HARLEY-DAVIDSON SOFTAIL (1998 - 2003) Review

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Power: 67 bhp
Seat height: Low (27.2 in / 690 mm)
Weight: High (662 lbs / 300 kg)


New N/A
Used £8,000 - £10,000

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
3 out of 5 (3/5)

The Harley-Davidson Softail Standard has classic Harley looks and technology for the custom fan who wants the authentic American experience.

The Softail family has concealed rear suspension for a hard-core ‘hardtail’ look. The  Harley-Davidson Softail Standard was discontinued for 2007.  Compared to later motorcycles, the main differences are that it hasn’t got the latest air cooled engine and other minor refinements.

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
3 out of 5 (3/5)

The Harley-Davidson Softail Standard is often dismissed as a handling disaster – by those who haven’t ridden one. Ground clearance is poor – lean too far and it’ll start scraping. But before then it’s much more neutral and better suspended than you’d guess. Brakes are just about up to the job but no better. Add a pillion to the Harley-Davidson Softail Standard and the extra weight does dull things somewhat.


Next up: Reliability
3 out of 5 (3/5)

The Harley-Davidson Softail Standard sports Harley’s old 88B 1450cc engine, unlike the latest models. It lacks the six speed transmission, active intake and exhaust but it’s still rich with torque and character. It’s not in the same league as H-D’s liquid cooled power plants in the V-Rod family and runs out of puff once you’re much over the legal limit but the Harley-Davidson Softail Standard is an accomplished cruiser.

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
4 out of 5 (4/5)

Few weaknesses on the latest Harley-Davidson Softail Standard motorcycles. They tend to be well cared for playthings with modest mileages. Be wary of any used motorcycle with heavy corrosion – these aren’t winter commuters and white fur on the alloy or rust ruins the Harley-Davidson Softail Standard's handsome looks and slashes value.

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
4 out of 5 (4/5)

The Harley-Davidson Softail Standard was expensive when new compared to Japanese rivals – but cheaper than many other Harleys. As with all Harley-Davidsons used values remain high as long as the motorcycle is well maintained. Official extras can add value to a  Harley-Davidson Softail Standard – but even so you’ll get more money returning the motorcycle to standard and selling them separately. Find a Harley-Davidson Softail for sale.


2 out of 5 (2/5)

Not a huge amount as they leave the factory – but the range of accessories for the Harley-Davidson Softail Standard is colossal. Harley’s own Screamin’ Eagle parts are well made and work effectively. Plenty of other brands are worth considering too whether you want more comfort, less weight, more power or different looks for your Harley-Davidson Softail Standard.


Engine size 1449cc
Engine type 4v V-twin, 5 gears
Frame type Steel spine
Fuel capacity 18.9 litres
Seat height 690mm
Bike weight 300kg
Front suspension None
Rear suspension Preload
Front brake 292mm disc
Rear brake 292mm disc
Front tyre size 80/90 x 19
Rear tyre size 150/80 x 16

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption 46 mpg
Annual road tax £111
Annual service cost -
New price -
Used price £8,000 - £10,000
Insurance group 15 of 17
How much to insure?
Warranty term Two year unlimited mileage

Top speed & performance

Max power 67 bhp
Max torque 81 ft-lb
Top speed 110 mph
1/4 mile acceleration 14.8 secs
Tank range 191 miles

Model history & versions

Model history

1998: Harley-Davidson Softail Standard introduced with 1340cc carburetted engine.
2003: Harley-Davidson Softail Standard updated with fuel injected 1450cc engine and other minor modifications.

Other versions

Harley-Davidson FXSTC Softail Custom: Another traditional Harley fan’s piece of heaven. It’s much more chopper inspired than the Harley-Davidson Softail Standard – bobtail fender, wide 200mm rear end and factory ape hangers combine with a laced chrome front wheel and forks raked out to 21”.

Owners' reviews for the HARLEY-DAVIDSON SOFTAIL (1998 - 2003)

1 owner has reviewed their HARLEY-DAVIDSON SOFTAIL (1998 - 2003) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

Review your HARLEY-DAVIDSON SOFTAIL (1998 - 2003)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Engine: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Reliability & build quality: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Value vs rivals: 3 out of 5 (3/5)
Equipment: 2 out of 5 (2/5)
4 out of 5 Solid, old fashioned, involving, and dependable
07 December 2012 by banquo

I bought my first Harley, a 2003 100th Anniversary FXST in 2003, and collected it on the 4th July. I didn't buy it because it had become fashionable: I bought it because I had wanted one since 1970 and 2003 was the first year I could actually afford to buy one. The lines of the Softail are the lines that I wanted. The horseshoe oil tank, the exposed oil lines, the bobtail rear fender and the 21" front wheel, the Wide-Glide forks. It looked the way I wanted, and was also the least expensive Softail by far. That was 10 years ago, and I still have it. I chose a so-called Stage 1 conversion, which involves throwing away the strangulating stock pipes and air filter, and replacing with Screaming Eagle slash cut end cans, and a K&N filter. We did 50,000 miles or so, before I took it off the road, to do some essential maintenance (replace the cam chain tensioners) and as I was waiting for the parts I ended up buying another one, because I couldn't afford to be off the road. A 2002 registered 2003 model, so it's exactly the same as the first, which means that all my bolt-ons fit, and I have the workshop manuals, special tools and (importantly) like my first one, it is fitted with a carburettor, and not EFI. I like old, and I like simple, and if it had been available with points ignition, I would have had that too. A kickstart would be nice. What's it like? It's a Harley. That means that it's heavy, very heavy. I spend most of the time 2-up, and fully laden, we weigh over half a ton. People say you must spend all your time cruising the High Street, or on dead straight motorways, because you can't use a Harley for anything else. Bollocks. Yes, we do a lot of our miles ploughing up and down motorways to get to rallies and so on, but we spend most of our riding time in the Scottish Highlands, often on steep and twisty single track roads, and the Harley is more than capable of handling that. We have taken the road from Amulree to Kenmore, 2-up, and if you know that road, it is a car width wide, and includes some vicious hairpins, grass, potholes and loose gravel. Yes, there was a moment of almost panic, when the first double hairpin emerged, and I thought there was no way we would get round it, but dropping down to first gear you have the torque of an old tractor, and it just pushes you round, solidly, and without drama, at less than walking speed. On the longer journeys, the deficiencies of what Harley supply as standard became clear. The stock seat is good enough for the rider, but excruciatingly and bone jarringly ineffective for the pillion. My wife wants to sue them, and rightly so. There is not much travel on the rear suspension, and the pillion sits right on top of the rear wheel. The foam of the seat is neither tough enough nor wide enough to absorb the shock, and so the passenger crunches right down to the rear fender on potholes, sending a shock right up their spine. It's not fit for purpose. By great good fortune, I was looking for a spare front wheel, with the intention of converting it to 16" (Yes, I know, but tastes change, and it's something else I never got around to) and the seller, a fellow member of H-DRCGB also was selling a seat from Saddlemen of America. It changed our lives, and suddenly rides of hundreds of miles were no problem at all. I bought a screen, rack, saddlebags, TomTom Rider and the Softail Standard I'd so carefully chosen wasn't standard at all, and not at all like the stylish almost chopper that I'd set my heart on. But it didn't matter, because it ticked all the important boxes. Comfortable, reliable, the right sound, and quick enough. We don't use it in the winter. The FXST has less chrome than most Harleys, and the stock chrome isn't bad, but it won't survive well in a winter of salt spray. Some people do it, and with application of ACF50 in the autumn, they seem to survive, but it's not for me, and I have far cheaper bikes I can use in the few days of winter when riding can be considered a pleasure. After 10 years, the finish is mostly good. The exception has been the wheel rims, which are Italian, and corrode from the inside. I stuck a Fatboy alloy wheel on the back, after hearing someone's rear rim had actually split due to corrosion. Reliability? A knocking sound from the bottom end turned out to be the alternator rotor, which sits on the crankshaft behind the primary drive. It was not an easy diagnosis, and sounded like a failed big end, so it was a relief when finally discovered, and the repair wasn't difficult. Apart from that, it's had oil changes every 5000 miles, tyres, plugs and brake pads, and was taken off the road to replace the cam chain tensioners, which are a known weak point. I've heard of them failing in 20,000 miles, but mine still have wear left in them at 50,000 miles. Many people fit higher lift cams, and my personal view is that short life may be associated more with modifications and thrashing than with a fundamental defect, but the jury's out on that. Some people change to a later cam plate, as currently fitted, but as mine lasted 50,000, why bother? Brakes: they work. They are not one finger operation, but you can lock the front, and you can lock the back so they are good enough. Performance: it will cruise at 70-90 all day on the motorway, and has plenty of power and acceleration for A-road overtakes. Handling is far better than you might expect, but you need to change the tyres to my personal favourite, Metzeler Marathon. Fuel consumption is about 40 mpg in mixed use and no, it's never leaked oil. I love my Harley. I love it because I like old things. I like to see the engine, and I like it to be a thing of beauty, and I like it to be air-cooled, with a carburettor, and stuff I can fix. Everything has been serviced and repaired at home, using a normal tool kit, and a few special tools, and the bike's pretty much as good as new.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5
Value vs rivals 3 out of 5
Equipment 2 out of 5
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