Halfway through dinner at a swanky oceanfront hotel in Daytona Beach, Mark Strong, tech lead for the 2013 Harley-Davidson FXSB Breakout, raised his hand. “Can we talk about the rear suspension?” he asked. As the rest of the design-and-development team bellied up to their steaks, Strong explained how careful attention was paid to shock valving and to the development of a reshaped oil tank that allows the rear wheel to move farther upward, resulting in increased wheel travel. The goal, said Strong, was to give the Breakout “a smooth ride.”
Smooth ride? According to its spec sheet, this new Softail has only 3.1 inches of rear-wheel travel, half an inch less than the Blackline or Deluxe and a whopping 1.2 inches less than a Fat Boy, Heritage or Slim. Factor in a 240/40-18 radial tire pinched from the V-Rod Muscle, and Breakout buyers could end up with a bike that not only looks like a hardtail but rides like one, too.
After dinner, I was given the key to an Ember Red Sunglo Breakout, MSRP for which is $18,299, same as Big Blue Pearl; Vivid Black is $17,899. A slow walk around the bike confirmed that Chief Stylist Ray Drea wasn’t kidding when he talked about presence and proportions. Or the low-as-you-can-go “slammed” look: “Laden” seat height is said to be just 24.7 inches. Riders who struggle to reach the flat handlebars and forward foot controls can opt for the P&A Mini-Ape bars and reduced-reach seat.
Visually, what Harley calls a “me, not we” machine is a nice, tight package, the black-and-chrome, 1690cc Big Twin emphasized by handlebars, lower fork legs and muffler shields all done up in gloss black. Every other spoke on the matching drag-racing-inspired Gasser wheels (“Willie G. worked on those,” said Drea) has been machined, exposing the aluminum. A low-profile, bias-ply Dunlop in a new 130/60-21 size looks just right under the barely there, body-color front fender. The new forged aluminum fender supports look great, too.
Next morning, to test Strong’s suspension claims, I headed west on Highway 92 with its miles of concrete expansion joints. At speeds as low as 50 mph and as high as 75 mph, the FXSB sailed effortlessly over the junctures, revealing beyond-Main Street compliance rarely associated with low-profile, wide-tired cruisers. Steering is also better than the spec sheet would suggest. Steeper triple-clamps cut effective rake by two degrees, from 37 to 35, so that wide front tire doesn’t flop into slow turns. Helped by 5.7 inches of trail and a 67.3-inch wheelbase, stability around long, fast curves is Amtrak-like.
Bike Week was in full swing, and Daytona Beach was teeming with Harley-Davidsons. At one stoplight after another, I watched Dynas, FLHs and Sportsters shake at idle; the Breakout’s counterbalanced 103B, however, was as smooth as could be, turning an indicated 1000 rpm on the digital tachometer. At 60 mph, the clock read 2200 rpm, with great grunt just a twist of the light-action throttle away. Harley claims 95.5 foot-pounds of torque at 3000 rpm.
Stopping power is good though not exceptional. The single front brake looks intentionally small at the center of that big wheel, but it’s the same 292mm floating disc as fitted at the rear. The bike I rode had optional ABS ($1195), a single-brain, dual-modulator system made by Beijing West Industries. Activating ABS on dry pavement took a firm, two-finger pull on the lever; less effort on the awkwardly angled pedal was necessary to engage the system at the rear.
As I rolled back to the beach, a concluding thought crossed my mind: Styling knew how it wanted the Breakout to look and feel. Engineering bridged the gap between creativity and practicality. That’s teamwork. And what do they have to show for it? A candidate for Best Cruiser.