Harley-Davidson FXS Blackline - First Ride

An old-style bobber with a new-age flair.

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If you're dead-set on owning a custom-styled Harley-Davidson but the patriot in you demands that it contain only gen-ewe-wine H-D components, you have to decide how to roll. Do you want to "roll" your own by shopping in Harley's Parts & Accessories catalog or just "roll" one out the door of your local dealership? The latter option is easily possible, since The Motor Company offers nine factory customs (four CVO models, three Dark Customs and two other Big Twins) that take the work out of owning a Harley that looks like one you bolted together yourself.

Oops! Make that 10 customs. The fourth and newest addition to H-D's Dark Custom series is the FXS Blackline, a $15,499 ($15,998 in two-tone) Softail cast in a clean, uncluttered bobber theme. The fenders are short, the seat is low (26.0 inches, the lowest-ever two-up H-D saddle) and the rear tire is narrow (only 144mm wide). Instrumentation is but a single pod nestled between the "Split Drag" handlebars, and the 5.0-gallon gas tank is trimmed only with the company's name in small type.

Despite having been designed with classic coolness as a priority, the Blackline is a capable road bike. The counterbalanced, Twin Cam 96B engine thrums along smoothly and—for a big-inch, air-cooled V-Twin—quietly; and though its conservative output (63.7 hp at 5000 rpm and 83.7 ft.-lb. at 3100) means the 642-pounder (dry) never cuts loose with eyeball-squashing acceleration, the Blackline leaves four-wheel traffic in its dust and jets up steep hills, even in the tallest of its six gears, without needing CPR along the way.

That helps make the FXS a pleasant road companion, whether chugging around town or cruising the open highway. The seat is supportive and the seating position feet-forward, with a lengthy but manageable reach to the grips. The 21-in. front wheel and 5.6 in. of fork travel absorb bumps nicely while the 16-in. rear and 3.6 in. out back provide a taut but acceptable ride.

At speed, the Blackline is as stable as a parked bus, the result of its long (66.4 in.) wheelbase, 33.5-degree fork angle (30 deg. in the steering head, with the fork kicked out another 3.5 deg.) and 4.8 in. of trail. With that geometry, the steering is a tad floppy at walking speeds, and a hint of that trait remains when turning city corners, but it goes away above 20 or 25 mph. Otherwise, the FXS manages urban trawling with expert-level composure, aided by a light clutch pull and smooth shifting.

Even on meandering country two-lanes, the Blackline handles lightly and willingly. Turn-in only calls for an easy touch on the grips, and the bike arcs through corners without need for constant correction. Just don’t try to do it with a lot of lean: The FXS is low-slung, and its forward-mount footpegs stick out quite far, so there’s very limited cornering clearance. You can drag the peg feelers on simple turns, like when leaving driveways and rounding city street corners, and any form of backroad hustling is entirely out of the question.

For riders drawn to custom-styled cruisers, that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. They’ll instead be enamored with the Blackline’s superb build quality, its flawless paint, its lustrous chrome and its ease of operation—not to mention its authenticity as a custom that’s a Harley through and through.

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