If you didn’t drive a car for a few years, it might be a bit strange to get back behind the wheel again, weird, but probably not scary. If you don’t ride a motorcycle for a long time, however, and then someone asks you to get on a good ol’ Harley-Davidson, fear is definitely the emotion that will flood your brain – trust me.
As the friendly folks in their very cool branded clothing rode the brand new Sportster S into the press conference and parked it right next to my elbow, ticking menacingly, I started to wonder whether I would actually remember how to ride a motorcycle at all. The fact that I was surrounded by professional bike reviewers – all of them bearded, brusque and scowling at me – who proceeded to pull wheelies as they left the car park, did not help.
Fortunately the Sportster S is slightly less beefy and a lot less heavy than the bikes you probably think of when you hear the word “Harley”. It was described as “an approachable seat-height motorcycle”, a “Performance Cruiser” and “slim and small enough for most people”, which was all encouraging, as were the press shots of a tiny woman riding one.
In the past, Harleys have looked, and in particular sounded, like the kind of motorcycles that don’t want to be ridden. Barking beasts that needed to be tamed by men with forearms like thighs and nasty words tattooed on their chests.
I am delighted to report that riding the Sportster S, however, is so easy that it was like… well, like riding a bike. And that doing so made me remember why, and how much, I love motorcycles in general – the wind rushing at you, the sense of being so close and intimate with the road that you’re almost part of it, the visceral violence of their acceleration.
This Harley apparently has a 34-degree lean angle, which sounds pretty good, but I didn’t feel like it would be safe to really crank it over into a corner, for fear the foot pegs would hit the ground. The riding position is more about comfort, or cruising, than carving into bends.
As a cruiser, however, it is a delight, with its 1250cc 60-degree V-twin engine producing plentiful torque, which means you can be as lazy as you like with your gear changes, although you will want to give it a big blip on each down change, just to hear that distinctive bass boom that Harley builds into its exhaust systems.
Speaking of which, they are loud, but not as deafening as you might hope, or at least not until you get them home and do some after-market work, which just about every Harley owner seems to be an expert at.
The exhaust pipes are, however, extremely prominent, riding up high on the Sportster S, which looks fantastic – as does the bike over all. The designers admitted, however, that they made life difficult for the engineers by putting them up there.
Clearly, the pipes are going to sit very close to the inside of the rider’s right leg, and the engineers were quick to tell the guys with the crayons that this would be a challenge, and possibly a bad idea. But Harley-Davidson is the kind of company where function must follow form, and not the other way around, so the blokes on the tools were told to go away and design several layers of heat shielding so the designers could make the Sportser S look the way they wanted it to.
The result is, in the words of one senior Harley exec we spoke to, is a bike that looks “cool as hell”, which seems appropriate (to be fair, the exhaust does still cook the inside of your leg just a bit, but sometimes you have to suffer for your art).
For such an aggressive and impressive bike to look at, I’m delighted to report that the new Harley-Davidson Sportser S is incredibly easy to ride, even for someone completely out of practice, and also the sort of motorcycle that just makes you want to ride more often. If only I had a spare $26,495 sitting spare to buy one…