2011 Harley-Davidson FXS Blackline

Basic, black

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Jim Moy

Harley-Davidson Softails have always shifted shape to match the custom trends of the day, from the Pro Street-styled Softail Deuce in the late '90s to the more recent, raked-out Rocker C. The new FXS Blackline's skinny rear tire and narrow drag bars mimic the Frisco-style choppers of the Hell's Angels' glory days, delivering exactly the stripped-down, vintage look that 2011 trendsters demand.

Like most new Harleys, the Blackline is little more than an artful reblending of existing hardware and styling cues. The rigid-look Softail frame, with its rear suspension hidden beneath the engine, has been around since '84, and the Twin-Cam B (for counter-balanced) engine is now entering its 12th year of production. Styling is similarly recycled. The round air filter and gray heads above black cylinders reference early Shovelheads, while the tank and graphics are inspired by the '77 Low Rider. The bobbed rear fender with integrated stoplights/turnsignals and the smooth tank strap are modern touches, but overall the Blackline looks as familiar as a pair of Levi's 501s.

Thumbing the air-cooled, 1584cc (96 cubic-inch) V-twin inspires more deja vu, thanks to the unmistakable, potato-potato soundtrack. The pistons have reportedly been lightened to let the engine rev more quickly, but the Blackline feels like every other Twin Cam we've ridden, with colossal bottom-end torque (89 lb.-ft. at 3250 rpm) that lets it roar away from a dead stop with impressive authority. There's little point in revving beyond that torque peak-doing so only increases noise coming from the slash-cut, over/under shotgun exhaust. But the surprisingly light-action Cruise Drive six-speed transmission makes short-shifting a breeze, and the overdrive sixth makes the already smooth-running engine practically disappear at highway speeds.

The power profile is perfect for blatting around town or putting along open roads, aided by flawless fuel-injection mapping and perfect engine manners. The Motor Company likewise nailed the riding position, with the low, scooped saddle hovering just 24 inches above the ground. Reasonably positioned forward foot controls and stylish Split Drag bars-a pair of delicate arches sprouting directly from the upper triple clamp-create a suitably thuggish forward slouch that would do Rat Fink proud. It's not a position you'll want to maintain for much more than 20 minutes, but you'll feel properly badass in small bursts.

After tolerating years of back-end bloat, the Blackline's 144mm-narrow rear tire looks almost revolutionary-witness the end of the fat-tire trend. In addition to a balanced profile, the skinny tread gives this Softail unexpectedly light steering characteristics, though you'll bury your boot heels in even mild bends. The usual limitations excepted, handling is better than you'd expect from a bike with a 66.4-inch wheelbase and 30 degrees of rake, thanks to a reasonable, 4.8-inch trail that keeps the front end from flopping at all but the lowest speeds. Braking is surprisingly good on our (optional) Bosch/Hayes ABS-equipped testbike. Stopping a near-700-lb. motorcycle with a four-piston front brake and a skinny, 21-inch front tire usually isn't an easy proposition, but here you can just crush the lever and let the perfectly calibrated anti-lock circuitry bring you to a fast, drama-free stop.

ABS is part of an optional security package that also includes Harley's Smart Security system, with a hands-free fob that automatically arms and disarms an electronic immobilizer as you approach or retreat from the bike. Harley ignitions are intended to have the key removed after activation, to prevent unwieldy key rings from damaging paint and chrome. One unintended consequence is that it's easy to forget to lock the ignition after parking, so anyone could ride off on the bike without the key. Without the fob, this becomes impossible.

The Blackline is exactly the sort of motorcycle Harley excels at building: authentic, in touch with the latest custom trends and impressively finished. The paint is flawless, the chrome still looks wet, the wiring is all tucked away and every last detail is buttoned up. The Blackline is a great motorcycle for what it is-unfortunately, it's just not that much motorcycle. Passenger accommodations are rudimentary at best, the speedometer incorporates only the most basic tripmeter functions and there's little in terms of convenience features or creature comforts.

Harley-Davidson will insist the Blackline is a foundation upon which to build your dream bike, but $15,499 ($15,998 with two-tone paint) is a lot of money for such a bare-bones machine. A few thousand more nets the supremely equipped Street Glide, offering the same authentic experience with loads more versatility. Conversely, the $10,499 Sportster Forty Eight offers just as much style and attitude for roughly 2/3 the price. Not to mention bikes like the $16,995 Ducati Diavel-an entirely different expression of badassery with enough performance, character and technology to satisfy anyone. Against this backdrop, this stripped-down Softail doesn't quite measure up.

tech SPEC

EVOLUTION
The FXS gets a skinny rear tire and other old-school custom touches.

RIVALS
Honda Fury, Star Stryker, Victory 8-Ball.

TECH

Price: $16,694 (as tested)
Engine type: a-c 45-deg. V-twin
Valve train: OHV, 4v
Displacement: 1584cc
Bore x stroke: 95.3 x 111.1mm
Compression: 9.2:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower: na
Claimed torque: 89 lb.-ft. @ 3250 rpm
Frame: Tubular-steel double cradle
Front suspension: 49mm Showa fork
Rear suspension: Dual Showa shocks with adjustable spring preload
Front brake: Single Hayes four-piston caliper, 300mm disc with optional ABS
Rear brake: Single Hayes four-piston caliper, 292mm disc with optional ABS
Front tire: MH90-21 Dunlop D402
Rear tire: MU85B-16 Dunlop D402
Rake/trail: 30.0*/4.8 in.
Seat height: 26.1 in.
Wheelbase: 66.5 in.
Fuel capacity: 5 gal.
Claimed curb weight: 683 lbs.
Color: Vivid Black, Cool Blue Pearl/Vivid Black, Sedona Orange/Vivid Black
Available: Now
Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact: Harley-Davidson Motor Company
3700 W. Juneau Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53201
414.343.4056
www.harley-davidson.com

VERDICT 3 out of 5 stars

Great looks and lots of character, but we want more features for this much dosh.

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BobG1
Nice to see an honest and fair review on an HD.  Great job Aaron!
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