FIRST TEST HARLEY-DAVIDSON FXFB FAT BOB HARLEY’S NEW HERO
Aggressive, sporty Fat Bob leads all-new family of faster, lighter Softails
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
Mean and moody, the new Fat Bob is a major departure
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!