The “largest R&D project in Harley-Davidson development history” has delivered some major benefits in both form and function.
The custom revolution amounted to a complete chassis and engine overhaul of the Softail line-up.
Harley-Davidson have always relied on look, sound and feel, but they have raised the bar, with the new Softail range not only receiving the updated and dual counterbalanced 107 Milwaukee-Eight engine as standard fare (and the 114 version as an option on four others), but there’s also better suspension, lighter and stiffer steel tubular frames, LED lighting, new instrumentation and a “cleaner” production – serving both a functional and aesthetic purpose.
The frame is 65 per cent stiffer than the outgoing Softail design, while weight has also been lopped off all the bikes. As a result, power- and torque-to-weight ratios have both improved dramatically – the elimination of the old Twin Cam 103 engine obviously adding to the substantial performance gains.
It was also a massive styling exercise, with all eight bikes getting unique tyre and wheel combinations, and the LED lighting configurations are also diverse as well. Other standard features include keyless ignitions and steering head-mounted USB chargers, while there’s new instrumentation – including digital riser gauges on the Street Bob and Breakout.
The new monoshock rear suspension also preserves the classic hardtail look, while the frame is now 34 per cent stiffer with 50 per cent less components. Preload adjustment on the monoshock rear suspension is also an easy affair, while lean angles have been improved.
Customisation is also a Harley-Davidson staple, and the company has over 300 accessories dedicated to the Softail range, in four broad categories: style, comfort, function and performance.
Over two days I knocked over 500 ks of magnificent twists and turns, and I’ve never had so much fun on a family of Harley-Davidsons. This wasn’t artificial pleasure – procuring a grin under less than palatable circumstances – but a satisfaction from riding bikes that were a more than comfortable match for their environments. And for that, the real pats on the back go to the new chassis and Milwaukee-Eight powerplant.
Of course, some machines handled the routes better than others, but with the sheer diversity of the range, that was always going to happen. Eight bikes and eight different personalities – isn’t that what it should be about?
I am not one for “hero” bikes, but if there’s one in the new Softail range it’s probably the Fat Bob.
According to Harley-Davidson, the machine “encapsulates all that is great about the new platform” – and that’s just about spot on.
With a steering angle of 28 degrees, the sharpest of the new Softails, a 1,615 mm wheelbase, bum stop seat, dual disc brakes, mid-mount footpegs, 43 mm cartridge-style upside-down forks, two-into-one upswept exhaust, flat handlebar, 16-inch tyres and a more aggressive ergonomic triangle than its colleagues, the Fat Bob is a tactile, dynamic package – and when you add the excellent 114 Milwaukee-Eight engine into the mix, it really is a winner.
It’s not the lightest of the new brigade at 296 kg, but the Fat Bob is the agility and corner king. With the rider firmly wedged into place for some spirited action, there’s plenty of lean angle and ground clearance, and the weight transfer through those footpegs is quite pronounced. The seat is quite narrow at the front, so it’s easy to tuck the legs into the tank for that extra sporty experience.
The twin front discs are a welcome part of the Fat Bob recipe, and the benefit is not just in initial feel over its single disc brethren but also far more impressing stopping power.
In summary, it’s a seriously competent machine – but one that’s not just defined by its sporty nature. The Fat Bob is also an all-day machine that’s comfortable as well, with a fabulous balance of style and performance.
“Get the V-Twin Grin”- book in a FREE test ride today at our local authorised Harley-Davidson dealer – North Coast V-Twins.
Driven HARLEY-DAVIDSON Softtail
Date 29th november
Dealer North Coast V-Twins
Motor mouth rating 10/10