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Since 1999, the #1 Motorcycling Magazine for Women and the Men Who Ride with Them

MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: 2008 Harley-Davidson Rocker

A woman's secret best friend

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor

My new favorite motorcycle is the Harley-Davidson Rocker. This is a big deal because I don't grant this title lightly. To be one of my favorite motorcycles, it must possess many of the qualities women deem favorable when selecting a bike and the Rocker has them, low seat height, easy to handle — and in this case — styling to the max for those interested in purchasing a bike that looks like a more expensive custom.    

motorcycle review harley davidson rocker
Genevieve rides the Rocker. You can see her arms and legs both have a comfortable bend. No extended reach here. Genevieve is wearing Olympia Moto Sports Mustang jacket, very lightweight and breathable for hot summer riding.

I was one of only two women to test ride the Rocker and its cousin, the Rocker C, when they were unveiled to members of the motorcycle press. I'm excited to share the first review of the bikes aimed at women riders.

Some Background
The Rocker, designated as the FXCW (and FXCWC for the Rocker C) is a completely new model for Harley, both part of the Softail family. This bike is Harley's effort to capture part of the custom motorcycle market that's flooded with "one-offs" (one of a kind motorcycles designed from scratch) from start-up custom manufacturers that burst onto the scene over the last five years. Many have gone out of business within the last two years, with a few remaining eeking out several thousand bikes a year with start-up assembly line and production facilities that often leave quality at the door.

motorcycle review harley davidson rocker c
There are three main differences between the Rocker and Rocker C (shown): The Rocker has chrome where the Rocker has a satin finish; it has a passenger seat that's hidden underneath the rider's seat, and its seat height is almost an inch higher than the Rocker.

With Harley's 105 years of time-tested engineering and manufacturing, it's a no brainer for the Motor Company to dip its toe into these custom waters to bring back some customers who went searching over yonder for something new, exciting and different. (Harley does offer its Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) motorcycles, but those have a high price tag attached to them.) The problem with new, exciting, and different when bought from a manufacturer with a limited track record of quality and reliability is that customers are left holding the bag, or in this case, a bag of parts that fell off or didn't work the way they were supposed to.

My New Best Friend
So, why do I like — no love — the Rocker? Well, it has great ergonomics for starters. Ergonomics is what I always hone in on first. Not sure if that's a woman thing (a woman rider's confidence comes largely from being able to handle a bike; being able to handle a bike means being comfortable to a certain extent), or the fact that the first thing you do with a motorcycle is sit on it, grab the bars and put your feet on the pegs. The Rocker is "low friendly" – just 24.5 inches off the ground giving it bragging rights alongside the Softail Deluxe, as having the lowest seat of any Harley-Davidson. That alone will win over a lot of women. My feet are flat on the ground with just enough bend in the knee to easily shuffle and maneuver the nearly 700-pound motorcycle. Despite its fat 240 mm rear tire, the bike's profile, including the seat, is relatively narrow so no inches are lost in the leg spread. Strong riders standing a solid 5 feet should be able to handle the bike just fine. I say strong, because the Rocker is a lot of bike and on the heavy side so upper body strength is needed to muscle it around. 

motorcycle review rocker seat height
Genevieve demonstrates that at 5-foot-7 with boots on, she sits flatfooted on the Rocker, with enough bend in the leg left to manuever the bike.

One of the most noticeable aspects of this new custom from Harley both visually and from its feel is the relatively long rake in the front – 36.5 degrees to be exact. For comparison, the rake on the rest of the Softails is 32 degrees. If you've ever ridden a custom with a raked front end, you might have experienced what's termed "flop" or "front end flop." This happens when the forks are so kicked out that they lose stabilization and the front tire flops to either side forcing the handlebars to turn with it. You can tell if a bike has flop by simply sitting it on and balancing the front end by positioning it straight -- the front tire in line with the rear. If you can't find the sweet spot to balance, the tire keeps flopping to side to side. The great thing about the Rocker is there's absolutely no flop. The rake is very manageable. Harley designs for the masses so it has to be. It's well balanced and rides as smooth as it looks. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to the ergos.

motorcycle review harley davidson rocker dash
A clean and simple cockpit to keep the look of the bike uncluttered. An analog speedometer is complimented by a digital odometer. The small panel below the speedo indicates high beams, low oil, that kind of stuff.

motorcycle review harley davidson rocker c dash
The Rocker C's cockpit with all its chrome.

The handlebars are angled way back to the rider (no annoying back stretch here) thanks to a five-inch riser attached to a V-Bar, a handlebar in the shape of a V. I'm not fan of forward controls (mostly because I find stock settings too far for my 30-inch inseam) but once again, the forward pegs and controls are placed in just the right position for me completing the perfect ergonomic package. Looks aside (you might take 'em or leave 'em), I feel a lot of women will be pleased with the ergonomic set up of the Rocker. It's so less imposing than it looks.

motorcycle review harley davidson rocker seat
The bucket style seat is the same on the Rocker and Rocker C. The rise in the back provides a bit of lumbar support.

Rockin' the Roads
Out on the highway, I thoroughly enjoyed snicking through the six gears of Harley's Twin Cam 96B power plant getting the bike up to speed. (The B designation means the engine is counter balanced in the frame thereby reducing vibration transfer to the rider.) My test ride included a little bit of everything -- highway riding and rural road twisties. With my arms and legs outstretched, I pushed the Rocker over as far as I could in the turns scraping the pegs a couple of times. Thank goodness for a little tab at the end of the collapsible peg that hits the pavement first. It takes the scraping instead of your footpeg.

motorcycle review harley davidson rocker riding
Even at slow speeds going around this tight turn, the bike held its line despite its longish wheelbase at 69.2 inches

I wanted to see if the bike held its line – which it did, or experienced any wobble. It did not. Wobble can happen from loose steering dampeners or mostly from a less than stiff chassis. The Rocker's chassis is very rigid; the bike went right where I pointed it.

With a big fat tire like that, don't expect to fly around corners – the wider tire surface forces the bike upright so it takes more might and speed to force it to lean over in the turns. But the 240mm is not so big it messes with the ride. I've found tire size becomes an issue with 250mm and larger. You start to really feel the back end restricting your turning.

"I felt like I had to reach a little farther to the pegs on the Rocker C," said Genevieve. Compare this picture to her riding the Rocker and you'll see her legs are bent more on the Rocker.
"I felt like I had to reach a little farther to the pegs on the Rocker C," said Genevieve. Compare this picture to her riding the Rocker and you'll see her legs are bent more on the Rocker.

On the highway running at about 80 mph (I couldn't believe I got up to 80 so effortlessly) the Rocker tracked well keeping me in a straight line as plowed through the miles. I was quite comfortable in the saddle all day long. For once, my butt reached the back of a motorcycle seat enjoying the benefits of feeling tucked in. The suspension did an adequate job of taking potholes and uneven pavement markings. And the suspension is what brings us to the root of what this bike is all about and why it's called a Rocker.

The Rocker's Roots
If you look closely at the back end while the bike is moving, the tire and fender appear to be suspended, floating independently of the rest of the bike. Normal back ends have fender struts attaching the fender to the frame. This Rockertail set up gives the illusion of a spine jarring hardtail rigid frame ride (for all those custom junkies) but underneath hides a shock taking all the vibration – just like on other Softails. 

motorcycle review harley davidson rocker c rear tire
The gap you see below the back end of the seat is because the fender and tire are essentially independent of the rest of the bike as they are attached directly to the swingarm. The swingarm is the sideways V satin finished metal piece on the outside of the sprocket wheel.

The swingarm in the rear is actually a separate piece attached to the frame. The rear fender and wheel are attached to the swingarm so when the bike is moving the fender and wheel move together in a rocking motion -- hence the name. I think it looks more like an up and down tight bounce, but Bouncer is not really a good name for a bike, or is it? Bouncer the bike. The Bouncer. I don't know – kind of has a ring to it.

Style Galore
Let's get to styling, my favorite part and a lot of women's favorite part of a motorcycle. Other than the excellent ergonomics, the other reason I prefer the Rocker over the Rocker C (other than that the seat height is 3/4 of an inch lower, too) is because of its grey satin finish on parts that normally would see chrome. Harley calls it Satin Stainless Metallic powder coat. It's gorgeous. Subdued yet elegant. It's not a stone cold gray, but a warm grey with a hint of brown in it. I just love it. I'm not into the chrome that's splashed all over the Rocker C leaving it with $2,000 higher price tag. Don't get me wrong, chrome is classy, but I really like the look of the satin finish.

motorcycle review harley davidson rocker c seat height
The Rocker C is decked out in chrome. With a seat height of 25.25 -- still very low by cruiser standards -- Genevieve had no problem reaching the ground.

It's worth noting the Rocker C costs more, as well, because of an integrated passenger seat. It's a neat and innovative feature if you need to carry a passenger on the fly. The pan style seat is tucked under the rider saddle and, in about 15 seconds, is easily flipped out into position.

motorcycle review harley davidson rocker c pillion
The passenger pillion pan flips out from below the rider's seat, while the pad is stowed right under the rider's pad.

motorcycle review harley davidson rocker c passenger pillion
The pad attaches in place in a matter of seconds and requires no tools.

motorcycle review harley davidson rocker c passenger seat
Genevieve rides on the back of the Rocker C. "This is a pretty small pillion that is fine for short hops around town, but there's no way I'd sit on this for more than 75 miles. There's no back support and my knees were cramped."

Details like wires hidden in the handlebars, five spoke cast aluminum wheels, a color matched frame, small bullet style turn signals, and turn signals in the rear that double as the stop and taillight (eliminating the need for separate taillight) let you know this is a true custom. I'd change out the stock Harley mirrors and the ugly license plate holder, which have no business being on this beauty. But Harley can't customize everything for the customer. Some things have to be left for the customer to choose from aftermarket parts and accessories.

motorcycle review harley davidson rocker rear view
The rear view shows the license plate holder and the big rear tire.

motorcycle review harley davidson rocker oil tank
This shows a closeup of a lot of the parts on the Rocker that have that satin metallic finish. The fins on the oil tank below the seat are an attractive styling touch something we've not seen on other Softails.

Don't underestimate the Rocker and don't be intimidated by it. This is a breeze to ride, an extremely fun bike that looks like those bad boy customs (so be prepared to get a few looks) but is so much easier on your butt, back and bones. And that's the secret. People will wonder how a woman can (or would even want to) manhandle what appears to be a big and tough motorcycle.

Specs at a Glance: 2008 FXCW Rocker
Displacement: 1584 cc
Seat Height: 24.5 inches
Fuel Capacity: 5 gallons
Weight: 690 pounds
MSRP: starts at $17,295

WRN Recommendation
I was wondering if this bike would work as more than just an in-town cruiser, if accessories were available to turn it into a long haul tourer. Flipping through Harley's P&A catalog, I find a windshield, a backrest, and a luggage rack specifically designed for the Rocker. Great! It makes this custom machine multi-functional giving me more reason to love it and recommend that you demo ride it...soon.   

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