Harley-davidson’s 2018 Softails get more power, better handling and less weight. Nonharley fans may now apply
PROGRESS WAITS FOR no-one, not even Harley-davidson. So, citing ‘customer feedback’ rather than stalling sales and emissions regs, for 2018 Harley has streamlined and updated the twin-shock custom Dyna and hardtail-styled Softail line-ups into one family of Softail models. The changes are meant to bring new levels of civility and normality to the bikes, and broaden their appeal — even if they have familiar names: touring-style Heritage Classic, low, drag-inspired Breakout, chopper-esque Street Bob and the muscular Fat Bob, all ridden here (the others are Fat Boy, Deluxe, Slim and Low Rider).
The new bikes are based around two new, more powerful, torquier and civilised versions of the Milwaukee 8 45° V-twin, in 1745cc or 1868cc air-cooled versions (the first four models above can come with either engine; the last four only in 1745cc). And all also use variations of a lighter, stiffer and more compact steel spine frame, with uprated Showa suspension — set-up depends on model type. But, says Harley, these are all Softails that weigh less, go faster and handle better. And cost more.
Each of the new Softails steers with a natural, easy and conventional chassis dynamic (a claim Harley couldn’t always make) to the point they run out of ground clearance — despite some models getting more ride height. They’re still long, weighty and a unique riding experience – but even so, it’s clear the Softails have indeed, er, turned a corner when it comes to handling.
The new engines are noticeably more civilised than previous generations; mechanically quiet, deceptively rapid and well-balanced with the right amount of vibration. Harley quotes 85bhp for the 107 and 93bhp for the 114, with — bizarrely — 107lb·ft for the 107 and 114lb·ft for the 114.
The new Softail range is available now and, perhaps for the first time, you don’t have to specifically want a Harley to buy a Harley; they’ll suit anyone.