The Harley-Davidson Breakout is the American brand at its best, says Mark Graham.
4 out of 5 stars
The Harley-Davidson Breakout, or FXSB in H-D nomenclature, employs the same clever frame as the rest of the Softail family
Tight and purposeful, like the pro-street drag racers it’s modelled on, the new Harley Davidson Breakout is an undeniably handsome motorcycle.
The Breakout, or FXSB in H-D nomenclature, employs the same clever frame as the rest of the Softail family; a sprung back end aping a rigid hardtail with the rear shock hidden underneath the gearbox. It’s an effective ruse combining comfort and clean looks.
You sit low (the seat height is a mere 660mm), the wide bars curve back toward you on short risers, a single speedometer mounted centrally – spartan in the customary drag-strip fashion, yet also comfortable. All day in the saddle was never an issue at the launch.
This is not a bike for meaningful two-up jaunts, however. The vestigial pillion perch, generously upholstered though it is, will never be enough to keep a passenger happy for any length of time.
But that is not what this machine is about. The low-slung silhouette and long wheelbase shout musclebike and the wheels confirm it. Styled in the “Gasser” hotrod tradition with relieved and polished alternate spokes, they set off the butch looks very convincingly. Black fork sliders, silencers and oil tank contribute to an air of studied restraint.
The look has presence but there is always risk that attitude has been traded for effectiveness, especially when the Breakout rides on an ultra-wide, low-profile rear tyre for that all-important straight-from-the-dragstrip vibe.
Wide rear tyres can be reluctant to let a bike lean, especially if front and rear profiles are mismatched. Harley’s chassis engineers have done a very good job making a bike styled for straightline menace turn as well as the Breakout.
For all the chassis’ ability, ground clearance is the limiting factor. On mountain hairpins the accompanying soundtrack was forever footrests scraping asphalt – although amusing for a while, it becomes mildly infuriating. When a chassis has this much grip and handles so well, it’s a shame to be unable to exploit it fully.
The engine is H-D’s substantial 103 cubic inch (1,690cc) 45-degree V-twin with twin contra-rotating balance shafts. Smooth enough to be solidly-mounted to the frame (where the Dyna models are rubber-mounted) this venerable lump is an absolute torque monster.
Abundant torque is always a rider’s friend and with 96lb ft at a very accessible 3,000rpm, this is one easy lowrider to hustle along. We can only guess at the peak power, since Harley rarely quotes it.
Mechanically quiet, with just enough rumble from the pipes to remind you that this is a Milwaukee production, the Breakout proves that radical styling when matched to a properly engineered chassis can make a bike that you won’t tire of looking at or riding.
The finish is top class, with wonderfully deep paintwork and tidy detailing, while the chopped mudguards enhance the lines and maximise the view of those exquisite wheels.
Harley-Davidson trades on heritage. Some would say to a nauseating extent, yet when the company applies its rich immersion in petrolhead Americana to bringing bikes this stylish and this effective to market, there isn’t much to touch it.
Not every H-D production hits the spot and lord knows there are enough models in the range (28 in all, excluding the special order Custom Vehicle Operation machines).
But when the factory does get it spot on in every department, it’s very hard to see any credible alternative. Yes, it is expensive – Harleys have never been a budget option. No, it won’t be much fun two-up with luggage to Spain. But as a no-frills street rod that also happens to go around corners too, it’s a great device.
Harley-Davidson FXSB Breakout
Tested: 1,690cc V-twin four-stroke, six-speed transmission
Price/on sale: £15,645 to £15,945 depending on colour/now
Power/torque: N/A/96lb ft @ 3000rpm
Top speed: 115mph (estimated)
Range: 200 miles at 50mpg (claimed)
Verdict: An eye-catching factory street rod with well-engineered chassis and charismatic engine. Harley-Davidson has done what it does well very well indeed
Telegraph rating: Four out of five stars