Photos and Story by Bill Bryan – www.chopcult.com
The El Diablo Run cuts through the mountains of Southern California and from both coasts of Baja, California, Mexico over 700 miles of the most varied terrain imaginable. Most El Diablo Runners come on older custom motorcycles, but the occasional newer stock bike has been known to roam these Mexican highways. The roads are rough and the crowd sometimes rougher. Quite simply, Baja and the EDR are the perfect place to do a real-world road test of Harley’s new Dark Customs Softail, the Blackline.
Only recently available, the Blackline caught the attention of many riders during my five-day ride this spring. Even haters of most modern machines reluctantly admitted that the Blackline looked good for a stocker. Still others gushed praise for the mostly blacked-out machine.
Softails mimic the lines of an older rigid Harley and evoke a classic style that no import can quite capture, even after years of trying. The proportions of the Blackline seem just right, and the colorizing and details appear well thought out. No scary skulls or fake bad boy stuff to be embarrassed about, and just enough chrome to make sure it doesn’t look like you are trying too hard.
There are several black finishes on the Blackline, including the flat black frame and swingarm, the deep gloss painted tins, and a semi-gloss black on the round-profile aluminum rims. A sculpted body panel down the center visually breaks up the gas tank’s width nicely and is an attractively modern touch. No fake gas cap or gas gauge on the left side of the tank, and only a speedometer nestled between the two-piece, no-riser handlebars adds up to a clean, no-frills control center. Hard chrome oil lines from the horseshoe oil tank have a vintage feel and add to the overall “factory custom” look. My favorite aesthetic feature is the engine colorizing. Such a simple thing, but very noticeable: the barrels are black and the heads are raw aluminum with chrome and black rocker boxes. This color combo takes its cue from older Harleys and is good looking without being corny or retro. In all, the subtle tweaks and classic geometry add up to one of the most attractive stock bikes in Harley’s Big Twin lineup.
At 5′ 9″ with a 31″ inseam I’m a bit vertically challenged, so the Blackline’s super-low 24″ seat height contributed to the bike’s maneuverable feel. It was no problem to push the bike around, and its low center of gravity inspires confidence by giving even the shortest rider the ability to plant both feet flat on the ground. For comparison, the H-D Wideglide has a 1.5″ taller seat height. Those with longer legs might appreciate the forward controls, but I’m not a big fan. I’d much rather be able to have my feet in a mid-control position, though I can appreciate that many riders would be cramped with such a set-up. The good news is that without a passenger, the rear pegs are quite comfortable for cruising and worked well when I needed to stand up and stretch.(Of course we at 2WF would never condone doing this – even though we all do it ourselves. Do as we say not as we do – Ed)
The primary cover is wide and flat and makes a good perch on the left, but no such area lends itself for bent knee riding on the right. The handlebars are neat and clean, but index into only one position so there is zero adjustability, a small price to pay for that clean control center. The best thing about the bars is how narrow they are—just 24″. This allowed for better lane splitting than any other stock cruiser I’ve ridden. The fact that I only bashed one mirror while threading the needle through miles of the famous Tijuana border crossing proves their practicality.
All hand controls are standard Harley fare, everything right where muscle memory wants them to be. The drawback of the forward controls and attack-oriented riding position is some rider fatigue when in the saddle for hours at a time.
Old complaints of Softails being squishy in corners may have been true once upon a time but this bike tracked true through corners and never once became unpredictable or unsettled, even over rough pavement or hard cornering. I’m no sport bike rider but I did manage to grind down about half of the peg feeler on the left and completely tore the right one off. (Oh I sooo did not need to hear that – Ed) Ground clearance was otherwise acceptable for a machine that sits so low. The forward position of the kickstand keeps that apparatus off the pavement and the only time I scraped the frame rails was over some particularly steep and tall speed bumps in San Felipe.
Where the rear suspension failed was any time I encountered a sharp-edged pothole, and the resulting jolts flowed directly into my spine. The suspension sucked up the numerous dirt washboards I encountered on my journey, and the front forks never bottomed or felt under-sprung. Even after 600+ hard miles, the Blackline went straight for miles with the throttle locked and hands off the bars.(Oh look, our safety officer just passed out – Ed) The fastest I got it going was just under 100mph and it showed no signs of wandering or sketchiness.(And now our EIC passed out as well – Managing Ed)
The counter-balanced 96″ Twin Cam engine brings up debate amongst riders who have ridden a wide variety of Harley-Davidsons over the years. This technology found in the Blackline’s rigidly mounted engine does indeed reduce vibration, but it also saps a bit of power. Some riders will see this as a step toward greater civility and engine behavior, but I found it detracted from the seat-of-the-pants acceleration I expect from an engine of this size. To be honest, I didn’t know about the counter-balancing technology until I complained to another rider that the engine felt almost anemic compared to some Dyna’s I’ve ridden. Don’t get me wrong, the bike will go fast and is clearly no dog, but where a Dyna will gobble up miles easily at speeds over 80, the Blackline felt more “settled in” at lower speeds. Given speed limits and concerns for safety this might be a good thing, but for me the slight loss of power and mellow low-end pull sucked some of the soul out of the riding experience. The low-end grunt of an H-D is what makes riding one fun and unique, and for my taste the Blackline felt too civilized. If you are considering one, take a test ride and then ride a Dyna and see if it makes a difference to you.
The Blackline had some practical features worth considering when spending upwards of 15 grand. The ignition switch is conveniently mounted on the coil and is capable of being left unlocked so you can operate it without the key. I found this easier to live with than a Dyna’s neck-mounted system (Only found on some Dyna models – Ed), and it’s better looking, too. The fuel injection performed flawlessly in rough conditions and through a wide variety of elevation and temperature changes. It started cold or warm with no need for a tickle or choke. The lack of a fuel gauge wasn’t a big deal with the five-gallon tank, and a “miles to empty” indicator will illuminate when it does get low. The clutch had a light touch anyone can appreciate, and the anti-vibe ride won’t unsettle a beginner. The anti-lock brakes work just like a car, with a pulsating pedal when you expect to lay a sweet skid – weird at first, but easy to get used to. Ground clearance should be enough for most riders and if you need more a dual sport or crotch rocket would probably suit you better anyway.
In the end, the 2011 Blackline proved to be exactly what the factory promised to deliver: a stylish Harley that is capable of just about anything, especially suited to a rider who enjoys cruising but isn’t exactly looking for a long-haul mile-eater or a light to light racer.
- Classic Lines
- Subtle custom touches and colorizing
- Low seat height
- Just the essentials
- Practical ignition switch operation
- Narrow handlebars
- Anti-lock brakes
- Durability and build quality
- Vibe-free drive train
- Weak rear suspension on rough roads
- Non-adjustability of bars
- Cheap-looking forward controls
- Vibe-free drive train
DIMENSIONS U.S. UNITS
- Length: 93 in.
- Seat Height Laden 24 in. Unladen 26.1 in.
- Ground Clearance: 5.25 in.
- Rake Steering Head: 30 °
- Trail: 4.84 in.
- Wheelbase: 66.5 in.
- Fuel Capacity: 5 gal.
- Oil Capacity: 3 qt.
- Dry Weight: 638.5 lbs.
- Running Order: 682.5 lbs.
- Engine: Air-cooled, Twin Cam 96B™
- Displacement: 96 cu. in.
- Bore x Stroke: 3.75 in. / 4.38 in.
- Engine Torque: 89 ft. lbs. @ 3250 rpm
- Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
- Compression Ratio: 9.2:1
- Primary Drive: Chain, 34/46 ratio
- Fuel Economy City: 35 mpg
- Fuel Economy Hwy: 54 mpg
- Gear Ratio (Overall) 1st 9.03 2nd 6.259 3rd 4.649 4th 3.764 5th 3.207 6th 2.706
WHEELS / TIRES
- Wheels Front: Black Anodized, Profile Laced Aluminum
- Rear: Black Anodized, Profile Laced Aluminum
- Tire Size Front: MH90-21 54H Rear: MU85B16 77H
Triple clamp-mounted electronic speedometer with odometer, time-of-day clock on odometer, dual tripmeter, engine diagnostics readout, low fuel warning light and mileage countdown feature, low oil pressure indicator, 6-speed indicator, ABS indicator (optional), LED indicator lights
8 High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, security system (optional), 6-speed, low fuel warnings
- Brakes: 4-piston front and rear
- Lean Angle: 24.4 / 25.9 °
- Exhaust System: Chrome, over/under shotgun exhaust with slash-cut mufflers
- Vivid Black Cool Blue Pearl
- Vivid Black Sedona Orange
- Vivid Black