Back in 2008 I was invited to blast up the 405 to a quaint little establishment called the Viper Room in West Hollywood to enjoy a night of fine dining and exquisite drinks all while admiring Harley’s newest model, the Cross Bones. Flash forward three years to this past January, and I found myself at Don Hills in New Yorka similarly romantically lit venue with high-class amenities such as brass structural supports running floor-to-ceiling, and a highly eclectic crowd of media types and hipsters, or something like that. The major difference between the two events was this time I was nearly 3,000 miles from my office, freezing my twin cams off, and instead of admiring a classically bobbed Springer, I was face-to-face with a more stripped-down Softail, the 2011 Harley Blackline.
Ok, cutesy, sarcastic analogies aside, the Blackline launch at Don Hills in SoHo and the Cross Bones launch in WeHo were perfect venues for the vibe and audience H-D is aiming at with these Dark Custom models. Like the rest of the Dark Custom line, Harley is trying to show the younger generation and new riders that they have a line of bikes that will appeal to them, are ready to be customized to their liking, and can be ridden to the local dive bar or on a cross country trip.
The Blackline represents Harley’s attempt at stripping a bike down as much as possible and still clearing all the DOT hoops it has to jump through as a motorcycle manufacturer. The designers behind this new model really studied the Softail frame and knew that the appeal that draws many is the rigid look of the frame. So they tried to keep the bike as minimal as possible by stripping away the bulky dash/speedo mount found on most Softails and replaced it with a streamlined centerpiece. The speedo was then moved to the new top clamp and sits between the new Split Drag handlebars. To clean up the front of the bike even further, the bars have been internally wired and the fuel gauge/left-side gas cap was tossed making for a much smoother appearance on the top of the tank. The FX fronted sports black powdercoated triple trees and fork lowers, with a narrow black ano profile laced aluminum front wheel nestled in between. Actually Harley seems to get that thin is in as the rear of the bike sits on a 16x3-inch rim with a 144mm Dunlop.
The somewhat bobber look of the bike comes from the rear fender which is actually devoid of the bobtail or flared up tip found on the majority of the Softail line and sits high and tight on over the rear tire. The fender is secured in place by new raw forged fender supports finished in Black Denim powdercoat. Keeping with the slim and tight appearance, a new 5-3/4-inch headlight was tucked in tight between the top and bottom triple trees, and a one-piece two-up seat and passenger pillion help give the Blackline the lowest seat height in the H-D lineup: 24 inches.
Aesthetically the Blackline line is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the Dark Custom line: dark. The majority of the bike is black in some form or another, whether it’s paint, powdercoat, or anodizing. Probably the coolest part of the color, if you will, is the engine. Part silver powdercoat, black powdercoat, black wrinkle, gloss black, and chrome, the 96ci/six-speed drivetrain catches your eyes yet blends in at the same time. Oh, and the round air cleaner, well it screams back to basics! plain and simple.
In talking with the some of the design team, Ray Drea, Vice President and Director of Styling, Korry Vorndran, Staff Engineer-Softail Platform and Casey Ketterhagen Industrial Designer/Stylist II it became evident that this bike was created with a young rider/newer customizer in mind. While still meeting all required DOT specs, the designers created this Softail to be easily customizable and stripped down even further by even novice hacks. My only gripe is that while H-D tried to deliver functional style and simple garage customability at a price point that would appeal to new and young riders, I think it’s still a little too high at an MSRP of $15,499 for Vivid Black or $15,998 for two-tone Cool Blue Pearl or Sedona Orange with Vivid Black. If they could knock off another $1,500, or better yet 2Gs, they would definitely be in the price range for financially strapped students or on-the-fence Sportster owners to step up in payments and sign on the dotted line.
While the weather didn’t quite cooperate with us for some seat time, and the crowd at Don Hills was a little too inebriated to be trusted as road course cones for a few hot laps, we hope to get a leg over the Blackline soon for a ride report and more thorough review. HB