Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two | First Ride

Kustom Kulture Komeback

By Eric Putter, Photography by Evans Brasfield

They say: “Authentic ’70s chopper attitude.”
We say: “Groovy, baby.”

Harley-Davidson’s 2012 model line offers proof positive that its motorcycles are designed by committee. Instead of top-heavy corporate delegations of buttoned-up suits, however, The Motor Company’s bike-building “committees” are comprised of moto-history buffs, pop-culture students, stylists, industrial designers and a few token engineers.

One of their latest blasts from the past is the XL1200V, dubbed the Seventy-Two. That moniker is a crafty double entendre that riffs on the early ’70s California Kustom Kulture bike scene that launched from a fabled stretch of State Route 72, a.k.a. Whittier Boulevard, in gritty East Los Angeles.

Fueled by a country enamored with Harley riders—from Dennis Hopper to Evel Knievel— in the early ’70s the chopper’s influence could be found in everything from coffee mugs to bicycles. Remember Schwinn’s Krate series?

The Seventy-Two takes styling cues from a myriad of influences. Paint is period-appropriate metal-flake. The bike’s aesthetic is long, lean, narrow and clean. This vibe begins with the re-introduction of Harley’s classic, 2.1-gallon peanut tank, delicately placed on the frame’s backbone with room to breathe, front and rear. The slightly raked fork leads to a huge, 21-inch front wheel wrapped by a skinny, 90mm-wide Dunlop whitewall. An internally wired, mini-ape-hanger handlebar hovers 10 inches above its risers.

Lighting is simple and understated. The smallish headlight blends in between the triple clamps. Harley’s signature underslung blinkers hang below the controls. A short, light and tight fender hugs the front tire, while a beefier, bobbed one sits slightly above the 16-inch rear. Unfettered by a taillight or turnsignals, it cleanly arches away from the solo saddle. The tail is kept tidy with a side-mounted, retractable license-plate frame and a pair of bullet-like turnsignals, which double as brake and running lights. There is no taillight per se.

Talking about the superb rearview mirrors and the thoughtful self-canceling turnsignals almost seems superfluous on a bike with such rich paint and stunning chrome and black bits. But the Seventy-Two is a living, breathing motorcycle, not just a three-dimensional styling exercise.

Once settled in the saddle, the rider gets an immediate sense of unclutteredness. At 5-foot-7 with a 29-inch inseam, I was surprised to fully plant my feet and even bend my knees a little while sitting on the 28-inch-high solo seat. Cruising through L.A., I found the footpeg location and the long reach to the handlebar initially disorienting, but the bike offered acceptable maneuverability while dodging pockmarked tarmac. At freeway speeds, the ergos splayed me out like a sail in the wind—this bike is definitely meant for cruising the mean streets, not covering large distances on the highway.

The chassis’ happiness depended on how pocked that surface was, and the depth of said potholes. With just 2.1 inches of rear-wheel travel, the Seventy-Two did a fair impression of a hard-tail chopper, while the long-travel fork let the front end wallow and wander.

The rubber-mounted, 73.3 cubic-inch V-twin complements the bike with a perfectly appropriate look, sound and visceral feel—even with its paint-shaker idle, high-speed vibes and clunky five-speed transmission. Thumbing its nose at convention, The Motor Company ironically doesn’t divulge horsepower numbers, merely claiming 73 lb.-ft. of torque at 3500 rpm. This makes for amusing stoplight-to-stoplight blasts and spirited highway merges.

Slowing down is not the Seventy-Two’s forté. Its binders are more effective than those original choppers’ front brakes, but only because they usually didn’t have any! To be fair, it’s plausible that the front brake was dumbed-down to keep the skinny front tire from losing traction.

If period-perfect styling and the ability to further personalize one's bike with a plethora of OEM accessories are today’s expression of the genre, then clearly Schwinn was onto something with its Krate series. As are the Seventy-Two’s designers: This is proof positive that The Motor Company “gets it.” U.S. moto-history is, in large part, Harley’s history, making this bike the real deal.

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