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MD First Look: 2011 Harley-Davidson Blackline

Harley-Davidson looks like it’s being slowly nursed back to health, thanks to a combination of TALF loan underwriting (that has since been 100% paid back) of its consumer lending arm and the radical liposuction of personnel and extraneous operations (RIP, Buell). But all the cost-cutting and fat-trimming in the world will do no good if a motorcycle company can’t sell motorcycles, and that’s a problem for H-D. Its core customer group—Baby Boomers—is hitting retirement age, and although they’ll probably be riding strong into the 2020s, their numbers are dwindling, and their kids and grandkids aren’t buying motorcycles (all motorcycles, not just Harley-Davidsons) in the same numbers, for whatever reasons. I’ll leave the speculation to our posters, as if they need our permission. To court younger buyers, H-D created the “Dark Custom” lineup in 2007, with a lean, matte-finished bobber look dominating the new products. And the latest installment is the 2011 Blackline.

H-D’s Dark Custom-izers started with the Softail platform, distinguished by its hardtail-look rear suspension—just right for a bobber. The Twin Cam 96 motor with “Cruise Drive” six-speed transmission gets a gloss-black powdercoat treatment on the cases and covers, with a few tasteful hints of chrome. The chassis gets a new satin-black finish on the frame and swingarm, and an FX front end with blacked-out triples and fork lowers. Braking is with a four-piston caliper and single 292mm disc in front and a single four-piston caliper in back. ABS is an available option. Wheels use spokes and black-finished aluminum rims, with a big 21-inch tire in front and a skinny 140-section rear tire. Skinny is the new fat, I guess. Ready to ride, it’s a mere 683 pounds—not bad for a heavyweight cruiser.

The Blackline gets all-new bodywork to finish it off. The fenders are minimal, the fat, curvy tank is brand new and the seat is as low as a dual seat can get—just 24 inches with a rider on board (26.1 inches unleaden). The handlebars are an interesting new two-part “split drag” design, black finished and internally wired for a clean look. The forward-mount controls match the long, low stance of the bike. It’s a 21st-Century take on the Billy Bike from Easy Riders to the Captain America of the new  2012 Victory High-Ball.

Will the fresh and minimal styling be enough to draw in new riders? Well, it sure will get them interested, but at a starting MSRP of $15,499, it might be a little out of reach for younger buyers, who are probably more interested in bikes in the sub-$10,000 range. I’ll look into how well the Dark Custom range is doing meeting its goals and report back at a later date.

133 Comments

  1. ABQ says:

    Are they seriously trying to attract a younger generation with an old timey looking like a hardtail bobber “Billy Bike”. Let’s get one thing right: this new generation was not even alive in the sixties, or seventies for that matter. They have no desire to relive that period. They despise those days and those bikes. Harley is fading into the past.
    An even bigger problem with Harley is the financing department. I have known people that bought a DynaWG five years ago, paid five hundred dollars a month and still owe 13,000. WTF!!! If you want to sell bikes then come up with an Honest financing program that allows for buyer to actually end up owning the bike!

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  2. Victor says:

    Changing the paint and handlebars doesn’t quite constitute a “new” model. This is the same model that Harley Davidson is well known for, and it becomes more painfully obvious each decade that they have no interest in anything “new”. Granted, the devotion of the existing Harley customer base is impressive (I know the Harley faithful), but the Motor Company’s admission of changing demographics seems nearly coincident with their loss of sales. Bailing out Chrysler resulted in the K-car that saved their lives by appealing to a whole new customer base. That isn’t to be seen here. From the perspective of someone in his mid-50′s, the list of faults this model has is seemingly endless – from the absurd weight to the pegs placed where they need to be in order to clear the ridiculous clutch housing, with no regard for the human anatomy. I have no interest in Harley Davidsons, even though I can afford one.

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  3. Biff Grimes says:

    Why don’t they primer the bike and call it the Flat-Blackline to match the half shell “helmets” currently so popular with all the “rebels” out there.

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  4. GP says:

    I *am* their target demographic, but this bike would be near, or at the bottom of my list. Just look at the passenger. My wife would not like to ride in that curled up, hunched over position for more than a mile or so. The wheelbase is too long for any “fun”, and that boat anchor of a motor just does not elicit any excitement.
    I am not a sport bike fan, but a normal looking, good handling, strong running standard, with good rider and passenger accomodations is tough to find these days.
    Bring back the UJM. There is no reason HD can not give us a “Universal American Motorcycle”. The Buell Ulyses was so close!

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  5. MarkF says:

    If they could just build a cruiser with a normal seat height with some suspension travel and good brakes. Like the FXRS Sport from the 80′s. Oh, yeah, mid mount controls should at least be an option and not just on the two cheapest bikes. I’m convinced that harley builds their bikes to look bland and cheap to get buyers in the parts department every visit to service.

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  6. Mr. Mike says:

    It struck me one day that HD style cruisers are the grown-up equivalent of those lawnmower engine powered minibikes we rode as kids.

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  7. Eric says:

    Maybe if they put a Rotax engine in it……..

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  8. Rich says:

    I recently read that Harley’s fan base average age is around 46 and has been aging about 6 months per year over the last several years. They better start targeting the younger market or they’ll wind up like Cadillac.

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  9. Donnie says:

    You know, I once owned a motorcycle that was quite similar to this Harley in appearance. It was made by Suzuki and called the Intruder.

    I hated that bike. It was fast in a straight line, but forget trying to take turns at any speed faster than a walking pace without scraping parts. The VS800 was designed the same way…fat rear tire an a skinny front tire, and I did not like the way it handled at all.

    No thanks, Harley Davidson.

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  10. Mike Perez says:

    Looked at that bike and said “hasn’t changed” still looks the same. Come to think of it neither has there riding gear – looks very protective.

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  11. BPT says:

    Another remake of an old model. Softail Standard in black, bigdeal! Someone is watching too much Sons of Anarchy at Harley.

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  12. mpolans says:

    I’m 33, I make about 80k/year and I’m even in the market for a cruiser. I’ve owned a Buell and 2 Harleys before, even buying one of them new. You’d think I’d be the target audience for Harley. However, after what they did to Buell, I can’t forgive them. I’ve decided to vote with my dollars and definitely not buy any Harleys made after Buell was killed off, and I might not ever even buy used ones from before then. Instead, I’ll look to Victory and the Japanese cruisers. Screw Harley.

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  13. Jack Rabbit says:

    Think I would buy the V-Rod Muscle in black instead. The price starts at just under 15 grand too.

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  14. falcodoug says:

    It’s the same bike, it’s always the same bike, bla, bla, bla, bla bla……. no thanks.

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  15. Jay Jonas says:

    A geek with a blacked-out halfie helmet covering a black pirate’s bandana while wearing black rubbermaid gloves trying to look tough…is still a geek…..no matter how pretty the woman on the back is. It’s almost impossible to take their products seriously when even they’re models look like poseurs.

    My dreaem is for The Motor Company begins with a dyna. Give it 18, at most 19 inches up front with no excessive rake, along with that 140 rear. Upgrade the suspenders, put dual discs in the front (for that needed stopping ability), and then comes the REAL challenge: bring those 96 cubes into the 21st century by hiding a radiator somewhere, then message that engine to give it some real riding power. And for the last trick- try dropping 75 lbs. I love the look of the Dyna but I don’t see it as more than just jewelry.

    To those who say a liquid cooling is treason, I have one answer: Porsche 996 and 997.

    No one asked for my opinion, but thought I’d chime in anyway…

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  16. Ryder says:

    I don’t think HD fundamentally gets it. Slow, poor-handling, parts-dragging-in-the-turn, functionally indadequate, yet over-priced, motorcycles just basically don’t appeal to the young, for the most part. (Or even to the young at heart, such as my 66 year old self.)

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  17. RedFZ1 says:

    Wake up HD. You’ve run out of the “me too” mind set of people who are willing to pay way too much for stone ax tech just to say they own a HD. Getting rid of Buell just goes to show that HD doesn’t have a clue.

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  18. Marty says:

    I’m 62 and like the looks of the Harleys. But until they put out something with more than a 26 degree lean angle I’ll stick with something that corners. Like my BMW.

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  19. Dan says:

    Just how long do they think they can keep selling two-wheeled 59′ Caddy’s anyway? I’m 60 and have been riding lots of bikes all my life, but have never been sucked into thier black outfit “lifestyle”. For Harley to continue, they need something to really attract today’s electronic game boy computer geeks in their 30′s or so that can afford a bike that relates to them, and that they can afford. Harley’s present floor stock won’t touch them by a country mile. After what Harley did to the rest of the world bike market to be imported into the US in the 80′s (25% import tax & displacement limit of 700cc), I have no sympathy for them. Potato-Potato-Potato into the sunset.

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  20. Scorpio says:

    Nice lines I guess for an “old man’s bike”, but my question is: it’s different from the Night Train how (other than a reasonable-width rear tire)?

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  21. bobuell says:

    A 240 rear tire makes the old lads a** look smaller

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  22. JimS says:

    I am 51 years old and have never owned or desired a Harley Davidson motorcycle. But if they would make the xr1200r with the V Rod engine as the original design, you have my interest. Too bad the Harley management messed up the V Rod engine to make it look wide, old and obsolete. H-D should service their loyalist but with some options for us whom don’t want a 1903 look for our motorcycles. Now if Honda would just put the SuperHawk engine in a naked package with some homage to their flat track bikes, I’m all in.

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  23. johnny says:

    Harleys are just way to expensive. They need to drop there price by ten thousand and then they will sell to the younger generation. You can get a brand new car for this kind of money and put your friends in it and go partying.

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  24. Martin says:

    Looks exactly like an upscaled Honda XLV600 Steed, or the XLV400 version we import from Japan here in New Zealand.

    I think I’d rather have the Honda. At least I’d be able to pick it up off the sidestand.

    Good job on the narrower tyres, but with that low seat it won’t have any ground clearance, so any sportiness is wasted. So heavy, slow, wobbly in a straight line, and can’t go around corners. Harley is mental.

    Why have Americans wasted millions of tax payers TARP funds propping up a bunch of lazy crooks running a motorcycle museum for aging poseurs?

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    • Jim says:

      You are right Martin. If you can’t pick it up off the sidestand you should stick to your 400s and 600s.

      I’m sick of people bashing HDs- all bikes are cool in their own way. Do you expect the market to produce only bikes for one customer, you?

      I have an HD, but also a Kawasaki ZRX and a Triumph Bonneville. Don’t be so narrow minded.

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    • Gabe says:

      This is an incredibly unfair thing to say. The TARP funds will be repaid, if they haven’t been already. H-D has been a great american success story and is staffed by very devoted people, from top to bottom. Nobody is lazy, and there isn’t much crookedness going on, either.

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      • Dennis says:

        His statement isn’t all that far from the truth. Look at the way the upper management savaged their “devoted people” in their last contract. Typical American Corporate greed. Reward the top dogs, and starve the rest while stripping them of their benefits.
        After all the money they saved, this is the best they could do?
        I’ve owned several HD’s, but I won’t ever own another.

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        • Chris #2 says:

          Once congressman Issa gets done exposing all the shenanigans that they used TARP funds for, the money they threw at Harley will look like a good investment in comparison.

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    • jd says:

      Funny. I thought the same exact thing about it looking like a Japanese cruiser. The orange and black unit looks like a HD knock-off of a Japanese cruiser that started as a HD knock-off. Shows you can only do so much with a classic cruiser style and it’s tiring. At least the Victory High Ball looks a little different.

      10 years ago when I started riding I just thought Harleys were the coolest thing. I was 30. I thought, “I gotta get my Harley and then all the shirts and crap. I have to look cool.” Well, after a couple years I decided that I actually like cornering/performance and would never even consider a cruiser, let alone an expensive HD, as my primary ride.

      Very sad, because I really dig the American motorcycle story, 100+ years, etc. HD should take some of all that costume revenue and build bikes that compare to all the other models I drool over in the mags. The v-twin the way they do it sucks, but Willie G won’t let go of the heritage there. Keep the slugs in the line-up, but give Americans a real sport oriented motorcycle and just accept these buyers won’t buy over-priced leather chaps. But we do spend a lot on our rides in other ways.

      More than my 2 cents…

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  25. Dannytheman says:

    I think the economy has hurt buying more than boomers getting older. I bought my Harley when the business was good. when the economy turns, the 30 somethings that make it into financial freedoms will buy the Harley. Harley has to hang in there.

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  26. mrsdoubtfire says:

    How the hell do you fart with footpegs that far forward?

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  27. Richard says:

    I currently own a 08 Buell XB12Scg (20k miles) and an 81 Honda CB900C (45k miles). I was attracted to both these models because of the way they felt to me and the way they LOOK. Unless you’re a real HD fan, you really can’t tell the difference between generations of production. 70s, 80s, 90s vintage HDs all look alike. And so it is with this “new” lineup. Really guys, there’s nothing new here. Aluminum frames? Ooooh, that’s a stretch. HD will never attract new customers while they keep playing the same old record, over and over and over again. You either like the look or you don’t

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  28. steveinsandiego says:

    hmm. at the HD site other models were included in this new “line-up”. i really liked the street bob, as i have a soft spot for the old skool like. however, i was unsure about pricing.

    i couldn’t decide whether the dark customs come outta the factory, or if you hafta buy a base model and add the “dark custom” accessories to it – for a price, of course.

    btw, i’m 62 and, after 13 yrs of riding cruisers, have pretty muched switched to sportbikes with a kawi ninja 650r. however, if i could swing the dollars, i might git me a street bob.

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  29. Leo says:

    Harley stabbing at the market. Park it with the Highball (or the Fury or Raider). The finish on those parts though, whoa! These guys still rock there.

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  30. Tim says:

    It’s still about the being seen as the tough guy biker(lifestyle marketing), and not about the ride. I think that image is dying with the under 30 crowd. Being one of those aging BB’s, I tried a HD bagger, and it was like ridding a battleship compared to my discontinued Buell. When HD quit trying to make good riding bikes, they lost my business.

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  31. donboy says:

    I was born in 1950 and ride an ’08 250 Ninja, so my opinion is worth nothing, but if I were to ride a cruiser, forget it.

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  32. MG Norge says:

    To my eyes, and because Harleys are quite common, they all just look too much alike and way too familiar.

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  33. Mark Pearson says:

    I’m 43 and the Sportster is the only Harley I’ve ever been interested in. I’d love to own a XR1200 but they’re just too damn expensive for what I’m doing right now which are track days.

    I still have a street bike but it’s a classic CB750 that I picked up for 1/4 the price of any Harley. When it’s time to trade up it will be to a late-model Bonneville.

    Once my track day career is over I’ll probably move on to dual-sporting which of course Harley has no product for. If I were to get a long-distance machine it would be a converted standard or true sport-tourer.

    Sorry Harley, I’m just not a cruiser kinda’ guy.

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  34. Tom says:

    My kids, who are in their early 20′s, say Harley’s are “old man’s” bikes.

    No young interest in cruisers at all around here. I wonder how Harley will survive in 10 years when the boomers start to move to retirement homes in Florida and ride golf carts. Best selling motorcycle currently for Harley is a bagger. Isn’t that the last stop of the life cycle of the Harley metamorphosis?

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  35. El Profe says:

    Front tire too big in diameter (21″) and rear tire way too slim for my taste, specially for $15K plus. Aceptable price if it has at least a 240 rear tire, but not with a skinny rear tire.

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    • Rick says:

      Facinating how a wider tire can be worth so much more. It’s all in the ride however this bike is just not my style. Seems most Harleys still speak to the dark side of motorcycling. That alone keeps me away. I don’t need the Darth Vader motif to be bad or look cool. That’s not what riding’s about, at least for me.

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    • ilikefood says:

      240 rear tire? Seriously? Why? You really don’t want a bike that handles reasonably well, do you?

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      • El Profe says:

        The reason that the price can increase if fitting a 240mm tire is because of the modifications needed to make a wider 240mm tire fit (different or modified transmission, wider swingarm, wider rim, wider fender, etc).

        And a 240mm tire still handles very good, even in a sport bike, as long as the wheelbase is not increased too much or at all. Now, the 300, 330 or 360mm those are more for show than daily use.

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  36. asphaltsurfer says:

    amazing how H-D can take the same can of rusty SAE bolts each year, shake it up and throw together something called a “new” model. H-D is an icon, more magicians than engineers. Not one of my current rides but they still have a place in my heart probably next to my clogging artery. I’m just glad to see so much strong competition and variety of makers from different countries putting their unique spin and DNA into the biking market. Regardless of one’s choice I’m glad that so many have remained given the economy.

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  37. t-spot says:

    Me thinks the passenger has her helmet on backwards (no visible H-D logs)?

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  38. Dave says:

    Take some tarp money and build some more of the same crap. Not a lot af imagination at the motor company. I would love to buy American but this is just a stupid bike made for posers.

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  39. Michael Haz says:

    The Dept. of Paint and Decals brings out a “new” model.

    HD should have kept the Ulysses in production; they’d sell more of them than they will these re-tinted softies.

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  40. MarkT says:

    Positive Comments:
    1) I like the color combinations
    2) The overall style is clean
    3) For $11995 MSRP, it would be fairly priced and reflect the fact that we tax payers already paid for a portion of the bike already!

    Negative Comments:
    1) The cruiser/chopper thing has gotten old, and is not appealing to a younger crowd. S
    2) Needs upgraded suspension like the XR1200X, just to be of this century and to make the bike more than a styling excersize. Style over substance is a losing proposition
    3) The price will definitely be over $15000. After a second taxpayer bailout since 1980 with all the stock holders and dealer getting fat in the interim years, this price will be an insult to the tax payer and they will continue to shop elswhere
    4) The same has happened with GM vs. FORD. Ford sales are up for many of the same reasons listed above, while GM sales stagnate

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  41. Joey says:

    Wow!! A glorified nightster! You guys at HD sure do how to think out of the box. Of course there will be alot of first time bikers that buy it, Because the name alone. I guess when you have it like that you don’t have to think.

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  42. Dave says:

    I think Harley is destined to the same fate as other American makes. Either they’ll become a low volume brand or disappear altogether.

    One wold think that if your target customer is declining in numbers-you change targets.

    Buell Motorcycles was probably what could have saved H-D in the future, if only they would have allowed Eric to build the motorcycle HE wanted to build and get away from a history of antiquated tech that H-D finds so dear.

    Young buyers don’t really care about the history of Harley Davidson.
    Do you think the young guys buying bikes from Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, & Suzuki care about their respective lineage? NOT!

    HD needs to get it’s head out of it’s ass before they create their own demise.
    The bikes they offer now are doing nothing to bring younger riders to their brand…including the one above, “dark” or not.

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  43. John A. Kuzmenko says:

    I think it indeed needs a TARP, but not the kind we have to pay for. ;)
    One hideous-looking motorcycle.

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  44. Doug says:

    Its painfully evident that HD doesn’t understand how to cope with the changing customer demographic. Gen X and the Net Gen’ers don’t want warmed over, antiquated, over-priced machinery with pretty new paint. They appreciate and want technology that works. The Hog lifestyle gravy train is headed down the tracks, and the bridge ahead is already washed out…

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  45. MarkyMark says:

    If they’d sell it at $10k, I’d think about it; at $15.5k, it’s just too much for too little. If I’m going to spend THAT kind of money on a bike, I’ll get a Beemer instead…

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  46. ben says:

    same shyte, different decade

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  47. Todd says:

    Wow, bolt on some parts from the parts book , tell us its the cool new look and slap on a 16 thou sticker, How dumb do they think we are????

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  48. Matt says:

    I’m 28 years old, and willing to spend my hard-earned money on my motorcycles (I have 4 of them), so i’d imagine i’m the kinda guy Harley is looking to win over, age 25-40 with a little extra to spend. So, here’s my little opinion, the perspective of someone who has watched Harley go out of their way to alienate “young people”, and bash any technology that’s less than 50 years old:

    I hate to admit it, but I must say…… That all-black bike in the top pic is one VERY SEXY motorcycle, and for ME to say THAT about a Hardley Ableson is a pretty big statement. It’s long and low, it’s smooth and streamlined, it’s got an old-school-looking motor that sounds like it could pull a stump from the ground. Having spent a few hours on a Fatboy, this is the kinda bike that makes you FEEL cool. It’s a Seriously Sexy motorcycle, and if it performs well enough, I might possibly consider it….

    96-inch Twin Cam motor………. Check
    Six-speed transmission(Welcome to the 21st century, Harley)…… Check.
    All-Black, Long, Low, and Mean………. Check.
    21-inch front with black aluminum rims and laced spokes…….. Check.
    Forward controls STANDARD…….. Check.

    700 lbs wet……… Are you serious? If I wanted a workout, i’d go to the gym.
    Starting at $15,499……… Ya lost me.

    Do you have ANY idea how much MORE motorcycle I could get for that kinda money?!?!?!?!?
    Do you know how much more FUN and USEFUL dozens of other motorcycles are?!?!?!

    If Harley wants to win the younger generations over, they’re gonna have to try alot harder than this. They’re gonna have to learn what Aluminum is, and how to use it. They’re gonna get rid of 20 lb exhaust brackets made of 1-inch-thick steel. They’re gonna stop clinging desperately to 1948. They’re gonna stop charging me extra for obsolete suspension (Springer front end). They’re gonna re-release the V-Rod with it’s ORIGINAL-Spec engine, the way it was when Porsche made it for them, with 160+ HP instead of it’s de-tuned 115.

    The list goes on…..

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  49. Chris says:

    It doesn’t look like they put the TARP money to good use…

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  50. Mickey says:

    Wow, first the new Victory Highball, then this….that design MUST be what we want (or so they MUST think)

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