“Whittier is to the vast Chicano barrio in East Los Angeles what the Sunset Strip is to Hollywood. This is where the street action lives: The bars, the hustlers, the drug market, the whores—and also the riots, the trashings, killings, gassings, the sporadic bloody clashes with the hated, common enemy: The cops, the Pigs, the Man, that blue-encrusted army of fearsome gabacho troops from the East L.A Sheriff’s Department.”
That is the description of Whittier Boulevard written by Hunter Thompson in his 1971 article Strange Rumblings in Aztlan concerning the death of Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar and the convulsive birth of the Chicano rights movement. The action was so heavy that Hunter and his compadre, Chicano firebrand attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta (a.k.a: “My 300-pound Samoan attorney”) evacuated to Las Vegas for some straight political talk and copious mind-bending substances. The kind you just can’t get anymore. And the upshot was his masterpiece Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
At that pivotal time Whittier Boulevard was ground zero for that cultural watershed, for the revolution, the line in the sand for the Chicanos versus the Anglo overlords bent on their continuing subjugation. It is a standoff that continues, sadly, to this day.
Oh, and by the way, Whittier Boulevard is also designated on state road maps as Route 72.
Thus Harley-Davidson’s glittering chopperesque new Sportster model bears the name Seventy-Two as a sort of sub rosa shout-out to the Latino biker community, and to a
style of custom motorcycle associated to some degree with that crowd—especially the whitewall tires—and we can safely assume that it has more than a little to do with The Motor Company’s Outreach campaign to groups that’s been going on for four years now in an effort to expand the brand’s reach more aggressively into less traditional demographics.
Still, as hip as I am—frequently peppering my prose with au courant lingo like dope, sick, and fly—I missed the Route 72 allusion utterly. I got nothing. So I rang up my old riding buddy, “Mexican Mike” Decontreras, who’d been building chops and cruising Whittier back in those days and asked him if he’d ever heard of the street referred to as “72.”
“Never heard of it,” he answered, “We always just called it Whittier. I thought it was Route 66.”
And there you have it. So I think we can assume that the whole Seventy-Two deal is a nudge-wink salute to the Latino bikers, but also one that serves a second promotional purpose that makes broader sense, and the lion’s share of consumers learning of the new model have somewhat naturally assumed that the name refers to the year 1972. Why not? The Sportster Forty-Eight model name refers, after all, to the year 1948, when the now-signature Sportster peanut gas tank we appropriated from German manufacturer DKW as part of war reparations. That was a pretty cryptic reference, too, so it was natural for most to see a similar approach with the new Seventy-Two.
Harley-Davidson makes no effort to disabuse anyone of that assumption, noting in their promotional blurb on the bike that it has “a look that nods to custom chopper motorcycles of the 1970s and to current trends in garage-built custom motorcycles.”
And they’re right about that. The bike’s tank is a small 2.1-gallon peanut (as on the Forty-Eight), the handlebar is an apehanger, the license plate frame is a side-mount, the front tire is a skinny 21-inch job, and the front forks are longish in appearance by contemporary Sportster standards—a visual impression helped along by roughly two inches of additional downtube travel as well as that skinchy tire and monkeybars. And while the Seventy-Two is officially listed as one of Milwaukee’s Dark Customs, it’s anything but dark—lavish chrome plating covers the bike from end to end and the optional Hard Candy Big Red Flake (which is the paint scheme they’re pushing mightily) make the machine pop with a blinding brilliance usually reserved for the exclusive Custom Vehicle Operations models.
In the interest of historical accuracy, we should probably point out that in 1972 this style of chop would in all likelihood have had a markedly longer front fork, the peanut tank would have been raised up on the top frame rail Frisco-style, the rear shocks would have been jettisoned in favor of solid struts to lower the ass end, the seat would have been a chrome-button tufted cobra style, the front brake would be MIA, and a single Maltese cross rearview mirror would be affixed and completely useless at any speed due to the apehangers shaking like a wet dog.
But you can’t have everything, even for the sake of nostalgia, and what Milwaukee’s done in paying homage to that era and style of bike is nothing short of impressive, given what they had to work with. And by that I mean not just the strictures of modern DOT regs, but the fact that the underlying Sportster is a highly evolved and refined work of V-twin function, power and reliability.
Fuel-injected, rubber-isolated, and 74 cubic inches in displacement, the Seventy-Two’s power plant is a world away from its stylistic precursors. It packs a hell of a punch,
and combined with the mini-apes tends to turn even normally composed riders into grinning hooligans. It’s unavoidable. The machine positively squirts when you goose it. It actually practically squirts out from under you—or at least it squirts out from under me, but I’m a tall drink of water and hardly the physiognomic template for this thing.
But besides the subjective viewpoint, the fact remains that the seat—the same unit used on the Forty-Eight— is unprepossessing in its shape, lacking a viable seat pocket, low on cushioning, and for all practical and aesthetic purposes a placeholder simply designed to give the new buyer something to perch on until they replace it with one of the truly bitchin’ P&A catalogue and aftermarket alternatives.
On the plus side, however, if for some curious reason you are, in fact, looking for a bike that makes your ass look fat, look no further. The Seventy-Two would give Kate Moss junk in the trunk.
The obvious verdict on the new Seventy-Two is that it is a determinedly eye-popping fashion statement, a sassy barhopper, a shiny boulevard (Whittier or otherwise) profiler. The miniscule fuel capacity on tap for that big motor comes with severe mileage limitations. The entire length of State Route 72 in East L.A. is, coincidentally, 7.2 miles, meaning you can cruise the boulevard up and back all of five times before running on reserve. Also, coincidentally, that’s about as much time as you want to spend on that stock seat.
But, oh, to be 20 years old again with a decent job or a trust fund to cover the basic $10,499 MSRP nut. (Make that $11,199 for the red metal flake pinstriped treatment—that’s the one you want.) I’d be all over this thing.