Anticipation has mounted since
The Motor Company announced its newly designed family of 2018 Milwaukee-eight-powered Softail models. Technical Editor Kevin Cameron whetted our appetite with an in-depth analysis of what has been touted as “the largest product development project in company history.” In that very same October 2017 Cycle World issue, Editorat-large Peter Egan provided his take following a brief ride aboard each of the eight new Softails.
Much like a year ago when I joined a select handful of motojournalists at Blackhawk Farms Raceway near Beloit, Illinois, to be the first to sample the then-new eight-valve V-twins, Egan’s seat time at Blackhawk amounted to the same rapid-fire two-lap stints on the 2018 Softails and their respective 2017 predecessor. That’s a whole lot to digest in a single day—an intoxicating tasting that would leave even the most disciplined connoisseur wobbly with wonder.
While I can’t speak for Egan, I identify as a beer man who prefers the full-body experience of a large-displacement jug of Milwaukee’s finest consumed on the home front. To this end we’ve wrangled a 114ci Softail Heritage Classic and took to some favorite Southern California roads to learn how this latest breed Harley-davidson Big Twin cruiser rides in the wild.
Our Vivid Black test unit (color and two-tone options are also available) projects a purposeful no-frills appearance that forgoes shiny distractions that can blind one’s measure of a bike’s performance, handling, and functionality. Before I had even thumbed the starter and brought the easy cranking air-/ oil-cooled twin to life, I noted a standout feature that’s given the Softail line a new leg to stand on: The newly designed sidestand is much easier to deploy and retract. My boot located the tang without fail, and there’s more clearance swinging through its motion when parked on an uneven surface.
Fob-sensing keyless ignition is another new convenience, and the traditional barrel-key steering-head lock has been replaced by a quarter-turn conventional-style key. I like the new larger LCD multi-function display integrated into the lower portion of the boldface speedometer located on the fuel tank console. The old display was “harley” bigger than a stick
ADHERING TO SOFTAIL DOCTRINE, THE SOLID-MOUNT ENGINE TRANSMITS A PLEASING LEVEL OF MASS-RICH VIBRATION AT IDLE.
of gum, whereas one can now more easily read engine rpm, tripmeter, or fuel range remaining at a glance. The LCD features a fuel-level bar graph and gear position indicator that both remain persistent as you toggle through the other functions with the left thumb switch.
Adhering to Softail doctrine, the solid-mount engine transmits a pleasing level of mass-rich vibration at idle. Its assist-style clutch requires only moderate effort at the lever, and while engagement was a bit grabby initially, it soon became more linear as I rode. This and a bit of difficulty engaging neutral when at a complete stop was possibly due to dragstrip testing the previous day. While the new Heritage lacks the heel-toe shifter of its predecessor, I didn’t mind, as the M-8 Cruise Drive six-speed box has very good shift action under way and there’s unobstructed aft foot placement on the floorboard to boot.
Short-shifts at low revs produced truly relaxed chugging from one traffic signal to the next. Even in top cog the engine pulls cleanly from low as 1,400 rpm equating to 40 mph but feels happiest running between 2,000 and 4,000 rpm, producing more than 100 pound-feet of torque throughout this range and only begins to feel busy once revs surpass 4,000 and approach the 5,500-rpm rev limit. A good twist of throttle in any gear unleashes linear acceleration and a very hearty exhaust note accompanied by amazingly little mechanical clatter reflecting off the windscreen.
Cruising the freeway en route to the desert community of Borrego Springs shed light on a number of key areas. Given its 114ci capacity, the dual counterbalanced M-8 runs remarkably smooth at speeds beyond 80 mph, the cruise control is simple to operate (tap it rather than hold it for smooth acceleration response), the mirrors remain
A DARKER HERITAGE The jukebox has left the building. Previous Heritage style was a bit more sparkle and a lot more candy. Counterbalanced Milwaukee-eight V-twin features twin sparkplugs, hence four plug wires from its coils.