HARLEY-DAVIDSON IN SPAIN
NEW HARLEY SOFTAILS IN CATALONIA
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
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.
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