HARLEY-DAVIDSON SOFTAIL Standard (2020 - on) Review

Highlights

  • Most affordable model in Harley-Davidson’s UK 2021 lineup
  • 1746cc V-twin with 106lb·ft of torque
  • Stripped-down, single-seat bobber styling

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Seat height: Low (26.8 in / 680 mm)
Weight: High (655 lbs / 297 kg)

Prices

New £12,995
Used £11,000 - £13,000

Overall rating

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

The Harley-Davidson Softail Standard is the most affordable model in the American firm's 2021 UK lineup.

If that sounds slightly surprising for a bike with a £13k pricetag, let’s briefly recap how we got here.

For 2021 the axe fell on Harley’s novice-friendly Street range (Indian-built, water-cooled, six-grand roadsters) and Sportster family (iconic and immensely popular range of air-cooled 883s and 1200s).

That leaves this Softail Standard, officially introduced as a new model for 2020, as the starting point for Harley-Davidson’s range of core cruisers.

So, what does your £12,995 get? One Henry Ford-approved paint colour, for starters. Beneath the Vivid Black paint, the bike isn’t far removed from the existing Street Bob. But while the Bob is powered by a Milwaukee-Eight 114 engine (1868cc), the Softail Standard comes with the smaller 107 (1745cc) version.

Riding the Harley-Davidson Softail Standard

The Softail Standard is a blank canvas for modifications. Some will see it as the starting point for a custom project, others will love it exactly for its bare-bones, stripped-stark, (relatively) minimal aesthetic. But £13k is a fair old chunk of cash for a bike that prides itself on offering as little as possible.

Ride quality & brakes

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

The Softail Standard’s riding position (identical to the Street Bob) feels hideously alien at first, combining a low seat height with mid-set footpegs and mini ape-hanger bars.

Legs are packed in tight between seat and pegs – it’s certainly not a bike for taller riders – while feet are splayed out wide either side of the motor.

Hands are set high and wide, so you’re canted backwards, but stretching forwards. It’s deeply odd to begin with, but as miles and time add up it starts to seem more familiar. Still hard work at speed though, where you’re stretched out like a sail.

Handling is alright, at least within the limits of its 28.5° maximum lean angle. Steering needs less effort than the 297kg kerb weight, vast wheelbase and near-horizontal geometry suggests. Chug around lazily and all is fine, but ride with gusto and that 19-inch front wheel feels a distant part of the chassis.

Riding the Harley-Davidson Softail Standard straight

Suspension and brakes are objectively basic for £13k. Forks are conventional and unadjustable, while the monoshock hidden beneath the seat has just a preload collar.

Ride quality is adequate rather than outstanding – hit lumps in the road with any lean and you can feel the bars kick in your hands, while the rear wheel’s meagre 86mm of travel is never going to offer the last word in comfort.

Brakes are a single disc at each end – the front manages decent stopping power and feel, though the rear pedal is a bit numb.

Engine

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

The Softail Standard’s motor is a Milwaukee-Eight 107. In English, that means it’s a classic air-cooled, pushrod, 45° V-twin with a whopping 1745cc capacity and modern four-valve heads. It can rev to 5900rpm, with peak power of 86bhp arriving at 5020rpm and maximum torque of 106lb·ft at just 3250rpm.

On startup and tickover it chugs, thuds and rumbles exactly how you’d imagine a Harley engine should. Gruff, butch, meaty echoes of air-cooled combustion reverberate out the twin exhausts. But pull in the clutch lever and its action is lighter than expected. Push down on the gear pedal to find first and there’s no echoing clunk.

There’s more pleasing refinement on the move. While there’s tons of throbby character, most of the gritty harshness from ye olde Harley V-twins is gone. Mirrors stay clear, and there are no stabs of numbing vibration through the bars, seat or pegs.

Gearing’s very tall, mind. Trundle along in sixth gear at 60mph and the revs are so low (just 2200rpm) it feels like an overdrive. Despite having 1.7 litres of V-twin between your ankles, you still have to shift down two gears to overtake cleanly and quickly.

Reliability & build quality

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

Build quality appears to be the same as most Harley-Davidsons – impressive attention to detail in some areas, but a decidedly industrial feel in others.

For example, the pair of excessively long bolt threads poking out the bottom of the top yoke. Not the end of the world, clearly, but nor is it the most elegant solution.

The Softail Standard comes from the same family of bikes in Harley’s lineup as their Fat Bob – a bike with a less-than-faultless collection of owner reviews.

Some owners of previous version report faultless reliability and build, but others mention a poor finish and corrosion issues. Given the British climate and the Softail’s aluminium and chromed trim, it’s definitely a wise idea to keep a bottle of ACF-50 or XCP to hand.

A side view of the Harley-Davidson Softail Standard

Our Harley-Davidson Softail owners' review shows nothing to concern us on the reliability front. 

One final note: almost all EU-market Harley-Davidsons are now built in Thailand rather than Milwaukee – the exceptions being CVOs, trikes and Livewires.

That’s a consequence of the US-EU tariff war in 2018, which saw Harley shift production to avoid import taxes. However, this is no reason to expect the quality will be any different from US-built bikes – plenty of manufacturers (including Triumph, Honda and Kawasaki) make bikes in Thailand. "All motorcycles manufactured by Harley-Davidson are built to the company’s exacting world-class standards, regardless of location," say the company.

Value vs rivals

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

"The most affordable Harley" sounds a bit like the cheapest house in Chelsea, or the most polite prisoner. The Softail Standard costs £12,995 – that’s £1000 less than a Harley-Davidson Street Bob (similar thing but with a bigger engine, pillion perch, fork gaiters and a dash of colour) but still a fair old wedge of money by any measure.

Another good-looking, retro, single-seat alternative cruiser is Triumph’s Bonneville Bobber. It has a smaller 1200cc motor with less grunt and more revs, but boasts a similar stripped-down style and a price that starts at just £11,850 (2021 prices).

The Triumph gives a more modern and sophisticated ride, with a far higher tech spec and almost 50kg less weight.

Beyond that, there’s a wide variety of bobbers at a wide variety of price points. Far less expensive is Honda’s new CMX1100 Rebel (£8999). Far dearer is Indian’s Chief Bobber Dark Horse (£17,695).

But for the most hardcore brand devotees, there’s no point comparing its value to anything that isn’t a Harley-Davidson.

Equipment

2 out of 5 (2/5)

Stark simplicity is the overriding theme of the Softail Standard, from its lone paintscheme, to its bare-bones styling, to its single seat, to the lack of electronic luxuries.

The speedo is a tiny white-on-black LCD strip built into the handlebar clamp, sitting above a small selection of warning lights. A clock/trip/remaining range indicator, an eight-bar fuel gauge and a gear-position indicator are squeezed into the space too.

There are no rider aids beyond the mandatory ABS, while gadgets extend as far as keyless ignition and self-cancelling indicators.

You still need the physical key for the steering lock though, but not for the filler cap as it can’t be locked. Tank capacity is 13.2 litres, so given our measured 48mpg economy you can expect the fuel light to come on around 100 miles. Given the riding position, that’s plenty far enough.

The Harley has a minimalist dash

Specs

Engine size 1745cc
Engine type Air-cooled, 8v, 45° V-twin
Frame type Tubular steel
Fuel capacity 13.2 litres
Seat height 680mm
Bike weight 297kg
Front suspension 49mm telescopic forks, no adjustment
Rear suspension Monoshock, adjustable preload
Front brake 300mm disc with four-piston caliper, ABS
Rear brake 292mm disc with two-piston caliper, ABS
Front tyre size 100/90 x 19
Rear tyre size 150/80 x 16

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption -
Annual road tax £96
Annual service cost -
New price £12,995
Used price £11,000 - £13,000
Insurance group -
How much to insure?
Warranty term Two years

Top speed & performance

Max power -
Max torque -
Top speed -
1/4 mile acceleration -
Tank range -

Model history & versions

Model history

Stripped-down, single-seat bobber-style bike with a 1745cc motor and a £12,995 price tag that sees it inherit the position of the most affordable bike in Harley-Davidson’s 2021 UK line-up.

Owners' reviews for the HARLEY-DAVIDSON SOFTAIL (2020 - on)

1 owner has reviewed their HARLEY-DAVIDSON SOFTAIL (2020 - on) 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 (2020 - on)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 3 out of 5 (3/5)
Engine: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Reliability & build quality: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Value vs rivals: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Equipment: 1 out of 5 (1/5)
4 out of 5 2021 softail first impression
14 June 2021 by Ian

Version: Standard

Year: 2021

More comfortable than a sportster, transmission sweet for a big V twin engine. Unusual riding position for 6' rider, legs are a little cramped. A heavy bike but very flickable and fun to ride.

Ride quality & brakes 3 out of 5

Brakes are adequate rather than inspiring, a bit wooden, better than older Harleys. Better than a sportster for longer journeys Wouldn't want to spend much longer than an hour riding without a short break

Engine 4 out of 5

Very impressive lazy engine, not manic not quick to spin up, but fun nonetheless for it

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

Very impressed with surface finishes, chrome spoked wheels well put together, lots of polished aluminium to keep you busy. No issues to date although only ridden for 700 miles.

Value vs rivals 4 out of 5

fuel economy much better than expected, 13 litre tank shows a range of 180+ miles, steady riding at between 60 & 70mph

Equipment 1 out of 5

What equipment? It has a seat.............

Buying experience: From a main dealer, small discount given but nothing to get excited about

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