Harley-Davidson Rocker C

Story by Glenn Roberts//
July 1 2008

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If the public wants something that doesn’t exist, someone will quickly pick up on the lack of product, design and build it for market. In a time when the custom chopper market seems to be in decline, some manufacturers seem to be doing their best to keep the custom industry alive by bringing out what seems to be mass-produced customs of their own. In the last couple of years, Harley-Davidson has released a few bikes based on what is hot-on-the-street, so to speak–the Street Bob and the Fat Bob on the Dyna platform as well as the Street Glide, a custom bagger from the FLH touring line. Then late last year Harley-Davidson announced the FXCW Rocker and the FXCWC Rocker C, and at the end of January 2008, they announced their latest custom Softail, the Cross Bones (read about the Cross Bones in an upcoming issue of Motorcycle Mojo).

The two Rocker models are arguably the closest things to the real deal in the custom motorcycle market offered up by any major manufacturer (although Yamaha did a bang-up job on last years Raider, as did Suzuki with the M109). Both Rocker models offer a high degree of rake, wide rear tire, colour-matched frame and custom handlebars with internal wiring, but the most identifiable part resembling a custom is that of the rear fender. The newly designed ‘Rockertail’ gives the impression that the slammed bike is a bone-jarring rigid frame since the wide rear fender is only an inch or so above the rear tire, leaving no apparent room for suspension.

The new Rocker and Rocker C does in fact have 86 mm (3.4 in) of travel since it is built on the classic Softail platform. The Softail is designed to look like a rigid framed motorcycle but employs a swingarm that uses suspension components that reside under the powertrain and between the lower frame rails, keeping it all out of sight. The new Rockertail, as it has been dubbed by Harley engineers, consists of the usual wheel assembly and swingarm, but also on the new tail section mounts a fender that hugs the rear tire without any visible support. The result is unlike anything else in the mass-produced world of motorcycles since the demise of the monstrously skirted fender of the Indian look-alike Kawasaki Drifter.

Although the new slammed look does offer suitable suspension, I did find the quality of the rear suspension a little on the harsh side. While the Rocker C is right at home on the highway, generally most low, long and sleek bikes of this style sporting a long rake, solo seat and a low profile 240 section tire out back are more commonly used for cruising the boulevards and downtown cores where road surfaces are generally quite a bit more gentle. While the rear suspension was stiff, I found the front suspension the opposite. The large 49 mm telescopic front fork with chromed lowers on the Rocker C give up 127 mm (5 in) of travel, the front suspension seemed soft and dove a little when braking. The softness didn’t cause any issues at any time and the front-end nicely soaked up all road irregularities that I encountered.

The counter-balanced Twin Cam 96B engine on my Rocker C demo delivered plenty of grunt through the rev range, whether on the highway, cruising around town or launching from a stoplight. The traditional air-cooled 1584 cc (96 ci) fuel-injected V-Twin with Cruise Drive six-speed transmission worked flawlessly. Neutral was always easy to find and while the Cruise Drive transmission changes gears with a heavy thunk, foot action is relatively light whether shifting up or down. The non-adjustable clutch lever provides an easy pull and delivers a comfortable and predictable friction point. For normal highway use I found that staying in fifth gear was adequate, but on the 400-series highways where speeds tend to climb a little higher, that extra gear offered a welcome reduction in RPM, especially with fuel prices hovering in the $1.26 per litre range. While the Rocker doesn’t have a tachometer, sixth gear on the highway drops engine revs about 400 RPM and from past experience that has to make a little bit of difference over time filling the 18.9 litre (4.2 imp. gal.) tank at the pumps. Harley specs claim fuel mileage to be 4.4L/100 km on the highway and 6.7 L/100 km in the city. My fuel mileage on the Rocker C worked out to be smack dab in the middle at 5.45 L/100 km, or, for those of you who still understand the vintage way of measurement, 51.8 mpg. Doing the math should yield around 345 km before stopping by the bank and then your local fuel depot.

As evident by the low rumble from the shorty dual slash-cut exhaust, the engine delivers visceral power just off idle all the way up the rev range and the specs show a maximum of 117 Nm (86 ft lbs) of torque at 3200 RPM. There is no need to downshift from fifth gear at 80 km/h to pass a car as a quick twist of the throttle delivers plenty of get-up-and-go. While the driveline will do the same in sixth gear at 80 km/h, it’s a bit sluggish, but a downshift will get you by that pesky car quicker, with less chance of lugging the engine.

The Rocker weighs in at 326.9 kg (721 lb) in running order, but coming to a stop is as easy as getting up to speed. Up front, the single 4-piston caliper clamping a 292 mm (11.5 in) rotor does an admirable job by itself, but add in a push on the rear pedal and the 2-piston caliper tightening up on the rear rotor of the same size makes the Rocker come to a very quick and controlled stop.

Braking power is transferred through a couple of good-looking polished 5-spoke cast aluminum wheels. The 19-inch front and 18-inch rear hoops both wear Dunlop tires made specifically for Harley-Davidson.

As mentioned previously, the rear bun is 240 mm and the rake is long, 36.5° in the frame and add a little bit more in the triple trees to make the rake 38° in total. A regular Softail is set at 32°. The extra six-degree stretches the wheelbase out to 1760 mm (69.3 in) from a regular model Softail that has a length of 1638 mm (64.5 in). Now these three factors alone would have you believe that the bike should have handling issues. The engineers at the Motor Company have done their homework to make the Rocker handle much less ponderously than one might expect. The Rocker shoots straight down the highway as is to be expected given the wide rear tire and long rake. But those items will generally have a counter-effect on slow speed handling. It would be crazy to even consider that the Rocker would handle like a sport bike, but with a little concentration, feet up U-turns are possible however you might want a little more room than a regular 2-lane country road allows. As for carving corners, again the Rocker doesn’t enter into sport bike territory by any stretch, but being a chopperesque style motorcycle, it holds its line well with only a slight push on the handlebar on twisty country roads.

The Twin Cam 96B engine is solidly mounted in the frame but the engine’s internal balance shafts do a great job of keeping vibration at bay. The only time I felt any vibration was at higher RPMs, around 80 km/h in third gear, or while I was in sixth gear at 80 km/h whereas the engine RPM is very low. Regular riding at all speeds provided a clear view in the mirrors and was void of buzzing in the handlebar, footpegs or seat.

One might look at the Rocker C and be surprised that there are passenger pegs on a bike with only a solo seat. The Rocker C employs a ‘trick seat’, a first in the industry as far as I know. With the look of a solo seat, you have the option of exposing a pillion seat for that last minute decision to take a passenger. By lifting up the rider’s seat, you expose the passenger seat frame that easily pulls out into position. Also under the riders seat is the pillion seat pad that easily pulls out of its own compartment and neatly mounts on the passenger seat frame. Presto, a passenger perch in seconds is suspended behind the rider and away from the moving fender.

At only 641 mm (25.25 in) off the ground, the Rocker C’s seat is firm, but surprisingly it didn’t leave me offended after a couple of hours of continuous riding. (The Rocker’s seat height is a little lower at 622 mm (24.5 in) because it doesn’t house the hidden passenger seat). The footpegs and handlebar were easy to reach with a definite fists-in-the-wind approach to riding.

The Rocker and the Rocker C run on the same frame and driveline with the differences being cosmetic. Both models have a colour-matched frame, stretched fuel tank with tank-mounted console containing the Speed Shop style speedometer. The speedo toggles through odometer, two trip meters, clock, and kilometres to empty. Other similarities include V-Bar handlebar with internal wiring, a coil shaped like a grenade that does double duty and also houses the ignition switch (the same key works the steering lock).

Fit and finish on my Rocker C demo unit was outstanding as is commonplace with all of Harley-Davidson’s paint jobs. The Rocker C is blinged out with colour-matched swingarm and cast aluminum horseshoe oil tank and chromed fork lowers, triple clamps, headlamp pot, console and speedo, as well as few other goodies. The Rocker C also comes standard with a black engine with chrome covers. Paint options include Vivid Black Deluxe, Pacific Blue Pearl Deluxe or Crimson Red Sunglo Deluxe; all the deluxe paint has solid or pinstripe flames depending on the colour.

The Rocker on the other hand, has a silver powdercoated engine with satin stainless metallic powdercoated covers. All the items that are chromed on the C model are satin stainless metallic powdercoated on the Rocker. The swingarm and the oil tank also utilize matching satin powdercoat. Vivid Black, Pacific Blue Pearl, Crimson Red Sunglo or Vivid Black Deluxe with pinstripe flame round out the colour options.

The Rocker C is an ideal bike for cruising around town or most types of day trips, especially considering you wouldn’t want to clutter the clean looks up with any type of baggage. The more I rode this bike the more I liked it. My first impression of the Rocker C when I first sat on it was the seat is hard and the suspension stiff, but those impressions soon changed to a definite appreciation for this long, low and stylish chopper from the Motor Company. No matter where I rode this bike, if there were people around, there were fingers pointing and heads turning, and what’s not to like about that. MMM

The 2008 Rocker retails for $19,249 or $19,649 depending on paint while the 2008 Rocker C goes for $21,679.

Go to www.harley-davidson.com or www.harleycanada.com for more information.


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