Bryan Harley, Cruiser Editor

Return to the chopper's heyday

The tribute band stood onstage at the Broken Spoke, tightening strings, tapping drums and testing mics with the standard “Check, check check.” And though the musicians tried to concentrate on their sound check, they each took turns snatching peeks at the Candy Red motorcycle parked in front of the stage that was stealing the show. With cameras flashing and video rolling, the 2012 Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two was the star this day, Harley’s latest Sportster with its time-honored styling cues blending in at the Spoke like Norm at Cheers. With a thumb of the electric start, sound check stopped as the burble of the Seventy-Two’s pipes took center stage. And though we thought about bidding the Spoke adieu with a nasty smoky burnout on the weathered plywood in front of the stage, we had agitated the band long enough and caused enough disruption with our impromptu photo shoot, so we exited the establishment peacefully.

The 2012 Harley Seventy-Two harks back to the heyday of the chopper. Resurrected is the famous Harley peanut tank, which The Motor Company originally debuted in 1948 before ditching it a few years back. Its metal flake Candy Red paint screams late ‘60s, early ‘70s, and they started bobbing fenders as soon as the boys got back from WWII. Lean and clean, the Harley Seventy-Two rolls on spoked down whitewalls, 21-inches on the back and a svelte 150mm wide on the rear. Ten-inch-tall mini-apes on two-inch risers thumb their nose the best they can at conformity considering it’s a factory chopper, as the styling elements of the Seventy-Two combine to inject a vintage feel to the vibey V-Twin.

At the core of the Seventy-Two is a revvy 1200cc Evolution engine. It, too, is a bit of a throwback as the original Evolution engine, the spawn of Harley’s Shovelhead and Ironhead engines, which made its debut back in 1984. The latest iteration of course enjoys the benefits of Harley’s Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection that consistently meters out the right amount of fuel and air to keep the cable-actuated clutch dialed in to the input of a rider’s right wrist. A chromed-out, round 8-inch air cleaner works hard to feed a healthy flow to the Harley mill. The Evolution mill is rubber mounted, so even though there are plenty of vibes at idle in the bars and foot pegs, the situation remedies itself once you’re rolling, and thankfully you aren’t checking all of the bike’s bolts after every other ride like Harleys of yesteryear.

The Seventy-Two’s 1200cc mill has enough torque down low to pop the front wheel with a drop of the clutch and a heavy roll on the accelerator. There’s good mid, too, because if Harley’s claims ring true, peak torque of 73 lb-ft comes on at 3500 rpm. The Seventy-Two is geared short enough to maximize the spread of thrust that favors the bottom end of the powerband more so than the top. We affectionately call the Harley transmission “Old Reliable” because you always know what you’re going to get, a solid clunk and reliable engagement. Staggered chrome exhaust with slash-cut mufflers completes the drivetrain and drums the Harley cadence proudly without bringing about the call to arms by neighbors because the exhaust note is tamed down by the small diameter of the mufflers.

Though it tips the scales at a claimed dry weight of 545 pounds, the engine output makes it feel lighter, especially when you factor in the narrowness of the bike and the nimble feel of the front end. Harley trimmed the fat on the mill by using aluminum heads and cylinders. The engine is a combination of black powder-coated cylinders and a flat gray finish topped off with a touch of the shiny stuff in the form of chrome rocker covers, its tones played down to place the focus back on the lustrous metal flake paint of the tank and fenders.

Thanks to its narrow frame and skinny wheels, the Harley ‘72 feels light, tight and easy to toss around. There’s not much unsprung weight, and even though its got a chopper stance, the rake angle is modest at 30.1 degrees and steering effort is light. The Seventy-Two can cut a smooth line in turns considering the bar placement, which actually helps in leveraging the bike into corners. There is a healthy amount of travel on the front end – 5.7 inches in fact – and the spindly 39mm fork will dive with a good stab of the brakes, though. The 21-inch front Dunlop has a fairly slim profile so imperfections in road surfaces are transferred to the rider through the bars, too.

Forward controls and mini-apes allow riders to stretch out comfortably. At six foot tall, the 10-inch mini-apes position my arms just below shoulder level, and it’s a good reach to the foot pegs. Combined with a 28-inch seat height, the rider’s triangle is spacious. It could be a stretch for riders of smaller stature, though. Ride quality overall is decent, but with a 225-lb rider on board, the motorcycle blew through the 2.1 inches of travel on the twin rear shocks with regularity on big bumps. In the bike’s defense, the units are adjustable, and we could have stiffened up the ride a bit because the stock settings were a bit soft for a big rider, but our time was limited so we just rode it as is.

When it came time to scrub off speed, the rear brake is bitey and strong, but the rather small single front disc fades a bit after initial engagement. At 11.5 inches, the front rotor is fairly small, and the dual-piston calipers have a decent initial bite but don’t sustain the same amount of pressure for long. The rear instills more confidence with better feel at the pedal and a stronger pinch by the single-piston caliper as it bites into the 10.2 inch rear rotor.

Compliments to Harley on the Candy Red metal flake paint. It grabs every little bit of sunshine and fits the vibe of this bike to a tee. Keep in mind the peanut tank only holds 2.1 gallons, and the green low fuel light seems like it’s always on. We started at 1,034 miles on the odometer, and by 1,090 miles the low fuel light was on already. We always stretched it out, but there’s that feeling of uncertainty when that light’s on and you’re not exactly sure how much leeway you have. When we filled the tank, it took 1.62 gallons the first time and 1.5 the second , so at least you can get away with running around town with only a few bucks in your pocket.

Other observations worth mentioning during our time in the saddle of the Seventy-Two center primarily on form and function. Gauges are minimal, with only a small round speedo mounted high between the bars, so it’s easy enough to peek at without taking your attention off the road. The analog speedo contains the requisite indicator lights, high beam, neutral, oil pressure, low fuel, low battery and engine diagnostics. Sitting upright on a fairly tall seat for a Sportster makes riders susceptible to a fair amount of wind blast, too, once speeds creep over 70 mph. Switching our attention to the back end, we dig how the side-mounted license plate keeps the look of the rear tidy. This allowed Harley to chop the rear fender short and mount the chrome bullet taillights on the fender stays. Great for aesthetics because the small signals look cool, but considering they function as stop, turn, and running lights, they sacrifice safety a bit to get the desired look because they are difficult to see in full sunlight.

But we have a confession. Riding the Seventy-Two was one of the funnest times we’ve had recently because it’s so easy to ride and looks retro cool with its mini-apes and whitewalls. We can appreciate how it’s been pared down to primarily the essentials. And that paint. The six-layer process and big metal flakes really pop, so if we were going to buy the bike, we’d definitely drop the extra $700 for the Hard Candy Big Red Flake paint. With a base MSRP of $10,499, the Seventy-Two is going to cost you a few grand more than the standard Sporty. But it’s super slim, light and easy to toss around with decent power – plus, it fit right in at Bike Week, whether we were hangin’ out at Willie’s Tropical Tattoo for the old school chopper show or riding out to the Broken Spoke Saloon.