Taking Harley-Davidson’s “Freedom for All” slogan perhaps a bit too literally, its Breakout is presumably the bike for you if you happen to be a modern-day Ronnie Biggs with a pressing need to get out of HMP Wandsworth. Or, on the other hand, if you just like drag bikes and being the centre of attention. The Breakout is Harley-Davidson‘s third bike, in the freshly updated for 2018 Softail range, which GQ‘s taken for a spin in recent weeks, and it’s the most out-there of the lot.
The Breakout is pure and simply an exercise in design and physical presence. The extremely wide rear tyre and the long-and-low chassis dominate its character; it’s the two wheeled equivalent of a top-fuel drag car. Measuring in at 240mm wide the rear tyre is wider than the average family saloon car tyre, and the overall package is so long (2.3 meters) that while the rear is in one postcode, the front is in another.
The fenders are “bobbed out” (that’s cut short in English), the seat is low, the fork angle super relaxed and the headlight a distinctive array of vertically stacked LEDs. With the exhaust pipes half-chrome and half-black to draw attention to the V engine plonked on display in the middle, it’s a bike that simply screams, “look at me”. Which, ironically, is the exact opposite of what you’d want if you were on the run.
The riding position is a very stretched out, hunch-back affair as your rump settles into the scooped seat. Short handlebars with a tiny, streamlined dashboard push your arms out forwards and the foot pegs do the same with your legs and feet. Some folks love this position – others will hate it – but it’s befitting of the Breakout’s style; any other position would be wrong. Whilst you’ll look and feel like a badass, you’ll pay the price for it after about an hour or so in the saddle, especially if you’re 5’9″ or shorter as discomfort sets in. But of course there’s the Harley-Davidson parts catalogue with more pages than your average local library to flick through to find a more comfortable bar, seat and peg configuration if you need it.
The fat rear tyre, long chassis and large 19″ front wheel make for an “interesting” ride. The steering is slow and lethargic, and the endlessly twisty Spanish roads around Barcelona did everything possible to highlight this. Slow speed work around towns and car parks is similarly tedious and the relatively large turning circle only makes things more awkward. A maximum lean angle of 26 degrees is all that the Breakout can manage before pegs start scraping tarmac, meaning you’ll have to expend a lot more concentration than you might’ve been hoping for into tippy-toeing around twisty roads. Even playing with the adjustable rear-suspension to eek out a few more millimetres of ground clearance doesn’t improve matters much.
Of course, all this talk of corners is somewhat beside the point because the Breakout’s M.O. is going fast in a straight line, and that it does with aplomb. It’s under these conditions that the chassis length and rear tyre start to make sense, offering stability and mechanical grip by the bucketload. When you twist the throttle with gusto, it’s plenty quick enough. The 114 cubic inch (1.868 litre) refined Milwaukee 8 engine produces enough torque to qualify for a tractor-pulling competition.
You get the impression that the Breakout is entirely OK with a rather stubborn, pig-headed approach to life, and understandably so. It gets away with its proportions and aversion to cornering because it doesn’t seem to have any natural competitors. Neither does it bother with any fancy electronics (aside from the vertically stacked LED headlight and fly-by-wire throttle) and if you’re inconvenienced by its small 13 litre tank, well, that’s just tough luck.
It’s a bike you have to accept for what it is; learning new tricks is not in its vocabulary. If you want a Breakout, it’s because you simply just want one, not because it is lighter or more powerful, or has some other marginal numerical advantage over some other bike on the market. We’ll skip a verdict, because the Breakout is a deeply personal thing – you either love it or you hate it, and the only way to find out which is to ride one.
Available from £18,395 via Harley-Davidson UK
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