Har­ley-David­son sof­tails

We spend some time in the sad­dle of Har­ley-David­son’s lat­est mod­els from their famed Sof­tail line and they put us in the mind of that clas­sic Deep Pur­ple song

Bike India - - CONTENTS -

Ex­plor­ing the high­ways with the 2018 it­er­a­tions of the Deluxe and Low Rider

I love it, I need it, I bleed it. Yeah, it’s a wild hur­ri­cane. Al­right, hold tight, I’m a high­way star...

— High­way Star by Deep Pur­ple

There’s a cer­tain im­age that pops up into your brain when you lean back, close your eyes, and re­ally lis­ten to some amaz­ing clas­sic rock. At least, it hap­pens for me; maybe, it’s just my overactive imag­i­na­tion at play here, but it to­tally does. High­way Star is one of these songs and ev­ery time I lis­ten to Ritchie Black­more & Co. do their thing, I picture wide open roads, the thump of a V-twin cre­at­ing a sooth­ing sym­phony with Paice’s manic drum­ming, and noth­ing but my bike and I, cruis­ing along on the high­way. I’ve al­ways wanted to be a High­way Star but find­ing the right bike to make this vi­sion trans­form into re­al­ity hadn’t been easy... un­til now.

Meet the two new Sof­tails to make their way to In­dian shores from the fa­mous bar-and-shield marque: the Low Rider and Deluxe. They might not look it, but they’re built on ba­si­cally the same plat­form — com­mon frame, iden­ti­cal wheel­base, fuel tanks with the same ca­pac­i­ties, and a match­ing en­gine and trans­mis­sion set-up. They look as alike as chalk and cheese though, and that’s the beauty of H-D’s range of di­verse mo­tor­cy­cles — there’s a style for ev­ery­one, es­pe­cially with the myr­iad cus­tomiza­tion op­tions on of­fer.

The Low Rider is built along the road­ster theme: bare bones, 1970s-inspired and a def­i­nite stand­out be­cause of its classy three-tone tank, gen­er­ous chrome em­bel­lish­ments, and, shall we say, un­usual han­dle­bars. The cast alu­minium wheels add to the bike’s un­der­stated cool, and that sculpted twoup leather seat does look quite invit­ing. The two sets of cir­cu­lar di­als set in the tank are very retro-look­ing but have some mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties. The top one houses your ana­logue speedo and dig­i­tal fuel in­di­ca­tor, gear in­di­ca­tor, and time

dis­play. The bot­tom is a stand-alone rev counter, also ana­logue, and both come with a very retro black back­ground, white let­ter­ing, and or­ange nee­dle style.

Com­ing to the bars, they are re­ally swept back and curve fur­ther down­ward to­wards the end — es­sen­tially look­ing like a slightly flat­tened let­ter “M”, mak­ing for a unique grip­ping po­si­tion, and quite an aes­thetic state­ment. The classy head­lamp is now pow­ered by LEDs, the han­dle­bar-mounted in­di­ca­tors are a cool touch, and the protruding tail-lamp unit is an­other sig­na­ture H-D ad­di­tion. I also quite like the clean chrome par­al­lel pipes run­ning along the side of the bike; they add a lit­tle more oomph to the over­all de­sign.

All these dis­parate el­e­ments meld to­gether to form a rather hand­some bike, and one that oozes at­ti­tude too.

The Deluxe is styled more like the old-school cruis­ers of the 1950s. Very rem­i­nis­cent of the larger Her­itage Clas­sic, the Deluxe is an ab­so­lute eye­grab­ber — if you don’t like ex­cess at­ten­tion, stay away from this gor­geous ma­chine. Those full fend­ers, hard­tai­lesque stance (there is a monoshock con­cealed in there, don’t worry), chunky front forks, and sin­gle seat are all fan­tas­tic touches. I also quite like the off­set twin chrome pipes, all the chrome gar­nish­ing across the bike, and the slightly drawn-back han­dle­bar. A min­i­mal­ist, chrome-lined, cir­cu­lar in­stru­ment clus­ter, mounted at the top of the tank, of­fers up an ana­logue speedo and dig­i­tal read­outs for ev­ery­thing else. The “tomb­stone” LED brake-light with in­di­ca­tors in­te­grated on ei­ther end of a chrome bar just be­low and on ei­ther side of it are def­i­nitely re­mark­able touches and give the bike a lit­tle more vis­ual char­ac­ter.

My favourite el­e­ments, though, are the floor­board foot-rests, three-pod head­lamps (also LED, of course), and those chrome and steel wire-spoke wheels wrapped in uber-cool Dun­lop white­wall tyres. The whole bike’s

aes­thetic is olde worlde evoca­tive and that siz­zling blue paint job just sets ev­ery­thing off so beau­ti­fully. On both bikes, the qual­ity of the ma­te­ri­als used is sec­ond to none, as you would ex­pect of a Har­ley, and when we were rid­ing off to our shoot lo­ca­tion, whether in the city or on the high­way, we were get­ting con­stant sec­ond glances and long­drawn-out gazes from ad­mir­ing passers-by.

I men­tioned both bikes have a few sim­i­lar­i­ties, and those start with the lack of the tra­di­tional key. The key­less ig­ni­tion set-up on both bikes is iden­ti­cal — as long as you have the fob in your pocket, flick the kill-switch to on and thumb the starter to fire them up. Both bikes are pow­ered by the new Mil­wau­kee-Eight 107 1,745-cc V-twins, get oil cool­ing, four-valve cylin­der­heads, and dual spark-plugs. It churns out a cool 144 Nm of torque peak­ing at 3,000 rpm and is mated to a six-speed Cruise Drive trans­mis­sion. Both bikes are also built on the new, up­graded 2018 Sof­tail frame which, H-D claim, is sig­nif­i­cantly stiffer and lighter than be­fore. The Sof­tail range also gets rigid­mounted en­gines to aid the stiff­ness of the bikes and dual counter-bal­ancers to help elim­i­nate ex­ces­sive vi­bra­tions.

The sus­pen­sion set-up on these bikes is new as well, with Showa Dual Bend­ing Valve front forks and a rear monoshock that gets pre-load ad­just­ment. Just how ef­fec­tive are all these ad­di­tions, though? I rode both bikes for equally long stretches in order to find out.

Stick­ing with the com­mon ground, the new Mil­wau­kee-Eight en­gine is so much more re­fined. The vi­bra­tions, though present (wouldn’t be a Har­ley with­out them), aren’t irk­some un­less you push the bike way be­yond its peak torque limit. If you do take it up to 4.55k revs, then you’re just ask­ing for it, aren’t you? Rid­den prop­erly, the en­gine re­sponds with de­light; there’s so much torque through­out the rev range and be­yond, and that six-speed trans­mis­sion is smooth and easy to op­er­ate. The clutch ac­tion is com­fort­able, too, and both bikes are ca­pa­ble of some heady triple-digit speeds, get­ting there in short order. Both bikes have a typ­i­cal meaty thump em­a­nat­ing from the ex­haust, al­though in this stock set-up, the Low Rider sounds a lit­tle bet­ter of the two.

Ride qual­ity-wise, too, the rigid chas­sis and well set up sus­pen­sion mean you can carry more speed over break­ers than be­fore, with­out wor­ry­ing about bot­tom­ing out, and these bikes can ac­tu­ally be en­joyed around twisties too. They feel planted, bal­anced and can be leaned over for a bit of fun (un­til pegs/ boards get in the way). The Low Rider sports spe­cially de­signed Miche­lin tyres with Har­ley-David­son brand­ing and the Deluxe gets Dun­lops, also stamped with the H-D im­print. Both sets of tyres are grippy and adept at sup­port­ing the bikes’ cor­ner­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Both bikes also soak up un­du­la­tions well, giv­ing you a com­fort­able and mostly jar-free ride. You have to be slightly more care­ful on the Deluxe, though, while tak­ing on speed-break­ers and deeper pot­holes, be­cause its 115 mil­lime­tres of ground

clear­ance is less for­giv­ing than the Low Rider’s (oh, the irony!), which sits 15 mm higher off the ground than its Sof­tail sib­ling. Brak­ing du­ties are per­formed by dual-chan­nel ABS-equipped sin­gle discs at both the front and the rear. Both bikes come with enough stop­ping power and the brakes do well in terms of feel and pro­gres­sion.

How­ever, the rid­ing po­si­tion on both bikes is quite dif­fer­ent. The Deluxe is up­right, legs stretched out for­ward, and com­fort­able. The floor­boards are amaz­ingly re­lax­ing and you can sit in that sad­dle for hours with­out strain. The Low Rider also al­lows you to sit fairly up­right, but has pegs po­si­tioned slightly closer to a mid-set po­si­tion, and they’re placed higher up too, re­sult­ing in a less stretched-out and slightly more cramped pos­ture. The bars I ad­dressed ear­lier are very com­fort­able on the high­way, but when mak­ing tight turns in the city or weav­ing past pot­holes, they do get more than a lit­tle an­noy­ing to han­dle (par­don the pun), as one hand is stretched out to the max and the other has to be con­torted weirdly in order to avoid be­ing pressed up against your body. You do get used to it af­ter a while, but it still is a prominent as­pect of rid­ing this bike and, as such, wor­thy of the high­light.

Fuel tank ca­pac­ity on the Deluxe and Low Rider is 18.9 litres, which means you can eas­ily cover 200+ kilo­me­tres be­fore need­ing a re­fuel. Over­all, both bikes are ex­tremely en­joy­able to ride and come with enough flair, panache, and el­e­gance to wow the crowd. They have their own dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics and, as such, will suit dif­fer­ent peo­ple. I quite like both, but if I were forced to pick just one, it would have to be the Deluxe. Some­thing about that old-timey de­sign just speaks to my heart, I guess. Al­though the price tags on both bikes might force me to re­con­sider. The Low Rider car­ries a Rs 13.59-lakh sticker, whereas the Deluxe is yours for a sig­nif­i­cant pre­mium at Rs 18.65 lakh (both ex-show­room). Which­ever one you pick, though, there’s one thing for cer­tain: out on that open high­way, you’re bound to feel like a rock star.

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