Showing posts with label American Motorcycles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label American Motorcycles. Show all posts

Harley-Davidson Sportster

Harley-Davidson Sportster 1950s American classic motorcycle

The Harley-Davidson Sportster is a motorcycle institution. It first hit American highways in '57. There has been many a model since - and the Sportster still shows no sign of stopping. Throughout its venerable run, it has given many a new rider a first taste of the biker brotherhood. The Sportster has long held pride of place as the entry-level Harley. Pared down to bare biking bones, it has always cut straight to the chase. By '62, the Sportster was dishing up 55bhp - at 5,000rpm. That was thanks to its iconic V-twin engine layout. The motor's stroke, at that point, was a tall 96.8mm. That translated into hefty dollops of acceleration-laden torque. Top speed for the Sportster, in the early Sixties, was 110mph.

The XLCH Sportster weighed in at 485lb. That was light enough for a skilled rider to cruise through corners with relative ease. While hardly a sports bike, by modern standards - back in the day, it was a lithe and agile ride. Before the Sportster, British-built bikes had been the only way to go - at any sort of speed, anyway. So, the Sportster was a welcome addition to the roster of quick and capable roadsters on offer.

The Sportster has long been a mainstay of tidy, uncluttered design. As with any bike, the focal point was its small - but perfectly-formed - fuel-tank. Alongside it were a diminutive headlamp and relatively low-set 'bars. At least, as compared with many a custom-style machine. A single seat - and slender fenders - were in keeping with the Sportster's minimalist approach. In many ways, then, the Harley-Davidson Sportster has been the bedrock of this most prestigious of two-wheeled marques. Long may it continue to be so!

Harley-Davidson V-Rod

Harley-Davidson V-Rod 2000s American sports motorbike

By Harley-Davidson standards, the V-Rod verged on the radical. It was clearly a cruiser - in true Milwaukee style. But, it was a different kind of cruiser to what Harley fans were used to. The V-Rod VRSC - V-Twin Racing Street Custom - had superbike-like performance. Top speed was 135mph. Handling-wise, things were just as impressive. In a straight line, the V-Rod was ultra-precise. That was only to be expected - given its long wheelbase. The front forks were raked out to 38°, after all. But, whereas in the past, cornering would then have been compromised, the V-rod's cutting edge engineering saw it sail through twists and turns. And that with a dry weight of 594lb.

Visually, the V-Rod was striking, to say the least. A full-on 'silver machine', Harley did not stint on aluminium. This was no 'iron horse'. Rather, the V-Rod was an object-lesson in à la mode metalwork. Solid disc wheels set off intricate frame tubes. An elegantly-shaped tank morphed into a slanted headlamp. The clean lines of the pipes blended in perfectly. The 1130cc V-twin engine was a design delight in itself.

The 115bhp motor had its roots in Harley's VR1000 race bike. Porsche Engineering assisted in its development. In marketing terms, Harley declared this Evolution engine a 'Revolution'! It boasted twin overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Water-cooled - and with a 60° 'V' - it took Harley performance to a whole new level. The venerable old pushrod motor was history. Harley-Davidson riders could not believe their luck. They had long been on bikes that ruled the roost, looks-wise. Well, in their opinion, at any rate. Now - with the advent of the V-Rod - they were competing technically, too. Talk about having your motorcycle cake and eating it!

Buell Firebolt XB9R

Buell Firebolt XB9R 2000s American motorcycle

When it came to the Firebolt XB9R, Buell could not have had more gigantic shoulders to stand on. Harley-Davidson is a hugely successful brand. It is therefore well-placed to lend a helping hand to those lower down the pecking order, should it care to do so. To the likes of, say, Buell - who were given permission to transplant Harley's iconic V-twin into their own creations. Not that Harley was losing out. Erik Buell - founder of his firm - was a kingpin of innovation. Harley no doubt hoped some of his boundless ingenuity would rub off on their own marque. In marketing terms, at least!

Erik Buell was a Harley man through and through. He had been both an engineer and racer for them. He was uniquely positioned, then, to conceive and construct the RR1000 - a Harley-powered race bike. As is so often the case, success at the racetrack led to a road-going sequel. The Buell RS1200 featured a vibe-reducing rubber-mounting set-up. It was also fitted with a radical rear shock. Horizontally slung beneath the engine, it was both technically, and visually, arresting. It was in '93 that the 'big time' beckoned for Buell. Harley took out a 49% shareholding in the company. That was later increased. With Harley-Davidson at the helm, Buell was set fair. Exciting products were sure to follow. Erik Buell's singular vision of how a motorcycle could be built - rather than how it should be built - was always a key factor.

The Firebolt, then, was in a roster of radical bikes built by Buell. It was released in '02. Its most conventional component was its motor. That was a tuned 984cc Sportster powerplant. After that, Buell departed from the Harley script. The Firebolt's frame spars, for instance, were also its 'fuel tank'. Likewise, its swing-arm held the oil. Those chassis parts were forged from light aluminium. Bizarre as they sound, such 'double acts' harked back to motorcycling's classic era. What was indisputably 'new skool' was the Firebolt's front brake disc. Comprised of an ornately-fashioned 'ring', it was fixed to the wheel's rim, rather than its hub. On the subject of braking, top speed for the Firebolt was 130mph. Handling was impeccable - courtesy of the chassis wizardry. Cue plaudits, then, for Erik Buell - clearly, a man at one with his craft. The Firebolt XB9R came right out of the biking blue ... and shot a surge of creativity into the world of motorcycle design!

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide 1960s American classic motorcycle

Glamorous as they are, not many bikes have made it to the movies. One that did swan serenely across the big screen was a Harley-Davidson. The film was Electra Glide in Blue. The 'hog' fully lived up to its star billing. It caught Harley's free-wheeling spirit, to a tee ... even if it was a police bike! A kingpin of long-legged tourers, the 'Glide' was American to its apple-pie core. It was made to go places. After all - as another great movie put it - 'It's a big country!'

Styling-wise, the Glide was pure Americana. Big, basically. Big fenders, big tires, big gas tank. And - most importantly - big attitude! No marque does machismo quite like Harley. If you are uncomfortable being looked at, don't even think about getting one. Whether you want to be or not, on a Harley, you are a star. There are those who would kill for that kind of kudos!

The Electra Glide's technical spec was impressive. In '65, its motor measured 1,198cc. Piston stroke was 100.6mm. In other words, tall and torquey. Mind you, the Glide needed its pulling power. 770lb was a lot to shift. Notwithstanding, top speed was a cool 95mph. Unsurprisingly, the Electra Glide received glowing reviews. It still ripped up the red carpet, though - in true Harley-Davidson style. 'Here's looking at you, Glide!'