Ag­gres­sive, sporty Fat Bob leads all-new fam­ily of faster, lighter Sof­tails

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Phil West GUEST TESTER

Har­ley are fight­ing back – that’s the mes­sage from the Amer­i­can firm’s launch of the up­dated, eight-bike Sof­tail fam­ily in Cal­i­for­nia this week, to which MCN was granted ex­clu­sive UK ac­cess.

The bikes, which re­place both the old big twin Dyna and Sof­tail ranges, are based around an all-new Sof­tail frame – Har­ley’s first since 1984 – and re­sult of six years’ work the firm de­scribes as ‘the big­gest de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme in HD his­tory’.

The new Sof­tail frame (so-called as it hides the rear sus­pen­sion giv­ing a clas­sic hard­tail look) now uses an in­clined sin­gle shock, Yamaha LC style, in place of dual shorter units pre­vi­ously mounted be­neath the trans­mis­sion. The new tubu­lar steel dou­ble cra­dle is also claimed to be sub­stan­tially lighter, stiffer and com­prise far fewer com­po­nents. Three dif­fer­ent head an­gles, two shock lengths and two widths of swingarm are also em­ployed in a mod­u­lar ap­proach to cre­ate the eight dif­fer­ent mod­els.

All also now use Har­ley’s four-valve, par­tially oil-cooled Mil­wau­kee Eight 107ci V-twin, as in­tro­duced in its 2017 tour­ing range, with four also of­fered with the up­rated 114ci ver­sion. The en­gines are mod­i­fied for Sof­tail use via a new oil cooler sub­tly po­si­tioned be­tween the down­tubes and as they’re rigidly mounted in the new Sof­tail frames (in the tour­ers they’re rub­ber mounted) come with two, not one, bal­ancer shafts.

Fi­nally, all eight are com­pletely re­freshed with new styling in­clud­ing body­work, tanks and seats, up­rated forks, dra­matic new LED head­lights, stylish new clocks and more.

But the stand-out ma­chine of all is surely this new FXFB Fat Bob. De­scribed by Har­ley as the ‘hero bike’ of the line-up, it not only re­places one of the UK’S most pop­u­lar sell­ing Hogs, it’s the most ag­gres­sively-styled and fun-ori­en­tated and the one that best demon­strates the new fea­tures.

Not only does the Fat Bob have the sporti­est at­ti­tude of the new Sof­tails, hav­ing uniquely a 28º head an­gle (the oth­ers are either 30º or 34º), it’s also the first Har­ley ‘big twin’ with in­verted forks. The rear, mean­while, is slightly

‘The new Fat Bob is Har­ley’s first big twin with in­verted forks’

jacked up with the longer rear shock (now neatly preload ad­justable via an ex­ter­nal knob ), there’ s a per­for­man­cein­spired 2:1:2 ex­haust while it’s also one of the four mod­els of­fered with the more po­tent 114ci en­gine.

Styling-wise, the Bob is more ag­gres­sive still: spe­cial, all-black, 16in, cast al­loy wheels wear chunky (the front’s a fat 150, the rear 180), semi-knob­bly tyres as per the cur­rent retro-in­spired fash­ion; the rear guard is se­ri­ously cut down (UK ver­sions will have a dif­fer­ent num­ber plate hanger), bars are flat and straight, ev­ery­thing is moody matt or satin and it’s fin­ished off with that ut­terly dis­tinc­tive let­ter­box LED head­light.

And the re­sult is Har­ley’s purest, best per­form­ing hotrod ever. From the first get-go the com­bi­na­tion of slashed weight (this Fat Bob is 35lb lighter than the old) and in­creased poke (we rode the 114 ver­sion which pro­duces 93bhp and 114ftlb of torque) it’s ob­vi­ous Har­ley big twin per­for­mance has taken a big step for­ward.

Han­dling, too, is dis­tinctly im­proved, be­ing no­tice­ably stiffer and with a ride that’s far more com­pli­ant, con­trolled and cul­tured than the old range which were of­ten ham­pered by lim­ited sus­pen­sion travel and crude damp­ing. While the steer­ing is sharp enough to hus­tle in a hotrod kinda way, bend-swing­ing is only lim­ited in the dry by ground clear­ance. In the wet, though, those knob­bly tyres do make things a touch ten­ta­tive.

Over­all, while the new Fat Bob may not quite have the han­dling of a Du­cati Di­avel or sheer stomp of the now dis­con­tin­ued Yamaha VMAX, it cer­tainly is by far the best-per­form­ing and most cred­i­ble Har­ley big twin hotrod yet. And if it’s a Har­ley hotrod you want – and many do – you cer­tainly won’t be dis­ap­pointed.

H-D’S new 114ci twin will give you a good torquing to

Not only is the new shock ad­justable but there’s a re­mote knob to make it easy

Small-bummed pil­lions only please…

LED let­ter­box head­light. We like it!

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