Harley-Davidson kicks off its Indian innings on a right note with its trim XL 883R Roadster

The Harley fever has just about begun spreading across India, a country in which this iconic bike maker already enjoys massive recognition and respect. While an India-specific small-capacity model would be wishful thinking, the Milwaukee-based manufacturer has kicked off its Indian innings on just the right note. Here's why.

The Sportster range is not for those expecting XXL cruisers. Instead, the trimmer proportions make them relatively apt Harleys for crowded Indian roads.

The XL 883R Roadster's slim front fender hugs its superbly styled 13-spoke alloy front wheel. At the top of its chromed front forks sits a petite, chrome-rimmed headlight, and single-pod speedometer counter. The handlebar is black, and sports classic turn signal indicators, chunky machined alloy levers that fit the rider's hands nicely, as well as a comfy pair of grips. Mirrors are standard fare, while the switches are sleekly styled and nice to touch. The indicators operate in a typical Harley format that takes a while to get used to. A broad, left-side switch controls the left indicators, while the right indicators use another individual switch pushed from the right.

The 12.5-litre fuel tank is classically-shaped but surprisingly comes with an ordinary looking tank cap. The XL 883R Roadster's side panels are smoothly styled to look attractive, over which runs a low riding saddle and bullet-proof-looking rear wheel fender. Embellished with a chrome strip, this also mounts both the rear turn signal indicators and a prominent brake warning lamp.

This is a motorcycle with impressive pose value, one that won't let you forget in a hurry that you're riding a Harley-Davidson in a hurry.

The XL 883R Roadster puts a brawny looking, four-stroke, 883cc, V-twin format engine to task. Its four valves are pushrod operated, with fuelling via electronic sequential port injection. As expected from a Harley, each air-cooled cylinder sports long-stroke dimensions, 76.2 x 96.8mm, with compression fixed at 8.9:1. The XL 883R uses a toothed belt to transfer power to its rear wheel, while its beautifully flowing twin silencers bark out a throaty, bass-laden and robust exhaust note. This engine doesn't like high revs, and works better when left to lazily rumble around town in a high gear, allowing its healthy wave of 7.14kgm (at 3750rpm) peak torque to work its magic. While Harley doesn't like talking power numbers, we reckon the XL 883R Roadster outputs close to 50bhp.

The heavy motorcycle's gear ratios are perfectly-suited to its engine, with shifts accompanied by a somewhat mechanical, still acceptable feel in a one-down, four-up pattern. It has a well-weighted clutch and pulls strongly from very low rpm, with brisk performance. Short-shifting up the box is the correct way to ride this Harley, and also prevents allowing revs hitting a point beyond which vibes intrude on riding pleasure. You don't need to work the gearbox hard for effective overtaking at higher speeds, with just opening the throttle enough to extract brisk acceleration. Thanks to this rider-friendly, wide spread of power, the 883R makes sense even when ridden as a city bike. But, of course, it works best when slotted in top gear and left to cruise along the highway at speeds close to 120kph. The 883R runs out of steam approaching 150kph, which is, nevertheless, a fair clip on the best roads in India. However, it must be said the absence of any fairing protection inhibits you from riding any faster.

One of the biggest bonuses of riding the XL 883R Roadster is its engine sound, which is a low-pitched hum from the power-train that blends well with the lazy, staccato exhaust note. The frame and suspension are conventional on this American muscle bike. Telescopic front forks, a stiff and narrow cradle-type frame in steel, and twin shock absorbers do their bit for the bike but also help it tip the scales at 260kg.

Ergonomics are comfy, and of a high order. The riding posture is upright, with the bike's low and wide handlebars swooping back into its rider's hands. And, the smartly stitched rider saddle with its ample padding seats both the rider and pillion in adequate comfort. In fact, even short riders will be able to handle this motorcycle.

Straightline stability is impressive. Handling, while nowhere near sharp, isn't lazy either, with those wide handlebars making for effortless Roadster management at low speeds. Cornering manners are decent, with every input rewarded with precise steering and neutral and forgiving responses. The suspension feels firm. The brakes, while not outstanding, are adequate for the heavy bike with a pair of 292mm front discs and a single 292mm disc deployed at the rear.

Harley-Davidson deserves a big thumbs-up for accomplishing the specific requirement for value-for-money big bikes in India. The Sportster bike family is undoubtedly Harley's mainstay line-up for India. The XL 883R Roadster ridden here is priced Rs. 7,50,000 (ex-showroom, Delhi), while the XL 883L Sportster sells for Rs. 6,95,000.

The XL 883R Roadster is clearly a bike that's built tough and should last well which, coupled with Harley-Davidson's strong appeal, should work to ensure good resale value, a rarity when talking big bikes in India.