I can see it in people’s eyes, every time a Harley-Davidson rolls by. There is something in the purest form of American motorcycling that has universal appeal – be it a gold merchant in Dubai, a steel worker in Kuala Lumpur, or a banker working in South Mumbai – the magnetic pull is all-encompassing, primal and about as strong as the infamous Bermuda Triangle. Sure, people can and will think up a million not-so-nice things to say about them, but that is only until they properly experience one.
So, let’s get down to the best part first – the price. The one factor that separates the haves from the have-nots. Meet the Harley-Davidson SuperLow, your ticket to the stereotyped world of beer bellies, loud pipes, lots of ugly leather frills and one where bathing and shaving is outlawed. Stereotypical Sturgis notions aside, it’s your entry into the world of the big H-D. And short-changed you aren’t, as this is, in its essence, a proper Harley-Davidson.
For the relatively affordable sum of Rs 5.5 lakh, you get a machine which sounds impressive, has enough punch to satisfy most, gleams with chrome and deep coats of paint and to top it off, feels well worth the money. An offshoot of the 883 Sportster family, the SuperLow has been built to not intimidate you. (So much for the big, bad, bearded biker image of HD, eh?) Front-end geometry and riding ergonomics have been tweaked with easier turn-in, flickability and city-speed stability in mind, and the results are quite impressive. First-time motorcyclists or those coming back to motorcycling after decades of trading stocks and selling African timber will appreciate it no end. With some practice, even wifey will be able to ride it.
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The 883 motor, combined with the nice, friendly gearing, makes for a relaxed riding experience. When you’ve got such an abundance of low-end thumping torque, you can play easy rider all you want. In the chaos that is Indian traffic, it’s a doddle to manoeuvre around cows, dogs, disorderly pedestrians and accompanying obstacles that we’re all too used to. Relaxed fifth-gear touring is where it feels exceedingly good, doing what it does best. This is not to say that when whipped, it goes nowhere. In fact, it has quite respectable go for the show, the ton coming up from standstill in about 6 seconds. Bolt on those Screaming Eagle pipes and you’d surely be leaving entire towns deaf in your wake as you thunder by.
Since it is a budget motorcycle, at places, elements do tend to look a little too simple, but that said, when it comes down to the quality of the components, nothing feels like it’s been through a round of cost-cutting with nosey, thick-spectacled blokes poking about. The ride seems decent enough, but I think it could ride a tad plusher for India, especially since it’s not exactly about shaving ten-tenths on this bike. Nor is it the most comfortable motorcycle for long-distance touring on the stock seat-bar setup, but this was designed primarily as a tool for the urban streets and the odd short escapade out of the city. And of course, because the H-D catalogue rivals the Encyclopaedia Britannica in size, I’m sure you will find something to make it fit ‘just right’. Sounds like a no-brainer, then.
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Or is it? Because here comes the dark horse, and I do not care what researchers have to say about what colour affects human psychology the most; a bobber blackened out in a matte finish is as sexy as it gets. WWII-returnees would have agreed. In fact, they’re the ones who started the whole bobber style, following the minimalistic school of design and thus creating hot motorcycles, often without the flash and raked-out frames of traditional choppers. This particular offshoot of the 883 Sportster family is called the 883 Iron, which by the designation itself brings in a very industrial, heavy-metal, anti-chrome and manly appeal to it. It looks fuller, menacing, sinister and tasteful; and when it’s just Rs 1 lakh more that the SuperLow, we cannot help but put our evil smiley face on and rub our hands in glee.
On the road, it feels different even though it’s basically the same Sportster underneath, because the ergonomics have changed and so has what you see and feel as the bike rumbles underneath you. Elements such as the classic peanut tank, side-mounted license plate and chopped fenders make it very cool indeed. It isn’t as easy to ride as the learner-friendly SuperLow, but it sure as hell is fun. Drag bars make it feel a tad sportier, so you ride it like that. The rubber-mounted 45-degree V-Twin gives you enough of the characteristic Harley rumble to let you know that it’s not the same ol’ motorcycle you’re on, but it doesn’t intrude. On the road, it’s enjoyable, a break from the usual, especially if you’re used to the Japanese smoothies. So, then, is this the one to buy?
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Ah, it would’ve been the one, had it not been for one of the coolest and most bad-ass motorcycles to almost hit our shores – the Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight (there, Windows almost froze as I typed that). I say almost because Harley-Davidson is still contemplating whether they should get that motorcycle here. The Forty-Eight looks swell enough to be up front and centre in a hip tattoo parlour right out of LA Ink. Minimalist design is the theme here, proving that less is more with the diminutive peanut tank, low front-heavy drag bars with inverted mirrors, chopped black fenders with retro stoplights and some sort of a seat for just the rider. The stubby front end, with that huge 150 mm front tyre along with the massive 1200 Evolution motor, make it so visually distinct from the rest of the high-end bike crowd here. The rubber-mounted twin fires out its unique version of the Harley tune, rumbling about like a lion in its own little rubber-padded cage.
It’s not practical, it’s not going to be a value-proposition, you hardly have anything to hold onto when you’re hard on the gas and your bum hurts after a few hours on it, but not to worry – the small fuel tank won’t let you ride for too long. But for the pure joy of riding it and staring at it, all is forgiven. Ride up to a pub on a Forty-Eight and people will worship you, free beers will be a given and lingerie will be thrown. (Not really, but I’d like to imagine it like that, anyway). If you’re starting out, or on a budget, it’s the SuperLow for you, no doubt. If you want something more wicked, go buy the 883 Iron. But if you, like us, are in love, go write a letter to Harley-Davidson. Pronto!
The writer was invited by Harley-Davidson for a media ride in Rajasthan.