With its radical custom appearance and retro styling, Harley-Davidson’s new Softail Cross Bones might be the perfect motorcycle for indulging the conflicted psyches of maturing baby boomers. Harley-Davidson, however, clearly considers the Cross Bones to be a vehicle for reaching generations X and Y. The bike’s online promotional videos cast forth age-appropriate cultural references, from skateboarding to body art, with lightning-fast editing and the accompaniment of heavy-metal music. And the bike’s official unveiling took place at the Viper Room, the hip West Hollywood, Calif., nightclub once owned by actor Johnny Depp.
One can easily envision Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean character, Captain Jack Sparrow, astride a Softail Cross Bones. The bike’s blacked-out, bobbed front fender, Springer front suspension, and ape-hanger handlebars evoke the 1940s, when a rugged, swaggering breed rode motorcycles. The sprung solo seat further distinguishes the bike as a mount for the single and unencumbered male.
The Cross Bones is part of a larger scheme by Harley-Davidson to reestablish its outlaw street credentials in the face of formidable competition from custom manufacturers. A member of the Dark Custom series—a line that also includes the flat-tracking Sportster Nightster, the drag-racing VRSC Night Rod Special, the sleek Softail Night Train, and the Dyna Fat Bob and Street Bob bikes—the Cross Bones, priced at $16,795, indeed recalls the renegade past of the 105-year-old motorcycle company from Milwaukee.
Despite its intimidating appearance, the Cross Bones is a reasonably user-friendly motorcycle. The push of a button jolts the Twin Cam 96B powerplant to life. Rigidly mounted and balanced, the motor settles into a reliable idle thanks to a well-calibrated fuel-injection system that is sequestered behind a round air-cleaner cover. The motorcycle’s grips reside comfortably and safely at chest level, rather than precariously above your shoulders, while the seat cradles your posterior like a catcher’s mitt, with enough support to keep you firmly aboard the bike during spirited acceleration.
As the Cross Bones approaches cruising velocity, the 6-speed transmission is smooth and leisurely. Sharp turns can result in the bike’s half-round floorboards touching down, but only when the motorcycle is leaned over 27 degrees from vertical. On straight shots, the wide, high-profile, Harley-spec Dunlop front tire keeps the bike steady, even when traversing freeway rain grooves.
The Springer front suspension on the bike further establishes the Cross Bones as a comfortable ride, which, no matter how rebellious a baby boomer may be feeling, is always a treasured trait.