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Harley-Davidson 2008 Model Launch

By Robert Filla

Mods & Rockers

Getting geared up for the 105th

Baltimore, Md., July 16–17—How do you prepare for someone’s 105th birthday? Especially when you just threw a huge party five years earlier and damn near everybody showed up. The Motor Company decided the solution includes three new bikes, a displacement bump for the V-Rods, some fancy brakes, a high-tech throttle and a limited-edition anniversary cosmetic package. That’s lots of icing on this year’s cake, and H-D started blowing up the party balloons at the press launch for the 2008 models.

Not your grandpa’s rocker
The latest members in the Softail branch of the Harley family tree are the FXCW Rocker and its well-groomed brother, the FXCWC Rocker Custom. And with the addition of the Rocker, Harley has taken a giant leap off the conservative front porch and landed squarely in the chopper front yard—and at a most strange time.

With the recent national “craze” for baggers, why would Harley introduce their most radical bike ever at this time? Simply put, the Rocker ended up being a three-year project that was actually slated to be introduced last year but was held back when it was decided it wasn’t “quite” perfect. Apparently that extra year of fine tuning was worth the wait and has resulted in the best handling and most enjoyable bike with a 240mm rear tire ever mass-produced. Many of the press on hand for the launch were seen inspecting the rear rubber after a test ride to be certain they were actually spinning a 240.

The Rocker derives its name from a form-fitting rear fender attached to the swingarm that hugs tight to the massive 240 and literally “rocks” up and down with the tire throughout its 3.4” of travel. Without the assistance of any external support struts, the rear fender’s lines remain clean and uncluttered, sporting only the most minimal of lighting (twin marker lamps on either side of the fender that serve as combination taillight, brake light and turn signals) and a centered license plate mount with a small illumination fixture below the tag. (Due to the excessive abuse they must endure being mounted to a rigid fender, the twin markers utilize LED components for extended life.)

A second notable feature of the Rocker brothers is the cast aluminum “beehive” oil tank. Although the oil tank is similar to the classic horseshoe shape that is found on the remainder of the Softail family, deep fins in the casting add an extra touch of retro charm and set the bike apart from everything else in the lineup. The bee-hive tank on the standard Rocker comes in a Satin Stainless Metallic powdercoat finish that is also found on the fork lowers, triple clamps, headlamp assembly, swingarm, turn signal housings, hand controls and engine trim, which gives the standard an industrial appearance. A massive octagonal dipstick adds to the bike’s rugged demeanor. The oil tank on the Rocker C (along with the swingarm) is also powder coated but color-matched to the sheet metal. Most of the parts that received the Satin Stainless Metallic coating on the Rocker have been chromed on the Rocker C.

The Rockers point the way with a 19″, 90mm front tire riding in a fork slanted at a whopping 38 degrees of rake. Despite this aggressive chopper stance, the combination works very well, with no tendency to flop, and allows the bike to remain deft and responsive, maintaining consistent road stability. The tapered five-spoke, cast aluminum wheels are exclusive to the Rocker and come powder coated on the standard and polished on the Custom.

Although The Motor Company retired the Deuce last year, apparently they kept the stamping dies around with the long and swoopy Deuce gas tank being resurrected and finding a new home on the Rocker. Even the center console looks vaguely like the Deuce, but with a redesigned (and much less attractive) speedometer. But the looks of the “Speed Shop” speedo are offset by a stunning set of five-inch curved risers and well designed two-piece “V-Bars” that only add to the bike’s superb handling.

Seating on both models is fair—not really uncomfortable but with room for improvement—maybe a little more dished or with a lip on the rear. The Rocker comes with a solo seat that is only 24 1/2″ off the ground. The Rocker C seating is 1″ taller but for good cause—the hidden pillion. Harley calls it the Trick Seat design. I call it, “If this is a selling point, that’s one hell of a marketing team.” As the Rocker rear fender is unsupported, the fender would crack under any additional weight load. In response, on the Rocker C Harley has designed a concealed passenger seat tucked away under the solo seat. Simply flip up the solo seat, lift out the hinged pillion struts that deploy over the fender and attach the passenger pad (pad is a much more appropriate name than seat). A clever concept, but one that simply looks strange—leaving any passenger perched high in the air, disconnected from the rest of the bike and resembling something like a weather vane on top of a barn. At least Harley had the foresight to add a passenger seat strap for any participating daredevils. The Trick Seat has a weight limit of 250 pounds, which brought an avalanche of puns and jokes from the press concerning the careful selection of a riding partner.

Additional Rocker accessories have already been placed in Harley’s latest catalog and include a luggage rack, saddlebags and a touring system strut kit with a “real” passenger seat and backrest. As with all of the other Softails, the Rocker is powered by a rigid-mount, 96” fuel-injected Twin Cam B motor with a 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission getting the ponies to the asphalt. The Rocker will begin official production at the York Vehicle Operations in September with a starting MSRP of $17,295 for a black Rocker and $19,840 for a color/deluxe Rocker C.

The balance of the 2008 Softail line consists of the FXSTB Night Train, FXSTC Softail Custom, FLSTF Fat Boy, FLSTC Heritage Softail Classic and the FLSTN Softail Deluxe. All Softails now come with 25mm hollow axles (for increased rigidity), a chassis that is 15 percent stiffer and batteries with terminal posts located on top for easy access. All Softails (except the Night Train and Rockers) are available as limited-edition, serialized 105th Anniversary models with special badging and an exclusive two-tone paint scheme of Anniversary Copper and Vivid Black.

Riding farther and enhanced braking
The line of Harley-Davidson touring models also tallies in at seven models for 2008. That includes the FLHR Road King, FLHRC Road King Classic, FLHT Electra Glide Standard, FLHTC Electra Glide Classic, the FLHTCU Ultra Classic Electra Glide, FLHX Street Glide and the FLTR Road Glide. The fuel capacity for all the touring models received a 20 percent boost this year, going from a five-gallon to a six-gallon tank. This was accomplished by enlarging the tank along all of its surfaces, which resulted in a sort of first trimester, pregnant look—nothing obvious but you know something’s different.

But the biggest change for the bagger lineup is the new Brembo high-performance brakes and an anti-lock braking system (ABS). While the Brembo brakes come standard, the ABS is a factory-installed option and cannot be retrofitted. In an effort to save storage capacity (earlier ABS-equipped police bikes housed the major components in the saddlebag), this new ABS system has been repackaged and relocated in the right-hand side cover that previously contained the cruise control.

That relocation program necessitated the development of an electronic throttle control (ETC) to handle the cruise control duties, eliminating the throttle cables. All touring bikes now come standard with this rheostat type throttle (commonly known as fly-by-wire) even if the ABS is not on your list of options. Technicians also added a “rumble” feature to the ABS that transfers a “shudder” to the rider through either the front brake lever or rear brake pedal, signaling the operator that the ABS has been activated.

Both the ABS and the ETC handled beautifully during this launch, but with this group of media gearheads constantly twisting the wick to test the capabilities of the ETC and jamming the brakes to check the limits of the ABS, several of the bikes probably need a change of rubber before they next hit the streets.

The final incentive to go bagger in 2008 is the new Isolation Drive System located in the rear pulley assembly. Performing like a compensator, it reduces any drivetrain play and excess lash, which results in less noise and vibration during acceleration and shifting. It performed admirably and added just that little extra touch for a most excellent ride. Limited-edition 105th Anniversary models will be available for the Ultra Classic, Road King Classic, the Road Glide and the Street Glide.

A Dyna named Bob
The third new model unveiled for 2008 is the FXDF Dyna Fat Bob. With its aggressive styling, this has to be the “rowdiest” bike Harley is presently offering. Taking a cue from days gone by (this bike reminds me greatly of my precious Shovelhead), the Fat Bob appears to be part Dyna (with its standard swingarm configuration), part Softail (with its bob-tail rear fender) and part tourer (with its oversized front tire).

That front tire measures 130mm x 16” and is the boldest feature of the Fat Bob. But when coupled with dual 4” headlamps (at first glance they appear to be separate lights but are actually a very slick one-piece unit), drag bars, slotted cast wheels and a stunning set of Tommy Gun 2-1-2 pipes, this bike had all the riders waiting for a chance to knock some rubber off the pegs.

Adding to its rough-and-tumble appeal, this “chunky” machine comes with the rear shocks fully jacketed with chrome covers, the biggest rear rubber of any Dyna (180mm) and can be ordered with either forward foot controls or mid-controls.

The Fat Bob lives up to its name and is the heaviest Dyna, tipping the scales at 703 pounds (wet weight). It is available in seven solid-color paint options with the best being the three semigloss Denim colors (flat black never looked so good). And with an MSRP of only $14,795 dressed in black or $15,140 for a color version, “rowdy” just got affordable.

With the addition of the Fat Bob, the Dyna line now numbers six and also includes the FXD Dyna Super Glide, FXDC Dyna Super Glide Custom, FXDL Dyna Low Rider, FXDB Dyna Street Bob and the FXDWG Dyna Wide Glide. During the 2008 run, the Wide Glide is only available with the Limited Edition 105th Anniversary model trim. The Low Rider and Super Glide Custom are the only Dynas available with optional 105th Anniversary packaging. All Dynas utilize a rubber-mounted 96″ Twin Cam motor and a 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission. For ’08, all models come standard with braided stainless brake lines and a redesigned air cleaner cover that bears an uncanny resemblance to the classic teardrop model produced by S&S Cycle.

Pumping iron
Coming in with only three family members, the V-Rod branch of the Bar & Shield tree may be the smallest, but for 2008 it’s also the one packing the most punch. Designed initially for the CVO Screamin’ Eagle V-Rod, this year the Revolution motor has been punched out from an 1130cc unit to 1250cc and finds a home in all three models, the VRSCAW V-Rod, VRSCD Night Rod and the VRSCDX Night Rod Special. Delivering 125 hp and 85 ft/lbs of torque, this engine has the help of a racing-inspired “slipper clutch” that decreases drivetrain stresses and eliminates rear-wheel lock-up during rapid downshifting.

A clutch assist feature aids in getting all that power to the ground by reducing clutch lever pull by 20 percent and gives the V-Rods the lightest pull of all Harleys. Brembo brakes come standard on all new V-Rods, along with the optional ABS. As with the systems available on the touring models, this ABS works independently between the front and rear brakes and can be limited by wheel selection, giving the rider total control. Although the blacked out Night Rod and Night Rod Special have their own dark appeal, the two-tone 105th Anniversary Copper Pearl and Vivid Black edition (only available on the V-Rod in the VRSC lineup) seemed to stand out above all the other Anniversary models.

All quiet on the Sportster front
With all the developments in the Sportster line over the last few years, the designers at Harley took the low-key approach to the product for 2008. The only new feature for this model year is the tank graphic, changing from a logo saying “Sportster” to one saying “Harley-Davidson.” (Company officials stated there was actually confusion over this matter in the past from first-time buyers, who “wanted a Harley, not a Sportster”). All the ’07 models make a return showing for this year and include the 883, the 883 Low, 883 Custom, 1200 Roadster, 1200 Low, 1200 Custom and the Nightster. Only the 1200 Low and the 1200 Custom will be available with the 105th Anniversary styling.

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