MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: 2011/2012 Harley-Davidson Blackline

The lowest Harley

By Pamela Collins

It makes a great trivia question: What Harley-Davidson has the lowest seat height? Well, up until 2010, it was the Fat Boy Lo, at 24.3 inches. But in 2011, Harley unveiled a midyear release model—meaning it came out a few months after the other 2011 models were announced—and this motorcycle now lays claim to having the lowest seat height of any Harley-Davidson, lower than the Fat Boy Lo and the Sportster SuperLow. That motorcycle is the Blackline, the newest addition to the Softail family. The Blackline is more about attitude than the fact that it’s the Harley with the lowest seat height, as it comes from the factory with the custom blacked-out styling that traditionally appeals to young men. Nevertheless, the seat height measures in at 24 inches flat.

Pamela rides the lowest Harley-Davidson in the company’s lineup, the Blackline.

Seat height is one of the first features a woman sizes up when she’s shopping for a motorcycle. Can she put both feet flat on the ground when seated? That’s important because she needs all the leg length she can muster to move and muscle a motorcycle around so she feels totally in control. And with the average height of a woman being between 5-foot-4 and 5-foot-5, depending on which official chart you go by, a 24-inch seat height sure is something to smile about!

Pamela’s height is 5-foot-3. She’s able to flat foot the Blackline with flat boots on and plenty of bend in the knee so she can maneuver the bike around easily.

Speaking of ergonomics, let’s get right to the bike’s seating position. First time sitting on the Blackline with my feet and hands on the controls, my 5-foot-3, petite frame was stretched to the max. The ergonomics of the Blackline dictate the rider fold forward into the clamshell posture, and that position left me short of reaching the foot controls. Long-legged riders will appreciate the extended reach, as it makes up for the short seat height that could leave long legs cramped.

Fortunately for us shorties, Harley offers a Reduced Reach Seat (part number 52442-04A, $299.95) that pushes the rider forward 1.25 inches forward. Once installed, the seat enabled me to reach the controls and safely handle the bike. Harley-Davidson also offers aftermarket pullback handlebars (part number 55800032, $219.95) for the Blackline (unavailable for me to try at the time of my test ride) designed with 4 inches of additional pullback, but I found the stock bars to be fine for my hands to reach.

The Reach Seat ensures Pamela’s feet can easily reach the forward foot controls.
The aftermarket pullback bars bring the bars closer to the rider.

The Blackline’s claim to fame—what will get most style-conscious men and women riders excited—and what sets it apart from the other Softails, is its nod toward Harley’s Dark Custom theme.

It looks like a basic blacked-out motorcycle, but the Blackline draws elements from Harley’s past.
A round air cleaner (versus the current oval-shaped ones) remind us of Harley-Davidson’s Evolution motor days.
The cylinder’s silver powder-coated top reminds us of early-model motors.
The side view offers a profile that’s long, low and lean, with a narrower (144 mm) rear tire—certainly not the norm on most cruisers these days. New split drag bars in a beautiful gloss black add a custom touch to the front end while positioning the rider in a low-slung, aggressive riding posture reminiscent of motorcycling’s glory days. A chopped rear fender reinforces the lean and mean look, while the components’ gloss-black touches add a shadowy sheen and remind us that this is one of Harley’s Dark Customs.
The rear fender is chopped in postwar bobber styling and covers the narrow rear tire.
The all-in-one brake light, turn light and taillight are in a new black housing located on the rear above the license plate holder.
The Blackline uses a 21-inch front wheel, which I’m not particularly fond of on custom bikes, as the wheel’s tendency to “flop” during low-speed riding and turning makes me uncomfortable. However, the Blackline didn’t do that, and I found it surprisingly controllable during slower maneuvering. Suspension is adequate despite the bike being slammed very low to the ground. One could easily scrape the pegs in corners, but I didn’t ride hard enough to find out. ABS does not come standard on this bike but is an available option.

Pamela demonstrates how her smallish hands reach the clutch lever. Also notice the blacked-out components: the mirror, turn signal housings, triple trees and headlight housing.

The 2011 Blackline is powered by the fuel-injected Twin Cam 96B (1584cc) with the 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission. For 2012, the engine’s been upgraded to the more powerful Twin Cam 103B that Harley’s been using on its CVO (factory custom) and touring models for the last few years. Both motors pack a lot of muscle, and with the bike relatively light weight of 638 pounds, you can sense the additional power immediately. If going fast with lots of power is important to you, then buy the 2012 model with the bigger motor. But the Twin Cam 96B provides more than enough power, so if you find a used 2011 model or leftover new one, go for it. You won’t be disappointed.

The gas tank holds 5 gallons and features minimalist styling, with no stick-on Harley-Davidson badges.
The dash also has simple styling. The name Blackline comes from the black center strip covering the left and right sections of the fuel tank.

I gripped the controls tightly as I looked at the sleek, glossy blackness beneath me during my short test ride, my arms and feet outstretched while the bike traveled at highway speeds, feeling as I shifted through the gears a little like the Wicked Witch of the West riding her broomstick. The Blackline presents the menacing, dark custom presence Harley-Davidson has worked so hard (and so well) to create.

Pamela rides the 2011 model in Vivid Black (notice the big 21-inch front wheel). That color returns for 2012, with new color additions of Black Denim and two-tone combinations of Big Blue Pearl/Vivid Black and H-D Orange/Vivid Black.

Specs At A Glance: 2012 Harley-Davidson FXS Blackline
Displacement: Twin Cam 103B (1690cc)
Seat Height: 24 inches
Weight: 638 pounds
Fuel Capacity: 5 gallons
Price: 2011/2012 starts at $15,499
Colors: 2011 – Vivid Black, Cool Blue Pearl/Vivid Black, Sedona Orange/Vivid Black; 2012 -Vivid Black, Black Denim, Big Blue Pearl/Vivid Black, H-D Orange/Vivid Black

WRN Recommendation
If you ask a salesperson at the dealership to take you to the Harley with the lowest seat height, they’ll take you to the Blackline. However, we feel this is not the motorcycle best suited for the majority of women riders looking for a low seat height because of its reach-forward, aggressive riding position. Most women desire laid-back comfort along with that low seat height. Better to look to other Softails, namely the Softail Deluxe or Heritage Softail Classic, which feature a more ergonomically friendly riding position for women along with a low seat height. However, if the Dark Custom side of this bike appeals to you and you appreciate the bobber riding style of yesteryear, then you’ll love this uniquely crafted addition to Harley-Davidson’s lineup.

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1 thought on MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: 2011/2012 Harley-Davidson Blackline

  1. Wow! I imagine myself in the aggressive position when I ride my scooter! I think I’m in love with Blackline.

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