Tom battles rain and London gridlock on a diverse pair of Dark Custom Harleys


“In a world of the bland leading the bland, Dark Custom motorcycles are for those who take a different route. These bikes aren’t for everyone. And that’s how we want it. Because not everyone appreciates a motorcycle stripped down to its raw essence.”

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So says Harley-Davidson about the seven Dark Custom models that have joined the H-D range, and to promote them the 113 year-old Milwaukee firm recently staged an event based at the ultra-hip Bike Shed in London’s trendy Shoreditch.





Essentially it was a day of riding Dark Customs in their “natural urban environment” – no preset route, just go wherever – and gain a little insight into the growing Dark Custom lifestyle, which in the evening included a Sailor Jerry spiced rum cocktail-fuelled knees-up.


At £14,995 the new Low Rider S is the priciest Dark Custom model, but it has the biggest v-twin – a whopping 1,803cc – and in my opinion it also looks the baddest. It’s not the most logical choice of two-wheeler for an urban environment so my plan was to head east out of the city to Essex’s Canvey Island for a cuppa and some estuary air, and then rumble back to the Bike Shed for lunch, but it was not to be.


By the time I’d reached E13 on the A13 it was raining cats and dogs and, call me a softy, but with an open face lid rain really stings at much above 40mph, at which speed you’ve got HGVs filling your mirrors and your face with muck. I soon gave up and took shelter until the rain subsided, by which time it was time to head back to the Bike Shed. Mission A aborted. Sod looking the part; I should’ve worn a full face and neck-to-ankle textiles.


With such a mighty engine (it makes 156Nm or 115lb/ft), a cable-operated clutch, considerable dimensions and weighing some 305 kilos (wet) you might suppose the Low Rider S to be a proper handful, but it’s actually pretty friendly, so long as you don’t expect to squeeze through traffic like a 125 Vespa. However, with central London’s streets now being in a state of almost permanent gridlock, I can confirm that in such conditions the air-cooled motor generates heat sufficient to roast your thighs. That aside, the Low Rider S is surprisingly genial, despite having more grunt than a herd of bison.


Launched late last year, the Street 750 sits at the other end of the Dark Custom, and indeed the entire H-D range. My plan for this was to go west to the Ace Cafe, have a cuppa and gaze in awe at the wonder of the North Circular, but it too was not to be. After several miles of almost continuous low-speed lane splitting though stop-start traffic, and with more of the same for as far as I could see, I aborted Mission B by taking an early a left off the A40 and went for a cuppa at a mate’s car showroom in Shepherd’s Bush.


By Harley standards the Street 750 is tiny and its water-cooled v-twin makes about a third of the power of the Low Rider S, but it does have a considerably more affordable £5,795 price tag. It’s also quiet and refined – dare I say much like a mid-capacity Japanese custom – and it weighs almost a third less too so it’s manoeuvrable and unintimidating. The seat-to-peg situation is too cramped for my 6ft frame but the motor has the legs to be first away from the lights and leave the city in the fast lane, even when not congested.

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But enough of weather, traffic and road-testy objectivity. As TRD readers will know, Harley-Davidson is all about style, lifestyle, passion and devotion, and the Dark Custom models perhaps even more so. No, not for everyone, but that’s the whole point.

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Words: Tom Stewart

Pictures: James A. Grant

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For further info:

The Harley Davidson Dark Custom

The Bike Shed

4 thoughts on “The Dark Side”

  1. Haha only one thing to say whimp .as an ex londond dr of 30 yrs this mag gernos used to be made of sternee stuff having foun copy of issue 109 and issue 169 the other day whilst tidying up the acumilated junk that we seem to collect in life .thought id take a read .lol see whats changed .since i quit after braking both wrists and decideing that at 53 i no longer bounced as well as i did in my youth and that it mite be prudent to quit whilst still alive to tell the tale m dnt be getting me wrong iv not quit bikes although in a limited capacity .and retiered to harley ownership .which is perfect sportsters are the nuts even a full chopped one can carve a path through londons grid lock with ease .and yes the lowrider is awsome but better for long jaunts as has the legs for it .and rain hurts at over 40mph in open lid der of course but are you man or mouse lol try riding to cambridge from westend at 5.45 pm in sleat and frezzing fog .and no amount of cordrua will keep you dry some days but you still go where you plan to go .if your going to produce a bike mag set an example to your readership tuffen up .lol and yes despatch was a life style not just a job take it from the horses mouth

    1. Kimbo, if you’ve been reading The Rider’s Digest since issue 109 (or earlier still), you’ll be aware of the magazine’s background in the despatch industry. I started in the business in 1978, so I personally am under no illusions about what the job’s all about and its all weather nature. If you check through other back issues you’ll find all sorts of reports – humorous or otherwise – about doing crap distance jobs in shitty weather; but that’s all about what we all had to put up with in order to earn a living. This however was a report on a bike launch, and given the machine in question it was very much about leisure riding, which as even the most rufty tufty rider will tell you ain’t a whole load of fun in pissing rain – especially in an open face lid and without the benefit of waterproofs. I’m sure that as a long term rider Tom would be every bit as capable of gritting his teeth and getting on with it if he relied on that journey to pay the rent and put bread on his table, but as that wasn’t the case here he exercised the option that most people who’ve been riding for a while and aren’t hung up on meaningless macho gestures would go for.

      Here’s something I wrote for issue 60 (in 2002) on the subject, if you doubt my credentials:

  2. And unlike some in a real biker and ride my bikes all year round and yes there harleys although i dnt get the dark custom thing look s like a money saving production cost exersise all though it will have all its owners running back to the motor company to pay there harley regular dose of harley tax as matt paint work bad idea finger prints ect and black they will soon realise shows every imperfection and sportsters rule as it s cheaper to by the basic 883 than the 1200 then buy big bore kit ( that bolts on ) and get a better bike than the stock 1200 as you the have the 883 close ratio box and can alter final drive gearing to give same final gear ratio of the 1200 in top gear .all for less than the price of the 1200 .and you have a sportsrer that will supprise a few crutch rockets of the line and lane split with easy of a panther sliding thru the jungle

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