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Road Test: 2011 Harley-Davidson Blackline

 

Save the hate mail: we know this is ChopCult, not StockCult. The fact is, many ChopCult readers admit to wanting more than one bike in their stable. If you can afford it, owning a reliable modern bike and an outlaw freedom machine allows you to ride more, especially when your hand-built deathtrap is down for repairs or modifications. With this in mind, We brown nosed our way into borrowing a brand-new Harley Blackline for Billdozer's 666-mile journey through California and down to Mexico on the EDR.

Mind you, Bill's Mexican hellride was no mere jaunt across the desert. During the trip he tackled dirt roads, pot holes cobblestones, speed bumps and yes, even four laps on the EDR's infamous Circulo de la Muerte track in San Felipe. Here's Bill's first-person account of Harley's newest Dark Custom…

 

Only recently available, the Blackline caught the attention of many riders during my five-day ride this spring. Even haters of modern machines reluctantly admitted that the Blackline looked good for a stocker. Still others gushed praise for the mostly blacked-out machine. Softails mimic the lines of an older rigid Harley and evoke a classic style that no import can quite capture, even after years of trying. The proportions of the Blackline seem just right, and the colorizing and details appear well thought out. No scary skulls or fake bad boy stuff to be embarrassed about, and just enough chrome to make sure it doesn't look like you are trying too hard. There are several black finishes on the Blackline, including the flat black frame and swingarm, the deep gloss painted tins, and a semi-gloss black on the round-profile aluminum rims. A sculpted body panel down the center visually breaks up the gas tank’s width nicely and is an attractively modern touch. No fake gas cap or gas gauge on the left side of the tank, and only a speedometer nestled between the two-piece, no-riser handlebars adds up to a clean, no-frills control center. Hard chrome oil lines from the horseshoe oil tank have a vintage feel and add to the overall "factory custom" look. My favorite aesthetic feature is the engine colorizing. Such a simple thing, but very noticeable: the barrels are black and the heads are raw aluminum with chrome and black rocker boxes. This color combo obviously takes its cue from older Harleys and is good looking without being corny or retro. In all, the subtle tweaks and classic geometry add up to one of the most attractive stock bikes in Harley’s Big Twin lineup.

 

 

At 5' 9" with a 31" inseam I’m a bit vertically challenged, so the Blackline’s super-low 24" seat height contributed to the bike’s maneuverable feel. It was no problem to push the bike around, and its low center of gravity inspires confidence by giving even the shortest rider the ability to plant both feet flat on the ground. For comparison, the H-D Wideglide has a 1.5" taller seat height. Those with longer legs might appreciate the forward controls, but I'm not a big fan. I'd much rather be able to have my feet in a mid-control position, though I can appreciate that many riders would be cramped with such a set-up. The good news is that without a passenger, the rear pegs are quite comfortable for cruising and worked well when I needed to stand up and stretch. The primary cover is wide and flat and makes a good perch on the left, but no such area lends itself for bent knee riding on the right. The handlebars are neat and clean, but index into only one position so there is zero adjustability, a small price to pay for that clean control center. The best thing about the bars is how narrow they are—just 24". This allowed for better lane splitting than any other stock cruiser I've ridden. The fact that I only bashed one mirror while threading the needle through miles of the famous Tijuana border crossing proves their practicality. All hand controls are standard Harley fare, everything right where muscle memory wants them to be. The drawback of the forward controls and attack-oriented riding position is some rider fatigue when in the saddle for hours at a time.

 

Old complaints of Softails being squishy in corners may have been true once upon a time but this bike tracked true through corners and never once became unpredictable or unsettled, even over rough pavement or hard cornering. I'm no sport bike rider but I did manage to grind down about half of the peg feeler on the left and completely tore the right one off. Ground clearance was otherwise acceptable for a machine that sits so low. The forward position of the kickstand keeps that apparatus off the pavement and the only time I scraped the frame rails was over some particularly steep and tall speed bumps in San Felipe. Where the rear suspension failed was any time I encountered a sharp-edged pothole, and the resulting jolts flowed directly into my spine. The suspension sucked up the numerous dirt washboards I encountered on my journey, and the front forks never bottomed or felt under-sprung. Even after 600+ hard miles, the Blackline went straight for miles with the throttle locked and hands off the bars. The fastest I got it going was just under 100mph and it showed no signs of wandering or sketchiness.

 

The counter-balanced 96" Twin Cam engine brings up debate amongst riders who have ridden a wide variety of Harley-Davidsons over the years. This technology found in the Blackline’s rigidly mounted engine does indeed reduce vibration, but it also saps a bit of power. Some riders will see this as a step toward greater civility and engine behavior, but I found it detracted from the seat-of-the-pants acceleration I expect from an engine of this size. To be honest, I didn't know about the counter-balancing technology until I complained to another rider that the engine felt almost anemic compared to other Dynas I've ridden. Don't get me wrong, the bike will go fast and is clearly no dog, but where a Dyna will gobble up miles easily at speeds over 80, the Blackline felt more “settled in” at lower speeds. Given speed limits and concerns for safety this might be a good thing, but for me the slight loss of power and mellow low-end pull sucked some of the soul out of the riding experience. The low-end grunt of an H-D is what makes riding one fun and unique, and for my taste the Blackline felt too civilized. If you are considering one, take a test ride and then ride a Dyna and see if it makes a difference to you.

 

The Circulo de la Muerte (Circle of Death) is a sideshow on the El Diablo Run that offered a perfect opportunity to test the Blackline in a way Harley marketing executives probably never imagined. On an eighth-mile dirt track, we carved with a backhoe in 2008 I lined up with three other cretins for a four-lap, no-crap showdown in the Mexican sun. On the line with me were a retired freestyle motocrosser named Jake on a Dyna, a vet desert racer named Bill on a Triumph Scrambler, and Jersey John on his trusty HD FXR. To avoid shredding open primary drives the organizers ran the race clockwise. This added drama to by making it impossible to use the rear brake. I started with two goals: stay upright and have fun. Scrambler Bill took an early lead, but lowsided in turn four on lap one. This mishap opened the door for Jake and me to dice it out. I stayed a safe distance from Jake in the corners but kept close enough to try an inside move in turn four. Jake carried more speed around the outside, however, and just nipped the Blackline and me at the finish line. It was during my inside move when I think I tore the feeler off my right peg. I’m not sure if it was the Blackline’s ABS or my own fear that kept me from skidding into the corners, but she suffered the abuse beautifully.

 

The Blackline had some practical features worth considering when spending upwards of 15 grand. The ignition switch is conveniently mounted on the coil and is capable of being left unlocked so you can operate it without the key. I found this easier to live with than the Dyna's neck-mounted system, and it's better looking, too. The fuel injection performed flawlessly in rough conditions and through a wide variety of elevation and temperature changes. It started cold or warm with no need for a tickle or choke. The lack of a fuel gauge wasn't a big deal with the five-gallon tank, and a "miles to empty" indicator will illuminate when it does get low. The clutch had a light touch anyone can appreciate, and the anti-vibe ride won't unsettle a beginner. The anti-lock brakes work just like a car, with a pulsating pedal when you expect to lay a sweet skid. Weird at first, but easy to get used to. Ground clearance should be enough for most riders and if you need more a dual sport or crotch rocket would probably suit you better anyway.

 

HITS

Classic Lines

Subtle custom touches and colorizing

Low seat height

Just the essentials

Practical ignition switch operation

Narrow handlebars

Anti-lock brakes

Durability and build quality

Vibe-free drive train

 

MISSES

Weak rear suspension on rough roads

Non-adjustability of bars

Cheap-looking forward controls

Vibe-free drive train

Steep price

 

In the end, the 2011 Blackline proved to be exactly what the factory promised: a stylish Harley that is capable of just about anything, especially suited to a rider who enjoys cruising or commuting, but isn't exactly looking for a long-haul pavement pounder or a traffic light drag racer.

 

Thanks to Kenn at www.2wf.com for hooking up the test bike, and to Michael Schmidt for the action photos.

 

Specs:

MSRP starting at $15,499 in Vivid Black

 

DIMENSIONS

U.S. UNITS

Length: 93 in.

Seat Height

Laden 24 in.

Unladen 26.1 in.

Ground Clearance: 5.25 in.

Rake Steering Head: 30 °

Trail: 4.84 in.

Wheelbase: 66.5 in.

Fuel Capacity: 5 gal.

Oil Capacity: 3 qt.

Dry Weight: 638.5 lbs.

Running Order: 682.5 lbs.

 

POWERTRAIN

Engine: Air-cooled, Twin Cam 96B™

Displacement: 96 cu. in.

Bore x Stroke: 3.75 in. / 4.38 in.

Engine Torque: 89 ft. lbs. @ 3250 rpm

Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)

Compression Ratio: 9.2:1

Primary Drive: Chain, 34/46 ratio

Fuel Economy City: 35 mpg

Fuel Economy Hwy: 54 mpg

Gear Ratio (Overall)

1st 9.03

2nd 6.259

3rd 4.649

4th 3.764

5th 3.207

6th 2.706

 

WHEELS / TIRES

Wheels

Front: Black Anodized, Profile Laced Aluminum

Rear: Black Anodized, Profile Laced Aluminum

Tire Size

Front: MH90-21 54H

Rear: MU85B16 77H

 

ELECTRICAL

Instruments

Triple clamp-mounted electronic speedometer with odometer, time-of-day clock on odometer, dual tripmeter, engine diagnostics readout, low fuel warning light and mileage countdown feature, low oil pressure indicator, 6-speed indicator, ABS indicator (optional), LED indicator lights

Indicator Lamps 8

High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, security system (optional), 6-speed, low fuel warnings

 

CHASSIS

Brakes: 4-piston front and rear

Parking Brake

Lean Angle: 24.4 / 25.9 °

Exhaust System: Chrome, over/under shotgun exhaust with slash-cut mufflers

 

COLOR OPTIONS

Vivid Black

Cool Blue Pearl / Vivid Black

Sedona Orange / Vivid Black


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Comment with Chopcult (17)

Commented on 5-23-2011 At 03:47 am
 

Thanks for the review. I have a friend that "fell in love" with this bike at a local dealerships bike night. Better make sure he reads this and rides the bike before he makes any purchase. What is the point of a brand new harley if you can't get buzzed and hot rod it through every stop light?

Commented on 5-23-2011 At 08:52 am
 

One of my biggest complaints about new harley's is how barf the engine looks in regards to cylinder and head coloring.

I am a huge fan of those black barrels. The bike looks good. Just needs to be de-turded by ditching the reflectors, blinkers, etc. and that's a pretty good stocker!

Commented on 5-23-2011 At 09:12 am
 

Very good review, Was looking into this but will stick to looking for a dyna.

Commented on 5-23-2011 At 01:34 pm
 

ive set two of them up now at our dealership and i don think they're bad looking. im glad they went back tot he skinnier rear tire. i really like the triple clamps on these.

Commented on 5-23-2011 At 02:33 pm
 

Good info......If I were going to buy a new bike....Thats the one....but got my eye on a 650 basket case....

Commented on 5-23-2011 At 04:11 pm
 

Those bars are damn near identical to the biltwell low drags arnt they?

Commented on 5-23-2011 At 06:00 pm
 

Similar look to the Low Drags, but the bars on the Blackline have no crossbar. They actually have a key way that locks them into position and doesn't allow them to move. Pretty cool look, but wrong bike.

Commented on 5-23-2011 At 06:07 pm
 

They would be a whole different deal if they were splined so you could adjust the sweep.

Commented on 5-23-2011 At 06:26 pm
 

Quit giving the MoCo all the good ideas Bill!

Commented on 5-24-2011 At 06:28 am
 

Nice bike for one bike owner. At least they are keeping up with the times somewhat.

Commented on 5-24-2011 At 08:09 am
 

I like it! Not something I would purchase but it seems like a pretty good bike, for what it is.

Commented on 5-24-2011 At 11:10 am
 

I don't know. The bike is probably rather cool for the break down factor but I like wrenching on mine just as much as I like riding it. The overall looks of this bike is good though I guess. Still not paying that for a bike though.

Commented on 5-24-2011 At 03:16 pm
 

If they were adjustable you could swing them back into rabbit ear style bars. Get one of them factory flake jobs a couple chop cult stickers and your in buisness.

Commented on 5-24-2011 At 09:45 pm
 

not bad for a softail
in germany this thing costs 16,9 euros (23660 dollar)!!!!

Commented on 5-24-2011 At 09:46 pm
 

ähhh 16.900 euros

Commented on 5-25-2011 At 06:52 am
 

i think the bike is bitchen my biggest complaint was the forward controls and the fact that they looked like an after thought

i gotta admit i was floored and more than impressed to see Bill rip it up on the circle of death!

Commented on 5-27-2011 At 07:22 pm
 

For a bike named the blackline, there isn't enough black. But then again, there never is.

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