Why the New Harley-Davidson Roadster Could Reinvent the Sportster

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Introducing the 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster, the Newest Sportster

2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster Sportster
The 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster Sportster, ridden. Harley-Davidson

The Harley-Davidson Sportster's history is long, storied, and unique. Introduced in 1957, the Sportster became a linchpin in the Harley lineup by offering an affordable runabout that allowed a common entry point into the fabled brand. While other manufacturer models came and went, the Sportster stuck around because of its enduring style and distinct personality.

Just as surely as times change, relative newcomers like the Star Bolt R-Spec and C-Spec come along with viable (and affordable) alternatives to the Motor Company's old guard bike. Enter 2016, and the Roadster, Harley's newest Sportster, introduces a modernized take on the familiar model. Launched with this "Cut Loose" commercial that recalls the simple thrill of riding a bike, the Roadster reinterprets old school Sportsters with revised styling and updated mechanicals.

Why does the Roadster promise to breathe new life into the Sportster lineup? Click 'Next' to find out.


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It All Starts With Wheels

2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster
The Roadster's cast aluminum wheels were inspired by classic laced designs. Harley-Davidson

The Sportster has long been criticized for its harsh ride, and the Roadster aims to quiet those critics with its revised suspension setup. But first and foremost in the battle for a smooth ride is unsprung mass, because nothing makes suspension work hard like a heavy wheel.

The Roadster features lightweight laced aluminum wheels which Harley-Davidson Industrial Designer Ben McGinley says are "the most intricate cast wheel we’ve ever created." The Offset-Split 5-Spoke wheels measure 19 inches up front and 18 inches at the rear,  Roadster's reduced unsprung weight along with its revised suspension should dramatically improve its ride quality. Don't mistake the Roadster for a featherweight, however: with a curb weight of 568 pounds, she's still got considerable heft to her frame.

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Modernized Handling

2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster Suspension
The Roadster's suspension finally enters the 21st century. Harley-Davidson

Unlike previous Sportsters whose suspension travel measured as little as 1.6 inches, the new Roadster features considerably more movement: 4.5 inches up front, and 3.2 inches at the rear. The upgrade from the shallow riding suspension means the Roadster should soak up bumps and offer a far more civilized ride.

Working in conjunction with the lighter weight wheels, the Roadster features a new 43mm inverted single-cartridge forks with tri-rate springs. Rigidity and steering control is aided by robust triple clamps. At the rear, new gas-charged emulsion coil-over shocks with adjustable preload work with tri-rate springs to smooth out potholes and enhance articulation over bumpy surfaces.

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Aggressive Ergonomics

2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster
The Harley Roadster's ergonomics match its cut-down style. Harley-Davidson

While accessibility has long been a hallmark of the Sportster model, the Roadster's ergonomics should appeal to sportier riders. The Roadster claims mid-mounted foot controls and a low-rise handlebar which stretches the rider over the 3.3 gallon fuel tank.

Seat height is still beginner friendly, with the saddle-to-pavement distance coming in at 30.9 inches, unladen. A six-inch ground clearance and maximum lean angle of 30.8 degrees (right) and 31.1 degrees (left) offers respectable, but not athletic cornering capability. 

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Big Bore Motivation

2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster
The Roadster's air-cooled 1,200cc v-twin. Harley-Davidson

Another indicator of the Roadster's positioning as a more serious Sportster is its engine, an air-cooled 1,200cc v-twin that produces a peak 76 lb-ft of torque at 3,750 rpm. Rather than equipping it with the Sportster's smaller 883cc engine, the big powerplant suggests the Motor Company wants to attract more experienced, speed hungry riders. 

Countering that power are dual-disc 11.8-inch floating front brake rotors and available ABS.

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Styling: All About the Road

2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster
The 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster. Harley-Davidson

"The Roadster is a mash-up of styling genres," admits Harley-Davidson Director of Styling Brad Richards, "but the intent was to build a rider’s motorcycle, a Sportster that’s lean and powerful and connects the rider to the road.”

​Speaking to the Roadster's retro styling, Richards says that “We wanted to give the Roadster some DNA from the high-performance KHR models of the mid-50s, and later Sportsters tuned for the drag strip. Those bikes had fenders cut to the struts, the small fuel tank, and were stripped to their bare essentials to achieve a singular performance purpose.”

The Roadster's rear fender is 1.5 inches shorter than earlier bobbed Sportsters. The slotted belt guard and muffler lend a hat tip to the lightening holes of race bikes, while the fastback seat puts the rider into, not onto, the bike, and keeps him or her in place under hard acceleration.  Four color combinations are available: Vivid Black with a charcoal denim pinstripe, Black Denim with a red pinstripe, Velocity Red Sunglo with a red pinstripe, and two-tone Billet Silver/Vivid Black with a burgundy pinstripe.

Stay tuned for a review and riding impressions of the 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster.