After some bumps in the road, Harley-Davidson is back in the saddle and riding high – or in the case of the Harley-Davidson FXS Blackline, riding low. This bad boy cruiser, which is essentially a Softail 'pared to the bone', has the lowest saddle height of any Harley-Davidson ever, at just over 600mm. It's so much of a low rider that even the pillion can touch down to help balance the motorcycle when stopped at a set of lights. Not that any self-respecting Harley-Davidson owner needs assistance keeping the ride upright.
The Harley-Davidson FXS Blackline is finished in Dark Custom style and theoretically appeals to a younger demographic. Cue plenty of matte- and gloss- black'dark as tar at midnight' highlighting, representing a 'rebellious celebration of the open road'.
The Softail silhouette is meant to convey the illusion of a person riding an engine and, to that end, all superfluous flim-flam has gone. For example, the fuel gauge that used to resemble a filler on the left side of the tank has disappeared, replaced by a low-fuel warning light in the tiny analogue speedo. A conspicuously minute headlight in a black shell finishes the back-to-basics look up front, while the rear sports a new bobbed fender. Being a Softail, the motorcycle looks as if it has no rear suspension, as the swingarm section replicates the lines of a vintage hardtail, but it actually does, in the form of hidden, horizontal coil-over shocks. As well as the paint highlights, the motorcycle features chrome shotgun-style over and under exhausts, a rigidly mounted engine, wire -spoked aluminum wheels (a 21-inch in the front) and, arguably its standout styling feature, black split drag bars, each individually mounted to the top triple clamp. The 18-liter fuel tank has a black garnish running down the center of the tank; hence, the Blackline moniker.
Mechanically, think of this as an alternative to the other Softail models, like the Rocker C. The 1584cc twin-cam injected 96B engine isn't exactly overburdened with power, but its 121Nm of torque kicks in at just over 3200rpm, and the engine readily lugs down to 1500rpm, pulling away clean and strong, thanks to its generous flywheel effect. The big V-twin engine is a handsome thing, sitting open and proud, and finished in silver and chrome, with a gorgeous gloss-black dry sump reservoir beneath the seat. Also blacked out are the rocker covers, crankcase, and primary and gearbox side covers.
The Harley-Davidson Blackline is a bike of which every bad-boy will approve. It's a striking looker, and you know what? That's almost enough here in Thailand. If looks could kill, this would be a serial killer. Pretty much every aspect of the bike seems suited for an uprising.
Except, perhaps, for the use of black plastic tie-downs to hold wires against the frame uprights in front of the engine. And the mirrors, which are clear a fashion accessory because they show almost nothing of the rearward view, elbows aside. Of course, you probably won't be doing anything illegal anyway, as the riding position puts paid to that. You lean forward to the short handlebars and stretch out to the forward-set footpegs, looking every bit the outlaw. Despite being low, you're still a sail to the onrushing wind in this position.
Providing you're not winding it out, the Harley-Davidson FSX Blackline is comfortable enough for short stretches, and if pain does creep in, you have the option of switching your feet to the rear footpegs, that is, if the old lady isn't around. Which she probably won be much, given how plush the pillion seat isn't. Just don't be caught in this riding position, which, while comfy, will be considered by onlookers as conduct unbecoming.
So you'll be taking things easy, mainly in keeping with the Harley-Davidson Softail style. And here that big, elegant, air-cooled V-twin is entirely happy to cooperate, although its performance might be best described as adequate. The long-stroke engine cries quits by 5500rpm and allegedly creates around 66 horses tops, so it's the torque that drives this cruiser. The six-speed transmission has gearing more akin to that of a car than a motorcycle, with 100km/h equating to an effortless 2250rpm in sixth, 110km/h a loafing 2500rpm. At cruising speeds the vibrations are designed to contribute to the 'emotional appeal of the ride' and are inconsequential. Shifting smoothly takes practice, but if everything is done deliberately, and the revs aren't off the clock, you can master quite liquid changes in either direction.
Because of the Harley-Davidson's geometry, handling was never going to be one its stronger suits, but ride certainly is, as it is more absorbent than many and cushions against spinal jarring. Lean angles max out at around 25 degrees either side, about half of what's possible on a sportsbike – another reason for quiet cruising being the order of the day. And quiet it is, too, before those over and under shotguns are properly armed with buckshot instead of saltpeter.
Despite the low seat height, we're certainly ridden custom bikes with worse cornering clearance. Okay, the Harley-Davidson FXS Blackline may not be in its element in mountainous switchback roads, but there's enough capability here to have fun in the turns, and changes of direction are surprisingly easy considering the implausibly narrow nature of the handlebars and size of the front wheel. Simply apply pressure to the forward-set footpegs as you push on the appropriate handlebar, and the low center of gravity and slimline, 144mm rear tire help do the rest. Harley-Davidson's were once strangers to handling, but this is changing, and here's an example of the new breed of competent cruiser. Just ensure entry speeds into corners aren't overly optimistic, and this does swell.
While you might not think a simle 292mm disc clamped by four-piston calipers would prove adequate for reining in a 300kg cruiser, you'd be right – except it stops just fine because it's the rear brake that does most of the work, with the front just chipping in for added effect. ABS is a handy addition.