Test rides

2019 Harley-Davidson FXDR – First Ride

Harley offers up a quirky machine for fans of the brand

Before we talk about the FXDR – Harley-Davidson’s delightfully nutty drag-race-inspired cruiser – let’s talk first about how we talk about Harley. How you choose to do that is likely to have an effect on how you view this bike.

MAKE IT RAIN:
Become a Supporter of The Motorcycle Obsession

Somewhere along the way, the theme of “Harley Is Doing Everything Wrong” became central to just about any discussion of the 115-year-old brand. It’s a theme that has existed for decades within certain circles, but I feel its saturation point came with the rise of social media – when the generations Harley had been overlooking suddenly found they had a voice.

I’d argue that the deep, knee-jerk criticism of Harley-Davidson has cooled in the last few years – with the release of the Milwaukee Eight engine and the overhauled Softail line-up – but certainly it remains strong enough that even the brand has chosen to respond to it, promising all kinds of totally different and new things over the next few years.

The FXDR, however, is not one of those things. Tenth of the new Softails, it’s a bike that reminds me of Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby in some ways – something to thrill existing fans. Because another way to talk about Harley is as a company that produces in excess of 600,000 motorcycles a year. Sure, that’s fewer bikes than it was churning out in the Good Ol’ Days of pre-Great Recession America, but it’s still a hell of a lot of bikes. And a hell of a lot of existing Harley fans.

Other Softail Models Reviewed:
Breakout
Fat Bob
Heritage Classic
Sport Glide
Street Bob

By extension, it’s reasonable to assume there are even more people out there desiring those bikes. Part of the brief Harley gave itself in developing the FXDR was in capturing that demographic: the people who have always wanted a Harley but, for whatever reason, still haven’t pulled the trigger.

AP1_0169
No room for passengers unless they’re very tiny.

First Impressions

I am a 42-year-old white American male raised in the Central Time Zone. In other words, I am by birth and rearing predisposed to being sympathetic toward the Harley-Davidson brand – despite a recorded history of being uncertain about it. I’ve never owned a Harley, but I’m not dead-set against the idea. All of which means I exist smack dab in the center of Harley’s target audience for the FXDR.

So, you know, I like the look of the FXDR. Of course I do. Though, I can understand why someone else might not. It is a confused sort of thing. At the FXDR press launch in Greece back in September, Harley’s presentation included an embarrassing PowerPoint slide labeled “Inspiration” that featured a collage of images of drag bikes, the engine of a sportbike, an F-18 jet, and – I am not making this up – a snarling Rottweiler. Cringe.

IMG_7887
Inspired by an attack dog…

I prefer not to think about that slide when looking at the FXDR and instead choose to see a batshit mash-up of the Dodge Demon and the space bike that DC Comics antihero Lobo rides. It’s not an aesthetic I would have ever asked for, nor one I would spend my own money on, but, nonetheless, I like it. Certainly it looks better in person than in pictures. In photos it looks like a stylized Fat Bob to which somebody’s accidentally attached a Breakout front end, but up close the look is more cohesive. It still doesn’t make sense, but it’s cohesive.

THE COMPETITION: Indian Motorcycle – Europe’s Newest Brand

However, once you do get close you can’t help but notice that a fair few items are made of plastic. That for-decorative-purposes-only windscreen, for example. It easily pops off, similar to the equally purposeless bullet screen on the Street Rod 750. Thinking about this fact too long may cause consternation; the FXDR has a starting price of £19,855 – almost three times the Street Rod’s £6,795 asking price.

B32A2125
Not cheap

Engine and Transmission

But, of course, you’re not just paying for the FXDR’s looks. The bike’s big selling point is the colossal 114 cubic-inch Milwaukee Eight V-twin resting in the heart of all this madness – that’s 1868 cc for metric fans. Uniquely, Harley-Davidson has offered power figures for the FXDR: some 91 horsepower at 3,500 rpm. That’s a figure sure to spark one of those critical conversations I mentioned above, but when paired with the bike’s walloping 118 pound-feet of torque it honestly is enough for all kinds of stupid fun.

On the roads of northern Greece, riders more daring than myself were laying down thick black strips of burnt tire at traffic lights. Out on the region’s wild-dog-populated backroads I found there was always plenty of punch for overtaking cars and keeping the bike hurtling toward tight corners. The best part of a Harley has always been its engine, but that reality is intensified on the FXDR; it’s just so much fun.

IMG_7802
Fat rear tire is fat

Though… ah… it’s worth noting that from an acceleration standpoint, the physical experience is indistinguishable from that provided by the markedly less expensive Street Bob (starting price £12,295 – some £7,560 less than the FXDR).

Meanwhile, as with the Street Bob and all other Milwaukee Eight-powered motos, the FXDR is mechanically capable of trundling along all day, day after day. The engine is perfectly happy to cruise at speeds far beyond your level of comfort for a naked bike, and it holds its ability to launch forward with head-snapping punch all the way to about the 75mph mark. You’ll want a little more runway to attain speeds above that (holding them is no problem, though) and the bike begins to runs out of puff as you wander north of 105 mph.

RELATED: Why is the Harley Brand So Popular?

The six-speed transmission is about as slick as you’re going to get from such a gigantic machine and always reliable – no false neutrals. Clutch pull is also reasonably light. No, you won’t be snicking through the gears with a single finger on the lever but it’s also not the hand workout that cruisers of even five years ago demanded.

B32A2953
The air intake looks like a leaf blower

Brakes, Suspension and Handling

The FXDR gets a lovely dual-front disc set-up (single disc in the rear, of course), which means there’s plenty of whoa for the all the go. Nuancing the brakes’ power into corners can be a teency bit tricky, but I think that may be due more to the chunkiness of Harley’s brake levers rather than the actual brake set-up.

However, for the first time ever, I noticed fork dive when hitting those corners. This is something MSL’s Tony Carter bitches about all the time when it comes to the Softail line-up, his feeling that the front forks are always too soft. I’d never noticed, chalking up our difference of opinion to the difference of riding style (Tony’s got much bigger cojones than me when it comes to pushing a bike). With the FXDR, however, I could feel the whole shebang unsettling somewhat as too much weight shifted forward. Which was strange because Harley says it’s made the FXDR’s suspension firmer and more corner-willing.

brakes
Brakes provide all the who needed to stop the nearly 290kg bike

So, maybe I noticed this time around because I was pushing harder, taking Harley at its word on performance claims. Though, not too hard. One thing that’s true of all Harley big twins is that the weight never goes away. It’s low and centered brilliantly, so it won’t ever bother you at low speeds or when riding within the boundaries of the law. But get a little excited and you will feel that momentum when going hard into corners.

Thinking about that momentum makes it difficult for me to ride with the aplomb of British moto-journalist peers. I can’t shake the mental picture of low-siding into a guard rail because the bike’s weight and momentum have overwhelmed the tires. That’s never actually happened to me, nor have I ever seen it happen to anyone else, but the idea of it is so tangible as to blunt my confidence.

KEEP READING: Not Everyone Loves a Harley

But perhaps that’s for the best. Harley talks a big game about handling, but a nigh 290kg motorcycle with 34-degree rake and a fat rear tire simply isn’t designed to be whipped through mountain twisties. The FXDR is demonstrably better-handling than the Breakout with which it shares a rake angle, but it’s still a big, heavy, stretched-out beast of a thing. A KTM 790 Duke it ain’t.

IMG_7707
Lots of rake, lots of rear tire, and lots of weight

Comfort and Extras

The FXDR is not as uncomfortable as it looks. That’s damning with faint praise, admittedly, because it’s still not comfortable enough to be ridden across the country (unless you live in Luxembourg). In Ye Olden Dayes, a bike like this would have been described as a bar-hopper, something ideal for riding around – looking and feeling badass – on jaunts of less than an hour at a time.

The riding position puts you in that kicked-in-the-stomach pose: hands and feet forward. You’ll want to be long of leg with this machine; poor Laura Thomson of Visordown looked like she was being stretched on a rack when maneuvering the FXDR through Grecian countryside. If you are tall enough, though, the (nice and high) clip-on ‘bars put you in a position of feeling in more control

seat
The seat is comfy

In light of the ergonomics, the seat is more comfortable than it needs to be – good for an all-day ride – but that’s hardly something to complain about. There’s no passenger seat, but the little cowl behind the rider’s seat could, one assumes, be replaced with some sort of teeny-tiny pillion pad that most passengers will hate. An unintended bonus of that cowl, by the way, is that it covers a space large enough to hold a small bottle of water and, say, an iPhone.

IF THE FXDR’S NOT YOUR THING: Harley-Davidson Announces Plans to Make You Buy a Harley by 2022

ABS and keyless ignition are standard, as is full LED lighting, but beyond that the FXDR is relatively low-tech. The dash is the same as that used by the Street Bob: tiny but providing all the information you need.

B32A2088
The FXDR looks more uncomfortable than it is. But it’s not exactly all-day comfy

Verdict

In order to like the FXDR I really do feel it’s necessary to have a pre-existing fondness for or sympathy toward the Harley-Davidson brand. Harley says it sees this as a bike for someone who’s easing away from sportbikes but I feel that’s largely hooey, unless the sportbike in question is a Suzuki Hayabusa with an extended swingarm that’s only been ridden in the traditional American manner of straight lines and wide, slow corners. I find it pretty difficult to imagine the FXDR converting any Harley skeptics.

And, to be honest, I can’t help but wonder how much success it will find amongst the faithful. I really like the FXDR. I think it’s fun and looks cool and sounds badass. But everything it does well is already being done better by the Fat Bob, Street Bob, or Sport Glide – all of which cost less. I’m struggling to understand why anyone would pay so much more for the FXDR.

IMG_7935
Worth its price tag?

I mean, I know I’m always warning of the danger of making apples and oranges comparisons, but the BMW K 1600 B costs less than an FXDR. Even within the realm of Harleys, though, it seems overpriced; it costs more than a Road King, ffs. Yes, the FXDR has a unique aluminum swingarm, but I really can’t figure out what you’re paying for here; why does it cost in excess of £3,000 more than the more-agile, more-comfortable and just-as-powerful, just-as-badass Fat Bob 114? I don’t get it.

But, perhaps (probably) Harley understands its core customer better than I do. I thoroughly dislike the Breakout, for example, to the extent I would say it’s the worst of the company’s 35-model line-up. Yet, Harley’s folks tell me that bike is one of its better sellers.

So, different strokes for different folks, I guess. And, hey, it’s not as if you’re getting a bad motorcycle. The Harley-Davidson FXDR is a bike that looks great and is a hell of a lot of fun to ride. If you don’t have a problem shelling out close to £20,000 for it, you likely won’t regret the purchase.

B32A2787
I enjoyed riding the FXDR but would spend my money on a Fat Bob, Sport Glide, or Street Bob

The Three Questions:

Does the Harley-Davidson FXDR suit my current lifestyle?
Not really. In the case of bikes like the Street Bob and Sport Glide I would be quite happy to make a few compromises in terms of the technowhizzbangery to which I’ve grown accustomed, but the FXDR doesn’t hold that appeal for me. It doesn’t fit me now, nor does it fit the person I want to be.

Does the Harley-Davidson FXDR put a grin on my face?
Yes. This review is negative about some things but it’s important to remember that the bike is a whole hell of a lot of fun. If someone gives you an opportunity to ride one, be sure to jump on it.

Is the Harley-Davidson FXDR better than the Harley-Davidson Street Bob?
No. Normally with this question I’d compare the tested bike to the motorcycle I currently own, which is a 2017 Triumph Tiger Explorer XRX. But in this case I feel it’s more appropriate to compare the FXDR to the Street Bob I had on loan through the summer. The Street Bob costs significantly less and is more fun. It has ostensibly less power than the FXDR but you genuinely won’t notice. It has less lean angle than the FXDR but that doesn’t matter because the FXDR’s rake, ergonomics and fat rear tire make you less willing to throw it around. For the cost of an FXDR you could buy a Street Bob and a Street Rod and still have enough money left over for full branded riding kit.

AP1_0280
2019 Harley-Davidson FXDR

Rider Stats:

Rider: Chris Cope
Height: 6 feet 1 inch
Build: Lanky

Helmet: Schuberth C3 Pro
Jacket: Indian Motorcycle Rocker
Gloves: Aerostich Elkskin Competition Ropers
Jeans: Pando Moto Boss Desert El
Boots: Indian Motorcycle Spirit Lake
Backpack: Kriega R20

AP1_0657
Chris Cope on 2019 Harley-Davidson FXDR

MORE IMAGES