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Blue Dog Diaries: Rumor had it

By Terry Roorda

Back in February this column went into the rumor-mongering business in a big way, relaying the sketchy details of an alleged wholly India-produced Harley-Davidson that were being breathlessly reported in the Indian media, and had been for better than a year at that point. Those rumors were given a passing mention at best by most of the American moto-press, largely in light of the unreliability of the foreign outlets who were known to trumpet sensational and unsourced scuttlebutt of that sort routinely, and particularly when it came to the presence of Harley’s vast new CKD (complete knock-down) factory in Haryana, India.

That skepticism was natural on the face of it considering The Motor Company’s famously tight-lipped policy regarding product development and the lengths to which they had gone to assure everyone that the Indian factory was nothing more than a final assembly stop for the stream of knock-down machines issuing from their domestic facilities. Yet at the same time there were reasons to suspect at least a particle of truth in those reports. For one thing there was the sure knowledge that the Rider’s Edge program needed a replacement for the Buell Blast that had been taken off the market when H-D pulled the plug on the marque in 2009, and continued in production only to service that need, and for another the equally sure knowledge that in order to expand their footprint in the exploding motorcycle markets of Asia and elsewhere where the price of their current models was prohibitive and the traffic situation teeming and chaotic something needed to be done.

By August of this year, the rumor mill was swelling in volume and issuing ever more specifics about the phantom India-made Harley such that the company acknowledged during the 110th Anniversary festivities that, yes, they were indeed doing the seeming unthinkable and preparing for full production of new model bikes in Haryana.

It would be a challenge to overstate the significance and impending impact of the XG platform, better known at this moment as the Street 500 and Street 750. Besides filling the obvious small-displacement rider training bike void, the XGs have answered a number of questions we’ve had for long time, starting with: What, if anything, are the future plans for the V-Rod and the liquid-cooled Revolution motor? That question has lingered for as long as there have been V-Rods, and after the dismal reception in 2006 of their one outside-the-norm exercise, the spectacular but short-lived Street Rod (there’s that word again) speculation has centered largely on how the motor could be massaged for use in a touring model. Touring models are, after all, far and away the hottest sellers out of Milwaukee and that popularity shows no signs of waning anytime soon. Perhaps a larger displacement, longer stroke, lower compression, milder cam, 6-speed overdrive transmission—you know, stuff like that.

Now with the unveiling of the Street models, we have our answer in the Revolution X, and it took us quite by surprise. After all, it would have been understandable for the company to take the quick and easy way out and source the powerplant from, say, Rotax, which furnishes smallish motors for the likes of BMW and others and provided the liquid-cooled V-twin for the Buell 1125R. But they didn’t. They downsized the Revolution motor instead. And then they detuned it and gave it the 6-speed transmission that both the VRSC and Sportster models have been lusting after since, like, forever. That approach was definitely doing things the hard way, but the result is nothing short of sensational, and the horizons of the motor’s possibilities are, it would appear now, practically without bounds.

A second lingering question was answered as well, this one dating all the way back to 1978 and the demise of the café racer-styled XLCR Sportster, bar-none the sexiest design ever to emerge from Milwaukee and perhaps Willie G.’s crowning creative achievement.

In the years that followed, the brilliance and ahead-of-its-time nature of the bike continued to gain currency, practically reaching legendary status. We were, therefore, somewhat mystified when the company failed to produce a 30th or 35th anniversary edition of the beauty even as café styling was resurging in the industry in a big way.

We have our answer again in the XG platform which owes more than a little of what Harley Senior Veep and Global Marketing Director Marc-Hans Richer termed its “pure fists in the wind attitude” to a fistful of conspicuous styling details derived from the XLCR. From the black Morris 7-spoke mags to the all-black exhaust system to the café quarter fairing and simple Bar & Shield tank escutcheon, the similarities are undeniable. And irresistible.

So, yes, we’re unabashed fans of the new models, and we have yet to actually ride one. What’s not to love? Unless, that is, you happen to be an 883 Sportster. Turning once more to the rumor mill, the word on the street has been that the XL platform is queued up for the major makeover it hasn’t received since 2004, and among the agenda items that revisiting will entail is doubtless the ongoing relevance of the XL 883. Let’s face it: with the XG 750 in the house and reputedly sporting performance and handling characteristics that surpass anything the smaller XLs possess, including more than 80 fewer pounds, a state-of-the-art powertrain, lower MSRP and longer-travel suspension—even while boasting a seat height equivalent to that of the XL 883 Low—there’s really no reason to keep the aging XLs in play. And probably not much of a market anymore either.

But times change, and despite The Motor Company’s famously conservative “if-it-works-don’t-fix-it” reputation, the emergence of the XG models heralds an exciting new era for the marque among motorcycle enthusiasts of pretty much all ages and nationalities.

Well played, Milwaukee. Well played.

It’s all right here in the diaries.


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