Easier riders

Top: The Harley-Davidson Softail Fat Bob with a 114 engine, which is faster than the new 107 engine. Left: The Harley-Davidson Softail Street Bob with a 107 engine.
Above: The Harley-Davidson Softail Fat Bob with a 114 engine, which is faster than the new 107 engine. PHOTOS: HARLEY-DAVIDSON
Top: The Harley-Davidson Softail Fat Bob with a 114 engine, which is faster than the new 107 engine. Left: The Harley-Davidson Softail Street Bob with a 107 engine.
Above: The Harley-Davidson Softail Street Bob with a 107 engine.PHOTOS: HARLEY-DAVIDSON

Harley-Davidson unleashes new Softail bikes with better handling and stopping properties

Eight new Harley-Davidson Softail models - all of which started as pencil sketches in 2014 - were launched in one go this week.

This is the largest product launch to date by the Milwaukee-based manufacturer, which turns 115 this year.

Softails are Harleys with a "rigid" rear frame and no sight of any external shock absorbers. This is to replicate the old-school, custom bike look. But lurking below the seat and aft of the engine is a pair of shock absorbers.

Harley's Dyna range, on the other hand, sports twin rear suspension, like its Sportster, V-Rod and Touring siblings. These lines of bikes generally handle better than the Softails.

With the new Softails, the company is attempting to give riders the better handling of the Dyna with the cool custom look of the Softail.

Harley teamed up with Japanese suspension specialist Showa for the springing and damping duties of the new models. The rear shock is now easily adjustable for pre-load, unlike previously where almost no rider adjusted the pre-load due to its very difficult access.

Together with non-adjustable front forks, the Showas are married to lighter and more rigid frames with three rake angles (depending on the model).

  • SPECS / HARLEY-DAVIDSON 2018 SOFTAILS (FAT BOY, HERITAGE CLASSIC, DELUXE, SOFTAIL SLIM, LOW RIDER, BREAKOUT, FAT BOB AND STREET BOB)


    Price: To be announced

    Engine: 1,745cc air-cooled and oil-cooled, four-stroke, 4-valve V-Twin; 1,868cc air-cooled and oil-cooled, four-stroke 4-valve V-Twin

    Transmission: Six-speed manual belt drive

    Power: Unknown

    Torque: 145Nm; 155Nm at 3,000rpm

    0-100kmh: Unknown

    Top speed: Limited to 195kmh (177kmh for Deluxe model)

    Fuel consumption: 5.5; 5.6litres/100km

    Agent: Harley-Davidson of Singapore

At the heart of the eight new models are two new powertrains - the Milwaukee-Eight 107 and Milwaukee-Eight 114, both of which first saw light last year in the Touring models. But quite a bit has been re-engineered for the new bikes. There are two counter-balancers instead of one to further reduce vibrations. The gearbox and cylinder heads have also been redesigned to fit the new Softail frames.

The Milwaukee-Eight retains Harley's iconic 45-degree V-Twin cylinder angle. They are air-cooled and aided by oil-cooling. Harley purists will be relieved to know that the engine is still bolted directly onto the new frame.

Harley-Davidson does not traditionally reveal the horsepower of its engines. Torque is more important, it says.

The Milwaukee-Eight 107 is 1,745cc and churns out 145Nm of torque, which is standard on all models. If that is not enough capacity when you are buying the new Fat Boy, Heritage Classic, Breakout and Fat Bob models and you wish to pay more road tax, you can opt for the 1,868cc 114 version with 155Nm. You will be rewarded with a more throaty and deeper baritone.

The Low Rider, Softail Slim, Deluxe and Street Bob models must "make do" with the smaller engine. Harley claims the new 107 engine is 10 per cent faster to 100kmh than the outgoing High Output Twin Cam 103 engine, and the new 114 is 9 per cent faster in the century sprint than the new 107. But it is mum about actual timings.

Top speed is limited to 195kmh for all models except the Deluxe, which does 177kmh because of its heavier whitewall tyres.

I rode four of the new models - the Street Bob, Breakout, Heritage Classic and Fat Bob - through 180km of winding roads in Montseny Natural Park near Barcelona.

Let us cut to the chase. The new Softails' handling is as different as night and day compared with their predecessors. No longer is the rear wheel unsure of itself and you no longer have to second-guess which trajectory the front wheel is taking. The handling, dare I say, is sharp.

The best of the lot is the Fat Bob because of its 28-degree rake and consequential sharper turn-in response. The Breakout takes last place with its cruiser 34-degree rake angle and fat 240mm rear tyre. The other two share the middle spot with their 30-degree angle.

Harleys are not known for their braking prowess, but in the new bikes, they retard speed instantly and repeatedly with no fade.

I thought the brakes had been upgraded, but I was wrong. They work much better because the new Softails are all up to 17kg lighter and the new suspension plants the tyres more firmly onto the tarmac, both assisting braking as a result.

Harley-Davidson plans to introduce 100 new models in the next 10 years. Judging by the new Softails, customers old and new should be excited.

•The writer contributes to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2017, with the headline 'Easier riders'. Print Edition | Subscribe