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There has been a lot of Harley-bashing on this forum and I am not the least offender. However, I expect that many of the Harley detractors, certainly myself included, have limited riding experience on a Harley. In spite of the fact that I have ridden motorcycles for decades, I have only ridden 4-5 Harleys and then only for limited periods or under fairly restricted conditions. A couple of years ago, I rode two different Harleys belonging to my brother-in-law for several days in southeastern Virginia. However, he was giving me a tour of the area, so I could not ride at my own pace and was not on familiar roads. But over the last couple of weeks I have had a friend's 2007 FXSTC Softail Custom in my garage and available to ride at my whim. This post summarizes my impressions, which are honestly different than I had expected.

A lot of my bias against Harleys was formed during my youth, when the Motor Company was owned by American Machine and Foundry (AMF). Those bikes were terrible, poorly machined and indifferently assembled; the worst machines built in England during the twilight of the British motorcycle industry were Faberge eggs in comparison. But that certainly isn't the case with a modern Harley; the fit and finish of this bike is as good or better than most one-off customs. And the paint on this standard (non-CVO) model is superior to any other production bike that I've seen.

For those of you not familiar with Harley's model line-up, the FXSTC pairs the Softtail frame with a moderately extended fork, narrow 21-inch front wheel (90 section tire), and wide 17-inch rear wheel (200 section tire), giving it a "chopperesque" look. The bars have a substantial rise, but are not really ape-hangers and the tank is retro-styled with a simulated second cap (actually the fuel gauge). The engine is the counterbalanced, fuel-injected Twin Cam 96B (96 ci/ 1584 cc). It is finished off with feet-forward pegs and control pedals, a button-tufted king-and-queen seat, enough chrome covers and do-dads to make it a hazard in bright sunlight, and on this particular bike, leather saddlebags. A stock FXSTC weighs 703 lbs. (318 kg) wet and the saddlebags on this one add a few more pounds.

The bike has keyless ignition so, assuming you have the fob in your pocket, you turn the center, tank-mounted knob to ignition and hit the starter button; the bike starts instantly with an (initially) unnerving metallic bang. Note, if you move or even jiggle the bike without the fob, the turn signals will flash side-to-side; persist and the horn will sound. Once running, the bike idles smoothly without any fuss and warms up quickly. This brings to light one of the few design issues I uncovered, the rear cylinder head extends slightly beyond the edge of the narrow seat nose so, if you are short legged like I am, the back of your right thigh touches the head. This is merely noticeable on initial start-up, but sit at a long light after riding for awhile and you will need to raise your right leg.

According to H-D, the bike produces 90 foot-pounds of torque at 2,750 rpm, which gets its considerable mass away from a stop with ease even riding two-up. Living in the L.A. area, I put up with a lot of stops (a minimum of 6 just to reach the nearest freeway entrance) and the Harley's low seat height and massive torque makes them a non-issue, which is a stark contrast to my Triumphs and Ducati. I could comfortably ride the FXSTC around town all day without discomfort, which is really what this bike is all about. At speeds below 50 mph, riding it is efortless either solo or with a pillion. This makes riding it the mile to my local Starbucks or grocery store a reasonable, even preferred choice, something I can't say about my other bikes. Note, I do ride my Triumphs to the grocery, etc. but only as part of intentionally longer rides.

When I told my Harley enthusiast brother-in-law that I would be riding an FXSTC, he said, "You'll have fun with that light bike and its big engine." I assumed that meant it would be quick to accelerate, but experience has shown that "light" and "quick" are relative terms. With half the power and nearly twice the weight of my Ducati Superbike, I would never call the Harley "quick". Give it a big handful of throttle and it does get moving with some authority, but the speed builds smoothly, rather than with urgency. I honestly suspect it is quicker than it seems, but I doubt it would seriously challenge my '97 Trophy 1200 after the first 100 feet or so.

Nevertheless, the power is certainly "adequate" as Rolls Royce says of its sedans. Unlike a Silver "Whatever", you have no doubt that big mechanical processes are occurring when you twist the throttle. While the counterbalanced engine doesn't shake like Harleys of old, it doesn't really seem all that happy about being caned hard; this after all is a cruiser, not a racer. And the comfort diminishes rapidly even at legal highway speeds. At 65 mph, my wife even remarked about the increased vibration and general sense of malaise; this from a passenger that remains relatively oblivious up to the mid-80s on our aforementioned Trophy.

In contrast, handling is a notable bright spot. The long wheelbase and major difference in tire section widths means that you need a lot of lean angle to negotiate even 90-degree corners. Unlike the 2012 CVO Softail Convertible I rode a couple of years ago, whose floorboards touched down at seemingly every opportunity, the FXSTC has excellent ground clearance. It rolls into a corner with authority and holds a line well. Its mass limits the speed of transitions somewhat, but not as much as you might think. There is a five-mile stretch of fairly technical two-lane blacktop that I ride regularly on my '03 Sprint with its significantly upgraded suspension. I find 50 - 55 mph is a comfortably brisk pace, meaning sitting stationary on the seat and not working hard to hold my lines. Surprisingly, on this same stretch, I rode the Softail Custom at 45 - 50 mph or only about 5 mph slower. Clearly the Harleys that I typically encounter on this road are being ridden much more slowly than necessary.

Perhaps even more surprising to me personally, is my wife's reaction to a spirited ride on the Harley. She definitely doesn't like even relatively modest lean angles on my bikes and frequently "suggests" that I "Stop that swooping!", when we ride two-up. Hence, I expected the Harley's substantial lean would bother her. But when I questioned her after several fairly enthusiastic corners, she hadn't even noticed the lean angle. Apparently, the same lean angle seems less on a Harley than on my Triumphs, who knew? Needless to say, this makes a two-up ride more fun for me and honestly the pronounced lean makes the Harley seem to be going faster than it is.

So what do I see as the pros and cons to this Harley?

PROs

Self-cancelling turn signals! Every bike should be required to have Harley's turn-sensing cancellation system. On the other hand, I could do without the two-switch, BMW-style turn signal activation.

Fit and finish quality: paint, chrome, assembly are all top-notch.

Fun factor: very high, especially in relaxed, moderate speed, stop-and-go situations. On the other hand, I wouldn't choose this bike for highway riding any significant distances. My first experience was riding it for 45 miles at 70 mph into a 40 mph headwind. That was NOT a pleasant experience, although it probably could have been improved if the flyscreen had been set up for a somewhat taller rider. Nevertheless, both my wife and I notice an immediate decrease in comfort as the speed increases over 60 mph.

CONs

Heat! This motor puts out a lot of heat at a stoplight, even when the temperature is moderate. And there are a lot of places to experience it: the aforementioned rear cylinder head, the pipes on the right side, the clutch cover on the left side, all are places where it is too easy to come into contact with a too-hot surface.

Transmission: you will never have difficulty finding neutral at a stop, but the 1-2 shift seems twice as far as any others, so you will frequently find it on upshifts as well. You can get used to this, but not easily, especially if you ride other bikes. And I'll never call my Triumphs' transmissions "agricultural" again; the Harley gearbox is undoubtedly stout, but it could never be called "slick".

Brakes: they will stop the bike adequately, but the front needs a fair amount of effort (no two-fingers here) and given the rearward weight bias, you need to use the rear as well for any even moderately rapid stop. Again, something you can learn, but different from most other bikes.

Would I buy one? Maybe, if I got a deal like my friend did. I am more convinced than ever that I would like to add a cruiser to my collection, although I think a Ducati Diavel is more appropriate for me than an H-D. But you certainly won't find me bad-mouthing Harley's bikes again; much like Triumph's Bonneville variants, they are an impressive expression of retro-cool.
 

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Fair assessment. Thanks for this.
I am reminded of the review Cycle World gave the the 1977 XLCR when produced.
"As a motorcycle it has no merit.
As an adventure it has no equal".

I suspect same is true today. It all depends on what you are looking for.
 

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Very nice write up with your experience riding a Harley, Yes, there is a lot of Harley bashing on this Forum...far too much in my opinion. Me thinks the majority of the Harley bashing comes from members that have never actually ridden one and probably don't ride their motorcycles all that much either...:rolleyes:

I have owned a ridden a good number of Harley's over the years. Most recently one of the new Road Kings...man, what a flippin fun motorcycle to ride...:D

Unfortunately most people get all hung up generalizing the brand and the riders. I have met some really good folks riding Harleys when I'm out on the road. These are hard core Harley riders clocking 10's of thousands of miles on their road trips. True motorcycle riders and doing it on their Harleys... :D

I enjoyed reading your post...Thanks for posting it.

Bob
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks for the kind words guys. I never thought modern Harley's were "bad" bikes, but I certainly didn't appreciate how good they really are. I do now and wanted to acknowledge it.

Padre - Just one bike? Well that's a moot point because I would never give up my Norton, unless it was that or my wife. But if I could ride just one for the next five years, it would either be my '03 Sprint or a Diavel. It would have to have two-up capability, which eliminates my Superbike, and I don't take long trips, so a Diavel would do for a few hundred miles over a long weekend. Top 3 is harder because there just aren't that many do everything bikes. A definite third choice doesn't come to mind, so maybe somebody else will chime in.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
For some reason I can't edit my own posts, so here is a picture I intended to include with my write-up.
 

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if I had my way, I'd probably still have a Harley I owned back in the day, but I made the big mistake of selling it to Brother Dear and he intends to have it buried with him.

That being said, I still really, really, love my Bonnie. It's the perfect bike for me now.
 

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I was into the local HD showroom last week to pick up a T-shirt for a relative. Big dealership , lots of bikes and the fit ,finish , paint far surpasses anything I seen on anything in the triumph dealers showroom . I like triumphs and harleys , I likely would have went with a harley if not for the fact that they are so successful that they are basically close to being like a arsehole now . I just happen to be one of those weirdo's who likes to not go with the flow and follow the crowd etc . A brand that kind of built it's name on standing out from the crowd etc if you owned one by keeping the supply down . Has sure come full circle when owning one almost makes you one of the sheeples . Not knocking them by any means , they are very successful and if I was to get a second bike it would likely be one of there Harley goldwing models :) for some long highway 2 up touring .
 

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I remember reading somewhere that Honda had sent a team to a (the?) Harley factory to study their painting techniques. Apparently, their finish is very highly regarding by other manufacturers.

I also remember riding a not to well maintained 883 Sportster around Atlanta the summer of 95. It was horrible, and reminded me of a test one of the bike magazines had done on that bike not too long before. Their conclusion was that if the 883 was the only bike on the planet, they'd save their money and buy a Mazda Miata. Admittedly, I haven't ridden, nor have I had even the smallest desire to ride one since. I will also admit that my dislike of them is mostly from being stuck behind too many of them on even the most slightly twisting road.

That's not at all the bikes' fault, because I have also seen many of them ridden quite briskly, and with respect for others on the road. It's the riders, but the bikes take the blame.

Padre,

The one bike I would have, do have, and will have for at least the next 5 years is my 2013 Street Triple R.

If I won the lottery, I would very quickly add a BMW R1200RS and a Monotracer, for a total of 5.

THREE, Sire!

:D
 

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I remember reading somewhere that Honda had sent a team to a (the?) Harley factory to study their painting techniques. Apparently, their finish is very highly regarding by other manufacturers.
I wonder if the HD paint job inspired the phrase "lipstick on a hog"? :D

I'd rather have a great performing motorcycle with a mediocre paint job, than a mediocre performing motorcycle with a great job. YMMV
 

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I've ridden a 1200 Sportster, one of the bagger things (I really honestly have no idea the name of it) and a Fat Boy. The bikes were well put together, but they all weighed too much, had crappy brakes and touched the ground way too easily in corners.
To be fair, other than the crappy brakes, it's the same experience I've had with every other cruiser I've ridden from other manufacturers.
Cruisers just don't do it for me.

The one HD I really want to ride is the XR 1200. Unfortunately, they don't sell them in the States anymore and I haven't met anyone who owns one to take it for a ride.
 

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Bikes are a little like cars . Theres something for everyone out there . As in the late 60's muscle cars like a 69 chevelle , or the modern 4 cyl which in many cases will outperform the chevelle in 1/4 mile time,top end and handling but still lacks the rumble of the chevelle V-8 . some that is really more about a retro look than anything else some in the dodge viper class.

The faster , better handling etc is not always the most popular or brings the highest price etc . I guess triumph makes a little bit of everything as well including a couple that do perform great in the power and handling department .I'm not sure what they are , speed triple and Daytona I think , but not 100 % up on those ones .

Some like to go fast , some want to be heard , some like to just take their time and casually look the countryside over . Whatever takes ones fancy says I .To quote the great Canadian philosopher Red Green ''Remember we're all in this together ''
 

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Padre - Just one bike? Well that's a moot point because I would never give up my Norton, unless it was that or my wife.
Ack!!! I didn't see the Norton....bowing humbly for forgiveness.
My brother has two 74 Commandos and I completely understand.

Thanks again for the insight.
 

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Top 3 is harder because there just aren't that many do everything bikes. A definite third choice doesn't come to mind, so maybe somebody else will chime in.
I've got 2 in my garage.
2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC, and
2013 Triumph Tiger "Roady."

These two bikes are prime examples of "do everything bikes."

OP~ Accurate assessment of HD. Since you like leaning so much, try an HD Dyna Low Rider. Don't say you weren't warned...

Oh yeah, nobody does paint like Harley. Nobody. Not Porsche, not Ford, not GM, not Ferrari, Not Lambo, not RR, not Fisker, not Tesla.

I just got done riding my SuperGlide from work. 5 bikes in the "Motorcycle Parking Area" 3 Harleys, 1 Honda, 1 Yamaha V-Star 6-fiddy that's been chopped. Ruined, actually.
 

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that's been chopped. Ruined, actually.
That's redundant. "Chopped and "ruined" are synonyms.

:D


And...I would argue that if you had 3 "do everything" bikes as you're 3, you would be missing the point. The 3 bikes should be focused for 3 very separate missions, and be your favorite for each of those.

My Street Triple would be my sporty bike, a BMW R1200RS would be my touring bike, and I'd like have a dual sport of some sort, or maybe a super moto for hooligan-ish type riding.
 

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That's redundant. "Chopped and "ruined" are synonyms.

:D


And...I would argue that if you had 3 "do everything" bikes as you're 3, you would be missing the point. The 3 bikes should be focused for 3 very separate missions, and be your favorite for each of those.

My Street Triple would be my sporty bike, a BMW R1200RS would be my touring bike, and I'd like have a dual sport of some sort, or maybe a super moto for hooligan-ish type riding.
I can certainly agree. There's more than 3 motos in the garage. Some are mine, and some are the GF's...(She had a 2012 Streety) Fun bike.
 

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I really enjoyed your thorough and apparently fair write-up.

I've ridden a few HDs - never for any great length of time. But enough to know that I really don't like the sportster. To be fair, it's their entry cruiser....but, I loved my america and wish I still had it - so, that's a contrast.

On the other hand, I've ridden the various touring models. they're....fine - but bleh. too heavy, not enough fun.

I have to say, though, you're absolutely right about the paint. it's truly beautiful.

I've never ridden a dyna. everyone tells me it's just a grown up sportster, so, I haven't bothered.

the point of my post, though, is what you said about the road king. if I had to have an HD, that is definitely the direction I'd go. (I think the softtail is a little closer to the thunderbird that I currently have - but very different....) - the roadking is truly fun to ride. But, definitely a cruiser. all in all, I'll keep my storm - it's more like a hybrid sport/cruiser, and that's how I like it. but I can't take anything away from the road king as a pure cruiser.
 
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