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

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