HAR­LEY-DAVID­SON IN SPAIN

NEW HAR­LEY SOFTAILS IN CAT­ALO­NIA

Driven - - Contents - Re­port by JUS­TUS VISAGIE | Images © HAR­LEY-DAVID­SON

New Har­ley Sof­tail in Cat­alo­nia

JUS­TUS VISAGIE was lured to Spain, think­ing he was go­ing to ride Har­leys past the ar­chi­tec­tural legacy of Gaudí in Barcelona. But then he was dropped off 40 kilo­me­tres from the city, near the moun­tain passes of El Brull, and given the keys to four new Softails.

Iwas in a foul mood. A con­nect­ing flight to Dubai, another flight to Barcelona and col­lec­tive sleep of a mere 60 min­utes would do that to you. But now I have a 1,745 cc v-twin by the seat of my pants, and it’s ea­ger to set its 145 Nm of torque free. My arms, stretched for­ward slightly, to hang onto the short ape-hanger han­dle­bars of the Sof­tail Fat Boy, be­gin to re­lax. I feel the in­side of my hel­met press against my cheeks as a smile pastes it­self on my face.

GET­TING IT ON WITH THE FAT BOY

For a Har­ley-David­son, which weighs 100 kg more than a big-ca­pac­ity naked bike, the Fat Boy felt nim­ble and obe­di­ent. And this de­spite han­dle­bars that are quite re­mote to the steer­ing head.

What is it that brought about this change? Paul James, man­ager of Prod­uct Port­fo­lio, Har­ley-David­son Mo­tor Com­pany: “The new Softails are the re­sult of the most ex­ten­sive re­search and de­vel­op­ment pro­gram in the com­pany’s his­tory. Thou­sands of hours of re­search and test­ing were put into the com­plete ground-up de­sign of th­ese new cruis­ers.” Judg­ing by the feel of the new Softails, he’s not ex­ag­ger­at­ing.

This is another chap­ter in the reawak­en­ing of Har­ley-David­son. First came Project Rush­more in 2013, which in­tro­duced fan­tas­tic brakes, the best mo­tor­cy­cle head­lights ever made, and

SO WHAT MAKES

UP THE NEW SOF­TAIL RANGE?

EIGHT NEW BIKES, NAMELY: THE STREET BOB, FAT BOB, LOW RIDER, BREAK­OUT, SOF­TAIL SLIM, DELUXE, FAT BOY AND HER­ITAGE

CLAS­SIC.

vast im­prove­ments to the pan­niers and top-box. Last year we saw the in­tro­duc­tion of an all-new Mil­wau­kee-Eight en­gine range, which traded over­head cams for a more com­pact push-rod de­sign. It brought more power, more smooth­ness, a lower idling speed (to be en­joyed when wait­ing at traf­fic lights), but with most of Har­ley’s sig­na­ture sound left in­tact.

FREE­DOM FOR ALL

And the good stuff keeps on com­ing: This year H-D cel­e­brates its 115th birth­day with a re­design of its piv­otal Sof­tail range. It’s revo­lu­tion­ary, which seemed apt in ru­ral Cat­alo­nia, where the Span­ish gov­ern­ment and po­lice were pre­par­ing to beat up el­derly women for their sep­a­ratist ideals.

From many win­dows hung Cat­alo­nian flags and posters said “Si!”, mean­ing “Yes!” for self-de­ter­mi­na­tion in the (then) up­com­ing Cat­alo­nian ref­er­en­dum. The lat­est Har­ley slo­gan? “All for free­dom. Free­dom for all.”

Cheesy, yes. But the Sof­tail range has now freed it­self from the heav­i­est of its shack­les – its chas­sis. As with obese Amer­i­can cars of the 1970s and 1980s,

its mak­ers prob­a­bly didn’t have sweep­ing cor­ners and hair­pin bends in mind when they cre­ated the old Sof­tail struc­ture.

What they’ve done now is to re­tire the Sof­tail’s geri­atric chas­sis and build a lighter, more rigid one around the Mil­wau­kee-Eight engines. This trans­formed the bike. Sud­denly it feels as if the foot pegs or foot­boards only limit an acute lean an­gle. A sin­gle, hid­den cen­tre damper re­places the old twin-dampers set-up. The way the new sus­pen­sion ab­sorbs shocks is a joy to ex­pe­ri­ence and adds to the bikes’ proper han­dling.

ON THE RANGE

So what makes up the new Sof­tail range? Eight new bikes, namely: the Street Bob, Fat Bob, Low Rider, Break­out, Sof­tail Slim, Deluxe, Fat Boy and Her­itage Clas­sic. Some are avail­able with Har­ley-David­son’s 107 en­gine, oth­ers with the 114. That trans­lates to an en­gine ca­pac­ity of 1 745 cc (107 ci) or 1,868 cc (114 ci). Some mod­els of­fer a choice of ei­ther. Both have plenty of shove: the smaller unit makes 69 kW and around 147 Nm, while the big­ger one cranks out 75 kW and 161 Nm. I never felt the smaller en­gine want­ing.

Th­ese Mil­wau­kee-Eight engines – the “eight” de­notes four valves per cylin­der – are won­der­fully smooth and more po­tent than the trash­ing, some­what un­re­fined engines they re­place. But they will still roar on de­mand, which be­came my per­sonal Afrikaans in-joke when much of the rid­ing hap­pened in El Brull*.

Of the eight new Softails that make up the en­tire range, there were four mod­els to ride: Fat Boy, Break­out, Her­itage Clas­sic, and Fat Bob. Note­wor­thy fea­tures of each are the mini ape-hangars on the Fat Boy, the long wheel­base of the Break­out, and the Elvis-in­spired screen and stud­ded pan­niers of the Her­itage Clas­sic.

The Fat Bob is the wild one of the bunch. Where the oth­ers have their foot pegs or -boards low to the ground, in typ­i­cal Har­ley fash­ion, the Fat Bob has its pegs, and foot con­trols mounted higher up. This al­lows for much sharper lean an­gles. How­ever, the heavy en­gine and fat, blunt front wheel re­minded me that this no KTM Su­per Duke R. With a true naked bike, like the Duke, a skilled rider can lean over far enough to shave his cheek on the tar­mac.

LAST WORD

So the Fat Bob is sportier than its Sof­tail sib­lings, but it’s not a sports bike and prob­a­bly doesn’t want to be one ei­ther. What­ever it is, it’s a hel­luva lot of fun, and the po­ten­tial of the new chas­sis will sur­prise and de­light. You can test it and the rest of the range at Har­ley-David­son deal­ers now.

FOR A HARLEYDAVIDSON, WHICH

WEIGHS 100 KG MORE THAN A BIGCAPACITY NAKED BIKE, THE FAT BOY FELT NIM­BLE AND

OBE­DI­ENT.

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