MY18 Harley-Davidson Softails ridden
There is a chill in the air at even 9 am as I am following the group of Indian journos and Harley officials on the outskirts of Barcelona. As soon as we begin our ascend into the nearby hills, passing through Tona and La Fabrega, I steady myself and let the faster riders set their own pace. The first few corners into the ride and I start to get into the whole “Freedom for All. All for Freedom” battle cry that Harley officials have been so incredulously telling us about. A couple of bends more and my mind is finally opened up to the idea of a Harley-Davidson that I could channel my heart and soul behind. That was the Heritage Classic, the first of the bikes that I got to ride at Harley’s global press ride meet as they gave us an opportunity to test out the new Softail range.
With the new generation of Softails, Harley has merged their two existing ranges into one, bringing an end to the Dyna family. That’s not such a bad news as the company has spent nearly three years developing the whole range and produced eight models off it. The idea was again very simple and straight-forward – a single chassis and a single powertrain architecture to ply the new range. This is quite similar to what Triumph has done with the Bonneville range (catch the entire story on the family in our Oct issue). Thus, part commonality and sharing is across the board.
The chassis in itself keeps alive the ‘hardtail’ traditions. A stripped barebone Softail would have straight line right from the head-stock all the way down to the rear tyre. However, as you look more closely, the swingarm is pivoted on the double-cradle chassis and sprung by means of a monoshock. The monoshock has been neatly integrated into the chassis and is not really visible to the naked eye. Harley has craftily placed it right underneath the rider’s seat and thus centralizing the mass even further. The monoshock is adjustable for preload and on certain machines you get a side knob to adjust it without necessitating the removal of the seat or use any tools as such. The chassis comes in two sizes – a slim one and a wide one. There are also three head-stock angles – 28° on the Fat Bob, 30° on the rest of the range barring the Breakout which gets a 34° rake angle. With their main emphasis being giving riders more lean angle, the Softail chassis is indeed one of the finest ones to arrive from the American manufacturer.
What lies inside the chassis is a reworked Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine which is a 1,745cc air-cooled fuel-injected big-bore V-twin motor that keeps alive the Harley traditions. Instead of rubber mounts like the Touring range, the Softails motor is directly mounted on to the chassis. By doing so, Harley have made the chassis even more stiffer than previous generations. The oil-cooler has now been shifted between the two downward pipes of the cradle and the height of the transmission has been increased slightly on the Softail. There exists the large circular airbox on the right, each having its own unique design according to the model. You do get a two-into-two exhaust which brings forth the potato-potato rhythm, but it is very subdued. The engine is tuned to deliver 144Nm of torque from revs as low as 3000rpm which continue till the 6000rpm mark. The only exception to the figure being the Fat Bob which makes one unit more and at a slightly higher rpm.
Each of the Softail models arrive with LED headlamps across the range, something that Harley has implemented with their Project Livewire in mind. Each one of them looks stunning and has a unique design to go along with the model in question. The brake setup remains unchanged from previous generations but there is better feel at the lever and the bikes stops better. The weight shedding has indeed worked wonders.
What does this all transcend to on the road? Well here’s what you should be looking out for:
This is your quintessential Harley. Old-school front mudguard, leather seats and saddle-bags, high-narrow handlebars and a large windscreen, all combine to give the Heritage the respect it demands. Swing a leg over the saddle and you are left in remembrance of your grandparent’s armchair. It is extremely comfy and plush, with the suspension soaking in any small undulations of any kind. That however doesn’t not mean that the Heritage is shaky around bends. In fact, it is quite a startling revelation that a bike of its size manages to get around bends with such elegance. I would have never guessed the bike’s weight to be in the region of 330kilos by the way she allows you to tip in and hold the corners with ease.
Riding the Heritage was like a hot knife through butter, one could just board the motorcycle and ride continuously till your heart is content and then some more. The large windshield does a fantastic job and helped kept the chilly early morning breeze away from me when we did set off riding. Whats more is that you also get cruise control on the Heritage. Just set the desired speed and forget about modulating the throttle, the Heritage will chug along beautifully.
Perhaps the surprise element of the lot, the Street Bob was extremely nimble and agile given its riding stance. The ape-style riding posture (high handlebars, close up footpegs and low saddle height) took me a bit of time to get use to. However, a few minutes into the ride and she would go around corners with elegance. She epitomises smoothness, flowing through corners with such simplicity. It left me awestruck that a Harley could just make little of bends with no fuss at all. The 19-16 inch tyre setup helps in this matter. The front is a thin 100-section tyre which enables you to tip in quite easily. The rear is not overly large, a 150-section tyre holds it own.
The bobber styling gives the Street Bob a very clean look – single-seat, blackened out mechanicals, round headlamp and bob-cut fenders. The bike gets a full digital instrumentation console which relays necessary data and is visible in any lighting conditions. The small unit is neatly packed into the handlebar clamp. This will surely be one of the hits of the series and would expect to do well in India as well.
During the introduction presentation, Harley’s Paul James – the project development head for the Softail range – said that if you wanted a bike to survive the zombie apocalypse the Fat Bob is the bike to have and I completely agree. A hundred per cent. Just by the butch looks, the Fat Bob is one striking motorcycle. Harley is focusing on getting more newer generations riders into the folklore and with the Fat Bob, I am sure they have hit the nail right on the head. They have taken the successful recipe from the Street Rod and applied it on to the Softail range. Hence, what you get is a full mental Harley that will rip you to shreds in no time.
Sure the 150-section front and 180-section tyres make you work a bit to get the bike tipped into the corner, but boy is it invigorating. And with USD forks, she is one of the most stable bike from the range. Harley had banked most of the Softail’s success to come from the Fat Bob which is a no brainer. The bike delivers phenomenal performance in a sportish stance. What more do you want?
We also had the privilege to ride the new generation Breakout (pictured above) and let me tell you it was a blast. Sadly, there are very few takers of the model in India. The previous gen did not do so well in India and hence Harley has refrained from bringing it to the country.
There are a few things from which I would like to refrain from commenting on at this very moment and would like to see how well these bikes adapt to India conditions. The cooling system on the big-bore V-twin motor was one aspect that we did not get to experience as we were hardly exposed to traffic. Harley will have to tune the suspension for India as the one we rode in Spain could prove to be slightly stiff for the sub-continent, given the condition of our highways are no where close to the B-roads on the outskirts of Barcelona.
That being said, I am looking forward to riding these bikes in India soon. We will be expecting them to arrive on our shores mid-October with the launch date around the same time.