Har­ley’s FXDR

Mass ap­peal bruiser

Motorcycle Monthly - - Front Page - WORDS: Chris Cope PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: Har­ley-David­son

“Har­ley is so proud of the en­gine that, for the first time in me­mory, it has even of­fered a power fig­ure on its web­site: 91bhp, or 67.8kW if you’re of that per­sua­sion.”

You’ve heard of the il­lu­sory truth ef­fect, right? The idea that if you say some­thing enough times it even­tu­ally be­comes ‘true’. Or, at least, it will gen­er­ally be per­ceived as such, which is re­ally all you need in pol­i­tics or busi­ness. In the busi­ness of mo­tor­cy­cles, we’ve col­lec­tively spent the past few years watch­ing Har­ley-David­son’s sales dip, telling our­selves over and over again that the com­pany needs to change as a re­sult. This line of think­ing has be­come so ‘true’ that Har­ley it­self seems to buy into it, re­cently promis­ing us that elec­tric mo­tos, per­for­mance nakeds, and ad­ven­ture bikes are com­ing our way.

But it’s worth not­ing that the boys and girls in Mil­wau­kee are still sell­ing in ex­cess of 600,000 units a year – roughly 10 times the amount Tri­umph man­ages to get through the door. In other words, there is a dif­fer­ent truth than the one we’re telling our­selves in mo­tor­cy­cle mag­a­zines. And Har­ley’s new raked-out, fat-tyred, nutso-styled FXDR is a mo­tor­cy­cle for that re­al­ity.

The truth you choose is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant fac­tor in de­ter­min­ing whether you will like the FXDR. There is an out­side chance that the bike’s shiny planet of an en­gine will change a few minds, but by and large this is a mo­tor­cy­cle for the home crowd.

The 10th ex­am­ple of the up­dated Sof­tail line, there is not a great deal about the FXDR that we didn’t see when the over­hauled Sof­tail lineup was un­veiled last year. That’s not a bad thing; the new Sof­tails are demon­stra­bly bet­ter than their pre­de­ces­sors. Broadly speak­ing, the FXDR shares a chas­sis with the two Sof­tails it most re­sem­bles: the Break­out and Fat Bob.

The FXDR shares the same 34º rake an­gle as the Break­out, but has shorter trail than both the Break­out and Fat Bob, as well as more lean an­gle (32.6º right, 32.8º left). That lat­ter statis­tic fixes my big­gest com­plaint about the Break­out – it doesn’t turn. I re­mem­ber a Har­ley en­gi­neer (who shall go name­less) once quip­ping that the Break­out “has all the cor­ner­ing abil­ity you need for straight-line per­for­mance”. The FXDR has only one de­gree of ex­tra lean over the Fat Bob, though, so the ques­tion is how it im­proves upon that bike. I don’t know.

Har­ley would prob­a­bly point to the FXDR’s alu­minium swingarm, which helps bring the bike’s weight down to a svelte 303kg wet. Wheels are also alu­minium. At the Eu­ro­pean press launch in Thes­sa­loniki, Greece, com­pany reps were keen to point out that weight had ad­di­tion­ally been saved via fend­ers made of “light­weight com­pos­ite ma­te­rial”. But all this talk of weight sav­ings seems silly when you take a gan­der at the bike’s gi­nor­mous 240mm rear tyre. Talk of “ag­ile” per­for­mance also in­duces a raised eye­brow, for much the same rea­son.

A rel­a­tively firm sus­pen­sion (per­haps a lit­tle too firm for the ‘we’re out of EU money’ roads of north­ern Greece) means those brave enough to throw a mo­tor­cy­cle of this size and weight into a cor­ner have a rea­son­able shot of mak­ing it out the other end. Equally rea­son­able are the FXDR’s dual disc front brakes, which, along with a sin­gle rear disc of­fer up lev­els of stop that Har­ley rid­ers of old would not be able to com­pre­hend. The in­verted 43mm forks look ad­justable but aren’t, and a good squeeze of the afore­men­tioned brakes may pro­duce more dive than pre­ferred by those eager to push this thing for all it’s worth. But look – if you’re try­ing to drag a knee with this bike, you’re stuck in the wrong truth.

Less con­tentious is the FXDR’s Mil­wau­kee-Eight 114 V-twin en­gine. It’s fan­tas­tic no mat­ter how you choose to ap­proach it.

“Har­leys no longer shake them­selves to death, but the com­pany has al­lowed enough rum­ble to keep you ever aware of the fact you’re sit­ting on a me­tal box of ex­plo­sions.”

The ‘114’, by the way, is Yan­kee speak for 1868cc. It is the largest en­gine Har­ley makes and comes stan­dard in the FXDR, whereas slot­ting one into a Fat Bob or Break­out will cost you ex­tra. Har­ley is so proud of the en­gine that, for the first time in me­mory, it has even of­fered a power fig­ure on its web­site: 91bhp, or 67.8kW if you’re of that per­sua­sion. Torque is tra­di­tion­ally the more im­pres­sive num­ber when it comes to H-D prod­ucts; in this case it’s 118lb-ft (or 160Nm) at 3500rpm.

The num­bers trans­late into a smooth and pow­er­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. Un­less the per­son next to you has spent a lot of money and is re­ally try­ing hard, you’ll be able to beat just about every­one at a stop light. Wal­lop­ing power sticks with you up to about 75mph, so there’s plenty of punch for A-road over­takes. Things get a lit­tle more sub­dued as speed in­creases but the en­gine will hap­pily cruise at 90mph and roar all the way up to 115mph or so if given enough space.

Har­leys no longer shake them­selves to death, but the com­pany has al­lowed enough rum­ble to keep you ever aware of the fact you’re sit­ting on a me­tal box of ex­plo­sions. Per­son­ally, I like it. But I am an Amer­i­can-born white male un­der the age of 45 – I am dead cen­tre in the tar­get mar­ket. I also like the trans­mis­sion, which is sur­pris­ingly smooth. You still get a re­as­sur­ing KATHUNK when throw­ing the bike into first but for the most part, the old trac­tor in­sult no longer ap­plies. Clutch pull is still firm but I swear it gets lighter with each new Sof­tail it­er­a­tion Har­ley puts out (or my hands are get­ting stronger).

Although the en­gine is con­tent to spend all day chug­ging along at 90mph, you won’t be. That plas­tic head­light cowl is for aes­thetic pur­poses only and the FXDR’s ‘ath­letic’ rid­ing po­si­tion pre­sents chal­lenges for peo­ple of all heights. Feet and hands for­ward, you ride around look­ing a bit like a comic book bad­die who’s just been kicked in the stom­ach. For a per­son of 6ft 1in like my­self it is not as un­com­fort­able as it looks, and be­ing able to hun­ker down over the bike’s clip-ons gives you con­fi­dence to have the sort of fun that makes you for­get about dis­com­fort. Still, this wouldn’t be my first choice for an around-the-world at­tempt.

I mean, where would you strap your lug­gage? The sin­gle-seat FXDR is clearly in­tended for short dis­tances. The Har­ley rid­ers of old would call it a ‘bar hop­per’, but that term is out of fash­ion. So let’s call it a ‘bap mis­sile’ – you know, for rid­ing from one sketchy road­side cafe to the next. Okay, let’s not call it that, but you get the point: although the FXDR has a 16.7-litre tank, you’ll not want to go too long with­out stretch­ing your legs (and back).

It’s not all im­prac­ti­cal­ity, though. The FXDR has a plas­tic seat cowl that I as­sume takes the space of what could be a pas­sen­ger seat – pull it off and you’ll find a com­part­ment of sorts large enough to hold a 500ml bot­tle of wa­ter, a phone, and, oh, say, a pair of socks. Up near the head­stock you’ll find a USB port suit­able for charg­ing phones and sat-nav de­vices. There is just barely enough space on the left clip-on to ac­com­mo­date a mount for such a de­vice.

The small dig­i­tal dash is bare-bones but of­fers all the in­for­ma­tion you need: speedome­ter, gear in­di­ca­tor, tachome­ter, clock, two trip me­ters, fuel level, and fuel range. You don’t get all of this on one screen, mind – you’ll have to click through for some stuff us­ing a but­ton on the left grip. Mean­while, beyond the pres­ence of ABS you’ll find no elec­tronic rider-aid whizzbangery to stand be­tween you and free­dom.

Over­all, the FXDR is a good mo­tor­cy­cle, but with a start­ing price of £19,855 (it’ll cost £350 more if you want a colour other than Vivid Black), you have to go back to the ques­tion of truths when try­ing to as­sess just how good it is (or isn’t). Re­lated to that, the brief on the FXDR seems a lit­tle con­fused. At the press event, jour­nal­ists were shown a Pow­erPoint slide la­belled ‘In­spi­ra­tion’ that con­sisted of sev­eral pho­tos – mostly of drag race tyres, drag race bikes, and drag race cars. But there was also a sport­bike en­gine, a fighter jet, and an an­gry Rot­tweiler.

In other words, this bike didn’t quite make sense from the draw­ing board stage. It didn’t make prac­ti­cal sense, at least. It doesn’t re­ally have the han­dling to be a per­for­mance bike, it doesn’t re­ally have the horse­power to be a power cruiser. It’s just some ut­terly mad, mad thing that looks and sounds cool. The fact it’s fun to ride (in 45-minute stretches) is kind of just a bonus. The bike’s aes­thetic is its big­gest sell­ing point. It’s ridicu­lous; it looks like some­thing DC comics an­ti­hero Lobo would ride. And that’s cool. If you think it’s cool.

If your truth is one in which you ap­pre­ci­ate Har­ley-David­son prod­ucts, you will un­der­stand that the com­pany has long traded on in­tan­gi­bles. It of­fers things that can’t be quan­ti­fied or mea­sured – woolly feel­ings of con­nec­tion, that tingly happy feel­ing in your brain, etc. The FXDR is a foun­da­tion­ally solid mo­tor­cy­cle el­e­vated to its price tag by those in­tan­gi­bles.

If you don’t feel them just look­ing at the bike, it’s un­likely this will be the Har­ley-David­son that changes your mind about the com­pany; you’ll have to wait a year or so for the elec­tric, per­for­mance naked, and ad­ven­ture mo­tor­cy­cles. If you do feel the love, though, if you ‘get’ the Har­ley ethos, then con­grat­u­la­tions: Har­ley’s made a bike de­serv­ing of your true love.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.