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2011 Harley-Davidson Blackline First Ride

Monday, February 28, 2011
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2011 Harley Blackline First Ride Video
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Climb on with Motorcycle USA as it goes takes a spin on Harley's newest Softail in our 2011 Harley Blackline First Ride video.
Harley-Davidson was looking to strip down the time-honored look of the Softail and inject it with new blood. The model, featuring a rigid look with hidden rear suspension, has been a best-seller for The Motor Company since its introduction in 1984. As the styling team looked at a profile of all Softails since then, they realized it hadn’t evolved much over the years. So they approached it with the aplomb of servicemen returning from the second World War, bobbing fenders, cleaning up wiring and removing bits that weren’t essential. To get the look they wanted, Willie G. enlisted the services of a group of in-house up-and-comers with an affinity for hot rods and garage builds. The result is the 2011 Harley Blackline.

Lead designer on the Blackline project, Casey Ketterhagen, broke down the new features of the Dark Custom Softail to us at the official launch party in New York City. He started by pointing out that Harley tidied up the rear section by chopping down the back fender as much as legally possible, tucking it in tight to the spoked-down 16-inch rear wheel and hiding the wiring for the directionals. The new Dunlop on the rear
Keeping in the bikes less-is-more theme  it has a gloss black powdercoat on the rocker box covers  crankcase  outer primary cover and transmission side cover.
Harley toned down the graphics and badging on the Blackline Softail and slapped on a new round air cleaner.
reportedly expands width-wise instead of up, a key component to them being able to snug up the rear fender. The bobbed rear fender has stop/tail/turn signals in black housings to go along with a new composite license plate holder and a light module mount on the lower edge of the fender.

Engineers also pulled the seat of the Blackline back tight and slimmed it down, then dropped its height to 24 inches - an unheard of low for a factory Harley. H-D then cleaned up the tank by eliminating the faux gas cap, trimming down the real one and adding a new, narrow black console. The Blackline gets its name from the asymmetric five-gallon fuel tank that's clean on the left side, has a gas cap on the right with a die-cast piece of "Blackline" trim bisecting the two covering up the fuel pump hardware. The revamped tank allowed H-D to run new Split Drag Bars that are set narrow, are internally wired and mount straight to the top triple instead of a riser. They topped it off by going tall and thin up front with its 21-inch spoked-down front tire measuring a svelte 90mm in width.

At six-feet tall, I was worried the low seat height would equate to cramped ergos. On the contrary, it’s a true arms punched out, feet stretched forward riding position. Throw in the bars that are set in tight and you’ve got a very aggressive riding position. Add the saddle’s narrowness to the ultra-low seat height and you’ve got a motorcycle that makes it easy to get both feet on the ground at a stop while the forward-mounted foot controls allow riders to stretch out in motion. The bike’s so low that a passenger is able to set their feet flush on the ground at a stoplight from the pillion. Now that’s low.

With the close-set bars, tall front hoop and 30-degrees of rake, I wondered how the action on the front end would be. Though the bars are ultra-narrow, the revisions to the tank allow for plenty of clearance and no side-to-side restrictions to the bars. In fact, the feeling is light and it’s easy to wheel the big 21-inch front tire around. There’s not a lot of unsprung weight but the 41mm fork keeps the Dunlop firmly planted. Teamed with the low center of gravity, the bike tosses side-to-side easily for a cruiser. Turn-in doesn’t require much effort and the major constraint is the limited lean angle because you’ll be grinding down the feelers on the foot pegs despite the bike’s capacity to take on more lean.

The Blackline has a new black console and a trimmed-down gas cap. Less weight than the standard Softail and the same 1584cc Twin Cam 96B engine means the Blackline hooks up and goes for a Softy.Introducing the newest addition to Harley-Davidsons Dark Custom line  the 2011 Blackline.
(L) The Blackline has a new black console and a trimmed-down gas cap. (M) Less weight than the standard Softail and the same 1584cc Twin Cam 96B engine means the Blackline hooks up and goes for a Softy. (R) The newest Dark Custom Softail.
The Blackline feels much lighter than other Softails, and at a claimed 638.5 pounds weighs 56 pounds less than the Softail Deluxe. Because it weighs less but is still powered by the same 1584cc Twin Cam 96B engine, the Blackline hooks up and goes for a Softy. It’s tuned to dish out the meat of its claimed 89 lb-ft of torque just above 2000 rpm. Rev it up, drop the clutch and it has no problems getting the back tire to bark. The pushrod V-Twin utilizes lightweight pistons churning away in a long 4.38-inch stroke. Peak power comes on in the mid-3000 rpm range, but it is geared low so that riders get the gratification of instant torque as soon as the throttle is twisted. Drag bars were a good choice for the Blackline because once you’re in the saddle, be ready to ride it like a hot rod.

It’s all Harley, with a rigid-mounted, internally counter-balanced engine, so there are a few vibrations in the bars and seat, but at 70 mph in sixth gear the mirrors were clear. My wife did mention that she felt a lot of vibes from the small patch of leather they call a pillion. The engine has no problem compensating for the additional weight of a passenger, but one look at the seat is all it takes to realize the Blackline is more suited toward the solo rider. Riding two-up taxes the rear suspension, units which we were already blowing through the damping on occasionally when riding solo. The FX fork on the front, however, did an admirable job of both keeping the front tire planted and soaking up the road imperfections so riders don’t have to absorb it in their shoulders and arms.

The one and only Willie G. talked about how proud he was of the group of designers who worked on the newest Dark Custom  the 2011 Blackline.
The one and only Willie G. talked about how proud he was of the group of designers who worked on the newest Dark Custom, the 2011 Blackline.
The round chrome air cleaner on the Blackline is part of its tight new look.
The round chrome air cleaner on the Blackline is part of its tight new look.
Stopping on the Blackline has its good and bad points. The front brakes don’t provide much bite and faded a bit in hard braking situations, but the Blackline we tested had the optional ABS on the rear which helped compensate for their shortcomings. The four-piston caliper on the rear has more outright feel to it and better stopping power. It takes a pretty good push on the foot pedal to engage the ABS. Riders will experience a hard pulse in the ball of their foot from the ABS pumping the brakes which is more noticeable at slower speeds.

Harley chose the less-is-more method for styling cues on the Blackline. Its tank graphic is smaller and more subtle and badging is kept to a minimal. Its Twin Cam 96B has stylish machined heads and a gloss black powdercoat on its rocker box covers, crankcase, outer primary cover and transmission side cover. This blacked-out background helps the new, round air cleaner stand out even more and chrome oil lines add class to the overall fit and finish. There is a noticeable gap between the nose of seat and the fuel tank that exposes the top of the frame, but we never rode so close to the tank for it to be a comfort issue. Instrumentation on the Blackline is also minimal with a small, round analog speedo with a digital odometer mounted between the bars. A green “low fuel” light comes on with about a gallon left in the tank and a countdown to empty starts. The odometer readout will switch to “R 30” or however many miles are left till empty. We logged 453 miles on the Blackline, a combination of daily commutes, two-up runs and rides through curvy mountain roads and finished our testing with an average of 36.82 mpg.

Overall we came away impressed with the way you can toss the Blackline around and how it hooks up off the line. With the arms punched out riding position, you can experience a little arm fatigue on long rides, though. The stripped down look, subtle new graphics and round air cleaner give it a distinct Softail signature. Stronger front brakes and more lean angle would make the bike even better, but nonetheless the Blackline provides a spirited ride.
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svdmatty   March 19, 2012 12:56 AM
Im a grunt on my second tour and always wanted to ride. I plan on picking up a bike when I return. I had my eyes on the blackline but in doing my research Im not sure. Im looking for a comfortable bike and one I can take for distance. VET TO VET could use some help..
birdmove   May 23, 2011 08:26 AM
Not only is the XR1200 series a new model, but it has many proprietary parts not used on other Sportsters. Not only body and suspension parts, but engine parts are different. I don't have a parts book in front of me, but I recall it used different rocker boxes, covers, and gaskets, and has an oil cooler.

As for a Sportster being uncomfortable? What model are we talking about? My 2006 XL883 is very comfortabale to my 57 year old 5'10" 185 pound self. Comfortable, good looking, RELIABLE, up to 60 mpg, cruises at 65-70 just fine. Not fast like a GSXR obviosly, but speed isn't eveything to everyone.

Hecklerboy   March 27, 2011 11:19 AM
Scoot looks like you need to do a little more research. Harley has come out with no less than 3 all new bikes since 2008. The Crossbones, Rocker C, and the XR1200R. These are not "parts bin" bikes but new designs. Not everyone likes these designs and that's OK. But at least they are coming out with something new. Saying that Harley hasn't come out with nothing new since the 1960's just shows your ignorance when it comes to Harley Davidson. Your just spewing the same lines you read on the internet. Not only has Harley come out with the aforementioned bikes they have also redesigned the touring line including the frame and exhaust in order to give the rider a better ride and less exhaust heat when at idle. Also making stereotypical remarks that only Harley riders have loud bikes also shows you don't get out much. I've seen plenty of Honda, Yamaha, and Suzuki bikes out there with extremely loud exhaust as well. Just because it's a loud bike doesn't mean it's a Harley. Yes, Harley does spend allot of money on advertising and merchandise. This is why they are the leader in motorcycle sales in America and why all other manufactures copy their designs. Harley may not be the most advance bikes out there but their bikes have lots of appeal to certain people. Harley has found a niche in the market and will continue to sell incredible bikes to people that want a true American Legend.
Scoot   March 26, 2011 03:37 PM
Where have you been hiding Hecklerboy? Harley hasn't brought out anything new since the 1960's. Every year HD claims a "new model" when all it really is is last years bike with more or less chrome, new even stupider name or another new color with a stupid name. HD spends more money on there clothes line up than they do on the aging line of bikes. If any other manufacture did what Harley does they would be out of business. It seems that the Harley buyers, whats left anyway, like to dress up like a pirate, ride loud obnoxious motorcycles to show off, and really do not care about modern technology or motorcycle safety. The Harley Ultra is a poor example of a touring motorcycle and is light years behind even the aging Honda Lead Wing. I really have to laugh every time I come across a Harley rider at a gas station or ware ever. They usually have the standard pirate outfit on, have a beer belly and a fat broad on the back, no muffler, no helmet, flags stuck on the rear top case, mud flaps, and of course the standard Harley leather vest with 10 pounds of patches on it. A new noise ordinance was passed in my community requiring all motor vehicles to have stock factory exhaust. This was enacted only because of the Harley riders who want to show off with loud exhaust. I am sure there will be a lot of Harley's for sale as that is the only reason most Harley riders ride is to show off loud exhaust. It takes effect on April 1st and there are a lot of pissed off Harley riders. $600 fine on 1st offense and 2nd offense the bike is picked up and taken to a compound. A dealer is required to pick it up and must certify that the exhaust is factory stock before the bike will be allowed back on the street. This is happening all over the U.S. and it is about time. People are sick of these morons showing off on motorcycles with loud exhaust. There is absolutely no reason to ride a motorcycle with no muffler other than to garner attention. These riders think they are cool when in fact anyone who sees them is thinking - what a asshole.
Hecklerboy   March 24, 2011 01:15 PM
Why is it when Harley comes out with a new bike everyone calls it a parts bin bike, but when the other manufactures do the same thing they rave about it.
If any motorcycle company tried come out with an all new bike design each year it would bankrupt them. Introducing an all new bike design cost hunreds of thousands of dollar in research and development alone not to mention the cost of setting up a new production line with all new tooling and equiptment.
The total cost has to be well into the millions to actually introduce a brand new design.
We are all going to have to be content with "parts bin" bikes until the motorcycle manufacturers deam in profitable to spend millions on a new design.
And no matter what anyone says, Harely has been coming out with new bikes almost every year. Yes they are the same basic models but with refinements and styling option.
It's better than just the same old bike every year.
Scoot   March 22, 2011 12:12 PM
Oh wow a brand new Harley Davidson for 2011. Oh wait - I meant 1960. Harley brings out a brand new 2011 parts bin bike as usual with a all new name and all new color and all new black wheels. Gee I am impressed.
Lyle White   March 8, 2011 06:59 AM
scoot u tell em bro.....parts bin bike.....everybody says it only a few can back it up......dusty ran skeered when i asked him to back it up but ur diffrent rite bro......u can prolly name 3 bikes that used those handlebars before cantcha bro......u gotta keep us harly haters lookin good bro......serve it up.....which 3 bikes used those handlebars before......or the tank dash......cmon bro......u gotta keep us lookin good not like dusty who turned tail and ran.......and of corse we all know harlys overpriced......so i bet u can name 3 bike makers who outsell harly too......give it to us strait scoot.....dont turn and run like dusty.......cmon bro.......
Scoot   March 7, 2011 12:30 PM
Here we go again with another Harley parts bin bike. When is HD going to hire a few engineers and bring out something new. This stuff is really getting old. Out of date, over weight, over priced, under powered and just plain ugly.
sololobo   March 4, 2011 07:17 PM
It is tough to get over the fact that when you buy a brand new softail that you are actually accepting the fact that it wont stop so good, won't go too fast, will need a new seat and handlebars, will scrape in corners and bottom out in potholes, and if you want it to go fast you need to at least put a new computer and pipes on it (maybe even whole build kits.) Plus like some you may have to take it in a few times before they can stop that roll of the dice oil leak some of them get from the bottom of the cylinders. I'm not putting down HD guys, I enjoyed my Heritage, and all the wrenching I got to do on it when it rained. This new one though? No thanks. It looks to me like HD was really trying to make a cheaper softail, not a new "custom hot rod" softail.
Lyle White   March 4, 2011 04:10 PM
cmon dusty where u at bro.....gotta put in a good showing for us appalachian folks....thot u were gonna tell us what bikes they took those handlebars offa......or the lo-profle rear fender.....or the coverless struts....gotta be a parts bin special rite.......dont leave us lookin bad here bro......where they from.......we all no theres nuthin new here.......cmon dusty
Lyle White   March 3, 2011 04:41 PM
yep, parts bin special right here......tell em dusty.....tell em which bike them there handlebars come offa....prolly an earlier model or a yamaha right? tell em dusty.....and it aint too nice to make fun of people who can't spell you right.....its ok to write "u" on phone nobody will think less of us.....right dusty.......
Dusty   March 3, 2011 02:12 PM
.357 Magnum, We all realize that youu can't afford a new Harley so maybe yoou should stay among friends in the Yahoo forums or on craigslist.

GB, If you look closely, it's designed(made from parts), from dozens of past models so it would look like the styling of the all new Yamaha Stryker.

Bryan Harley, Thanks for wearing a helmet in your review. Most who ride cruisers today don't.
GB   March 3, 2011 08:47 AM
Just something about the looks of this bike that doesn't seem right. seems to me it's a couple different bikes mashed together. and i do like the short height being that i am vertically challenged, would love to have a crouch rocket but can't reach the ground!!
damn, i miss milawnkee mike. he was way to much fun!!
.357 Magnum   March 2, 2011 08:08 PM
Another "nothing new" comment by somebody who can't scroll up and read what's new? Holy hell, I didn't realize there were so many illiterates on the internet! How many different ways is it possible to confuse "you," "your," and "you're," there, my cousin-cornholing friends? Can you holler for your brother Cleetus and your sister-wife (also named Cleetus) and sign them up for accounts on motorcycle-usa so they can air the family homophobia and show me more ways to be illiterate than I ever knew existed? I think it's hilarious that on the 250cc sportbike comparison article, the author himself came out and said there wasn't much new about the Ninjette, but NO ONE bothered to comment that it was a bummer there was nothing new. Now here's an article that showcases a few new touches in the Softail line, and the mullets are out "en masse" to demonstrate their inability to read. Hey guys! Those comments are ACTUALLY TRUE in the 250cc sportbike comparison article! Bet you wish you could read, so you could go see if it's true or not! Maybe between yourself, Cleetus, and Cleetus, you can sound out the words?
Dusty   March 2, 2011 04:40 PM
There's nothing new about this bike but its name.

357 Magnum, Your's so small the boys can call you 44 Magnum.
jrpub2002   March 2, 2011 03:40 PM
This bike looks uncomfortable to ride like all Harley Sportsters. It probably rides and handles tough too. The tires will cost you a lot of money to replace. They are big, fat expensive tires. I would not buy one of these things.
gerardsmith1962   March 2, 2011 08:58 AM
.357magnum, go put on your chaps and have fun with the boys.
.357 Magnum   March 2, 2011 07:54 AM
Gerardsmith1962, the lesson I'm gleaning here is that people who are so insecure in their motorcycling choices that they feel the need to talk crap about others are:

1. Missing teeth and sporting a mullet
2. Barely literate
3. Screwing their sisters

And now,

4. Severely homophobic.

Maybe there's some connection between being insecure in one's motorcycle choices and being insecure in one's sexuality? Hell, even Silver's getting into the act, talking crap about the author's HAIR, for crying out loud! What's wrong with just reading a news story and saying, "yeah that's for me" or "that's not for me" and getting on with your day? Why do all the drum-brake-equipped, chain-final-driven, plastichrome-decorated, carbureted bike owners gotta pipe up and tell us all about their dysfunctions, insecurities, and illiteracies just because it's an article about a Harley?

Bryan, sorry your well-written review ended up as a magnet for all the Appalachian Sibling Casanovas out there. Keep up the good work... I'm still reading your articles, even if half your audience doesn't know how to.
Silver   March 2, 2011 06:22 AM
"arms punched out, feet stretched forward riding position"
That's sounds pretty gay to me....
And no offense Bryan Harley, but the bald/mullet look isn't cutting it. Nice article though, even if it's just recycled HD spin. Can we get your take on the new Vmax, or are you only on HD's payroll?
woodco100   March 1, 2011 08:12 PM
Wildpig, so stop reading about Harleys and go buy a new Triumph. No one is stopping you. Likely you can get a deal on a nice cruiser, the factory in Thailand is working overtime (at $2day) building bikes. Grab a America or Speedmaster cruiser. The best selling cruiser line. Surely you will enjoy the 5 speed tranny and the non ABS brakes. Hightech stuff!

The bike has not changed in 5+ years, except for the paint and going to FI. Note the FI is inside carb bodies to look old skool. Dem Brits,dey so crazy!

My local Triumph dealer did close however. They only sold Triumph, Victory, Ducati, Honda and Suzuki. guess not enough chioces to stay open.

Of course you can drive over to Daytona to the dealer. On the left after you pass 3 (or is it 4) Harleys dealerships. With 11 busy HD dealerships within an hour of my house, it is hard to keep track.

Enjoy the Triumph, I remember 2001 my Thurderbird. Only took 7 weeks to get sparkplug wires. Dem Britts, dey so crazy.
Mitch   March 1, 2011 06:18 PM
DocNick. It appears bar hoppers seem to prefer the lowest seat height they can get. I guess after a few drinks the lower the center of gravity is the better, Whether you're getting on, trying to stay on, or falling off =).
.357 Magnum   March 1, 2011 04:28 PM
DocNick, I agree... the "for-short-people-only" fad can't pass quickly enough for me. Long legs need taller bikes, and while Harley has a whole catalog full of "reduced-reach" accessories and seats, they haven't got much for those with extra inseam. It's enough to make me appreciate the looooong floorboards on the Victory touring bikes these days.
.357 Magnum   March 1, 2011 04:26 PM
Hey Wildpig, you look like an expert on the internet! Since you're an expert, help me out with a short multiple-choice test, willya? Since this is the internet, we can't see who's missing teeth or sporting mullets. So what's the easiest way to tell if a commenter on a news story is screwing his sister? A. He spells "you" wrong. B. He spells "grammar school" wrong. C. He scrolls past an entire review article detailing modifications to a new bike at length, and sums them all up as "changes the paint," thus proving he is completely illiterate and unable to read the review on the page right in front of him. D. All of the above.
DocNick   March 1, 2011 11:58 AM
What's with the fetish for low seat heights? Seems to me if you get too low, you don't have any suspension travel and you have a worse view of traffic.
Hecklerboy   March 1, 2011 06:25 AM
I saw this bike at the International Motorcycle Show in Greenville,SC.
I was impressed with the attention to detail on this bike.
I really like the fact that they combined the coil and ignition switch and mounted on the left side of the motor.
The handle bars were a little narrow for me but the seat was very comfortable and both me (5'-9") and my friend (6'-5") felt comfortable sitting on it.
It also looks really sharp in person.
wildpig   March 1, 2011 03:36 AM
u wana worry bout spellin welp -- take yer ass to grammer school --this is the internet -- where harley changes the paint an calls it a new & improved model.......tween harley an bmw -- triumph is lookin better ever day......................
.357 Magnum   February 28, 2011 07:39 PM
If the internet equivalent of missing teeth is not knowing the difference between "you" and "you're," how does YOUR Blackline handle there, Gerard?
gerardsmith1962   February 28, 2011 10:09 AM
Great bike if you sporting a mullet and have missing teeth.