In 1901, William S. Harley penned blueprints for a combustion engine designed to fit into a bicycle frame. At the same time, George M. Hendee and Oscar Hedstrom were beginning production on their first Indian “motor-cycle”. One of America’s greatest rivalries ensued. Fast forward to today and the two brands still have their sights clearly set on each other. This year, both American motorcycle companies pulled the wraps off new models designed to spill that age-old rivalry out onto the streets in a fight to attract new riders.
The Harley-Davidson Sportster is now in its sixtieth year of continued production, but the Roadster is the newest offering in a family that now runs six deep. The styling is aggressive and athletic — almost anti-Harley. There’s barely a drip of chrome on this thing, and the sporty suspension setup and dual-disc front brakes hint that the Roadster was engineered to do more than cruise lazily down the highway.
Engine: 1,202cc air-cooled V-Twin
Torque: 76 lb-ft
Curb Weight: 571 lbs
On smooth, curvy asphalt, the Roadster felt alive: It’s easily the second sportiest Sportster H-D has ever created, right behind the XR1200. The low-end grunt, confident handling and ergonomics that demand a slight reach — with cafe racer–esque bars and mid-mounted pegs — create a rider triangle that falls somewhere between a traditional cruiser and apex hunter. Unfortunately, the long feelers on the pegs deliver a grinding reminder that a cruiser lies beneath. They poke so far from the frame that they limit the mid-corner performance on what is an overall impressive package. If I were to buy a Roadster — and believe me, it’s tempting — those pegs would be the first to go.
The Indian Scout Bobber, on the other hand, isn’t trying to fool anyone into canyon carving. It wears its cruiser badge proudly. Like the Roadster, it sports bar-end mirrors, shortened bobbed rear fender and blacked-out everything in the name of attracting younger buyers. But where Harley refined its iron in pursuit of added performance, Indian took a different approach and applied mostly cosmetic changes.