The performance model in the 2018 Softail lineup looks mean, sounds fab and rides great. This one will surely put a smile on your face, says Stefan Lindeque
The Fat Bob, the performance model in the 2018 Softail lineup, looks mean, sounds fab and rides great.
When the Harley-Davidson Motor Company decided to discontinue their iconic Dyna line – which has seen more than 25 years of largely unchanged production by late 2017 – and move selected models (the Street Bob, Fat Bob and Low Rider) over to the Softail platform, it certainly caused a commotion amongst the industry. Generally, people don’t like change. They like history. So depending on who you speak to, you’ll be lead to believe that these models are born with some sort of identity crisis. Are they right perhaps?
Apart from the Tommy-gun style exhaust, seating arrangement and 150mm fat front wheel, the 2018 Fat Bob now bears little resemblance to it’s predecessor.
Gone are the familiar twin shocks at the rear and instead we now have a single mono-tube suspension hidden under the seat. Ditto the previously intimidating twin headlights, which have been replaced by a single LED light bar. The fuel tank is much smaller, and also of a different shape which some will describe as an acquired taste, and there is a huge, weirdlooking bracket enclosing half of the rear wheel whose only purpose it seems, is to mount the license plate.
What little chrome that was left on the old model has now been blacked out, including the redesigned upside down front forks. All these changes add up; and you’d be forgiven to think such a description can only yield the ugliest of ducklings. But it couldn’t be further from the truth. This thing turns heads – in a good way! Whether parked or cruising, it’s simply gorgeous to look at, and it just demands attention.
The original Fat Bob had a reputation as a bit of a street brawler, and that’s one quality that’s transitioned seamlessly to the newcomer. It’s short and low, which puts your centre of gravity close to the asphalt and the preloadadjustable new suspension system makes for a very smooth, precise and engaging ride. So smooth in fact that where potholes and speed bumps were usually best avoided by Dyna riders, this setup almost makes you aim for them on purpose. Engine vibrations don’t feel as pronounced, but still tickles enough to remind you that it’s a Harley.
While on the topic of the engine, the newly designed 1.9-litre two-cylinder MilwaukeeEight is an absolute torque monster, no matter what gear you’re in. Anything between 2,000 and 5,000rpms is enormously satisfying, and
accelerating out of a corner will put a smile on anybody’s face. I’d go out on a limb and say that instead of a Softail, the mannerisms of this bike is more reminiscent of the old Buell XB machines once produced under the Harley flag, and those were sportbikes, to be sure.
The six-speed gearbox shifts reassuringly solid and feels totally bulletproof, not once missing a gear or fighting to find neutral. Brakes from the dual front discs are very good, but the same can’t be said of the rear. This is one of the few areas where the motorcycle still shows its 300kg heft. It takes a lot to stop that kind of moving mass, and stomping on the rear pedal actually has little effect on slowing down.
Ergonomics overall seem to be geared towards shorter riders though. The foot pegs are neither underneath like traditional mid-mounts, nor stretched ahead like the old model’s forward controls, but rather somewhere in the middle. This, in addition to one of the most comfortable stock seats we’ve seen, is perfect for carving some corners or shorter trips around town. However on long journeys of anything more than an hour it quickly becomes cramped, as there is nowhere else to really move your leg position around to.
The smooth engine now results in very clear imaging in the side mirrors, but thanks to the narrow drag handlebars they come mounted on, the only thing visible in them are your elbows. Another very small annoyance – and call me petty – is with the horn, which is nothing short of embarrassing on a machine like this. I’ve honestly heard more aggressive sounds coming from the pizza deliveries and it really doesn’t suit the rest of the bike’s demeanour.
Identity crisis? Really, it’s just a name. So while it’s sparked a debate of whether or not it’s a ‘true Fat Bob’ or a ‘true Softail’, Harley-Davidson has given us a new machine full of its own character and is immense fun to ride. It’s a bike that makes you take the long way round, and that’s all that matters.
The six-speed gearbox shifts reassuringly solid and feels totally bulletproof, not once missing a gear or fighting to find neutral
The newly designed 1.9-litre two-cylinder Milwaukee-Eight is an absolute torque monster
The smooth engine now results in very clear imaging in the side mirrors