Harley-Davidson bolsters the Sportster range with 2016 Roadster

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The 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster in Black Denim color(Credit: Harley-Davidson)

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The latest addition to the Sportster 1200 family draws its inspiration from 1960s garage-built customs, and is a proud member of the Dark Custom tribe. Trading its chrome for technical updates, the XL 1200CX is a bare-knuckle Roadster with lots of attitude and some extra grunt to support it.

The basic idea behind the Dark Custom series is to hone select Harley-Davidson models with a dark, Spartan and homemade feel, while encouraging personalization with a thorough after-market parts list. The Roadster joins the ranks of seven motorcycles that trace their roots to some of Harley-Davidson's most iconic families. We have representatives of the Street range (750), Sportster (883 Iron, Forty-Eight, Seventy-Two), Dyna (Street Bob, Fat Bob) and a select member of the S Series with the mighty Screamin' Eagle Twin Cam 110 engine (Low Rider S).

Visually the Roadster bears an acute resemblance to 883 Iron and Forty-Eight, apparently due to their Sportster kinship. So how is it positioned in this team, especially next to the Forty-Eight that shares the same engine and frame platform? The new model is designed for riders with a sportier taste, and Harley-Davidson made sure that all the changes in the bike's running gear point to this end.

First of all there is a notable shift in the frame geometry, as the Roadster's rake is steeper by 1.2 degrees compared to the other 1200 models. The brand new cast aluminum wheels measure 19 and 18 inches at the front (120/70) and rear (150/70) respectively.

The suspensions are also new, with an inverted set of 43 mm cartridge forks at the front and a pair of preload-adjustable emulsion-type shocks at the rear. A couple of floating 300 mm disks with two-piston calipers is theoretically also in perfect tune with the bike's sporty character.

The choice of taller suspension is intriguing, probably selected in search of more clearance for deeper lean angles. The Roadster can lean down to 31 degrees, but what's more interesting is that according to Harley-Davidson, this is the Sportster with the longest suspension travel – 4.5 in (115 mm) front and 3.2 in (81 mm) rear. An obvious side effect concerns the seat height, which rises to 30.9 in (785 mm) – as we cannot help but ponder what kind of impression will this have on the bike's weight distribution and, consequently, its handling.

The Evolution 1200 engine is employed in its latest form, with aluminum heads and cylinders for better heat dissipation and less weight. Compared to the other Sportster 1200 models, the Roadster's 45-degree V-Twin enjoys a little more torque a little bit higher, as the maximum value reaches 76 lb-ft (10.5 Nm) at 3,750 rpm (70.8 lb-ft/9.8 Nm at 3,500 rpm for the Fort-Eight). It may not exactly constitute a paradigm-shifting development, yet it is a welcome bonus to an engine renowned for its punchy low-rpm performance in the first place.

Optional equipment includes ABS brake support – probably standard in European versions – and a Smart Security System featuring wireless ignition controlled via a hands-free key fitted with proximity sensor.

The Roadster will start arriving in US showrooms in May at a starting price of US$11,199, while European customers will have to wait an extra month for the new Dark Custom to cross the Atlantic.

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