2011 Harley Softail FXS Blackline | Review

2011 Harley-Davidson Test

Undoubtedly yours truly missed out on an obvious trick not doing any black lines when testing the Blackline. What was I thinking? Very little to tell you the truth, I just enjoyed the cruising in my home land Norway.

This is Harley-Davidson’s fifth addition (two Sportster’s, two Dyna’s and one Softail) to its moody and understated cool Dark Custom range and the first Softail model. Why Harley-Davidson didn’t call it the Black Bob is a mystery to me…

Now that Harley-Davidson has launched its 2012 range it’s clear that the Blackline after only existing for six months with a Twin Cam 96B has been upgraded to the Twin Cam 103 like all its other Softail cousins in the US.

In the Dark Custom range the Dyna Fat Bob has also been upgraded but the Dyna Street Bob still feature the 96B in the US. In Europe however all Softails apart from the Blackline has been upgraded to the Twin Cam 103.

One thing is certain though and that’s that I rode the 96B version. I know from testing bikes from the Harley-Davidson CVO range that the Twin Cam 103 is a lovely engine with plenty of oomph so to be honest I’d insist on the 103 if I were to buy a new Blackline now or demand a discount on the 96B version.

The Blackline is the top dog in the Dark Custom range but is it a better motorcycle than the uber cool and cheaper Forty-Eight?

Well first of all the Forty-Eight is a 1200cc Sportster with a tiny fuel tank whilst the Blackline is a big twin Softail with a large fuel tank and Twin Cam engine superbly susceptible to tuning and improvements. Basically for city usage and lifestyle (see and be seen) the Forty-Eight is brilliant whilst the Blackline is better for everything else particularly fuel range and front suspension (due to that large skinny front tyre).

What the Blackline does really well is cruising at low rpm and in original state it’s dead quiet and has you relax and enjoy the ride at low to medium speed. Between 20 and 60 MPH it’s a beautiful ride and remarkably free of vibrations from the big twin.

Even below 1000rpm you can use this 1584cc V-twin engine without too many complaints from the drive train. I found myself clicking up into sixth gear and overdrive as soon as I had the chance most of the time. The drive train is belt drive and acceleration from the word go is smooth and strong. The 18.9 litre fuel tank provided excellent range and I stopped more often because I was hungry than the Harley thirsty.

When I first fired up the Blackline I noticed that it has inherited the hand grenade start assembly on the left side under the fuel tank from the Rocker C. The footpegs are stretched forward for comfortable cruising and the split drag handlebar is a quite civilized stretch for me at least so that I sit upright.

On the motorway miles that I did quite a few were in torrential rain and I pushed my upper body as far forward as possible to make myself a bit smaller and a little bit less wet. They say that the color black shows no weakness, it also doesn’t show how wet you are after torrential rain.

I like riding with my legs stretched far forward and I could even have wished for an even further forward mounted footpegs. I was in any way riding for the duration of a fuel tank in comfort. The deep two up seat is the lowest Harley-Davidson offer and laden ride height is that of 610mm if you weigh 81.7 kilos. I weigh a little bit more and I also rode with pillion one day.

The pillion part of the seat is pretty much like sitting on a hard loaf of bread and there’s very little space. But then again the Blackline isn’t a touring bike; it’s a bob’d black and mean fashion cruiser.

My pillion passenger still reported she was happy with the ride and the suspension worked well two-up despite inevitably lightening the front a bit. The rear brake is the way to go even without a pillion for maximum stopping power.

On the 16 inch rear tire under the bobbed rear mudguard sits a 144mm tire and on the 21 inch front tyre a 90mm skinny tire that helps the raked front greatly with suspension action. As I mentioned before I rode a few miles in the rain and the Dunlop tyres coped well with this and I don’t know about you but I tend to speed up a bit if it starts raining to get my arse home as quick as possible and the narrow wheel profiles grips through the water and gets you safely home even in heavy rain.

The Blackline otherwise doesn’t like the rain much as I felt that it didn’t fuel as well after a fair few wet miles. I don’t know exactly why but water certainly must have penetrated somewhere it shouldn’t. Any hiccups disappeared as soon as it was dry again. The mirrors are placed ideally on the Blackline, for styling… Not for practical purposes like being able to see what happens behind you whilst riding upright however. I had to lower my arms or change head position to get a clear view behind me, very rebellious indeed. I like the Forty-Eight under handlebar solution a lot better as it works on both a practical and styling level.

2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline Conclusion

When I wasn’t riding on the motorways I ripped in and out of town, visiting tattoo parlors and that sort of places so I guess I’m the type of person Harley aims at with this bike. I like the Blackline but I don’t like it as much as the Sporty Forty (8) that I tested last year so I guess I can say that if you’re like me then you can save plenty of dollars by going for the cheaper 48.

If you’re daft enough to want any color other than the vivid black shown in this test then you also have to fork out a slightly hefty premium of £300 in the UK (or $500 in the US) for the privilege of half a tanks worth of paint. I’d choose a different Harley if I wanted colors as I for one don’t associate the words Dark Custom with a baby blue (Blue Pearl) paint job.

There is something that smells a little bit about all this not getting the Twin Cam 103 in Europe and the shrewd premium for a tiny amount of paint. It takes away something small but still significant from this great bike as a lifestyle product. I say get the Forty-Eight in stead and if you still want the Blackline then wait for the Twin Cam 103 or the hefty discount for the 96B, whichever comes first.

2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline Positives

  • Decent Fuel range
  • Styling, first Softail in the Dark Custom range
  • Cruising abilities (would have been even better with the 103 though…)

2011 Harley-Davidson Softail Blackline Negatives

  • Mirrors a bit useless from comfort riding position
  • For a Dark Custom Top Dog I don’t think Harley-Davidson has done enough to make the Blackline($15,499 vivid black) significantly more attractive a concept than the cheaper Street Bob ($4,000 cheaper) and Forty-Eight ($7,300 cheaper).