Test Ride: Harley-Davidson Rocker

Words: Bertrand Gahel Photos: Harley-Davidson

Choppers are definitely hot these days. TV shows built around them seem to be popping out regularly, and people are watching. One of them, American Chopper, has even raised its “actors” to the kind of celebratory status many Hollywood stars would kill for. Broadcasted in 160 countries, it is watched – according to some estimates – by some 400 million viewers worldwide!

Normally, it wouldn’t have taken long for large volume motorcycle manufactures to produce choppers themselves in order to take advantage of this incredible interest. Problem is, with their long, almost horizontal forks, their rigid rear suspension (i.e. nonexistent) and their mammouth rear tire, choppers aren’t normal by any means …

Because it believes it is its duty to stay at the forefront of design in the custom world, Harley-Davidson decided it would nonetheless take the challenge and introduce its own chopper for 2008, the all-new Rocker.

TAKING THE ‘CHOP’ OUT OF CHOPPER

Belonging to the Softail family, the Rocker uses the same fuel-injected, 6-speed, counterbalanced, air-cooled 1,584 cc V-Twin. However, since none of Harley-Davidson’s existing platforms would either fit or work with the extreme rake and large rear tire necessary for a chopper to be a chopper, an all-new frame had to be developed just for the Rocker.

Victory Vision
It’s a chopper with a softail.

So how does a cruiser with a fork raked to 37,5 degrees and a skinny 90/90-19 front tire combined with a massive 240/40-18 rear work? Well, better than you might think, and definitely way better than the small production run choppers you see on TV or in magazines.

To begin with, the thing has suspension that actually works – both front and rear. It’s obviously no Gold Wing, but it is respectively smooth over most average-size road irregularities. Now that might not sound like much, but spend a few minutes on a chopper with a rigid back-end and a fork that flexes more than it absorbs, and you’ll understand real quick the beauty of functional suspension.

What may be the most impressive feature about the Rocker, however, is how good its handling is considering the tires size. Again, one needs to have ridden bikes with huge rear tires and experienced how quirky they handle to appreciate the quality of the Harley’s general behaviour, which, according to the manufacturer’s engineers, certainly didn’t happen by chance.

Victory Vision
Designed from the (huge) rear tire forwards.

The frame basically had to be built around the tire sizes, and literally dozens of tires were tested before settling on the combination found on the final product.

Aside from a rather strong tendency from the front wheel to fall in the direction of the turn at parking lot speeds, the Rocker essentially rides like a normal cruiser. When above walking pace, the Rocker only asks for slightly more steering input when initiating a turn, otherwise it’s reasonably precise, solid and neutral mid-corner.

Even the clamshell riding position, which might seem (and frankly is) a bit extreme, is surprisingly tolerable on short to medium distances. As far as performance goes, we’re talking usual Softail stuff: good, pleasant low rpm torque, smooth V-Twin feel and a nice, deep exhaust note.

THE PRICE IS RIGHT

Victory Vision
This is the standard model (less chrome).

The Rocker is available in two formats – the standard ($20,259.00) and the ‘C’ model ($22,819.00). The only mechanical difference between the two is that the C can be ridden two up thanks to an ingenious foldable passenger seat. Otherwise, you’re basically paying for the extra chrome on the C.

While just over twenty grand seems about normal for a Harley-Davidson these days, you’d easily multiply that by two for anything coming from a small production manufacturer (but without the functionality).

The new Rocker represents a sort of link between small volume, custom-built choppers and the much more strict requirements of large production manufacturers. Funny thing is, not only does this work very much in favour of the rider, it also does it at a relatively affordable price.


Specifications
Rocker (C)
MSRP
$20,259.00 ($22,819.00) – add $400 for fancy paint
Displacement
1,584 cc
Engine type
Air-cooled, push-rod, V-Twin.
Carburetion
EFI
Final drive
Belt
Tires, front
90/90-19
Tires, rear
240/40-18
Brakes, front
Single disc with 4 piston caliper
Brakes, rear
Single disc with 2 piston caliper
Seat height
665 mm (698 mm)
Wheelbase
1758 mm (1760 mm)
Dry weight
(claimed)
300 Kg (311 Kg) (claimed)
Colours
Vivid Black; Pacific Blue Pearl; Crimson Red Sunglo, Vivid Black Deluxe (Vivid Black Deluxe; Pacific Blue Pearl Deluxe; Crimson Red Sunglo Deluxe)
Tank capacity
18.9 litres

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