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And so it begins…

It all got very silly very quickly. Not even sure why, specifically. It just did. All I can put it down to is some kind of ape-brain short-circuit which requires the ape to dominate the machinery it finds itself upon. It’s happened before. It will likely happen again.


Harley’s new X350 intrigued me following my brief time riding it through the tunnels of Allianz Stadium, doing my level best not to splat myself into a wall. How the hell do you even explain such a thing to the cops, ambos, and insurance people?


“Yeah, I dunno, the surface is polished concrete and the food-slaves spilled liquid on it, and…well, you know.”


“How fast were you going?”


“Maybe 80.”


“Eighty? The speed limit in the tunnels is 10.”


“That’s for pedestrians, right?”


Anyway, that didn’t happen, but the X350 amused me, for reasons I’m not entirely clear about, more than the X500, which I likewise rode through the tunnels and tried not to die.


I liked the way the X350 looked, all neo-flat-tracky, and it was light and you could do drag-starts in second. It felt…well, fun, I guess. I desperately wanted to ring its neck.


I also desperately wished I was 17 again, because I would have so bought one and become my school’s primo bitch-slayer. Can you imagine? Owning a Harley on your Ls? A Harley you could actually ride like a bike that went around corners, unlike that diabolical Street 500 Milwaukee inflicted upon us some time back? Owning a Street 500 meant you didn’t have to be able to ride. Owning either one of these new X models meant you did.


But was it really any good? Like, was it viable? That was the real question, and that was not going to be answered under Allianz Stadium.


I will now pause briefly to address the groaning from a section of the bike community I like to call “Shitbrain Central”.


I know the X range is made in China. I know it’s been cloned from the Benelli range, which Zhejiang Qianjiang Motorcycle Group Co. owns.


I know this makes Shitbrain Central clinically insane. I assume it’s because it thinks that products made in the Bat Empire are shit, and the purchase of such products by proud Aussie patriots undermines our way of life.


It is impossible to explain to Shitbrain Central the Bat Empire makes many things. It is a modern manufacturing powerhouse upon which the entire world economy depends. The Bat Empire makes some things that are shit, and it makes somethings that are good, and it makes some things that are great. It all depends on many factors, most of which Shitbrain Central cannot process, but is happy to eek about on its computers and mobile phone devices which are also manufactured in China.


I accept the way the world works today. I accept my personal feelings about what motorcycle manufacturers should make, and where they should make it, has no bearing at all on commercial reality. So I keep my mouth shut lest people consider me an idiot and a fully-fledged member of Shitbrain Central.


So let us move on then, shall we?


So here’s me half-an-hour after picking up the X350, making my way through Sydney traffic to the Putty Road, where I plan to put the X350 to the question. No better road can be found where bikes can be put to the question. Especially during the week where the chances of running into a GKC (Granny-Killing Cop) are slim.


The first thing I noticed was the seat was firm – especially about the edges. But my thighs are strong. So it did not bother me. Weak-thighed bitches take note. Also take note that most young people have not yet let their thighs grow weak.


The bike felt light, and first gear is very short. I was changing into second from a standing start before I even crossed an intersection. Start in second. Problem solved.


The gearbox was smooth and precise. The brakes seem adequate to their task. The X350 is a very simple little bike. It weights 180kg, produces 36 horses, and makes 31Nm of torque. It carries 13.5 litres of petrol and doesn’t seem to use very much of it at all. Even when you have the throttle pinned for long periods of time.


Which is precisely what I did, for pretty much the length of the Putty. And yes, that was silly, because I would not normally ride a larger-capacity bike at those speeds on that road. But it just seemed…well, appropriate, that I do so on the X350.


Part of my silly brain said that no cop in his right mind would believe this thing was doing 147. So I could plausibly (albeit fruitlessly) argue that point. The dick would still book me, of course. But, like I said, it was a weekday and the Mother was largely deserted.


So off I went. And the following became evident as I rode…


Between 80 and 120, the X350 is happy. And thus, you are happy. It pulls enthusiastically, but your overtakes still need to be planned. You just don’t have any massive power-surge like you’d have on a bigger-capacity bike.


Pushing it past 120 reveals certain things. Exciting things. Firstly, the suspension starts to struggle, which is understandable. Holding it pinned at an indicated 147 is red-eyed hilarious, but it’s suspenders struggle to deal with the rate at which shit is happening. That said, this little 350 is better at that speed down that road, than the Breakout.


Interestingly, it’s also pretty smooth up until you head north of 130. Then you can feel the engine working through your hands. The vibration is there, but it is not onerous or unpleasant. It just is.


Of course, the X350 is not at all designed to be flogged like a policeman’s wife, which is the way I was flogging it up the Putty. But hey, we’re trying things out, aren’t we? And when one comes across a bike one can ride to its absolute limit, one must do that because it’s in the rules, right?


The off-set-from-centre analogue dash is simple. This is how fast you’re going. If you’re wearing polarised sunnies, you won’t see the small LCD insert-screen inside the dash, and who cares? There’s nothing it will tell you that you really need to know. A button on the dial changes this tiny LCD display to indicate revs, a trip-metre, or the time. There are no engine maps. There is no traction control. There is nothing on this bike that is smarter than you are. Unless you’re part of Shitbrain Central.


When it came to the corners, the biggest problem I was having was entirely tyre-related. The X350 sports Maxxis. They are totally across the One China Policy and are made in Taiwan. They also seem to share a kinship with linoleum.


I just had no confidence in them. After hammering the X350 up the hill from the Colo Valley, I stopped for petrol and felt the tyres. They were vaguely warm and not remotely tacky. It was 35 degrees. They should have been tacky.


I tried harder to make them tacky. I was in full silly mode now. Like I said, I would probably not have ridden a Panigale at 147 down the Putty for as long as I rode the X350 at 147 down the Putty. Which was pretty much the whole way, apart from the corners where 147 was not possible.


I checked the tyres again at Grey Gums. They were still vaguely warm and not tacky. I was thinking they may well last for 20,000km at this rate. And while some people may want that, I don’t. I want sticky tyres. I don’t care if they last 500km. Just as long as they hang on.


If I was to buy an X350, there would be sticky rubber on it before it left the showroom.


But the silliness continued, because once silliness is engaged, it’s unlikely to be turned off. The brakes seemed reasonable – and that’s the thing with bikes like the X350. You don’t need massive Brembos to haul you up from crazy speeds as you come into a corner. You’re not coming into any corners all that hard. No, 147 is not hard. And while it washes speed of fairly quickly without the brakes, you still want to be carrying a manly amount of corner speed while simultaneously understanding the tyres are made from linoleum. It’s a wonderfully silly balancing act.


Through the Ten-Mile, I noticed I was starting to drag my toes in most corners. I tried getting on the balls of my feet, which is where I like to have them when cornering (and where they should be), but the brackets of the pillion pegs forced the back of my foot outwards.


Obviously, the bike was not intended for hard cornering, despite the pegs being vaguely rear-set, but my silliness continued unabated. I duck-footed the rest of the Ten-Mile, heels out, toes in, and checked the tyres once again at the old fig tree. Still vaguely warm. Still not tacky.


But, I was more than satisfied. I had dominated. I had not permitted the linoleum hoops to end me. I had ridden the little bastard like a 17-year-old trying to impress girls. And most importantly, I had had fun.


The seat, firm as it was, did not prove to be awful. The suspension has limitations, but not many are going to find them as they learn how to ride. I only found them because I was asking the X350 questions few of its owners would ever ask. And I knew how to ride.


Interestingly, I managed an indicated 150 on the final stretch. Seems my questioning had loosened up the engine a touch. Silliness can do that you know.

And this is how it ended on that day.

The bottom line is quite simple. The X350 is an order of magnitude better than the discontinued Street 500. I can also safely say the X500 is also heaps better than the Street 500, though I am yet to be silly on one.


This is a LAM with the world’s coolest badge on the tank. And once some sticky rubber is fitted to it, it might prove to be far too much fun for feckless teenagers – so grown-ups might want to play with it too.


I certainly did.

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Boris Mihailovic

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.

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