Dreadful riding-position, awful seat, horrendous vibration at idle, ridiculous gearing, bone-breaking ride …… but gee, it looks great!! (That’s why I put a bigger-than-usual-photo of it here – so you can get a better look at it!). And there were, I will happily admit, other things I liked about it. The Harley Davidson 72 has been around for a couple of years now. It’s based on the low-rider, minimalist range of Harley 1200 Sportsters: so think of things like the Nightster and the 48 as machines that belong to its heritage. But the 72 takes that basic architecture and covers it in gleaming metal-flake paint and glistening chrome. It also gives it a touch of 70’s chopper style, with spoked wheels and high bars. I wondered what the “72” name was all about, so I asked the salesman. He didn’t know. I calculated that it’s almost its engine capacity in cubic-inches: but not quite, so that’s not it. A bit more research revealed it is named after a road – an apparently famous highway in the Los Angeles area, Route 72.
IN THE DRIVEWAY
Parked in the driveway it actually looks quite small, which belies its 1200cc engine. Sitting amongst the other, larger, models in the test-fleet assembled on the day, it almost seemed apologetic: “I might look small, but I’m a big bike, really!” Accordingly, perhaps, it wasn’t the most popular bike on the test-fleet; sometimes being left behind while the other, bigger-looking, bikes went out to play. It feels light – much lighter than its claimed weight of 255kg wet. Typically of Harleys, all the weight is down low – and even lower in this low-rider version – giving it a very low centre-of-gravity, so it is very manageable. Leaning it from side to side in the driveway I reckon it feels at least 50kg lighter than it actually is. But let’s get to its real forte – the looks! Apart from its small appearance, (bigger is always better with Harleys isn’t it?), I reckon it looks sensational! The paint is superb deep-lustre metal-flake over an unusual bronze colour. I love it! Then there is the chrome – and it’s proper chrome-on-steel too, none of your “Jap-crap” plastic here! The paint and chrome just oozes quality. Adding to this quality-looking finish is the fancy “72” logo on the tank and the other small logo on the rear mudguard. The peanut tank with exposed frame between it and the seat is all part of the minimalist approach and fits with the rest of the bike’s style perfectly. The finish is simply superb; and nicely set-off by the white-wall tyres. Following the chopper theme, the bars are mini ape-hangers. They aren’t too extreme though, so you don’t feel like a monkey hanging from a tree. Before riding it I was concerned that the ape-hangers might detract from the control of the bike, but if anything they might actually increase the control rather than diminish it. The bars do, however, force you backwards and even more upright than you would be with “normal” bars. The seat felt further forward than would be ideal, and this, combined with the bars, tended to create an even more pronounced “cruiser-slump” in my back, with the lower back being forced into a nasty outwards curve – right where, from a correct ergonomics point, it should be curving the other way. I mentioned the seat, and yes, it does have one, but it almost seems like an after-thought. Far from the big sumptuous seats on the big boys, this is ridiculously small (just a single perch, no pillion room), thinly padded and hard! The instruments consist of a speedo and a few warning-lights. Although according to the Harley web-site, there is also a tacho hiding in that little LCD panel; and a gear-indicator. Right ... if they say so; but I can’t imagine it would be very legible, even if you did press the buttons and manage to find it. All the switches have a quality feel about them. Like all Harleys, the blinkers are self-canceling. The side-stand was a bit hard to find, although if you owned it I guess you’d get used to where it was. There’s no ignition-key, just one of those proximity-pad thingies. Once you’re on the bike you just press “Start”.
OUT ON THE ROAD
Start it up and the vibration is horrendous! The whole bike shakes, and you shake as you sit on it. (Remember the hard seat – that’s a factor here too!). It literally shook my glasses down my nose! Whenever I stopped at traffic-lights I stood up! Now, I know, I know, engine vibes are part-and-parcel of what a Harley is, but this is horrendous! I said that the gearing is ridiculous and you notice this as soon as you let the clutch out. Well, it’s actually gearing combined with the characteristics of the engine. The bike shakes and snatches until you get to about 20kph. It feels like you’re taking off in 2nd gear. (A couple of times I even checked to make sure I wasn’t!). It isn’t really happy until it’s heading for 30kph, and for a 1st gear I think that is just ridiculous! Forget trickling along in traffic – it doesn’t like that at all! To emphasise the too-high gearing, at one point I held 1st and got it to 80kph without feeling like it was going to burst. Yes, most big bikes would do 80kph in 1st without red-lining, but the difference is that most big bikes have a 1st gear that is actually suitable for taking off in! On the positive side though, the actual gear-change is quite good. It still clunks from one gear to the next, but doesn’t feel as “tractor-like” as older Harleys used to. The slim design of the bike makes it easy to slip up the left of slow or stationary traffic, which is another slight compensation for the gearing / engine-characteristics shermozzle. Another thing you notice almost from the moment you let the clutch out is the ride – or lack thereof. There are twin-shocks at the rear, but I reckon they’re probably just decoration: this feels like there is no rear suspension at all! I’m sure I could feel the painted lines on the driveway as I rode over them! Even the bump from the driveway out onto the road – which on most bikes you’d hardly notice – was jarring! Any pot-holes are seriously best avoided! Surprisingly, perhaps, considering the chopper-type style, it handles quite well! You don’t counter-steer on bikes like this, you just kind of lean in; but when you do it goes exactly where you want it to. It’s surprisingly responsive actually. And there’s plenty of clearance too. Okay, so it’s not a sports-bike, but you’d be leaning it over a fair way before anything touched the road. With 1200cc of V-twin engine you’d expect the bike to perform well, and it does; although it doesn’t feel particularly quick. You just twist the throttle and it gets up and goes. It feels “strong” rather than “quick”. Maybe that’s why Harley give a figure for torque but not for power. There’s plenty of grunt there anyway. Harleys are at their best when cruising a smooth highway, and at 110kph along a highway section the 72 started to feel okay; although I never got to the point of actually enjoying the ride, as I have done on other Harleys in that situation. With the 72 I was too aware of the poor riding-position, uncomfortable seat and ever-present “wind-sock” effect. That horrible riding-position, with arms reaching up, legs pointed forwards and the afore-mentioned backwards-arch in your back, makes the wind-sock effect quite pronounced. With just a single disc up front the brakes aren’t anything special. They work okay, but feel a bit wooden.
NOT BIASED – JUST HONEST!
No doubt some people will read this report and accuse me of being biased; they’ll say that I don’t like Harleys, don’t understand the type of bike it is, and that’s why I’m being so critical of it. Actually, people have already said that. Well, while I admit that Harleys are not exactly my preferred type of bike, I would argue that I am not being biased, just honest! I’m just calling it as I find it. The vibration at idle was enough to shake my glasses down my nose: that's not being biased, that's fact. The seat was hard, that's a fact. (I’ve sat on many Harley seats that have been great!). The ride was so hard it jolted just riding out the driveway: again, I’m not being biased, that’s just the way it was. A low gear that doesn't smooth out until you're doing about 30kph is, in my opinion, ridiculous! Look, I get the whole lifestyle thing with Harley, I really do, but when people say, “You're not supposed to criticise Harleys because they’re a different type of bike and that’s just the way they are,” well, I'm sorry, but I'll call it as I see it. I don't excuse things like excessive vibration and terrible ride on the basis that the bike is “a lifestyle thing” and an icon of motorcycling! I would also point out that I’ve ridden cruisers that have impressed me: the Yamaha V Star 650 and V Star 1100 were both very impressive, as was the Triumph Speedmaster. The Speedmaster might have upset my back while riding it, but I still thought that as a cruiser it was good! And what about the Triumph Daytona? Now that is totally different to my own bike, and I could never own one due to the extreme sports-bike riding position (not good for the old back!), but I was very impressed with it and gave it a glowing report, because it is such a good bike! (And that without giving it a chance to show what it could really do, on a race-track). So I think I’m a bit more objective than some critics might suggest. SNAPSHOT Dreadful riding-position, awful seat, horrendous vibration at idle, ridiculous gearing, bone-breaking ride …… but gee, it looks great!! That’s what I wrote at the beginning and that pretty much sums up what I think of it. Oh, and it does handle well and would lean a fair way before it scrapes. And it looks fabulous! Did I mention that?
Engine: 2-cylinder, 1202cc. Power: N/A. Torque: 97Nm at 3,500rpm.
Suspension: Front: Telescpic fork, Rear: Twin-shock
Fuel capacity: 7.9 litres.
Weight: 255kg (ready to ride).
Seat height: 710mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 90 X 21, Rear: 150 X 16
Brakes: Front: Single disc, twin-piston caliper, Rear: Single disc, twin-piston caliper.
Price: $18,495 (+ORC).
Already there is an up-date! It’s still 2013 when I’m writing this (in fact I'm writing it at the same time I'm publishing this report!), but I can tell you that the 2014 model has different paint. The metal-flake is now even wilder, on a kind of grey base. But calling it “grey” doesn’t do it justice; and neither does this picture from their web-site. If you like the look of these, do yourself a favour (as a TV host used to say) and go to the Harley web-site and check it out. (The link will take you straight to the new model 72 page.).