A lighter clutch in the new Harley makes handling a breeze. Cornering is another matter, says Tim Luckhurst

Harley-Davidson FXDBI Dyna Street Bob
Engine: 1450cc air-cooled V-twin with electronic fuel-injection
Torque: 115Nm @ 3000rpm
Brakes: Single 300mm front disc and 292mm rear disc
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox and belt final drive
Fuel capacity: 17.8l
Weight: 290kg
Colours: Black, pearl
Price: £8,945

After Pearl Harbour, when America belatedly awoke to the need to fight Nazism, Harley-Davidson was quick to see where duty lay. The company stopped making motorcycles for the civilian market and dedicated its efforts to churning out despatch, reconnaissance and sidecar models for the military. When hostilities ended, surplus examples of these GI Harleys were the only motorcycles available in the US. Owners customised them by removing the rifle mounts that were fitted down the forks and stripping off ammunition boxes and radios.

The initial idea was to remove memories of battle, but the young owners of what became known as "Bobber" conversions soon spotted an auxiliary benefit. The bikes weighed less, so they went faster. The quickest "Bob" on the street was the one carrying the least military surplus.

With its 2006 Street Bob model the Milwaukee company has gone straight back to this tradition of a truly minimalist motorcycle. For once, the result really is a case of less meaning more. With its solo seat, ape-hanger handle bars and black, powder-coated 1450cc V-twin, the Street Bob is the least fussy, most primal-looking Harley. It is also huge fun to ride and capable of getting the rider's adrenaline flowing as well as attracting glances.

Harley-Davidson is routinely criticised for building beautiful pieces of sculptured ironwork that do not cut the mustard as motorcycles, but function well as platforms for the company's immense range of custom accessories. Harley replies that many riders cherish lifelong dreams of purchasing a crimson Fat Boy with whitewall tyres, a squirrel-skin saddle and Marilyn Monroe's portrait on the tank. They just make that fantasy a reality.

The company is only part right. There are a lot of men whose mid-life crises have been assuaged by putting a Harley in the garage, polishing it often and only riding it occasionally to meetings of the Harley Owners' Group. But for every example of this class of hobby-motorcyclists there are equal numbers of young riders who secretly admire the Harley-Davidson style and heritage, but would not be seen dead in a fringed leather and bandanna.

This prejudice is reinforced by the widespread belief that air-cooled Harleys are painfully slow and agonisingly heavy. The Street Bob is neither. This is a motorcycle on which a twentysomething with attitude can have huge fun while looking distinctly cool. It is not the fastest bike on the road, not by a long chalk, but it is brisk enough and it handles well.

All Harley's 2006 range of motorcycles have dramatically lightened clutches. In America they call it the "pinkie test." It means you should be able to haul in the clutch using your little finger alone. On the Street Bob I could - just - and the effect was to make the entire machine feel light and agile.

Thrashing the Street Bob up winding Spanish Pyrenean blacktop between Cardona and Andorra was a breeze. The torque makes easy work of the steepest incline and the brakes are strong. The upright riding position is commanding and those ape-hanger bars are practical as well as gorgeous.

But there is a tiny caveat. Harley has not entirely embraced the reality that many riders will want to enjoy riding this bike as opposed to just being seen on it. After riding fast I found the clip that attaches the front exhaust to the frame grinding along the road on right-hand bends. By the time I reached the top of a winding pass the thing was ground flat. The bar beneath had taken a thorough scraping, too. The lean angles I was deploying are well within the margin of safety and should not put any part of the bike in contact with the road.

The silly aspect is that the Street Bob was more than comfortable with being ridden properly. It is in every other respect an impressively agile bike on which the crucial suspension, braking and engine components revel in hard use.

The Street Bob is beautiful and fun. Nearly all of it can go round corners well but, regrettably, it leaves small bits of itself behind.

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