2018 Harley Softails ridden
Harley-Davidson ‘big twin’ cruisers, which include twin-shocked ‘Dyna’s such as the Street Bob and hardtail-looking ‘Softails’ such as the Fat Boy are being replaced by an all-new eight-bike Harley family for 2018 which all use a new, monoshock, Softail chassis in what H-D itself is calling its biggest ever model development program.
The bikes are also now powered by the new 107 and 114ci ‘Milwaukee-Eight’ versions of Harley’s characteristic 45-degree V-twin, as introduced on its touring range last year and which now features four-valves per cylinder and oil-cooled exhaust valves.
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While on top of that, each model benefits from a host of revisions including weight reductions by up to 35kg, new LED lighting, new clocks, styling touches and more.
The range will be officially launched to UK and European press in a few weeks time but MCN was granted an exclusive invitation to the US riding launch in California this week.
Although at a cursory glance some of the new Softails look barely changed from the old bikes, virtually everything is new – as best demonstrated by the radical changes to its popular hot rod model, the Fat Bob.
In this variant the new lighter, stronger frame has a sporty 28-degree head angle (other models are either 30 or 34 degrees) with a longer version of the LC-style monoshock, complete with remote preload adjuster, to jack up the back end. And that, along with truly credible cycle parts such as upside-down forks and twin front discs with four piston calipers, adds up to a bike that is truly aggressive and far more fun to throw through the bends.
Nor does it stop there. The Fat Bob is one of four of the new models that will also be offered with the even punchier 114ci version of the engine which now produces a healthy 95bhp. As a result, although no VMax or Diavel, the Fat Bob is truly dynamic, fruity and fun. And when you add all that to new, apocalyptic styling rounded off with that menacing, letterbox LED headlight, you’ve got a bike that, like all the new Softails, are not only are more dynamic, exciting and better equipped, are more distinctive and bold looking as well.
Along side the Fat Bob is a new Fat Boy, now equipped with monster truck style wheels to give the look of a something straight out of a comic book. Cruisers simply don’t get more jaw-dropping.
Although the silhouette of the classic, solid-wheel cruiser is largely unchanged, the 2018 Fat Boy is actually all-new. As with the rest of Harley’s new Softails it gets: new monoshock frame (this time with 30° head angle and wider swingarm to accommodate the massive rear tyre); new 107 or 114ci Milwaukee Eight engine; plus fresh clocks, bodywork, LED headlamp and more.
But it’s those 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’, those wheels are not just bigger, they’re massive – larger in diameter as well as being 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.
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. Back in 1990 the original was an instant hit for having a similar effect while Arnie helped cement its celebrity aboard one in T2, famously saying ‘I’ll be back’. After years of its presence being diluted it’s good to see the Fat Boy back to its best once again.
There’s also a new ape-hangered Street Bob, a ‘70s-style Low Rider, the drag bike styled Breakout, complete with 34-degree kicked out forks and 240-wide rear tyre. For ‘50s chrome fans there’s the Softail Deluxe while the screen and panniered Heritage, along with the slim, low Softail Slim, have both now been give an more blacked out, ‘40s look.
All benefit from significantly improved lightness, stiffness and ride, punchier engines, refreshed styling and improved equipment.