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Harley Davidson 72 Harkens to Muscle Biker Days

Let's get one thing out of the way now: The Harley Davidson Seventy-Two is a bad ass bike.

Sure, the optional speckle-paint job can make it look like the banana seat off a three-speed Schwinn. And at 1200cc, it will never be the beefiest cruiser on the road.

But in embracing the East Los Angeles chopper scene of the 1960s and '70s, Harley has made one of the most striking motorcycles in its current lineup, and the best Sportster since the Forty-Eight, another retro bike, introduced in 2010.

Unlike that motorcycle, a brilliant homage to the bobbers of the 1940s, the Seventy-Two is an nod to the bikers who cruised Los Angeles' famed Whittier Boulevard a half-century ago, when the road was affectionately known as "Route 72."

And aside from Harley's fuel-injected Evolution V-Twin engine, there's not much to keep you idling in the 21st century.

The Look

Available in proudly flamboyant colors -- Harley touts shades like Hard Candy Lucky Green Flake and Chrome Yellow Pearl -- the Seventy-Two is meant to be ogled. With mini-ape hanger handlebars, skinny whitewall tires and a peanut fuel tank, the Seventy-Two isn't meant to beckon your practical side.

There's only a solo saddle, so no passengers. The intentionally puny peanut tank holds 2.1 gallons, so memorize your local gas stations. And with those raised handlebars and a front tire thinner than a runway model on a diet, you'll dread freeways.

But the East L.A. cruisers of 50 years ago didn't concern themselves with commuting concerns, and neither does Harley.

If anything, the Seventy-Two could have been named The Gaudy. Few bikes this minimal shout this loudly. The 1200 engine and exhaust gleam in chrome. The whitewalls have spokes just as flashy. The tank sports a '72' emblem that could have been stenciled by Easy Rider's set designers. Even the air cleaner is retro, with an 8-inch (still street legal, Harley notes) mirror-chromed cover that screams old iron.

With a seat height of 28 inches, the bike is a break from the low-riders of Harley's other Dark Customs, a line meant to capitalize on the retro designs dominating the cruiser landscape. But this bike is nothing if not a break from traditional styling, including Harley's.

The ride

Of course, that doesn't mean squat if the ride isn't authentic -- i.e. impractical.

The Seventy-Two has that covered. The 10-inch tall mini-apes and 2-inch handlebar risers, teamed with the bike's forward controls, guarantee you'll sit differently on this bike than most others.

And those authentic chopper touches, especially the skinny frame, require confidence as a rider. The bike is Harley's most lithe, and responds to even slight steering movements. Confident riders will love the maneuverability; insecure and new ones may want to start on empty neighborhood streets.

Once you're rolling, though, particularly on surface roads, the Seventy-Two commands a presence. The front forks aren't as raked as Honda's throwback chopper, The Fury, but the bike is a head-turning cruiser surprisingly smooth at anything below 60 mph. The Dunlop whitewalls -- a 150mm in the rear and a 90mm up front -- don't get too squirrely on grooved pavement, and its 555-pound curb weight is enough to keep the bike feeling stable while being svelte enough to split lanes.

The Seventy-Two produces 73 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm, but feels more powerful. Perhaps because of the upright seating position the Seventy-Two demands, the motorcycle feels quick as a jackrabbit, and you'll catch yourself clinging onto the apes if you leave a stoplight with any aggression. Those elevated bars make the mirrors nearly eye level, somehow giving the bike the feel of more visibility. The five-speed transmission is a little clunky, the triangular handlebars serve as a funnel for wind against your face and the peanut tank means you won't get further than 100 miles without a fill-up. If this were your daily commuter, the Seventy-Two could use a plethora of add-ons: a windshield, saddlebags, passenger pad.

But how bad ass is that?

The specs

Price: $10,499 (Big Blue Pearl, Black Denim), $11,199 (Big Red Flake); California residents add $100Engine: Fuel-injected, air-cooled 1,200cc Evolution v-twin

Output: 73 ft-lbs of torque at 3,500 rpm

Estimated Fuel Economy: 48 mpg

Transmission: 5-speed

Front Suspension: 39mm forks, 5.7 inches of travel

Rake/Trail: 30.1º, 5.3 inches (135mm)

Rear Suspension: Dual preload-adjustable coilovers

Front Brake: Dual-piston, single disc; ABS not available

Rear Brake: Single-piston, single disc; ABS not available

Seat Height: 28 inches unladen, 26.6 laden

Fuel Capacity: 2.1 gallons

Warranty: 24 months, unlimited mileage