Harley-Davidson Cross Bones is a slick ride even without the rain

Susan Carpenter on Harley-Davidson's new 2008 Cross Bones.
(Don Kelsen/ Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Not to rub it in, but I do have a dream job. I get paid to ride motorcycles. I get to ride all the newest stuff. And I get to ride most of it before it’s even available to the public.

Sickening, I know.

But there’s one thing that makes my job a lot less dreamy: rain. Sometimes there’s no way to avoid riding in it, such as last week when I had two days to test Harley-Davidson’s surprise bike for 2008: the Cross Bones.

On both days, it was sprinkling when I started riding and pouring by the time I got home.

I was a skinny wet rat on a big fat hog. How fun.

At least the Cross Bones is an easy bike to ride. A retro-styled bobber, Harley’s latest lacks the extremes that have characterized the cruiser scene in recent years. The rake is a minuscule 32 degrees and the rear tire is a trim 200 millimeters, both of which made the bike more agile in turns.

It’s heavy -- 737 pounds ready to roll -- but it isn’t especially long. While the bike uses the same low suspension as Harley’s Softail Deluxe, there’s 5 inches of space from frame to pavement, which means you’ve really got to try if you want to grind the footboards.

Riding on fresh tires in a driving rain, I wasn’t up to the task. The wet stuff was pelting my face shield and knifing my fingers, so I was content to just keep the rubber side down and the bike moving forward.

Two different windshields are available for the Cross Bones for about $300 apiece. Much as I would have liked one last week, the bike I was riding didn’t have one. Leather saddlebags, a sissy bar and a rack are among the other available accessories, in case riders want to fill up the 5-gallon tank and take it touring or throw a passenger on the back and day-trip up the coast.

Stock, it’s a bike for one, and a fairly tall one, at least for Harley-Davidson. Unladen, the saddle is 30.2 inches and feels even taller because the seating position is so upright. The ape hanger handlebars also add to that upright feeling, because the rider needs to reach upward to hang on.

As ape hangers go, the Cross Bones’ are at the edge of what even qualifies for the term. They’re so short as to be chimp-size. Like many of the bike’s components, the handlebars give the bike a whiff of thuggishness without sacrificing control and rideability.

The Cross Bones is a softail. You just can’t tell from eyeballing the bike since the coil-over rear shocks are hidden below the powertrain. Add the second set of springs that keep the saddle afloat, and you’d think you were in for a cloud of a ride, though the actual seat is not so comfortable.

But it does look pretty, with its laced leather trim. There’s a lot of nice finishing on the Cross Bones, actually -- some of which derives from vintage bobbers of the ‘40s, i.e. the Von Dutch-style factory paint, the straight-shot exhaust, the chrome springs and Springer front end.

What doesn’t feel vintage is the power, courtesy of the fuel-injected, twin-cam 96B motor Harley’s been using since the 2007 model year.

The Cross Bones has an impressive 87.9 pound-feet of torque -- to blast ahead of impending rain clouds or, under more ideal conditions, just to have a blast.

2008 FLSTSB Softail Cross Bones Base price: $16,795Powertrain: Rigid-mount; fuel-injected; air-cooled; twin-cam 96B; push-rod-operated overhead valves with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters; two valves per cylinder; six-speed cruise drive.Displacement: 96 cubic inches, or 1,584 ccMaximum torque: 87.9 pound-feet at 2,750 rpmSeat height: 30.2 inches (unladen)Dry weight: 700 poundsClaimed fuel economy: 35 mpg city, 54 mpg highway