The focus of the new Softail family is the all-new Softail frame (so-called as it hides the rear suspension giving a classic hardtail ‘look’) which now uses an inclined single shock, Yamaha LC style, in place of dual shorter units previously mounted beneath the transmission. The new tubular steel double cradle is also claimed to be substantially lighter, stiffer and comprise far fewer components. Three different head angles, two shock lengths and two widths of swing arm are also employed in a modular approach to create the eight different models.
In Fat Boy trim this comes with a 30º head angle and, most vividly of all, new ‘monster truck’ solid wheels that are the biggest news and the reason the 27-year-old Fat Boy has at last rediscovered its mojo. Dubbed ‘Lakester’, these wheels are not just bigger, they’re massive – larger in diameter as well as now comic-book broad. Both grow an inch in diameter while the front broadens from 140 to 150 while the rear goes from an already vast 200 to a simply gargantuan 240. So big, in fact, that you can’t help but smile. The ride is entertaining, too. In a straight line, though hefty, the steering is tolerable. But through the twisties it needs a significant, unsettling effort to tiller around and plenty of forethought. On balance, this isn’t a complaint: you attune over time after which the new Fat Boy is a massive grin and a unique pose.
As with three other members of Harley’s new Softail family, the new Fat Boy now uses the four-valve, partially oil-cooled ‘Milwaukee Eight’ 107ci V-twin, as introduced in its 2017 touring range, with the option also of the 114ci version. Both are modified for Softail use via a new oil cooler subtly positioned between the downtubes and, as they’re rigidly mounted in the new Softail frames (in the tourers they’re rubber mounted) come with two, not one, balancer shafts.
Along with the new frame, uprated engine and cycle parts and new equipment such as lights and clocks, the build quality of the new Fat Boy, and indeed all the 2018 Softail family, has been noticeably improved. The jury necessarily has to remain out on reliability as it’s simply too early to say as we write. However, with the powertrain being based on that of the proven ‘Project Rushmore’ touring family and quality seemingly raised throughout, we’ve little cause for concern.
Harley ownership never comes cheap and with prices starting at over £17K that’s certainly not changed with the updated and improved Fat Boy. On the positive side, the new Fat Boy is a massive grin and a unique pose and after years of its presence being diluted it’s good to see the Fat Boy back to its best once again.
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Those monster wheels, new frame and uprated engine are joined by dramatic new LED headlights, stylish new clocks and more. OK, there’s still no electronics and little by way of luxury but it is a classy machine and Harley have noticeably raised their game.