“I met a gin-soaked, bar-room queen in Memphis
She tried to take me upstairs for a ride
She had to heave me right across her shoulder
‘Cause I just can’t seem to drink you off my mind”
The Rolling Stones
I’m going to tell you some stuff about Harley-Davidsons. It might be stuff only very few of you already know. Ya’ll just nod along and smile. The rest of you are free to condemn and make tutt-tutt noises.
And somewhere, in all of this stuff I’m going to tell you, will be my thoughts on Harley’s new and improved Breakout – which remains, to my mind, the very avatar of outlaw glamour.
Some time ago, there were a whole bunch of crazies riding Harleys. And riding them hard, because you had to be crazy to ride them hard. The two went hand in hand. Because Harleys were never designed, and are not now designed, to be ridden hard by a crazy man.
Which is why we did it. Of course we did. We were not stupid. We were crazy. There’s a difference.
We knew damn well these chugging, agricultural American behemoths didn’t go around corners like Ducatis, or even Suzukis. We knew absolutely that speeds north of 160km/h were oil-spraying and parts-failing catastrophes.
And we didn’t care. In fact, we drew red-eyed inspiration from this fact.
We bored and stroked the engines until their then questionable reliability became a money-spout of endless rebuilds. Primary cases, both inner and outer, were disposable items every time we enforced our cornering will upon the unstable explosion we contended with. So yes, most Friday nights.
There were times when we failed utterly to impose our will upon them, and they threw us into operating theatres and morgues with ferocious glee.
And yet we persisted because we were crazy. And you can’t reason with crazy people, so don’t even bother. We’re gonna do what we’re gonna do because that’s how we roll.
And so we rolled, as hard as we could, and sometimes even harder, on bikes manifestly not made to be rolled on like that.
And it was the greatest thing we ever did. We laughed, and we panted, and our eyes glistened with a feral joy denied to most – especially those riders who were all about great-handling, good-braking, and high-end performance on bikes designed to do just what they were being asked to do.
We weren’t about that. We were about doing crazy stuff on bikes clearly NOT designed to do crazy stuff. That was the whole damn appeal of it. Well, that and the girl thing.
You see, there was a certain type of girl who was drawn to crazy blokes doing crazy stuff on loud, ill-handling, low-slung, anti-social motorcycles – and they were the very best type of girls when you’re that age. They’re the best type of girls at any age, to be frank, but all men become weaker as they get older, and are no longer willing or able to dance to the fast songs.
It’s not like we’re any less crazy today. We’re not. Let me assure you of this. We’re just not able to dance to the fast songs anymore, like I said. It doesn’t mean we still don’t like to listen to them though.
That’s what the Breakout is to me. It’s a stylistic middle-finger to the banality society demands from us. And while Harley certainly builds a few bikes to cater for that demand – yes, I’m looking at you, Heritage Softail, the Breakout is not one of them.
It is the exact opposite of that. It’s the neck-tatt in Milwaukee’s line-up.
Back in the day I would have spent untold dollars I did not have – but somehow got – trying to create just such a Harley in my garage. The big front-wheel, the fat back-wheel, the sex-fever paint, the make-up-mirror chrome – and I’d be yelling and beating my chest demanding more cubes from its terrified, pushrod V-twin engine. When it got to 88-cubes, I was happy for a week. When it got to 93-cubes, I chewed my tongue to pieces in ecstasy. And when I aspired to 98-cubes, it exploded like a bomb and almost killed me, but I would not be denied.
And now, in 2023, I can go out and buy a 117-cube Harley, with a rear-tyre that’s fatter than a biscuit-eating auntie, and boasting a paint-job and chrome that would’ve required actual bank robberies to fund in 1988.
The 2023 Breakout is utterly and totally, five-across the eyes, bring out your biggest bouncer and your hottest stripper, gorgeous. In stock trim, no less.
All I would do is put some straight-through shotguns on it, because that’s all I would have to do. And maybe paint it matte black one night when I’d had too much to drink, the moon was maybe too full, and the stereo a touch too loud.
Harley, as is its wont, has made some incremental, but welcome changes to this year’s Breakout. The tank is bigger (18.9-litres), the handlebars sit a touch higher for better ergs, all the US chrome reserves have been applied everywhere, and the 26-spoke cast-aluminium wheels are simply stunning to look at. The 117-cube engine seems to breathe easier and act livelier, the bullhorn air-filter no longer brutalises your shin, and the whole package rides, as it always has on average shocks with reasonable brakes – but it does so with much sassy intimidation. As my brother, Nick Cruth, said: “It’s the ultimate Saturday night bike.”
There is, strangely, one new thing on the Breakout I didn’t like at all. All the latest Harleys have this new thing, and I don’t like it, and that’s the end of that. It’s the side-stand. A small, but important part of any motorcycle. And Harley, for reasons I cannot fathom, has made all its side-stands shorter. They still work, of course. But they don’t feel like they will. I found myself kicking it out over and over, hoping it would go another few centimetres forward and ease my mind. But no. It just deployed its stumpy bullshit at 90-degrees to the bike, and left you fretting. Once, Harley had the greatest side-stand ever made. A two-step thingy which the behemoth would not roll off of, even if you were wrestling a stripper on it. But not anymore.
I can and would build a bridge, because I can get used to anything. I’m just saying…
And I don’t truly give much of a shit about that. Because it ain’t about that for people like me. Like I said earlier, people like me are fully aware of Harley’s “shortcomings” in certain areas.
The fat cholesterol farms who write for the Harley mags ignore these because they’ve only ever ridden Harleys and don’t know any better. The sclerotic wannabes on the other motorcycle media platforms hate Harleys, and always have, and they don’t understand why anyone would buy one in the first place.
But people like me appreciate Harleys on a level denied to these twerps. This is because I have ridden Harleys in a way only the very finest of the crazies has ever done. And in concert with a whole bunch of fellow nutbags. And I have done so for hundreds of thousands of kilometres. There are bits of my various Harleys scattered all over this country, as testament to that fact. And that kinda stuff tends to stay with you.
I know what Harleys are and I know what they’re not. And they are not like other bikes. They are far, far more than the sum of their parts. They are their own “thing”. And despite the fact society has demanded that people like me keep their crazy to themselves, and instructed its police forces to ensure my compliance, Harley still makes bikes like the Breakout.
And this is like spearing my crazy lizard-brain with a fat-arse cattle-prod, while I rack up on a centrefold’s belly and shout the bar.
But that kinda stuff doesn’t happen much anymore to me. Like I said, I don’t do the fast dances these days. But I do still listen to the music, like all the old crazies do.
And the Breakout is the band that plays those songs better than anyone else.
Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.