Big bob qui­etly spo­ken

Har­ley-David­son FXDF Fat Bob

NZ Autocar - - Contents - Words Peter Louis­son Pho­tos Tom Gas­nier

You ex­pect Har­leys to roar but US noise and emis­sions regs dic­tate oth­er­wise. We rode Fat Bob which goes well, de­spite the lit­tle voice. But you just know there’s a Rowdy Bob caged and lurkin’.

There’s lots of Fat in Har­ley-David­son’s model line-up cur­rently and a per­son could eas­ily be con­fused by all the obese mod­els they have on of­fer. There’s a Fat Boy, A Fat Boy Lo, and a Fat Boy S, not to men­tion the bike you see here, Fat Bob, not to be con­fused with Street Bob. So who is this Bob char­ac­ter any­way? Not a guy but a style, short for Bob­ber, which is where the fender is cut down. The Fat refers to the large tank, good for five gallons of gas, so Fat Bob sim­ply has both those fea­tures. It’s as much a his­toric name as any­thing, orig­i­nally ap­plied to an 80s model, rein­tro­duced in 2008.

All this we didn’t dis­cover in the 2016 Har­ley David­son brochure which fea­tures a cover page with – Screw It Let’s Ride. In fact the con­tents are full of emo­tive lan­guage about whip­ping the traf­fic, shred­ding the rule book, kick­ing as­phalt etc. Only on the fi­nal spec pages are some num­bers like peak torque men­tioned. Power num­bers are con­spic­u­ous by their ab­sence, per­haps be­cause they’re ir­rel­e­vant for a cruiser (which is largely the case). Be­sides power comes from revs and that’s some­thing big air-cooled V-twins of­ten don’t do so well. What we did dis­cover from the brochure is that the Dyna range has six ma­chines, one soul. Huh?

Sod it, let’s ride. On start up this is ridicu­lously muf­fled and yet Har­leys on the street are amongst the nois­i­est of, well, all ma­chines with en­gines. And that’s a clever strat­egy; ask the owner if they’d like a muf­fler to go with their new bike. It’s like

You ex­pect Har­leys to roar but US noise and emis­sions regs dic­tate oth­er­wise. We rode Fat Bob which goes well, de­spite the lit­tle voice. But you just know there’s a Rowdy Bob caged and lurkin’

the ul­ti­mate up­sell. You’re look­ing at about $1500 to get the bark back, most of it for muf­flers – out goes that pesky ex­haust valve which is there for noise and emis­sions regs only – and on goes a less re­stric­tive air in­take as well. A bit of a com­puter re­jig and you’ve not only got some­thing vo­cal but some­thing pal­pa­bly stronger too. It’s like a cure for asth­matic mo­tor­cy­cles.

Not that the big rig is ex­actly breath­less, de­spite not get­ting the high out­put 103 en­gine. Fat Bob man­aged to hus­tle across the le­gal line in un­der 5secs, not bad for some­thing with a bit un­der 80 horses at the rear wheel. It’s the 131 newts of twist at 3000rpm that make this hus­tle. With bet­ter breath­ing we imag­ine it would be com­fort­ably quicker.

It’s de­signed to look fast too, with strik­ing drag bars on black­ened ris­ers, a low set rear and scal­loped seat, though we wouldn’t fancy be­ing a pil­lion for too long. As with ev­ery­thing Har­ley, you can eas­ily mod­ify it for more comfy two-up rid­ing, though you’d want to think care­fully be­fore ru­in­ing the look. Plenty of bits are blacked out, like the en­gine, forks, triple clamp, shock cov­ers, bat­tery case, and even the trim sur­rounds of the ‘bul­let’ head­lights.

Un­der­way and we like how the Fat Boy shifts, though some tech­nique is re­quired; it’s best to wait mo­men­tar­ily for revs to drop be­fore up­shift­ing. Un­like most chain drive bikes which thump into first gear at stand­still, this snicks in like a shaft driven ma­chine, no back­lash. Sweet. We’re not great fans of the ei­ther-sided turn ac­tu­a­tors – too of­ten you end up twist­ing the throt­tle while at­tempt­ing to in­di­cate. How­ever, all is for­given as these are self can­celling. There’s a hazard but­ton too, to make lane split­ting safer. A re­mote key has be­come a Har­ley by­word. So long as it’s on your per­son you merely turn the stylish ig­ni­tion switch clock­wise and hit the starter. Walk away from the bike and the alarm au­to­mat­i­cally sets it­self. If you want ex­tra se­cu­rity, the steer­ing can be locked us­ing a cir­cu­lar key that’s dif­fi­cult to pick, like those used on Kryp­tonite U-bolts.

How’s it go on a day-to-day ba­sis? The big 45-de­gree air-cooled V-twin is about done and

dusted around 5000rpm, but most of the good work hap­pens lower down, with best urge in the 3000-4000rpm area. You should be there in the cor­rect gear for over­tak­ing, which takes about 3.5sec or 100m odd. For the rest of the time, you’re hov­er­ing arouhnd in the lower 2000s, and in town 1500 to 2000rpm is gen­er­ally suf­fi­cient, up­shift­ing early to get the tran­si­tion just so. Gear­ing is way tall, to make the most of the sub­ter­ranean torque, so in town third and fourth gears are best. Even at the open road limit of 100km/h there’s still only 2250rpm show­ing in sixth gear. The rev counter, in­ci­den­tally, is part of the trip com­puter, bun­dled with the gear in­di­ca­tor. It works just fine as you shift pretty much by ear any­way. There’s no in­stan­ta­neous fuel con­sump­tion me­ter, but who needs one? In the United States of America, gas per litre costs the same as Coke, the drink. There’s a dis­tance to empty fig­ure which is ev­ery bit as handy and any­how, there’s a fuel gauge atop the faux gas tank filler. Fig­ure on an av­er­age of around 5.5L/100km, which gives a cruis­ing range of over 300km.

On the go, this feels best at an in­di­cated 110km/h which is ex­actly 2500rpm, with some in­nocu­ous low fre­quency vibes blur­ring the mir­rors slightly. More speed and you get the odd wal­low when hit­ting bumps mid­corner. The sus­pen­sion feels ac­com­mo­dat­ing enough though, preload eas­ily enough changed at the rear. Light­ning quick di­rec­tion changes you’d not ex­pect on some­thing like this, but with its tall tyres comes pretty rea­son­able ground clear­ance. When it does even­tu­ally touch down on the for­ward set foot­pegs you’ll hear noth­ing but the quiet hiss of rub­ber be­ing scuffed off. Likely the heel of your boot will touch down first, an in­di­ca­tor you’re far enough over. For a bike with an obese name, it’s rea­son­ably ath­letic in cor­ners. It stops well too, like many cruis­ers with their rear­ward weight bias, though on a bike cost­ing the best part of $28k be­fore muf­fler swap, we’d have ex­pected an ad­justable brake lever.

So an odd name for a stylish bike that gets most of the cruiser bits right, ex­cept for the phat bark and that’s eas­ily enough reme­died, at a price.

ABOVE - Bul­bous tyres part of the Fat Bob look. BE­LOW - Dual tail lights mimic the pair up front.

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