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.