2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster First Ride Review

A Sportier Sportster

2016 H-D Roadster, action
While the cornering angle is better than its Sportster brethren, at about 31 degrees, the Roadster still drags pegs easier than expected, given Harley’s emphasis on its sportiness and corner performance.©Motorcyclist

Harley-Davidson says: “Shatters tradition.” Motorcyclist Magazine says: “Traditional with a modern touch.”

Harley-Davidson has been making the Sportster for 59 years, and there was a time when the name really did reflect a sporty character. Maybe today, too, with the Roadster putting a bit more "sport" into Sportster by adding improved suspension, dual-disc front brakes, and more aggressive styling.

2016 Harley Roadster colors
The new Roadster comes in Velocity Red Sunglo, Billet Silver/Vivid Black, Black Denim, and Vivid Black.©Motorcyclist

Since the Roadster shares engine and chassis with its fellow Harley-Davidson Sportsters, you get the familiar 1,202cc air-cooled V-twin that pumps out a decent amount of power at the bottom end. Churning out 76 pound-feet of torque (per H-D's claims), the American mill pulls strongly enough, even though throttle response is not immediate and nothing much happens quickly. While the Roadster is likely the sportiest Sportster available today, it's still a tame bike.

2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster gauges
A new gauge offers analog tachometer, and digital speedometer, trip, and odometer.©Motorcyclist
2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster handlebars
Handlebars on the Roadster are “slammed”, offering a somewhat aggressive riding position, though not overly stretched out.©Motorcyclist
2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster fuel tank capacity
A 3.3 gallon walnut-shaped tank and new paint scheme are a nod back to the 1956 KHR.©Motorcyclist

New front brakes are unique to the Roadster, featuring two-piston calipers squeezing 300mm floating discs. Initial bite is progressive and there’s enough power to do the job, but they have very little feedback at the lever. The rear brake feels soft, also without a lot of feel, but with the help of optional ABS there was never any concern about braking ability.

2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster brakes
The dual disc front brakes with floating rotors provide enough stopping power, though feel a little wooden, and can be opted with ABS for $795.©Motorcyclist
2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster
New lightweight offset split 5-spoke wheels come blacked out to further the Roadster’s dark look.©Motorcyclist

Suspension is a huge upgrade on the Roadster. It’s not earth shattering, but it’s also no longer tailbone shattering, like the Forty-Eight’s. The 43mm inverted fork has enough compliance to tame speed bumps and cobblestone streets, but the settings are firm enough to maintain composure through sweeping turns. Compared to the Forty-Eight’s fork, the Roadster’s has almost an inch more travel. The rear suspension actually is, thanks to twice the travel (3.2 inches versus 1.6 on the Forty-Eight and other “low” Sportsters). Harley upgraded across the board to emulsion shocks this year, and the Roadster's do a good job with the increased travel. Forever, Harley’s said its customers’ desire for the “long and low look” justifies impossibly short-travel suspension. The Roadster is a step in the right direction—good looking but functional.

2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster rear suspension
Rear suspension has been greatly improved with new preload-adjustable emulsion-type shocks, making the ride much more comfortable that its stablemate Forty Eight.©Motorcyclist

A new black, perforated-leather saddle, in concert with mid-mounted footpegs, offers a more compact seating arrangement. The level seat, along with the lowered handlebar, brings the rider’s torso into a sporty position. The leather seat proved slick and easy to slide sideways on, necessary to keep the Roadster’s pegs off the ground at entertaining speeds despite the Roadster having the greatest lean angle of the Sportster lineup.

2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster seat
The perforated leather seat offers comfortable oversized ribs to help reduce sliding fore and aft, but still allowing for side-to-side movement, coming in handing for body language in the corners.©Motorcyclist

Harley offers the Roadster at the same $11,199 base price as the Forty-Eight, with the same $795 upcharge for ABS. That puts it in competition with the cheaper Triumph Street Twin and the equivalently stickered Indian Scout and Victory Octane. All are functionally superior to the Harley, but, well, they aren’t Harleys. The market says there’s something to that. Even so, the Roadster is a stronger competitor in this class for the simple fact that it works better but still looks “like it should.” We’ll call that out as meaningful progress.

2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster engine
The 1202 cc (73.4 cu. in.) air-cooled V-twin Evolution engine pumps out a claimed 76 pound-feet of torque.©Motorcyclist
2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster exhaust pipes
Some of the minimal amount of brightwork on the Roadster can be seen in the dual exhaust pipes, which are covered by flat black slotted muffler shields, and still give off a nice throaty V-twin growl.©Motorcyclist

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION
A new spin on the familiar Sportster platform, leaning toward sporty.
RIVALS
[BMW RnineT][], [Triumph T120][], [Indian Scout][], [Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber][]/[Roamer][], [Victory Octane][]
TECH
PRICE $11,994 (with ABS)
ENGINE 1202cc, air-cooled 45° V-twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 5-speed/belt
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER n/a
CLAIMED TORQUE 76.0 lb.-ft. @ 3750 rpm
FRAME Tubular-steel double-cradle
FRONT SUSPENSION Showa 43mm fork; 4.5-in travel
REAR SUSPENSION Showa shocks adjustable for spring preload; 3.2-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Nissin two-piston calipers, 300mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Nissin two-piston caliper, 260mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 28.9°/5.5 in.
WHEELBASE 59.3 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 30.9 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 3.3 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 568 lb. wet
AVAILABLE Now
MORE INFORMATION [harley-davidson.com][]
VERDICT
Slick suspension makes a better Sportster. Traditional styling keeps it cool.
2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster hand controls
The Roadster features the classic Harley turn signal buttons on either side of the handlebar.©Motorcyclist
2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster power
Throttle response is good, not snappy or super immediate, but offering gradual power output.©Motorcyclist
2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster
The Roadster offers optional ABS for $795.©Motorcyclist