A loveable and affordable Harley-Davidson

PAUL OWEN
Last updated 07:17 28/01/2013
Harley-Davidson XL1200CB.
Fairfax NZ

HARLEY-DAVIDSON XL1200CB: Smaller, lighter, and most of all stubbier in the wheelbase than the models that share floor space with it.

Harley-Davidson XL1200CB.
Fairfax NZ
SLIM SADDLEBAGS: Not as capacious as proper panniers, but a boon when threading through traffic.
Harley-Davidson XL1200CB.
Fairfax NZ
SPORSTER 1200: It's only 10 horsepower short of the 1690cc Harley, and round 100kg lighter.

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Normally, the Harley-Davidson XL1200CB is a stripped-down minimalist streetbike with chopper-inspired ''ape-hanger'' handlebars and a matt-black paint job that adds a touch of rock n' roll.

AT A GLANCE
Engine: 1200cc air-cooled 45-degree OHV V-twin stoked by fuel injection to develop 107Nm of torque at 4000rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed sequential gearbox, belt final drive.
Frame: Steel tube double-cradle with unadjustable front forks and twin shocks adjustable for spring preload.
Price: $17,150 (as tested: $18,753.50).
Hot: High bars and flat-black paint add hot-rod appeal to affordable and loveable Sportster 1200.

Not: You go slower through right-hand corners due to low-slung mufflers; single front disc needs a mate.

However, the addition a couple of factory accessories from the bible-sized Harley catalogue transformed the test bike into something else again.

With a quick-detach windscreen and a pair of leatherette saddlebags added, this Sporty was transformed into a lighter, more easily-managed version of the iconic Road King.

Consider it a Kinglet, and a bike perfectly sized for hobbits, women riders, or blokes like me who tend to find Harley's bigger air-cooled V-twin models a little too flashy, ponderous, and OTT.

For there's a purity to the Sportster range that I'd find hard to go past if I ever ventured into a Harley-Davidson showroom with the intention of spending my own money. Sporties are smaller, lighter, and most of all stubbier in their wheelbase than the stretched-out behemoths that share floor space with them. They therefore possess chassis qualities that make them a better match for our often serpentine backroads, yet these extra cornering athletics come at little cost to style. A Sportster retains the same low-slung profile that makes it instantly recognisable as one of the semi-religious deities of the Church of Milwaukee, with the same proportions as a Big Twin, but with everything shrunk to a smaller scale.

Less is definitely more when selecting a Harley for use on routes other than just the main arteries of the road network in this country.

A 1202cc Sportster might make roughly 10 fewer horsepower than a 1690cc Harley, but it generally weighs around 100kg less and rides on a wheelbase reduced by 100mm or more. The result is that straight-line performance is on a par, but the Sportster is the much more agile and flick-worthy bike to ride. That the hobbit-sized Harleys are so much more affordable allows greater opportunities to go on a spending spree through the motor company's accessory catalogue.

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All up, the bike you see here costs $18,753.50 - a huge saving over the $34,250 price of a FLHR Road King. The sum consists of the initial $17,150 purchase price of an XL1200CB with the $741.50 synthetic saddlebags, a $166.80 rear turn signal relocation kit, and the $695.20 windscreen added in. Like the rest of the XL, the quality of the accessories is impressive. Plastic clips located beneath the buckles of the bags speed up access to their contents, and the screen has a well-applied coating of chrome covering its metal bits and can be detached or adjusted for height in seconds without resorting to tools.

Like most Harley luggage systems, the saddlebags are quite narrow - a boon when filtering through urban congestion but it does make them a little challenged for volume. Fortunately the stock seat of the CB model isn't very pillion-friendly, so you'll only ever have to pack for one on a long ride.

The screen is something every CB buyer should consider, particularly as it makes the high bars feel much more comfortable. Making like an orang-utan hanging from a tree isn't the most aerodynamic riding position, but the screen makes it sustainable over long distances while providing welcome weather protection. If you don't like the high bars of the CB Sportster, there's the CA version with flatter handlebars and footpegs moved a little further to the rear. However, the CA doesn't have the wire-spoked wheels of the CB nor the flat-black paint, two of the most attractive features of the latter Sportster.

Harley's 1200cc 45-degree V-twin opens a window to the past like no other engine in the Milwaukee bike maker's range. It dances like St Vitus - the patron saint of dancers, actors, comedians - at rest, and the Sportster frame's rubber engine mounts only just contain the vibes to tolerable levels when on the move. Gear-shifting is a laboriously slow process yet there is never a missed shift or false neutral.

I got off the XL1200CB wearing a huge grin every ride. The bike's neutral steering definitely helped, although I'd still like to sharpen up the front geometry a little by fitting a longer set of rear shocks that would also increase the cornering clearance.

Braking performance was only good enough for the modest performance that the powertrain supplies, and the rudimentary suspension also won't win any awards.

But it's not so much how a Harley goes that matters: it's how they make you feel.

This particular Sportster gave me the ''warm fuzzies'' every time. It had a priceless ability to me feel like a Prince of the Road.

- The Press

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