2013 Harley-Davidson Street Bob | First Ride

Metalflake is the New Dark

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Brian J. Nelson, Tom Riles

They say: “Harley-Davidson finds a new groove”
We say: “Groovy paint is the only news here.”

While the rest of the motorcycle market is still feasting upon its own flesh in these tough times, Harley-Davidson just keeps printing money in the form of its traditional cruisers. More than half of all new motorcycles sold in America in 2011—a number in excess of 235,000—were made in Milwaukee, with many coming from The Motor Company’s hugely successful Dark Custom brand-within-a-brand. From Brooklyn to Long Beach, you can’t throw a pushrod without denting one of these stripped-down, blacked-out bikes, often owned by fashion-conscious youth and female riders.

Fashions change fast, however, and four years after Dark Custom was launched the murdered-out look is dangerously close to played-out. Always quick to capitalize on the latest custom trends, Harley-Davidson now compliments Dark Custom with its stylistic opposite: Hard Candy Custom (HCC), a new sub-brand that unabashedly celebrates the flashy metalflake style of the early ‘70s choppers. Call this a Bold Old Graphics update.

Five models receive the HCC treatment for 2013: the Sportster Seventy-Two, Sportster Forty-Eight, Softail Deluxe, Blackline and Street Bob. The Street Bob is the only Harley-Davidson that gets more than finish changes for 2013, also receiving a styling “refresh,” the first since its 2006 debut. And that’s the news for the 2013 lineup because there are no mechanical updates to any Harley-Davidson for the new year. If it ain’t broke…

H-D Motorcycle Product Planning Manager Greg Falkner describes the Street Bob’s new look as “de-nostalgia-ized.” Youth buyers “like the idea of nostalgia more than an actual nostalgic look,” Falkner says, and the Street Bob has been updated accordingly. The old, Sparto-style droopy taillight is gone, replaced by the sleek stop-turn-tail combo familiar from other Dark Custom models, while a new tank emblem features a cool, Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers-influenced comic font. Other changes include a new round air cleaner, relocated ignition switch (moved from the steering head to the tank console), and fresh bar risers that make it easier to swap bars.

This last change is important because the H-D1 factory-customizing program has now been expanded beyond Sportsters to include the Street Bob. Buyers can use the H-D1 Web site to configure their own unique Street Bob, selecting from available options including three different handlebar styles ($180), dual seats ($250), forward controls ($180), wheels ($300-600) and 14 different paint choices ($400-$1000). The bike is built to their exact specifications at the factory then delivered to the nearest dealer in less than four weeks.

The $12,999 Street Bob is Harley-Davidson’s least expensive Big Twin, so pricing is still reasonable even when customized. One thing keeping the Street Bob affordable is the engine: it’s one of just two H-D models (the other is the Super Glide Custom) still using the Twin Cam 96 engine instead of the newer, larger-displacement Twin Cam 103. The H-D1 program also allows buyers to upgrade to the 103-cubic-inch engine for a nominal $350 upcharge, however—a choice we consider wisely exercised.

Riding the 96-inch and 103-inch versions back to back in the mountains of Southwest British Columbia during the 2013 press introduction tells the story: The added 7 cubic inches and extra 8 lb.-ft. torque result in a bike that’s noticeably stronger off corners and more responsive at any speed, especially when pulling out to pass. The 96-incher occasionally struggles to pull the narcoleptic sixth ratio in Harley-Davidson’s Cruise Drive transmission, while the 103-inch version hammers right through it. A slightly stiffer clutch pull is a small trade-off. No matter which option you select, it’s still difficult to find neutral after the engine heats up.

How does it ride? Better than you would expect. Forward controls and mini-ape handlebars stretch you like a spinnaker, so at 80 mph you feel more like you’re riding Pilates equipment than a motorcycle. And with a 64-inch wheelbase and 29-degree rake it’s not the best choice for charging corners—even with optional drag bars. But under appropriate cruising speeds and conditions it functions fine, with neutral manners, surprisingly light steering—thank the skinny, 160mm-wide Michelin Scorcher rear tire—and perfectly calibrated suspension. Test bikes were all equipped with H-D’s excellent ABS (a $1195 option, packaged with the Smart Security anti-theft system), which makes it easy to minimize braking distance without overwhelming the two skinny tires located so far from the center of mass. Consider ABS a mandatory upgrade, too.

Once again, Harley-Davidson has updated existing product to appeal to a new-generation buyer. This is why the brand is now 110 years old and still going strong. Flashy paint isn’t much of an update, but when the core product works this well and already appeals to such a desirable demographic, it doesn’t take much to remain relevant. From what we’ve seen at Born Free and other recent custom bike events, Hard Candy Custom—unlike Dark Custom—looks right on-trend. While the rest of the industry still searches for direction, it looks like Harley-Davidson has created another line of strong sellers.

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