With a wheelbase stretched out to 69.2 inches and a ground clearance just over five inches, the Rocker C is slung long and low. Throw in a seat height that drops to 25.2 inches when you settle in to the deep cushion of the Convertible Trick Seat and pullback handlebars that punch out a rider’s arms almost straight and the low-riding effect only increases. Tall and skinny up front and wide and beefy out back, the Rocker C is all about swagger. Throw in its “Rockertail” rear end and trick deployable passenger pillion and you’ve got a bike unlike any other Harley-Davidson, which is a definite part of its allure.
Thumb the electric start and the pulse of the rigid-mounted Twin-Cam 96B drums to life. The pushrod-driven 1584cc powerplant has a lumping character other manufacturers seek to duplicate. Though it’s counter-balanced, there’s a healthy amount of vibrations in the tank and bars at idle. Roll on the throttle and the vibes become less noticeable. The Twin Cam 96B used in the Rocker C hasn’t changed much since the introduction of the TC96 in 2007, which means the air-cooled powerplant puts out noticeably more heat than its liquid-cooled counterpart used on the Stryker. Aesthetically, though, there’s no comparison. The Rocker C’s machined cooling fins stand out against the black powder coated engine and the luster of the chrome rocker covers, pushrods, air filter and oil lines are a classy touch. The staggered shorty exhausts also inject a little more attitude into the bike’s design in comparison to the 2-1-2 arrangement of the Stryker. And though sound is arbitrary, similar to the character of the engine, the rumble emanating from a Harley’s pipes is unmistakable.
Harley-Davidson’s 2011 Rocker C looks like a rigid and rides similar to one, too. Dripping in chrome and lathered in high-dollar paint, the 2011 Rocker C has a level of fit & finish other manufacturers try to emulate but few can duplicate.
Our 0-60 test took was run stoplight-to-stoplight, a more real-world application since these bikes weren’t built for the drag strip. After four runs, the bikes put up almost identical numbers in our V Box readings, with the Stryker edging out the Rocker by a mere .02 seconds. The Harley, which put out 78.58 lb-ft of torque on Mickey Cohen Motorsports dyno, demonstrates its definite torque advantage as it shoots out hard, fast and hit the 60 mph mark at 6.35 seconds. Power numbers on the graph confirmed the feel at the handlebars with the biggest hit between one and two seconds. If you’re not holding on tight, the Rocker C has a kick that will drop you on your behind. But as the Stryker spools up, its surprising horsepower advantage and lighter weight become apparent as it closes the gap and edges ahead as it cracked 60 in 6.33 seconds. The Stryker doesn’t have the kick of the Harley but its acceleration is very linear with most of its power coming in between two and four seconds. The Rocker C still felt faster but required an extra shift as it redlined in second gear just below the 60 mph mark. The extra shift and shorter gearing kept it from being the victor in our street drag.
The Rocker C features a 19-inch tall front hoop punched out at a 37-degree rake angle mounted on a 49mm fork.
Rolling through the winding road of Trabuco Canyon exposed the Rocker’s main deficiency. The combination of a tall, 90mm-thin front tire and a chunky 240mm rear means the Rocker C turns in slow and heavy. A skinny front tire and ultra-wide rear looks cool but requires a real heavy countersteer to get it to turn and the bike wants to stand up on itself. In comparison, the Yamaha turns in with little effort at the bars. The Stryker’s suspension is also much more compliant, as the Rocker C not only looks like a rigid but rides similar to one as well. At 3.1 inches, there’s not much travel to the Rocker C’s rear and some of the holes on the 405 were like kidney punches. The Rocker C’s 49mm fork and stiff front end does work to its advantage in braking, though, as the Harley doesn’t dive as much as the Stryker. The Rocker’s four-piston arrangement has a stronger bite and the rear didn’t lock up as easily as the Star’s system. ABS is also an option on the Rocker C, which at this point isn’t available on the Stryker.
Place the two bikes side-by-side and it’s not much of a contest. The Stryker’s low-profile, low-slung tank is a strong feature but overall its aesthetics are sanitary in terms of a cruiser. The Rocker C’s paint just pops, especially on the hand-finished tank. It has cool retro-style bullet taillights and a ribbed oil tank that also gives it throwback appeal. There’s no visible fender supports which keeps the look of the rear clean. And it’s dripping in chrome, from its fork to its bullet headlight, staggered shorty exhaust, five-spoke wheels, tank console, taillights, chrome rocker and air filter covers, cooling fins and oil lines. Like Harley’s touring motorcycles, the Rocker C now comes with a hands-free fob that automatically arms and disarms the bike’s electronic security functions when you’re within range. And when you’re investing almost $20 grand in a bike, security is important.
So which bike won top honors in our comparison? For its better handling, smoother ride, more refined gearbox and a responsive engine, we give the 2011 Star Stryker the nod as the better all-around motorcycle. Its MSRP is $8500 less, too, which holds a lot of weight in these challenging economic times. In comparison to the price of the Rocker C, it also will leave you with money in your pocket for customization. Ironically though, both testers agreed that if they could own one of these bikes, they’d take the Harley. We both enjoyed the extra low end grunt and the superior fit and finish. The Rocker C is full of character that other cruiser manufacturers have yet to duplicate, from the pulse of its engine to the sound emanating from its pipes. The two-year, unlimited mileage warranty is also enticing, but its $19,499 price point places it beyond the means of many.