2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster Review | Urban, Rural, and Highway Test
When I took a first look at the new 2016 Harley-Davidson Sportster Roadster, I was definitely underwhelmed. With the low, droopy bars (“slammed drag-style handlebar” according to Harley) it looked like a fashion exercise designed to appeal to the neo café racer crowd—a motorcycle designed to look good, rather than ride well. Sure, the Roadster was sporting beefy inverted forks and twin front discs, but I wasn’t convinced.
Sitting on the Roadster for the first time didn’t change my opinion much. The bars weren’t quite as extreme as I thought, and they are much wider than clip-ons. The air cleaner bumped my right knee due to the mid-positioning, so I figured that rides on the Harley-Davidson Roadster would be short and semi-sweet. Going in, I had low expectations…and then I rode it.Starting up any Harley-Davidson (save the Street models) is an exercise in expectation building. The explosive cacophony and dancing of the motor stirs the blood, and the Roadster is no exception. As the 1202cc Evolution motor growls to life, it reminds me of how much I enjoy most of the Sportster line.Astride the 2016 Roadster with the motor running, I started to realize that this Sporty wasn’t that alien to me. It’s a compact triangle from the seat to the pegs to the grips and back, and the reach from the seat to the grips wasn’t as awkward as I expected. Taking off, things went in a good direction quickly.Although the oddly padded seat annoyed my posterior through my Drayko Drift jeans, I didn’t think I’d be riding it long enough at a stretch for that to matter. But, much to my surprise, just a few minutes in, the ergonomics of the Roadster spoke to me, and they said, “Let’s have fun!”Yes, the air cleaner is still in the way, necessitating a bow-legged riding position, and there is a bit of a lean-forward position. As I became acclimated to the Roadster, the gently slight forward lean began to feel natural and I did approve of the mid-position pegs.Visit the Ultimate MotorCycling Cruiser Motorcycle Reviews PageThe Santa Monica Mountains beckoned, and off I went. I quickly fell completely in love with the 2016 Harley-Davidson Sportster Roadster. The brawny torque runs from 2000 rpm up to the redline of 6000 rpm—yes, the Roadster has a prominent analog tachometer—so dialing in the right speed requires little effort. Gear shifting is optional on most backroads, once you get up to speed.Now, while that powerband of 2k to 6k sounds good, there is a caveat. Although the rubber-mounted Evolution motor is smooth from 2000 to 4000 rpm, like clockwork, as the tach hits 4k, serious vibes start coming through the pegs. The more you rev, the more your feet are punished, and by the time the rev limiter kicks in, your feet are crying for mercy. Short shift and your feet will thank you.Here’s what really makes the Roadster work for me—the front end. The combination of the fat 19” Dunlop tire, no-flex 43mm inverted forks, and high-leverage bars, gives plenty of confidence in the twisties. It seems that the café-look is more than just about styling. This is a Sportster that hasn’t forgotten that Sport is in the name of the line.When I ride the Roadster through the canyons, I know I’m not setting any sort of speed records, and I’m good with that. I’m still going fast enough to have a friendly chat with law enforcement, and not that many people out for an enjoyable (rather than competitive) ride are going to be passing me.In addition to the good feeling the Harley-Davidson Roadster’s front end gives to me during cornering, there’s also the confidence distributed by the twin disc brakes. While they aren’t going to cause any inadvertent stoppies, they definitely make deceleration happen.Cornering clearance is pretty good at over 30 degrees on both sides. The Dunlops will take you right to the peg feelers without a hint of drama, so you can grind to your heart’s content. Really, though, in the normal process of riding the Roadster around corners, fast and slow, I rarely touched down even as I was leaning as much as I’d like.With a fork angle of 27.4 degrees and a wheelbase over 59 inches, not to mention a curb weight of 586 pounds, the 2016 Harley-Davidson Sportster Roadster approaches cornering from a position of stability. Set up a line, and stick to it. The Roadster is fun to ride, but ride to its strengths, not its weaknesses. Use corner speed, rather than braking hard, abruptly changing direction, and then getting hard on the gas. Instead, pick a good line, move through at a good pace, and get on the gas early.Harley-Davidson put the new upgraded Sportster suspension on the Roadster, and it shows. The 43mm cartridge forks, lacking any sort of flex and held by impressively beefy triple clamps, work smoothly, and the 4.5 inches of travel are well regulated. I liked the new emulsion shocks on the Iron 883, and was even more impressed by them on the Roadster. The suspension at both ends does a good job of handling road irregularities on back roads, either in a straight line or a corner.As much as I enjoyed cruising through canyons at a good clip, the 2016 Harley-Davidson Sportster Roadster is also meant to be seen, as are all Harleys. So, I spent a solid amount of time making my way through the streets of urban Los Angeles.Approving nods were common, and at red lights the driver of the car next to me would gaze at the Roadster longingly as the dual shorty exhausts emit an impressive, but not intimidating, EPA-legal growl. The Roadster has the rakish look of the sport bike mixed with the classic seriously bobbed styling around a big air-cooled pushrod V-twin, with suitable touches like small blacked out mirrors and a side-mounted license plate. The Roadster looks like what a lot of people think a motorcycle should look like, and that comes from a heritage that dates back to the iconic 1957 Harley-Davidson XL Sportster.On my first long city ride in which I took the 3.3-gallon tank from full to the low-fuel light without dismounting, I kept expecting to be fatigued by either the odd ribbed seat, or the low bars. Hours later, the negative expectations failed to be realized. I pulled into the gas station, filled up, and off I went for a few more hours—no problem. Eventually, though, on the longest rides on city streets, I did start to wish for bars an inch or so higher.However, a trip on the freeway quickly damps that desire. The 2016 Harley-Davidson Sportster Roadster is a demon on city freeways. It feels amazingly nimble at high speeds, even if it does get bounced around quite a bit by expansion joints, and the torquey motor makes it easy to put the Roadster where you want it and the nicely spaced cogs make five speeds all you need.The forward lean is absolutely perfect at 65 mph or so, and more than once I glanced down at the cool (though a bit small) digital speed readout and unexpectedly noticed that I was doing over 80. There aren’t many Sportsters that make you feel like you’re going slower than you thought! The Roadster would make for a fantastic commuter bike.When Harley-Davidson discontinued the XR1200X, there weren’t a lot of mourners, even though many had been begging for the bike. That was a bike that promised a lot more sport than the Sportster delivered, and I always felt disappointed riding it.The 2016 Harley-Davidson Sportster Roadster does exactly the opposite, and this is the sporty Sportster that we really want. It’s a bike that looks like a Millennial marketer’s dream, but is actually a motorcycle that works great. The Roadster is fun to ride in the city and on backroads, as well as on the freeway, and it represents well on the boulevard as a brilliantly conceived package.Photography by Kelly CallanRiding Style
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!