Harley-Davidsons aren’t solely for riders headed to their last round-up. Nowhere was this more apparent than the recent press launch at Don Hill’s in New York City for the newest member of Harley-Davidson’s
Dark Customs, the 2011 Blackline. The bar was the perfect setting for Harley’s newest Softail
– dark and gritty, black walls and dim lights broken by sparks of neon. It fit the character of the stripped-down and slammed Blackline perfectly.
Harley brought the styling and engineering teams who worked on the Blackline along to discuss how the bike came to be, including lead designer on the project, Casey Ketterhagen, who we dubbed Jesse James, Jr. because of his slicked down hair and penchant for Pendletons.
“Casey attacked this bike and started taking s%*t off and tried to make this bike look as illegal as possible,” said Ray Drea, Vice-President of Styling.
Before the project began, the styling team looked at a profile of all Softails since 1984 and asked “What do you see?” The fact that they all looked the same drove the changes to the Blackline’s tank and rear.
Casey began to break down the Blackline for us, starting with the rear fender that’s been trimmed down as much as legally allowable. He also said they tucked the fender in super-tight to the rear wheel thanks to a new Dunlop
that expands width-wise instead of up. Harley removed the fender strut cover and simplified the look with cosmetic forgings and ran the wiring for the directionals behind the fender supports. The back fender wasn’t the only thing that got slammed. The Blackline has the lowest seat height for a factory Harley at 24 inches, to which American Iron Editor Chris Maida chimed in with “I appreciate that.”
Casey continued his dissertation by telling us how they
Casey Ketterhagen, the lead designer on the 2011 Blackline, runs down some of the bikes features and talked about how he attempted to clean up the new Softail's look by stripping it down to the essentials.
took the signature tank, got rid of the dummy gas cap and moved the fuel readout to an LCD display on the round speedo mounted between the bars. Harley also replaced the big chrome console for a trim black panel and slimmed down the remaining fuel cap as well. This gives the new, narrow, internally wired Split Drag handlebars as much turning clearance as possible. They also eliminated the riser on the Blackline and attached the bars directly to a thin top triple clamp (the first mock up had clip-on handlbars). Its mirrors are pulled in as close as they could get them.
When talking about the focus of the new Blackline, Harley-Davidson’s Chief Styling Officer, Willie G. said “Obviously, this is a look that Harley-Davidson has owned for many, many years. It traces back a long time. Yet it’s a modern interpretation.”
After the official press launch, the party at Don Hill's heated up as sexy models struck poses on the Harley Blackline. (B) Willie G. couldn't resist the temptation to jump in the saddle to try it on for size.
In an attempt to expose more of the denim black powdercoated frame, the Blackline sports a new one-piece, two-up seat. A gap between the nose of seat and fuel tank exposes the top of the frame. Drea said they “pulled the seat back as tight we could, as narrow as we could.” Add the saddle’s narrowness to the ultra-low seat height and you’ve got a motorcycle that makes it easy for smaller statured riders to get both feet on the ground at a stop but with forward-mounted foot controls allows longer-legged riders the ability to comfortably stretch out as well.
The FX front end uses relatively thin 41mm fork tubes stuck out at a 30-degree rake angle. The thin triple calms are powdercoated in black and the fork lowers are black as well. The laced aluminum front wheel sits in black anodized rims and is tall at 21 inches and thin at 90mm. The big front hoop makes the small round headlight above it appear even more minute.
The Blackline is powered by an internally counter-balanced, rigid-mounted Twin Cam 96B with machined heads and black jugs. Keeping in the bike’s less-is-more theme, it has a gloss black powdercoat on the rocker box covers, crankcase, outer primary cover and transmission side cover. The shiniest parts on the bike are its new, round chrome air cleaner cover and dual pipes.
The Blackline joins the other members of Harley-Davidson’s Dark Custom line that started with the Cross Bones
and includes the Iron 883, Nightster, Forty-Eight, Street Bob and Fat Bob.
“Dark Custom is a name they’ve put to something that has been going on for a while. It’s been going on in the streets, in the garages, it’s really a lot of throwback cues to a post war-era,” said VP of Styling, Drea, who claims the throwback cues resonate with the younger demographic.
While the Harley demographic is reportedly aging, according to The Motor Company an independent third-party study by R.L. Polk conducted in 2008 revealed that Harley-Davidson became the top selling brand in the U.S. in sales of new street motorcycles to young adults 18-34. And in 2009, it reportedly extended that lead. This is for all displacement engines, not just heavyweight motorcycles. The Dark Custom line and bikes like the Forty-Eight and Nightster have been instrumental to attracting riders in this demographic. We witnessed first-hand how big a hit the Blackline was with the young crowd at filled Don Hill’s, the exact group Harley is targeting with its Dark Custom line. How many of them that actually have the means to buy a $15,499 motorcycle is another question, though.
"Ride Free" says Willie G., one of the driving creative and styling forces at Harley-Davidson.
Beyond targeted marketing campaigns, Harley is also surrounding itself with young new talent. We already mentioned Casey Ketterhagen, aka JJ, Jr. If he wasn’t working for The Motor Company, we’re confident Casey would be in a garage somewhere stripping down bikes and building hot rods. His talents would fit in perfectly with the group of craftsman and bike builders from The Limpnickie Lot. There are also people like the spikey-haired, spunky Product Communications Manager for Outreach Markets we met at the intro, Amanda Lee, who shared with us her story of riding in India, the fastest growing motorcycle market around. Though the roads were rough and the traffic perilous, Lee also said it was an unforgettable experience and commented on how young people in Indian are a “generation hungry for self-expression.” Many are seeking this self-expression in motorcycle ownership. She also couldn’t believe the brand identity H-D has in the country. And she’s not talking exclusively in the major metropolises, either, as she said that once they left the big cities and were riding in the countryside through small villages, local children would pour out at the sound of the bikes, shouting “Harley-Davidson, Harley-Davidson” as they ran behind the group of riders.
Harley-Davidson apparel is a major contributor to brand identity and sales, so Karen Davidson, Creative Director for General merchandise, was on hand at the Blackline press launch to introduce Harley’s new Black Label Collection of clothing.
“As we get a broader reach with our customs and we look at what we can do to grab the attention of the merchant market that’s being drawn to these wonderful vehicles, we think hey, there’s an opportunity here to do some rocking, very, very cool clothes. Style them up a little bit differently,” Davidson said.
Glamorous models sported the new Black Label Collection of apparel at the press party for the 2011 Blackline.
The Black Label Collection features jackets, shirts and other gear that is “cut narrow through the chest, shaped at the sides and tighter at the hip for a look, fit and feel that’s unique to this collection.” Many of the new Black Label Collection bore the line’s new slogan – “There Are No Free Rides.”
As the press intro drew to a close, the party heated up. Sexy models took turns striking seductive poses on the bike as photographers’ flashbulbs lit up the stage. The Blackline became the star of the night as partygoers lined up to have their picture taken on Harley’s newest motorcycle, from the tattooed to tie-wearing Wall Street types. The venerable Willie G. was digging the vibe and hung out into the late hours as DJ Paul Sevigny spun everything from Jane’s Addiction to Creedence Clearwater Revival.
The Blackline would make its debut to the public the next morning at the New York Progressive International Motorcycle Show
. We’ve gotten a chance to sit on the bike and experienced how low and narrow it feels and are chompin’ at the bit to take this new Softail out for a test ride.