Photography by Jeff Allen
As soon as Harley rolled out this pretty little redhead, I knew I had to ride it. You see, back in the day, I rode—or more accurately, performed roadside repairs on—a crazy Scandinavian-style hardtail Sportster chopper. I’m talking about a terrifyingly noodley 12-inch-over springer variety. My ill-mannered beast was much more of a ’70s-style build rather than the ’60s California custom-chopper vibe Harley is going for in the new 72 (not named for a year like the 48 Sporty was, but rather Highway 72—cruising-icon Whittier Boulevard in Southern California). Different beasts, but borne of a similar mindset of expression and individualism that spawned its own subculture.
Motorcycle tastes change so quickly that manufacturers often have a tough time keeping up with what the kids are doing—or especially what they’re going to do. Harley has attempted to address this lag by reducing its entire design-to-production turnaround time with a new manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania. (Read more about it here)
In this case, the Next Big Thing is the old-school, skinny-tire chopper. H-D’s designers did a better job narrowing the design focus than they did narrowing the rear end of the actual bike, which rolls on a relatively wide 150-width tire and has a correspondingly wide fender. On a bike all about retro-Cali-cool design, this is probably the biggest styling miss. The rest, however, is on the money, from the stripped-down feel to the conservative rake to the thin-whitewall tires with the classic old-school skinny 21-inch front and 16-in. rear.
The piéce de résistance, though, is the deep, metalflake red paint on the fenders and the same classic 2.1-gallon peanut tank that used to force me to strap gas cans to my sissy bar on long roadtrips. That paint adds $700 to the $10,499 base price, but I don’t know how you can pass it up on a bike like this. Anyway, along with the impractical range, the ultra-low “brat”-style rear end with only 2.1-in. of travel could be considered part of the same “cost of cool,” but suspension was an area where I was actually impressed, especially considering how low this Sporty is. On the east side of L.A. where I usually ride, the roads are particularly nasty but there was none of the teeth-gritting, spine-crushing feel of an old hardtail, and the damping on those couple of inches of travel is set up nicely to minimize spring-loaded launch. (There are still times you’ll come off the seat, though.) The front end is firm and controlled enough to track nicely with its more than 5 in. of travel offering up zero problems on even the nastiest longitudinal ruts and grooves on the freeway. You’d never call the ride “supple,” but the 72 does well, considering the limitations.
Harley might have gone back in time for suspension tech and styling inspiration, but the 72’s engine is modern Sporty—fuel-injected, rubber-mounted and familiar. It delivered velvet-smooth, if somewhat tame, power, producing 55.8 horsepower and 63.8 foot-pounds of torque on the CW Dynojet dyno. The torque feels pretty good and comes in handy when you forget what gear you’re in due to the extremely quiet pipes and lack of tachometer.
For those who want to roll right out the door with a healthy dose of retro cool, or who want to try their hand at further bolt-on customization, the H-D 72 would be a perfect fit. The mini-apes have all their wires and cables located externally, so a set of nice ’60s Z-bars should bolt right up without too much hassle.
The overall stiff ride, narrowness and mini-ape/forward-control ergos evoked just enough of the real deal for me to attempt to stop the machine by pushing down on the shifter on one occasion (my old iron-head was righthand shift). So, clearly, riding the 72 delivered the goods, and all without sitting on the side of the road in the gravel trying to reassemble the clutch. Here’s to the Good New Days.