For the past couple of years, Harley-Davidson has decided to take a closer look at its small-bike portfolio. Small is a very relative term when it comes to Harley – the big-hearted conqueror of American outdoors, however, when it comes to their Asia-pacific market, the likes of the Street 750, the Iron 883 and the Forty-Eight have been selling in big numbers. This made them the first set of Harleys we rode from the marque’s 2016 lineup.
It seemed fitting that the bikes be ridden in the ultra-modern confines of Tokyo. The trio is essentially tailored for urban environs, and the Sportsters’ grungy appeal contrasted rather well with Tokyo’s bright, cyberpunk mainland. The Iron and the Forty-Eight have been given the Dark Custom treatment by Harley as a nod to the marque’s custom-friendly history. According to H-D, 89% of their customers worldwide choose to customise their motorcycles, with an accessory list that’s nearly as old as the company.
The Iron 883 and the Forty-Eight lend themselves to customisation quite easily – both possess an unmistakably metropolitan quality. Both are significantly lighter than Harley’s flagship range of motorcycles while being more stripped out in form. Prior to riding around the streets of Tokyo, we went knocking on the doors of Cherry’s Company – a private custom building outfit headed by Kaichiroh Kurosu – one of the Japan’s most prominent chopper builders who spoke at length about the philosophy behind customising motorcycles and how he goes about making those motorcycles. Kurosu lavishes considerable attention to each unit, highlighting the differences in the logistics of customisation that lie between a private builder and a manufacturer. This is where Harley-Davidson’s Senior Industrial Designer Dais Nagao comes in. A fan of Kurosu’s work, Nagao has worked for the Harley-Davidson U.S design team for a little over a decade, and hails from a generation of Japanese H-D aficionados who are heavily involved in the custom chopper building scene. His personal attention to detail and love for one-offs has led to the Sportsters’ design changes.
The Sportster series (Iron 883 and the 1200cc Forty-Eight) gets reworked tank graphics along with other mechanical changes which lower their overall weight. The bikes get reworked seating and suspension with the rear shocks getting adjustable preload. The Forty-Eight also gets 49mm front forks along with a bigger brace. With its other visual trademarks such as the ‘peanut’ tank and the wide, high-profile front tyre, the Forty-Eight still remains a very handsome motorcycle, its street-cred now enhanced with more industrial shades of black and grey.
As gutted clouds carpeted Tokyo with rain, we rode around the city’s mainland, trundling about at low speeds. With the engine still the same as before the Sportsters weren’t significantly different in feel from the previous generation models. It’s still a decent mix of primal and modern as far as engine note and acceleration is concerned. The seating position is aggressive, but the seat material and shape has been reworked for greater comfort. Harley informed us that the bikes were Japanese spec, and conforming to Japanese homologation rules, had taller gearing than the ones we will get. This seemed less noticeable since we coasted at low speeds but on the whole the bike is still a fine urban tribute to classic motorcycling. The Iron 883 and the Forty-Eight will retail at Rs 7.37 and Rs 9.12 lakh, respectively (ex-showroom, Delhi).
The more significant mechanical changes were to be found in the Street 750. The Street is quite a maverick Harley. It’s small and agile and with its feral little Revolution X engine, it possesses a remarkable urgency to it that makes it a good companion for its namesake. However, the debuting model did have the odd quality issue. The wiring was a bit messy, and the brakes really lacked bite, which can be a bit disconcerting with a motorcycle that accelerates the way the Street does. Harley seem to have paid particular attention to that and it’s safe to say that the issue is resolved. They’ve employed a brand new Brembo brake system which didn’t seem unnerved by wet roads. The front disk feels sharp and reassuring and the overall stopping power feels augmented thanks to lesser travel in the brakes. According to H-D, the bike will also be equipped with ABS come 2017.
The Street could have benefitted from some more of that Dark Custom treatment, although it does get the new Dark Custom paint scheme. However, with a starting price of Rs 4.52 lakh, the Street remains the most affordable and easily customised Harley platform for any chopper fan out there, making it an excellent project bike. You need only take a look at some of the perfectly functional and slick looking Street-customs that have surfaced over the last year (check out the Rajputana Brat café racer and the Moto Miu Katanga Uno)
The new 2016 lineup also includes the Heritage Softail and the Roadking, both of which get a new set of upgrades. All Softails get high output Twin Cam Rushmore engines which pack more power and torque (14 kgm) and wire throttle enabled cruise control. Along with this, the new Heritage Softail Classic – Harley’s most traditional tourer, also gets new saddlebag support and a new set of fuel tank badges – all for Rs 16.60 (Ex-Delhi). The new Roadking – one of Harley’s premium touring bikes also returns to the lineup, sitting right below the range-topping H-D Street Glide at Rs 25 lakh.
Harley also launched their Asia Pacific wide Ultimate Test Ride competition which allows riders to win a free Iron 883, Forty-Eight or Street 750 by applying for a free test ride of the updated versions of the models at their nearest H-D dealership. The winner gets a free trip to Harley-Davidson’s home in Milwaukee, where h/she gets to design his/her own personalised Dark Custom Harley, with Dais Nagao.