the year: Harley-Davidson Sportster Roadster


Story: Mat Durrans
Happy New Year readers, I hope 2018 will be safe and fun for my fellow bikers, and if you’re not yet on two wheels then perhaps now’s the time to change your life for the better.

Turning to a life on two wheels often comes from a desire for more practicality in your life. Choose the right bike and transport becomes much more cost effective, more fun and will buy you that most precious of commodities, time. You only need to glide past the one traffic jam to understand what we bikers already know: you have to be mad to waste your life in a stationary car.

A couple of years ago I persuaded a mate to give motorcycle commuting a go because I was fed up of hearing how he wasted, on average, very nearly 20 hours a week travelling between his Pretoria home and Jo’burg office. Now he and his very sensible Honda NC750 are saving more than R1000 a month in fuel costs and, much more importantly, he has an extra two hours with which to do something each day.

That’s not far off two whole days per month, or an extra three weeks of ‘you-time’ over the course of a year. Short of winning the lottery there’s nothing else that offers such a significant positive influence on your life.

While you ponder, perhaps for the first time, the enormity of that little nugget of information, let me touch on a bike that you might consider for your first foray into enlightenment. You might reasonably consider the affordable, practical, easy to ride and ever so slightly dull Honda NC 750 that I so confidently recommended to my mate.

Nothing wrong with that, it’s close to being the ideal commuting machine. It is also, however – a bit like my friend – about as stylish as a pair of Wellington boots on a Paris catwalk. Honda has, quite rightly, determined that the NC’s form should take a very definite back seat to function.

MY17 XL1200CX Roadster. Sportster

If you’re the sort of person who values style then I’ve recently been riding the ideal first big bike for you. In a time when everything from yesteryear automatically seems to ooze cool, Harley-Davidsons have a definite advantage because their products are authentically retro. Some might say that’s because they were also never really new in the first place, and it is undeniably true that Harleys trade, unashamedly, on this history.

The Roadster is part of the Sportster range which is the cheapest way to get into the Harley-Davidson family. Having first appeared over half a century ago in 1957, Sportsters naturally exude the sort of retro-chic that many pretenders can only dream about.

The Roadster takes this cool factor and cranks it up to ’11’, but retains enough practicality to make it a perfectly viable commuter. The 1 202cc V-twin only kicks out a very modest 44Kw or so (H-D don’t publish official power figures) but there’s a useful amount of torque to make a decent level of progress if you’re in the mood.

Don’t expect any extra performance over the standard Sportster though, Harley tried giving us a ‘hot’ Sportster in 2008 with the XR1200. It was styled like a flat-tracker and I loved it, but I was one of only a very few apparently – the XR was a sales flop and production soon halted.

The Forty-Eight arrived two years later and was styled with a small ‘peanut’ tank, wire wheels, lowered suspension and no increase in performance. It was a massive sales success. The message was clear, Harley customers value traditional looks over performance.

Harley-Davidson Roadster

The Roadster takes the same ingredients as the Forty-Eight but enlarges the peanut tank from a borderline useless 7,9 litres to a useful (for a cruiser) 12,5 litres. Cut-down fenders and a low seat height keep the minimalist look of the Forty-Eight but a different riding position gives a sportier feel.

The handlebar has been dropped and pushed forward a touch while the footpegs have been move rearwards. Small changes but enough to pull the rider over the front end and put you in the mood to appreciate corners rather than simply tolerating them.

Look carefully and you’ll notice something not often seen on a Harley, a set of upside-down forks. Combined with twin dual-rate springs at the rear the ride is surprisingly cosseting for a cruiser, and isn’t averse to bombing into a turn at most un-Harley like speeds.

Comfort is good enough for an hour or two of commuting, and the low seat height means this is an ideal beginner’s first big bike.

Of course there are also one or two irritations, but they aren’t deal-breakers. The instruments are almost impossible to read in bright sunlight, there’s some disappointingly scruffy wiring poking out here and there, and the footpegs now stab you in the leg every time you come to a stop. Forget the apology for a pillion seat, too; give anyone a lift on the Roadster and they’ll never speak to you again it’s so terrifyingly uncomfortable.

But who wants a pillion along for the ride anyway? They spoil the look of what is a lovely bike and upset the balance of this surprisingly sporty Sportster, which can be yours for a not too unreasonable R160 000.


First published in The Sowetan Newspaper

Below is Harry Fisher’s video review of the Roadster and below that are specs and a gallery:



Specs and model feature – click to download:

Harley Davidson Roadster-int


Gallery – Click to enlarge: