As it happened, on a trip to friends in Leicester, Marie and I dropped in on Big Rock Harley-Davidson in Stapleford, just outside Nottingham where we happened to know there was a torquey Dyna SuperGlide Sport. We were not quite prepared for what we found: a 1700 Stroker and a well-sorted Sportster. Hmmm. So, what would these monsters be like in the metal? I booked the Cyclone in for a long-overdue service and arranged to use the time constructively.
It must be noted that dealers are responsible for their own machines and, unlike the main press fleet that we get to spend a couple of weeks with, the dealers' machines are only ever available on short term loan. So, with little more than a couple of hours, and an early autumn sun drying out previously rain-soaked roads, photographer, Derek and I saddled-up and went in search of a suitable backdrop for a shoot.
FXDX Super Glide Sport.
So, how does it ride?
It is a torque monster par excellance with the role of the gearbox being a device to aid quick progress through to fifth gear without the power lifting the barrels from the cases. Progress through the gears is nothing short of astonishing but it is in top gear that the strength of the motor makes its presence felt. An engine that is already renowned for its torque takes on a whole new lease of life with the additional bore and stroke to make cruising at almost any speed a top gear affair.
It's just as well, realistically, because the heavy duty clutch springs, fitted to ensure the engine's massive torque curve is kept under control, take their toll on the reach on the lever. I've never yet found a clutch that stretches my hand as much as this bike did, with all of the clutch bite contained within the last half-inch of its travel. On the bright side, that half-inch was beautifully progressive with no hint of snatch, which was fortunate as the chance of stalling this motor with a last minute dumping of the clutch would be minimal. If there was ever an argument for hydraulic clutches, this bike provides it.
The power delivery of this engine is stronger than the Turbo fitted to my Evo with the obvious added advantage of having no turbo lag. From tickover to peak power, there are no flatspots or glitches to mar the experience of the most tractable Harley you're likely to find, if not the most tractable bike engine of any description. The V-Rod is equal in power to the expected peak power of the 1700 motor, but its reviver motor's torque figures will pale by comparison, but seeing as we're struggling to wrest the V-Rod from Harley UK, we can only guess how performance on the street will compare.
The bike chosen to host the 1700 torquemeister was a Dyna Super Glide Sport and my only regret was that we spent too much time on long straights in order to cover the required mileage than twisty roads which would have been better suited to the minimal seat. It is a criticism that I normally level at Sportsters, but then the FXDX Sport has more in common with the Sportster than its cooking sibling, or indeed the FXDX-T, both of which have better seats for covering distance. As is the case with the Sportster, less tedious roads take your mind off the discomfort, if not actually consigning said discomfort to bad memory as your backside moves around much more on the seat while you make the most of the power on tap and the competent chassis. It is a sensible choice of model as it gets the benefit of decent forks, and the twin disks up front were never more welcome. I can't help but wonder whether the nature of the motor might not also suit the Wide Glide where its effortless power would make for the longest legged custom cruiser imaginable. Another alternative would be a Road King or Electra either of which would catapult the base bike into a whole new class with no serious rivals.
It would also have saved us the ten minutes that we lost having to stop while Marie, on the "pillion" laid face down on the grass in a lay-by to try to get some feeling back in a distinctly uncomfortable backside and lower spine. As you'd expect, the complaints of increasing agony were the only indication that the pillion perch was occupied: it had absolutely no impact of the pulling power of the motor. Nor would pulling a caravan. Or the car that was towing it.
So what do you do to get a stroker?
There are a number of ways through a number of sources, but as you'd expect from a dealer, the first stop in this case was the dealers Parts and Accessories catalogue where Big Rock's Kev French found everything he needed except the carb. Carburettors are still a matter of personal preference for most technicians whether factory-trained or otherwise. Kev supplemented this kit with a 45mm Mikuni.
From the bottom, you add a Screamin' Eagle stroker flywheel and rod assembly, and top the rods off with a pair of 10:1 stroker pistons. The cams fitted are the highest lift cams in the book: a pair of Screamin' Eagle SE258s, which are designed for the big bore kit with free-breathing intake and exhaust, and they operate the valves through a set of adjustable pushrods. With 10:1 compression and a swept volume of 1700cc, it is only sensible to nail the barrels to the cases with high tensile cylinder studs so that's what Kev did. The barrels themselves are the 1550 items beloved of demo bikes across the dealer network, and as these are the intended home of the stroker pistons, there is no need for any modification: the sleeves are already designed with enough meat to accommodate the lower BDC that the crank gives. Screamin' Eagle heads control the gas flow, and they've been race flowed for good measure because when you're going this far, why mess about? Sparks are supplied through a race module from go on, have a guess? Yep, Screamin' Eagle again.
In line with the cam's requirements, free breathing is courtesy of the 45mm Mikuni and that air filter is supplied specifically for the carb: it's a massive high capacity, high flow air filter that's so deep that it vibrates in a different time zone from the motor at tickover, but stays clear of your leg. The spent gases evacuate through a pair of simple slip-on mufflers from a certain vociferous bird of prey. The whole lot has been put together with an eye to maximum performance and scant regard for the public, but no-one's going to be close enough for long enough to be too offended, and at tickover, or even city traffic speeds the noise is a deep, deep chuffing sound that'll stir the soul of anyone who's ever raised a spanner in anger. Not that you'd want to spend too long swapping gears round town without considering a hydraulic clutch conversion.
Despite the massive boost in performance in this bike, Kev assures us that this is the easier and more basic conversion compared to the Sportster, and with a ballpark figure of three and a half thousand quid - obviously dependent on how far you want to take it - it is exceptional value when compared to the alternatives.
Impressed? You'd better believe it! Never more so.
Roll on the V-Rod: lets see how that compares.
Those who know me know that I'm no lover of Sportsters as a rule. It's not that I don't like how they look, more that I don't like the way they vibrate and render the higher revs useless without the need to carry a spanner around.
All that changed within ten miles of swinging a leg over this sorted Sportster. It all worked, and worked well. I even took advantage of the 7000rpm ignition module's upper limits and was amazed to find that this motor not only pulled beyond 4k without shaking my fillings out, but beyond 5k the exhaust note changed to something akin to a helicopter and the rev counter's needle accelerated round its dial in a hitherto unseen manner and still no vibration. Well, not an excessive, intrusive vibration, anyway. It had taken its toll on one of the mirror's screws, but I stuck one of mine from the Electra Glide so that at least the oscillating form visible in it was the road behind rather than my knee, and I made a mental note to remove it again once we dropped the bike off, and didn't. Still, it's a small price to pay for the experience and the Sportster's need was greater than the Electra's whose vibration is damped.
We already know that the chassis as used on the 1200S is a competent frame that is up to the job of keeping the wheels in-line, and while not in the same league as the Buell trellis, it does provide an alternative means of getting Harley power down and it was nice to give it some proper work to do: I only wish the sweet running of this plant was reflected throughout the rest of the range, because then it might be called upon to deliver more often.
As with the stroker, the spannerwork was done by Kev French who had a very good idea of what he wanted from the bike, but while the Stroker came almost exclusively from the catalogue, the Sportster was driven more by Kev's imagination rather than the availability of options. That said, there are still a lot of dealer-supplied bits to keep things sensible from the shop's point of view.
As with the Dyna, our test roads chosen were not the best for determining the true character of the bike, but more than amply demonstrated the motor and, perversely, while the damped Dyna was taking its toll on the rider on the fast straights, the Sportster was a pleasant surprise. I normally find Sporties disappointing because I need to use Motorways and have found them to be wholly unsuitable for the task, and this is invariably because my normal road speeds happen to coincide with maximum discomfort in the rev range, but not on the SS. Normally, top speed is regulated by the unwillingness to mimic the vibration-affected view offered by the mirrors when facing forwards - and if you take a stock 1200 Sportster Sport to ninety you'll know what I mean - but not on this bike. Top speeds was determined by forearm and shoulder muscles, hung out in the breeze clinging on to flat-track bars from the Dyna Sport, and the vibration was never a major issue. Sure, it could've been better, but I could've used it on better roads more suited to its character: roads where the stock model impresses and where this bike would've been an absolute dream. The point I'm making here is that this bike, if built for scratching round country lanes in a riot of hair and noise would also successfully pull off a necessary trip down the three-lane blacktop without giving its rider a John Wayne gait and a Sportster-induced case of the DTs.
Stroker, the clutch was a wonder: light by comparison, progressive and
much less likely to give the rider RSI while the flickability of the whole
not in the Buell class, showed the very different nature of the model:
masses of ground clearance, and plenty of adjustment in the suspension
at both ends. The test bike was set up a little soft for me, which would've
been changed if we'd had opportunity to push it round the twisty A-roads
of my original ambitions, but for the straights of sudden reality it was
probably about right. Only potential pitfall being that the front end
felt a little underbraked - which was odd compared to the stock 1200S
- which I put down to having more travel on a soft front end, when compared
to the harder settings that we dialled into the stock 1200S we had for
Most importantly of all, Kev took the stock crank and blueprinted the bottom end. Rebuilt it to a more exacting specification to match the original tolerences. Hand-built cranks, when done properly, are built to within finer tolerances than machine built ones, because machines have no means of judging quality beyond the "within tolerance" criteria. It's not a failing within Harley-Davidson, it is a failing within the manufacturing industry but it does allow unit costs to fall and make sophisticated engineering more affordable. The human hand is a very precise tool, and when that hand is attached to someone who is on a mission to do the job properly, the idea of "within tolerances" becomes anathema. A good engineer's tolerances are as per the original blueprint, and for all the rest of the work done to this engine, the blueprinted bottom end couple with balanced pistons are responsible for the reduced vibration on this bike. The rest of the mods build on that stronger base to produce a machine with the ability to capitalise on the Sportster's potential.
So, with a sweet-running 1200S, Kev's imagination took over to drag more horses from the venerable lump.Barrels bored to tighter tolerences, together with the hand-balanced Buell pistons replaced the stock XL items, and were topped off with a pair of Buell's single plug Thunderstorm heads, gas flowed and with yet bigger valves fitted. These bigger valves wouldn't make sense on a machine that still vibrated badly, because while bigger valves bring in more fuel and air, they result in lower gas speeds and can cause problems in filling the combustion chamber - blow through a straw and then blow through a hosepipe and check-out the relative airflows - so you really need to increase the revs to increase the flow rate and fill the chamber efficiently, which explains the explosive accelleration beyond 4k. Flow dynamics have also been aided by the gas flowed Ram Jett manifold, and the switch to a Mikuni-built Screamin' Eagle 42mm flatslide carb with its attendant modified high-flow air filter. As with the Stroker, the highest lift cams available were pressed into use.
Exhaust noises are tempered by a Vance and Hines Pro Pipe, which lends a massively different look to the normal shorty duals or ubiquitous slip-ons while still allowing the power out. It's a look that I like, and have done since Harley first showed it in a main range catalogue despite not actively supplying the system, although it only really suits the Sport.
Lastly, and inevitably, the 5500 rev limiter was ditched: having got power without vibration it would have been criminal not to let it be used so a Dyna single fire ignition system was fitted, booting the red line to 7000rpm, and boy is it easily found! The twin Dyna-Mite coils each control a single plug in a single pot and while not being especially pretty to look at, certainly look purposeful.
I'm obliged to say that if all Sportsters had this level of vibration, I would take back everything detrimental that I've ever said about them, and it is a crying shame that they're not because my eyes have been opened to their potential strengths. Blueprinting the motors would not be viable on a mass production basis but it would make for an interesting special limited edition model to celebrate the success of the XR oops, already done, and an opportunity missed.
So how about a blueprinted XLCR then?
Smacks of a record being stuck: for those below the age of twenty-five, a record is a twelve-inch vinyl disk with sounds recorded in microscopic analogue bumps held in tiny concentric grooves and read by a very sharp "needle" which, when it finds something in the groove that is bigger than the groove itself, jumps back to a previous groove, making it play the same bit over and over again: just like CDs when they stick, but cheaper.
Okay, so ex-factory blueprinted engines aren't going to happen, so the next obvious step is to remove the need to lose the vibrations by rubber mounting it by rubber mounting it by rubber mounting it by rubb
So you've got to make your own decision, and this makes for a tough one.
Do you fancy a Sportster but can't live with the vibration?
Do you hanker after the performance of the Buell, but aren't keen on the style and Sports character?
Do you quite like Dynas but are less happy with lack of ground clearance and would happily trade the bottom-end torque for a buzzier motor with a decent amount of power on tap?
Well, if money is not a primary concern then you could spend the price difference between the XL1200S and the FXR on getting the motor blueprinted and start towards a reworking of the rest of the motor.
It will always be a Sportster for the price of a Dyna, but it will be the true modern manifestation of the concept that heralded the arrival of the original XL back in the mid-fifties. More than that, it would by your bike.
If you need any convincing of the relative virtues of these bikes I can do no more than recommend you take a trip to Big Rock in Nottingham, remembering to pack your passport and clean driving licence. Take the A52/A606 Melton Mowbray road out of Nottingham, turn right in Melton across to Leicester on the A607 and then back up the A46 after East Goscote to get back to the A52 for a good cross-section of roads (or probably the other way round on the XL1200SS).
If you're not beaming after the experience, you've got no soul.
If you are, you may find your wallet seriously dented shortly afterwards.
I climbed off the FXDX Stroker onto the Buell and it felt like a 500 for the first five miles before things returned to normal, but the reaction from the pillion seat was significantly better. I think it is fair to say that the more uncompromising any machine becomes, the more it compromises its rider: that could be a good thing, it could be a bad thing which is wholly dependent on your point of view. It was certainly true of the Stroker, but the Sportster was the exception that every rule requires. Exception, though it was, and despite being more impressed with this than any other Sportster I've ridden, the retrieved M2 Buell Cyclone still won the day for me, and that, in itself, is partly because the post '98 Cyclone compromised the style and stance of the original Cyclone in the comfort department which compromises nothing.
In every way, the Buell is a more sophisticated motorcycle than its Sportster cousin: quicker in the steering, accelerating and braking departments even than the XL1200S, but that isn't necessarily the end-game. There are those who wouldn't consider a Buell because it is too sophisticated, and I can see the argument there too, and I am only thankful to have had opportunity to realise the potential of the hot-road Sportster at its best, and I don't think they come any better than this.
is not sophisticated in any way, shape or form. It is brutal. The Buell
is a rapier, the Sportster is a one-handed cutlass but the Stroker is
a broadsword. It
is raw, untamed power and I love it for that. I'd compromise it a little,
personally, but not much and would work out something for that clutch
because I don't find the Popeye forearm look particularly attractive.
And I'd put it in a WideGlide or a tourer because I'd want to cover the
ground - lots of ground - with such a flexible motor, and with the best
ill in the world, that ain't gonna happen on an FXDX