We spend some time in the saddle of Harley-Davidson’s latest models from their famed Softail line and they put us in the mind of that classic Deep Purple song
Exploring the highways with the 2018 iterations of the Deluxe and Low Rider
I love it, I need it, I bleed it. Yeah, it’s a wild hurricane. Alright, hold tight, I’m a highway star...
— Highway Star by Deep Purple
There’s a certain image that pops up into your brain when you lean back, close your eyes, and really listen to some amazing classic rock. At least, it happens for me; maybe, it’s just my overactive imagination at play here, but it totally does. Highway Star is one of these songs and every time I listen to Ritchie Blackmore & Co. do their thing, I picture wide open roads, the thump of a V-twin creating a soothing symphony with Paice’s manic drumming, and nothing but my bike and I, cruising along on the highway. I’ve always wanted to be a Highway Star but finding the right bike to make this vision transform into reality hadn’t been easy... until now.
Meet the two new Softails to make their way to Indian shores from the famous bar-and-shield marque: the Low Rider and Deluxe. They might not look it, but they’re built on basically the same platform — common frame, identical wheelbase, fuel tanks with the same capacities, and a matching engine and transmission set-up. They look as alike as chalk and cheese though, and that’s the beauty of H-D’s range of diverse motorcycles — there’s a style for everyone, especially with the myriad customization options on offer.
The Low Rider is built along the roadster theme: bare bones, 1970s-inspired and a definite standout because of its classy three-tone tank, generous chrome embellishments, and, shall we say, unusual handlebars. The cast aluminium wheels add to the bike’s understated cool, and that sculpted twoup leather seat does look quite inviting. The two sets of circular dials set in the tank are very retro-looking but have some modern sensibilities. The top one houses your analogue speedo and digital fuel indicator, gear indicator, and time
display. The bottom is a stand-alone rev counter, also analogue, and both come with a very retro black background, white lettering, and orange needle style.
Coming to the bars, they are really swept back and curve further downward towards the end — essentially looking like a slightly flattened letter “M”, making for a unique gripping position, and quite an aesthetic statement. The classy headlamp is now powered by LEDs, the handlebar-mounted indicators are a cool touch, and the protruding tail-lamp unit is another signature H-D addition. I also quite like the clean chrome parallel pipes running along the side of the bike; they add a little more oomph to the overall design.
All these disparate elements meld together to form a rather handsome bike, and one that oozes attitude too.
The Deluxe is styled more like the old-school cruisers of the 1950s. Very reminiscent of the larger Heritage Classic, the Deluxe is an absolute eyegrabber — if you don’t like excess attention, stay away from this gorgeous machine. Those full fenders, hardtailesque stance (there is a monoshock concealed in there, don’t worry), chunky front forks, and single seat are all fantastic touches. I also quite like the offset twin chrome pipes, all the chrome garnishing across the bike, and the slightly drawn-back handlebar. A minimalist, chrome-lined, circular instrument cluster, mounted at the top of the tank, offers up an analogue speedo and digital readouts for everything else. The “tombstone” LED brake-light with indicators integrated on either end of a chrome bar just below and on either side of it are definitely remarkable touches and give the bike a little more visual character.
My favourite elements, though, are the floorboard foot-rests, three-pod headlamps (also LED, of course), and those chrome and steel wire-spoke wheels wrapped in uber-cool Dunlop whitewall tyres. The whole bike’s
aesthetic is olde worlde evocative and that sizzling blue paint job just sets everything off so beautifully. On both bikes, the quality of the materials used is second to none, as you would expect of a Harley, and when we were riding off to our shoot location, whether in the city or on the highway, we were getting constant second glances and longdrawn-out gazes from admiring passers-by.
I mentioned both bikes have a few similarities, and those start with the lack of the traditional key. The keyless ignition set-up on both bikes is identical — as long as you have the fob in your pocket, flick the kill-switch to on and thumb the starter to fire them up. Both bikes are powered by the new Milwaukee-Eight 107 1,745-cc V-twins, get oil cooling, four-valve cylinderheads, and dual spark-plugs. It churns out a cool 144 Nm of torque peaking at 3,000 rpm and is mated to a six-speed Cruise Drive transmission. Both bikes are also built on the new, upgraded 2018 Softail frame which, H-D claim, is significantly stiffer and lighter than before. The Softail range also gets rigidmounted engines to aid the stiffness of the bikes and dual counter-balancers to help eliminate excessive vibrations.
The suspension set-up on these bikes is new as well, with Showa Dual Bending Valve front forks and a rear monoshock that gets pre-load adjustment. Just how effective are all these additions, though? I rode both bikes for equally long stretches in order to find out.
Sticking with the common ground, the new Milwaukee-Eight engine is so much more refined. The vibrations, though present (wouldn’t be a Harley without them), aren’t irksome unless you push the bike way beyond its peak torque limit. If you do take it up to 4.55k revs, then you’re just asking for it, aren’t you? Ridden properly, the engine responds with delight; there’s so much torque throughout the rev range and beyond, and that six-speed transmission is smooth and easy to operate. The clutch action is comfortable, too, and both bikes are capable of some heady triple-digit speeds, getting there in short order. Both bikes have a typical meaty thump emanating from the exhaust, although in this stock set-up, the Low Rider sounds a little better of the two.
Ride quality-wise, too, the rigid chassis and well set up suspension mean you can carry more speed over breakers than before, without worrying about bottoming out, and these bikes can actually be enjoyed around twisties too. They feel planted, balanced and can be leaned over for a bit of fun (until pegs/ boards get in the way). The Low Rider sports specially designed Michelin tyres with Harley-Davidson branding and the Deluxe gets Dunlops, also stamped with the H-D imprint. Both sets of tyres are grippy and adept at supporting the bikes’ cornering capabilities. Both bikes also soak up undulations well, giving you a comfortable and mostly jar-free ride. You have to be slightly more careful on the Deluxe, though, while taking on speed-breakers and deeper potholes, because its 115 millimetres of ground
clearance is less forgiving than the Low Rider’s (oh, the irony!), which sits 15 mm higher off the ground than its Softail sibling. Braking duties are performed by dual-channel ABS-equipped single discs at both the front and the rear. Both bikes come with enough stopping power and the brakes do well in terms of feel and progression.
However, the riding position on both bikes is quite different. The Deluxe is upright, legs stretched out forward, and comfortable. The floorboards are amazingly relaxing and you can sit in that saddle for hours without strain. The Low Rider also allows you to sit fairly upright, but has pegs positioned slightly closer to a mid-set position, and they’re placed higher up too, resulting in a less stretched-out and slightly more cramped posture. The bars I addressed earlier are very comfortable on the highway, but when making tight turns in the city or weaving past potholes, they do get more than a little annoying to handle (pardon the pun), as one hand is stretched out to the max and the other has to be contorted weirdly in order to avoid being pressed up against your body. You do get used to it after a while, but it still is a prominent aspect of riding this bike and, as such, worthy of the highlight.
Fuel tank capacity on the Deluxe and Low Rider is 18.9 litres, which means you can easily cover 200+ kilometres before needing a refuel. Overall, both bikes are extremely enjoyable to ride and come with enough flair, panache, and elegance to wow the crowd. They have their own distinctive characteristics and, as such, will suit different people. I quite like both, but if I were forced to pick just one, it would have to be the Deluxe. Something about that old-timey design just speaks to my heart, I guess. Although the price tags on both bikes might force me to reconsider. The Low Rider carries a Rs 13.59-lakh sticker, whereas the Deluxe is yours for a significant premium at Rs 18.65 lakh (both ex-showroom). Whichever one you pick, though, there’s one thing for certain: out on that open highway, you’re bound to feel like a rock star.