It’s rush hour in downtown Marseilles and I’m filtering through the seafront traffic on Harley Davidson’s new Breakout.
It’s been an interesting day and one that challenges my preconceptions as to what makes a good bike.
The Breakout is new for 2013, although it was released as a CVO motorcycle last year in very limited numbers from the American motorcycle giant’s Custom Vehicles Operation division. Now it’s available in larger numbers and at a less ‘exclusive’ price.
The machine is long and low and devoid of any unnecessary motorcycle ‘furniture’. The long forks add to the bike’s presence and the minimal looks are accented by a set of drag style handlebars. The clocks are cleverly mounted on the risers, which bend back towards the rider adding to the low look.
The wheels are new for a production Harley and have been, we are told, inspired by 1950s hot rod racing cars. Called ‘Gassers’ they have ten spokes all of which are painted gloss black. These are then machined away on alternate spokes and the wheel rims before being lacquered. The mudguards front and rear are short, showing off the tall and thin 21 inch front and the gigantic 240 section rear. The rider’s seat is comfortable but the unused pillion seat looks like an afterthought. The front indicators hang from the bars, below the mirror stems and the compact headlight sits in the square formed by the fork legs and clamps.
There is a lot of gloss black paint. The bodywork, exhaust shields and fork lowers are all black and compliment the chrome finish on the details really well. The engine is very much the centre of the machine. The big 1690 cc V-twin, which produces a little over 95 foot pounds of torque at only 3,000 rpm, dominates the bike. The oval air filter cover sits in the centre of the ‘V’. There are no panniers, screens, stereos, queen seats or backrests. This is a clean bike, devoid of all unnecessary extras, a classic and indeed very beautiful motorcycle.
The colour choices are simple, gloss black, blue and for the more adventurous, a vivid red.
All of which are very easy on the eye, but there is, perhaps, something about the stripped down minimalist look of the bike that demands that it be black.
Despite its simple looks it is, however, a very cleverly made bit of kit. The Breakout is from the springer family, the same as the Fat Boy, so it looks like a vintage hard tail but it has a very effective rear shock hidden behind the frame rails on the rear of the bike. It also comes with an excellent and utterly unobtrusive ABS system as standard.
Best of all, it comes with Harley Davidson’s, now standard, security system. The rider unlocks the ignition, and pockets the key along with the transponder. The ignition then becomes switchable without a key, but the bike remains immoblised unless the transponder is in close proximity. On a practical level this means that the bike effectively has keyless access, which in turn makes riding the bike with frequent stops very little effort.
And this is a machine that needs to be stopped frequently, not because it’s uncomfortable, on the contrary the rider’s seat is plenty deep enough and the ergonomics are excellent. No, the bike needs frequent stops so that the rider can park it up and drink overpriced coffee, while he watches the admiring glances of passers by with more than a little sense of satisfaction!
When you sling your leg over the bike and sit all the way down, down and down to the saddle the bike feels incredibly low. Which, at only 660mm, it is. The aforementioned ignition switch sits on the left hand side and once turned the simple looking clock lights up with a pre check of all the warning lights at which point I begin to get a sense of how sophisticated this machine really is. There is what feels like a momentary pause when I hit the starter button before the giant V-twin wakes up and shakes itself into life. As I blip the throttle the snarl from the street legal exhaust is more than satisfactory and produces enough noise to announce its presence. However, I think I’d want to complete the bike by replacing it with an aftermarket system.
From a start point of having both my feet on the floor I pull in the clutch, lift my left foot up and push the gear lever into first. I’m rewarded with a wonderfully positive action and feel from the gearbox. I lift my right foot onto the peg and as I move off I ‘get’ the low seat and forward pegs because combined with the handlebar position they make for a very comfortable ergonomic arrangement.
The road out of Marseille is heavy with traffic and features an outstanding number of roundabouts. After a series of left and right hand turns the resulting chamfering of the hero blobs isn’t entirely surprising considering the enthusiasm that the group I’m riding with has for playing on new bikes in perfect weather.
Ten minutes later we’ve cleared the suburbs and we start climbing into the hills. Hard right hand turns are followed by hard left hand turns and the riding is brisk and somewhat technical. This is where the Breakout offers its first real surprise. The ground clearance is much better than expected and the engine is punchy enough to pull the bike and rider out of the corners without having to constantly drop gears. The handlebars, which look stylised, are highly effective and functional. While the chassis reacts well to counter steering and engine braking.
Several hours later and it’s time to stop for lunch. I lift my ‘crashed too often body’ off the bike and I’m struck by how fresh I feel. No backache, no tingling hands, no discomfort at all. I may as well have just gotten off a Goldwing.
While I’ve ridden a number of Harleys and I’ve always found them to be good at what they do, I’ve yet to find one that I’d use as my primary motorcycle. Rather I’ve reserved a place for one in my ultimate garage. That is until I’d spent time on the Breakout. This is truly a very usable and easy to live with kind of bike. It’s also light on the ‘Americana’. I don’t feel like I should be listening to some god-awful Bon Jovi music, joining the Republican Party, or shooting robot assassins from the future. The simple functionality of the Breakout makes it seem almost like, dare I say it, a European bike.
From a styling point of view the new Breakout is a lot more ‘Sons of Anarchy’ than ‘Wild Hogs’. The long and low style and the huge back tyre give Harley another string to add to their bow in terms of the range they offer. The dragster look has been married to a bike that works well in the real world.
It’s taken an early morning car drive to the airport, two flights and a bus ride to get here, but riding the new Breakout makes the trip more than worthwhile. The weather, it has to be said, really helps too.
Now on the way back to the hotel after a long day carving through the twisties on the bike, I find myself filtering through the rush hour traffic and feeling a little reluctant to hand the machine back.
The Breakout will be launched here in early May. If you like Bruce Springsteen, but can’t stand Disney then the Breakout may be just the right slice of Americana for you. Always remember; there are two types of rider, those who know Harleys are awful to ride and those who have actually ridden one…
For more details www.harley-davidson.com