Harley-Davidson Rocker (2008) Review

With the Harley-Davidson Rocker, the Motor Company takes its Softail family in a new direction with the introduction of the 2008 FXCW Rocker and FXCWC Rocker C, factory customs developed around a rear section with slammed, hardtail frame looks.

Harley-Davidson has a knack for producing what their customers want to buy. Hot on the heels of the Fat Bob is the groundbreaking Softail Rocker—a radical, off-the-shelf factory custom that’s backed by the full Harley dealer network (complete with service and warranty), for a reasonable price.

So-called because the form-fitting fender (which is attached to the swingarm and not the frame) “rocks” when the rear suspension moves up and down, the Rocker definitely looks the part of a full-blown custom. Sporting a 37.5-degree rake, the front end is stretched WAY out there with a skinny 90/90-18 front tire leading the way. The cantilevered rear fender closely follows the contours of the beefy, 240-section rear tire completing the custom, hardtail appearance. 

In motion, it looks a bit odd as the rear end soaks up the pavement irregularities while the rider sits there, apparently mysteriously levitated above the motorcycle. 

The basic $20,259 Harley-Davidson Rocker has satin-finished triple clamps, oil tank, engine covers, brackets and other bits while on the $22,819 Rocker C, much of those parts are chromed with custom paint and trim choices. The “C” also has a Trick passenger seat hidden away under the solo perch, just a quick lift, unsnap, click and snap away. Harley engineers say that it has a 250-pound capacity which (ahem) I fervently hope is sufficient for your significant other. 

Forward motion is adequately provided by Harley’s excellent 1584cc, fuel injected, Twin Cam 96 six-speed, V-Twin that’s rigidly bolted to the frame (rather than rubber mounted a la the Dyna line). 

A completely new frame had to be constructed to accommodate the mondo rear tire but, like other softails, there are two (count ‘em) shocks cleverly hidden away under the engine. 

Looking at the Rocker, you might think that the riding position is on the extreme side and you’d be correct, although it’s surprisingly tolerable for an hour or so. Seat height is a worm-like 24.5 inches (622mm), one of the lowest available in a stock motorcycle.

Low speed handling is somewhat compromised by the Rocker’s 69-inch (1758mm) wheelbase and kicked out steering and, at parking lot speeds, the front tends to flop into the turn. But, once the speed increases to more than a walking pace, it was fairly neutral and much better than I expected.

With custom motorcycles, it’s all in the details and the Harley-Davidson Rocker has them in spades. Unsightly wires are routed internally through the unique, two-piece “V” shaped handlebars, the rear LED lighting package performs triple duty as turn signals, running lights and brake lights, the oil tank was carefully sculpted and styled, the ignition coil looks like a hand grenade and even the huge Dunlop rear tire bears the H-D logo stamp.

The only wart on an otherwise very attractive fanny is the licence plate stuck on the rear fender like an afterthought. Mounting it off to the side in the Nightster fashion would really clean up the back end.

Harley Davidson rocker Harley Davidson rocker

My test ride route wound along twisty roads of rural Maryland north to the York, Pennsylvania Harley-Davidson manufacturing plant. It’s very picturesque countryside with horse farms and impressive colonial houses set well back from the road. The motorcycle performed admirably under these conditions, and the rear suspension seemed reasonably progressive with adequate damping over its 3.4 inches (86mm) of travel. A lot of engineering effort obviously went into the handling as the bike proved easy to ride, steered predictably and was quite stable—amazing considering its radical chopper hardware. At appropriate speeds, ground clearance won’t be an issue. 

Harley was SO committed to getting this motorcycle right that, after over a year of development, tooling costs, untold hours of labour and the expense of building one-off mockups, when the final Rocker prototype was unveiled, everyone looked, kicked the tires, studied it from every angle and admitted, “Nope. We missed it.” 

I asked Bill Davidson, Harley’s director of product development, what they didn’t like about the prototype. 

“There was nothing specific that you could put a finger on,” he said, ”just the proportions of the overall look. It was a bit of steering rake, a bit of fender profile but mostly how everything went together. We just couldn’t release it to our customers until it was right.” 

The Rocker works surprisingly well for something whose profile is matched only by those radical, single-seat custom hardtails churned out by the current batch of TV builders—and there’s no way to own one of their creations for just over 20 large. 

Offering this level of customization in a production motorcycle with full warranty is unprecedented. I’m betting owners won’t want to be off their Harley-Davidson Rocker for very long.  

by Steve Bond Canadian Biker #236

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