In motorcycling, there is a long list of sub-cultures, but ask a non-biker to describe a motorcycle, and nine out of ten times you end up with a description of a Harley Davidson. No other type of motorbike gives you the same feeling of being free and invincible. The only problem is choosing which one. Harley currently has five different ranges to choose from, and I had the privilege of testing the Heritage Softail Classic.
The 2010 model looks exactly the same as the outgoing model, the only differences being a helical cut fifth gear for improved transmission sound and a more accurate fuel gauge. The Harley engineers really do a great job of improving every model, even in the finest of details.
You can stand next to this bike for ages, admiring its artistic brilliance and attention to detail. From the staggered chrome tailpipes and ignition switch to the leather insert on the tank. The tall screen, studded leather saddle bags and white-wall tires really give it a classic, old-school look. If you want to draw attention everywhere you go, this is the bike for you.
When the disc-like ‘key’ is in the vicinity of the bike, simply turn the large ignition switch, flip the kill switch to ‘run’ and hit the starter. With a loud clunk from the starter, the large twin roars into life. I remember from a previous short ride on the Fat Boy, sharing its platform with the Heritage Classic, I had almost fully to extend my arms during tight turns. But after a couple of minutes on the Classic I was as comfortable as in a car. Even though it weighs 341kg, it handles very well through both twisty bends and highway traffic. A lot of Harleys only get used over weekends, but I would not mind having one of these as an everyday commuting bike. It will surely put a smile on your face riding to work every morning.
The twin cylinder, air-cooled engine displaces a massive 1584cc and develops most of its torque from as low as 3 000 rpm. Cruising along at any speed you can twist the throttle in any of the six gears and within seconds you gain 20 to 30km/h. You won’t strain your neck muscles though, as the power delivery is ultra smooth, making for a very comfortable cruising bike. Due to the electronic fuel injection and emission reducing exhausts, gone are the signature low burble and the loud growl of older carburetor fitted Harleys. This, however, does not make you feel any less like an outlaw.
The ride is fairly firm, but not uncomfortable, even over bumpy roads, and the single 292mm front and rear disc brakes do a good job of reigning in this heavy monster. All the controls fall well to hand and have a high quality feel to them. The instruments are simple, but visually appealing, consisting of a large tank mounted speedometer and odometer, a smaller fuel gauge in a chrome housing to the left and filler cap to the right. There is a small green ‘six’ lighting up on the instrument panel, indicating top gear, which comes in handy as it feels very relaxed cruising at the national speed limit in fifth. You can ride this bike all day long thanks to the large comfortable leather seat and big flat footrests, and the seating position is spot on for both rider and passenger. The big 19.7 litre fuel tank is good for well over 200km between stops.
All new Harleys have a belt driven final drive, which is entirely maintenance free. Service intervals are every 8 000km, and you get a 24 month warranty standard on any new Harley. You also get a year’s free HOG membership and roadside assistance. The Harley dealerships have frequent demonstration days where you can take the different models for a ride if you have difficulty in deciding on the right one for you, or you can rent a Harley for a weekend ride into the country.
The saddlebags, passenger seat with back rest and large detachable wind-screen all are standard spec on the Heritage Classic. This model will set you back R255 000 and then you can still stamp your personality on it by the large range of custom accessories available to Harley owners. It is far from cheap, but you get so much more than a great piece of machinery. I’ve never been one to be fooled by image, but you just can’t argue with the feeling you get when you’re on a Harley Davidson.
Motorcycle courtesy of Harley-Davidson Tyger Valley.
Francois Steyn CA(SA), is Lecturer: Department of Accounting at the University of Stellenbosch.