It’s pouring with rain when I pull up to the Harley-Davidson showroom in Mt Wellington, but as I mount the gleaming 2021 Heritage 107 and head off back to Central Auckland, the deluge, mercifully, has stopped and the sun is glinting off the motorbike’s copious areas of chrome. I suspect it may have just as many reflective surfaces as the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
My first impression is that the Heritage 107 is a leviathan; its 330kg is twice the weight of my usual ride. The riding position is strange – my legs are stuck out in front rather than tucked underneath – and the front wheel seems a long way away. This bike is wide and long but quite low, so suitable for both the short and the tall.
It has only a side stand and it initially takes some faith on my part to rest it down, because if it got away on me, I’d need a rugby team to pick it up. I’m told there is a centre stand as an option, but it doesn’t get the rear wheel off the ground. Fixing a tyre by the side of the road with anything other than a Tyre Pando probably isn’t an option.
The bike is modern in every way except for concept. The controls are fly-by-wire, brakes ABS front and back, the instrumentation is computerised behind the analogue facade, and it has a belt final drive. The ignition is keyless, activated by a fob in your pocket.
Sporting a classic 1940s-50s look – even to the extent of having a pretend fuel cap on the tank – the Heritage 107 is clearly aimed at the true Harley fan. There are valanced guards and chromed folderols everywhere – perfect, as one advert proclaims, “for crossing state lines”. It comes equipped with a windscreen, copious LED lights and handsome, spacious paniers that lock with the same key as the steering lock.
The Milwaukee 8 motor, while still the classic Harley 45-degree V twin, is a four-valve-per-cylinder, fuel-injected, all-alloy unit with twin-spark ignition, a single cam shaft and a balance shaft.
The 107 figure in the bike’s name is a cubic inch measurement; it equates to just over 1753cc. The larger 114-cubic-inch Heritage comes in just shy of 1870cc. The power produced by the 107 is quite modest despite the enormous capacity. A quick web search suggests this year’s model has upped the 107’s output to 92.7 brake horsepower (69kW) but this is a cruiser and the performance is more than adequate.
Interestingly, though, it does not have the flexibility that you’d expect from such a big motor, and having six gears makes sense, especially around town. It’s a bit snatchy at low speeds and the gear change, while reliable, is a little clunky.
Taking the Heritage 107 out on a longer open-road run, I begin to really get a handle on it, and what felt strange and ungainly at first settles into being just a different but entirely predictable feel. The sofa-chair position feels less like being at the dentist and more like a comfy chair at home.
On the open road you can really appreciate the smoothness of the balance shaft motor. The windscreen and considerable warmth of the massive power unit make it a very comfortable ride. It’s good on the corners, too. Once you get used to the slight understeer, the bike feels well grounded and the clearance on even quite tight corners appears fine. Unlike other cruiser-style bikes I’ve ridden, I never touch down once.
It is easy to conclude that this would be a lovely way to ride from Cape Reinga to Bluff, or, better still, from Chicago to LA on Route 66.
By the time I finish with the bike, it feels quite familiar, and while I still can’t lane-split in traffic, I feel confident about the periphery. The weight no longer seems such an issue and overall, the machine feels quite normal.
Motorcycling is a tribal pursuit. BMW riders sneer at anything less than what they perceive as the height of German efficiency, and Ducati owners worship style and sound and pity the plebs on their reliable Japanese machines. Harley riders love Americana, with all its show and glitter. The bigger, the better. For them, ergonomic is the noise you make when you belch after a burrito.
There is a strange charm to these rather unworldly machines. This bike seems to cause excitement wherever I park it, and with its gleaming finish, it’s a genuine head-turner. It is an event machine perfect for a ride out with the club or a Sunday trip to the Puhoi pub. It’s no shopping basket, but then it doesn’t need to be.
As I hand the bike back to the unfailingly friendly and obliging people at Harley, I decide that, although I’m not a natural member of the Harley Tribe, I could easily swipe right on the HD Heritage 107.