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Common Tread

2016 Harley Sportster Roadster: All-new or more of the same?

Apr 19, 2016

Harley-Davidson added a new model to their range yesterday.

The 2016 Harley-Davidson Sportster Roadster presents a new spin on a bike H-D has released before. The model has been on hiatus from their lineup, but is now available once again. For the rider who was looking for performance somewhere between a “standard” Sportster (think Iron, Forty-Eight, or SuperLow) and a more hopped-up bike (XR1200 in years gone by, or the V-Rod), the Sportster Roadster fit the bill.

Studio shot, front three quarter view
Boy, that reminds me almost of the Sporties I'd see as a kid — sitting high because of the tall shocks, looking spindly due to an 18/19 wheel combo, stripped down and ready for business. Harley-Davidson photo.

The Roadster is a five-speed, 1200cc bike, utilizing the larger of the two powerplants H-D has equipped its Sporties with for nearly three decades.

Rear shocks.
I'll gladly accept two more inches of seat height if it means I also get a suspension that can travel normally. Harley-Davidson photo.

The last version of the Roadster we saw had dual front disc brakes, and the current offering does not break from that mold. In years past, the Roadster has worn a milquetoast suspension, but the current incarnation is sporting long-travel shocks out back. (Seat height is a full two inches taller than an Iron!) Up front, Harley offers a 43 mm inverted cartridge-style front end that's a significant departure from previous fare.

Other changes are a bit more pedestrian. Finally, there is a Sportster other than the 1200T that comes from the factory equipped to carry a pillion. (Am I taking crazy pills? Why would that ever be optional? Are Sporty riders antisocial or something?) I also see a nifty set of wheels on here, a split-10-spoke arrangement, with an 18-inch rear tire and a 19-inch front. Sporting rubber! On a Sporty! Whoo-ee!

A seat for two. That's become a rare sight in the Sportster lineup as of late. Harley-Davidson photo.

Aesthetically, a pretty low handlebar is provided, and I see a very short rear fender that looks pretty brash on there. H-D touts that XL1200CX wears a “finned cast timer cover,” which is just a geegaw. Really, who needs the factory to provide a nice points cover? I thought everyone changes those things. Rounding things out are “custom tank graphics.” Different graphics, same paint. Meh. "Dark Custom" struck me as cheesy from its inception, and this bike ain't swinging my opinion around.

Aggressive handlebars
Wide, low handlebars will provide an aggressive way to tuck in with the mid controls. That big analog tach also leads me to believe this is a bike that's made to be ridden a bit harder than some of its stablemates. Harley-Davidson photo.

Now for the editorial portion. Is this a cool bike? Yes. Is it different enough to be a new model? Well, that remains to be seen, I suppose. The front end and brake package is pretty tasty. Dual front brakes and an upside-down front end were hard to come by, unless you found the occasional XR fork that hit eBay. Taller rear shocks are a welcome addition to the “everything slammed even lower” Sporty lineup. Two-up seating is similarly welcome.

Riding the Sporty
The Roadster is set up for a rider who plans on actually riding the bike. Happily, the improvements they offer should make that plan a reality. Harley-Davidson photo.

But is this… fair? Should a Sportster with acceptable suspension and the ability to carry two people from Milwaukee carry a premium? Have we been hoodwinked into thinking this is something to pay extra for? Our upcoming Sportster modification series attempts to address some of these very same issues, but now it seems Harley is moving towards the bike the Sporty used to be: a decently fun do-all machine, except the things that used to be standard on the Sportster now have been lumped into a “new model” that costs significantly more than a base model ($11,199 as compared to the SuperLow’s $8,499 MSRP).

I really only have two questions left: First, how much shorter can Harley keep cutting fenders? More importantly, when will I test one of these for a review? I’ve been whining since forever about getting more sporting domestic bikes. Harley is swinging the ship that way. It seems glacially slow, but between this bike, the LiveWire, and the Low Rider S, it looks like they’re making an effort. Is it an across-the-frame-four screamer? Nope, not yet. But it sure beats wide tires, springer front ends, and bags, I guess.