My new favorite motorcycle is the Harley-Davidson Rocker. This is a big deal because I dont grant this title lightly. To be one of my favorite motorcycles, it must possess many of the qualities women deem favorable when selecting a bike and the Rocker has them, low seat height, easy to handle — and in this case — styling to the max for those interested in purchasing a bike that looks like a more expensive custom.
I was one of only two women to test ride the Rocker and its cousin, the Rocker C, when they were unveiled to members of the motorcycle press. Im excited to share the first review of the bikes aimed at women riders.
The Rocker, designated as the FXCW (and FXCWC for the Rocker C) is a completely new model for Harley, both part of the Softail family. This bike is Harleys effort to capture part of the custom motorcycle market thats flooded with “one-offs” (one of a kind motorcycles designed from scratch) from start-up custom manufacturers that burst onto the scene over the last five years. Many have gone out of business within the last two years, with a few remaining eeking out several thousand bikes a year with start-up assembly line and production facilities that often leave quality at the door.
With Harleys 105 years of time-tested engineering and manufacturing, its a no brainer for the Motor Company to dip its toe into these custom waters to bring back some customers who went searching over yonder for something new, exciting and different. (Harley does offer its Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) motorcycles, but those have a high price tag attached to them.) The problem with new, exciting, and different when bought from a manufacturer with a limited track record of quality and reliability is that customers are left holding the bag, or in this case, a bag of parts that fell off or didnt work the way they were supposed to.
My New Best Friend
So, why do I like — no love — the Rocker? Well, it has great ergonomics for starters. Ergonomics is what I always hone in on first. Not sure if thats a woman thing (a woman riders confidence comes largely from being able to handle a bike; being able to handle a bike means being comfortable to a certain extent), or the fact that the first thing you do with a motorcycle is sit on it, grab the bars and put your feet on the pegs. The Rocker is “low friendly” – just 24.5 inches off the ground giving it bragging rights alongside the Softail Deluxe, as having the lowest seat of any Harley-Davidson. That alone will win over a lot of women. My feet are flat on the ground with just enough bend in the knee to easily shuffle and maneuver the nearly 700-pound motorcycle. Despite its fat 240 mm rear tire, the bikes profile, including the seat, is relatively narrow so no inches are lost in the leg spread. Strong riders standing a solid 5 feet should be able to handle the bike just fine. I say strong, because the Rocker is a lot of bike and on the heavy side so upper body strength is needed to muscle it around.
One of the most noticeable aspects of this new custom from Harley both visually and from its feel is the relatively long rake in the front – 36.5 degrees to be exact. For comparison, the rake on the rest of the Softails is 32 degrees. If youve ever ridden a custom with a raked front end, you might have experienced whats termed “flop” or “front end flop.” This happens when the forks are so kicked out that they lose stabilization and the front tire flops to either side forcing the handlebars to turn with it. You can tell if a bike has flop by simply sitting it on and balancing the front end by positioning it straight the front tire in line with the rear. If you cant find the sweet spot to balance, the tire keeps flopping to side to side. The great thing about the Rocker is theres absolutely no flop. The rake is very manageable. Harley designs for the masses so it has to be. Its well balanced and rides as smooth as it looks. But Im getting ahead of myself. Back to the ergos.
The handlebars are angled way back to the rider (no annoying back stretch here) thanks to a five-inch riser attached to a V-Bar, a handlebar in the shape of a V. Im not fan of forward controls (mostly because I find stock settings too far for my 30-inch inseam) but once again, the forward pegs and controls are placed in just the right position for me completing the perfect ergonomic package. Looks aside (you might take em or leave em), I feel a lot of women will be pleased with the ergonomic set up of the Rocker. Its so less imposing than it looks.
Rockin the Roads
Out on the highway, I thoroughly enjoyed snicking through the six gears of Harleys Twin Cam 96B power plant getting the bike up to speed. (The B designation means the engine is counter balanced in the frame thereby reducing vibration transfer to the rider.) My test ride included a little bit of everything highway riding and rural road twisties. With my arms and legs outstretched, I pushed the Rocker over as far as I could in the turns scraping the pegs a couple of times. Thank goodness for a little tab at the end of the collapsible peg that hits the pavement first. It takes the scraping instead of your footpeg.
I wanted to see if the bike held its line – which it did, or experienced any wobble. It did not. Wobble can happen from loose steering dampeners or mostly from a less than stiff chassis. The Rockers chassis is very rigid; the bike went right where I pointed it.
With a big fat tire like that, dont expect to fly around corners – the wider tire surface forces the bike upright so it takes more might and speed to force it to lean over in the turns. But the 240mm is not so big it messes with the ride. Ive found tire size becomes an issue with 250mm and larger. You start to really feel the back end restricting your turning.
On the highway running at about 80 mph (I couldnt believe I got up to 80 so effortlessly) the Rocker tracked well keeping me in a straight line as plowed through the miles. I was quite comfortable in the saddle all day long. For once, my butt reached the back of a motorcycle seat enjoying the benefits of feeling tucked in. The suspension did an adequate job of taking potholes and uneven pavement markings. And the suspension is what brings us to the root of what this bike is all about and why its called a Rocker.
The Rockers Roots
If you look closely at the back end while the bike is moving, the tire and fender appear to be suspended, floating independently of the rest of the bike. Normal back ends have fender struts attaching the fender to the frame. This Rockertail set up gives the illusion of a spine jarring hardtail rigid frame ride (for all those custom junkies) but underneath hides a shock taking all the vibration – just like on other Softails.
The swingarm in the rear is actually a separate piece attached to the frame. The rear fender and wheel are attached to the swingarm so when the bike is moving the fender and wheel move together in a rocking motion hence the name. I think it looks more like an up and down tight bounce, but Bouncer is not really a good name for a bike, or is it? Bouncer the bike. The Bouncer. I dont know – kind of has a ring to it.
Lets get to styling, my favorite part and a lot of womens favorite part of a motorcycle. Other than the excellent ergonomics, the other reason I prefer the Rocker over the Rocker C (other than that the seat height is 3/4 of an inch lower, too) is because of its grey satin finish on parts that normally would see chrome. Harley calls it Satin Stainless Metallic powder coat. It’s gorgeous. Subdued yet elegant. It’s not a stone cold gray, but a warm grey with a hint of brown in it. I just love it. I’m not into the chrome that’s splashed all over the Rocker C leaving it with $2,000 higher price tag. Don’t get me wrong, chrome is classy, but I really like the look of the satin finish.
It’s worth noting the Rocker C costs more, as well, because of an integrated passenger seat. It’s a neat and innovative feature if you need to carry a passenger on the fly. The pan style seat is tucked under the rider saddle and, in about 15 seconds, is easily flipped out into position.
Details like wires hidden in the handlebars, five spoke cast aluminum wheels, a color matched frame, small bullet style turn signals, and turn signals in the rear that double as the stop and taillight (eliminating the need for separate taillight) let you know this is a true custom. I’d change out the stock Harley mirrors and the ugly license plate holder, which have no business being on this beauty. But Harley can’t customize everything for the customer. Some things have to be left for the customer to choose from aftermarket parts and accessories.
Don’t underestimate the Rocker and don’t be intimidated by it. This is a breeze to ride, an extremely fun bike that looks like those bad boy customs (so be prepared to get a few looks) but is so much easier on your butt, back and bones. And that’s the secret. People will wonder how a woman can (or would even want to) manhandle what appears to be a big and tough motorcycle.
Specs at a Glance: 2008 FXCW Rocker
Displacement: 1584 cc
Seat Height: 24.5 inches
Fuel Capacity: 5 gallons
Weight: 690 pounds
MSRP: starts at $17,295
I was wondering if this bike would work as more than just an in-town cruiser, if accessories were available to turn it into a long haul tourer. Flipping through Harley’s P&A catalog, I find a windshield, a backrest, and a luggage rack specifically designed for the Rocker. Great! It makes this custom machine multi-functional giving me more reason to love it and recommend that you demo ride it…soon.