Revisiting the Softail source code

Back to basics—stripped down and ready to rumble

New York, N.Y., Jan. 20—Just north of the Holland Tunnel, in a far corner of New York City’s trendy SoHo neighborhood, sits a nondescript bar named, simply, Don Hill’s. It was just before 9:00 p.m.—quite early for the city that never sleeps.

For years, Don Hill has been a fixture in the downtown NYC music scene. He ran the Cat Club, a trendy night spot just below Union Square, from the mid-’80s to the early ’90s. Shortly after the Cat Club closed, Don opened his own bar, which is reminiscent of Max’s Kansas City, a punk rock hangout in the ’80s, and that takes on that same theme—a dimly lit, slightly grungy place with graffiti-style wall décor. The dark interior combined with Don Hill’s clientele—a young and hip crowd—makes it the perfect place for Harley-Davidson to launch its new FXS Blackline Softail, considering the demographic the company is hoping to attract.

The place was already quite crowded—after all, who could refuse an invitation to a three-hour open bar and catered buffet, not to mention the chance to mingle with H-D royalty? At 9:15, the doors were opened to non-media folks who’d made reservations through a promotions company (the invitation was plastered all over the internet), furthering Harley’s aim of reaching out to the non-riding public with the hopes of converting them to life on two wheels; and more specifically, drawing them into the Dark Custom culture. A tide of downtown hipsters streamed in, creating a curious collage of the motorcycle industry, the media, Goths, post-punks and fashionistas. Yet it all worked, in no small part due to the bar’s bare-bones, unpretentious ambiance. People mixed loudly and happily, and celebrity DJ Paul Sevigny pumped out tunes to complement the vibe.

After a promotional video featuring Harley riders navigating the mean streets of New York City, Willie G. and VP of Styling Ray Drea un­veiled the Blackline; a dark vision in black denim powdercoat frame and swingarm, powered by the Twin Cam 96B motor and six-speed transmission. The powertrain features gloss black powdercoat on the rocker box covers, crankcase, outer primary cover and transmission side cover; not to mention the triple clamps and fork lowers. This Dark Custom does have bits of shiny stuff tossed in for contrast, such as the chrome derby cover, timing covers, air cleaner and over/under shotgun exhaust.

New internally-wired split drag handlebars mount directly to the top triple clamp, and the bobbed rear fender sports stop/turn/tail lights in black housings. The rear end is lowered, and the seat height is only 24 inches, making the Blackline the lowest Harley ever. The fuel tank is a brand-new design with a black die-cast trim panel down the center. Mounted on the triple-clamp are indicator lights and an analog speedometer that features an LCD screen that displays a low-fuel warning and indicates how many miles to empty.

After the reveal, Drea called out, “Does anybody want to raise some hell out there? This is the bike to do it with!” Then the entire styling team was called up on stage. Willie G. took the mic and said, “I spend my waking hours with this team. We are all artists, and we have a lot of gasoline running in our veins. These motorcycles are the result of our passion and our knowledge of the Harley-Davidson brand over all these years. When you look at this motorcycle, certainly it’s brand new, but we never lost track of our roots. You can call it a bobber, you can call it a custom, you can call it a Blackline, which is what it is. You know damned well it’s a Harley-hyphen-Davidson.” Drea grabbed the mic back and quipped, “I’ll tell you a little secret. If you look really close at our graphics, that hyphen is not really a hyphen. It’s actually small type, and it’s really Harley Fuckin’ Davidson.” Of course the off-color comment drew a rousing cheer from the crowd, as did all the other F-bombs tossed out by the evening’s emcee.

The Blackline fills a gap in the 2011 Softail lineup caused by the Softail Custom’s final appearance in the 2010 model year. As Willie G. told Thunder Press, “This motorcycle is a back-to-basic Softail. When you think of the Softail, you go back to the mid-’80s and that frame that’s been morphed into so many different designs—the Heritages, the Fat Boys, all these great motorcycles. Then the bobber happened. The bobber is really a throwback to early Harley-Davidson cut-down choppers. This motorcycle that you’re gonna see, the Blackline, is pretty much reminiscent of those early Harleys. By that, I mean less is more. It’s a simple Softail; 16” rear rim, 21” front rim. If you look at the tank and all of the various bits and pieces, it’s very simple. It emphasizes the motor. The fenders and sheet metal are played down; they’re not overly done. Even the graphics are very simple. I think it’s gonna have very good appeal.”

Two color schemes are available—Vivid Black for $15,499, which is the lowest-priced Softail in the 2011 lineup; and two-tone in Cool Black Pearl/ Vivid Black or Sedona Orange/Vivid Black for $15,998.


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