Article By: Chris Callen
Photos By: Riles & Nelson
Originally Published In The March 2018 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
Ok, so it’s been nearly six months since Harley- Davidson ditched the Dyna line and shifted gears with an entirely new platform based on the Softail frame. In that line, there were eight new models at the time of the launch and each one configured with different riders in mind, different engine configurations as far as cubic inches, and different stance and accessories for rider’s preferences. This would be the earmark in the Motor Company’s history book where Harley-Davidson started to reach outside of the core, in a super aggressive way, to gain new riders from all walks of life both in and out of the motorcycle consumer base. When it comes to the bike we’re are writing about today, this bike is a prime example of that outreach, and one I saw the effects of first hand.
It All Starts With The Milwaukee-Eight:
While the curb appeal alone of the Fat Bob gives you the feeling that there’s gonna be trouble, the two engine options that you can get with it will back that up. Available in both the 107 and 114 engine displacements, this thing roared through the California canyons we rode them on. While still retaining the iconic 45-degree V-Twin design, the Fat Bob is anything but a continuation from the Twin Cam. The Milwaukee-Eight 107 comes in at 100 mm bore and 4.375-inch stroke with 10.0:1 compression ratio. It achieves 0-60 with ten percent quicker acceleration than the High Output Twin Cam 103. The Milwaukee-Eight 114 has a 102 mm bore and 4.5-inch stroke with 10.5:1 compression ratio. It achieves 0-60 with nine percent quicker acceleration than the Milwaukee-Eight 107. That’s a full 19 percent more than the 103 Twin Cams. When you put all that power with a frame that’s more rigid and 21.9lb lighter than its predecessor, it rides like no other factory Harley you’ve been on before. The Milwaukee-Eight has been well documented, so we aren’t going to waste a lot of time here going over the tech on it, but I will say that it’s been on the market for a year and a half already and it seems hat it’s had a much smoother transition that when we came into the Twin Came era. I for one, am a big fan and think that a four-valve head has been long overdue. Now that it’s starting to be utilized like this, I can hardly wait to see what’s next.
It’s The Bones That Make It Tough:
For anyone who lived through the original inception of the Softail, it was never meant to be an improvement on suspension and handling, regardless of what anyone wrote at the time. Those things rode like trucks but, they gave the rider the look of a traditional hardtail frame, kind of, while having some suspension. At the time it was a huge hit. I can remember a period where there wasn’t another bike I wanted to look at other than a Softail. As new generations of riders come into the market and things change, those traditional styling needs have come and gone. Some have their place and always will, but more than ever we have a base of riders who are as concerned with function as they are form. That’s where this new chassis comes into play. It is the best of all worlds. First off, it’s lighter and to anyone who has played the horsepower game that’s like free power. It’s more rigid as far as flexion is concerned. Where that plays out is in matching it with true performance suspension. When you know your frame is going to preserve its rigid nature under a load, then you can let the suspension do more of the work it’s supposed to. The new dual-bending valve inverted front forks are similar to a cartridge fork but with improved, more responsive dampening characteristics. In laymen’s terms, that is most notable when you’re hard in the corner and hit a bump. What I got from this thing was complete absorption of the obstacle and then almost unnoticeable rebound. It let me stay on the throttle and not have to readjust to compensate for a sloppy front end. A very welcome change indeed. The rear suspension is no slouch either. A mono-shock rear suspension is easily adjustable and enables a 240-pound range of payload capacity and enhanced handling. You can literally dial your suspension in for hard riding, cruising or times where you’re traveling with a passenger. Regardless of what you may have been told, no real suspension will handle all of those scenarios without adjustability. Kudos to Harley- Davidson for bringing that to the table.
Love It Or Hate It:
This particular bike is one that stands out from all the new Softail family as the bike you either love or hate. When they first showed the rabid public photos of the new line up, there were more groans heard around the world than from those in an over sixty yoga class. With good reason, I suppose. You see this is part of a new initiative that Harley has, that is adapting to a whole new world. They are employing design principals from other brands of motorcycle manufacturers and those from outside the industry. On this machine, that starts with the headlight. It’s what the factory calls “unique LED forward lighting.” It is for sure not the traditional teardrop shaped headlight from your chopper, but you have to understand that is precisely what the engineers wanted; different. I was unsure about this at first 32 March ‘18 – CYCLE SOURCE MAGAZINE cycle source – BETWEEN THE LINEs Harley-Davidson Cooling Vest MSRP $60.00 – As bad as riding in extreme cold can be, extreme heat is almost as bad. While we were in California riding the new Fat Bob, they laid one of these cooling vests on us to check out. At first I thought it was funny, until we were well into a full day of hot riding. This thing is amazing! This lightweight men’s Cooling Vest features a HyperKewl™ lining that absorbs water when you give it a quick soak. It slowly evaporates to cool your core as well as the back of your neck. Designed for a close fit to layer under a jacket and maximize the cooling effect. Best thing is, you only have to soak it for a minute or two and you’re good to go. as well, being somewhat of a traditionalist myself, until we were out in those canyons of California and stopped for a photo op. While we sat there waiting for our turn to go through the course, a group of twentysomething fire patrol rangers came out of their cabin. Four guys and a girl I think. They briefly looked at all of the bikes, but when they got to the Fat Bob, they were all about it. They quickly compared it to other dual sport bikes that they liked and even asked to sit on it for pictures. I immediately realized that the design team at Harley was on to something, these kids loved the new bike, and that’s part of the reason they made it this way. Any way you look at it, after the initial shock of “Oh my God, it’s not like my Panhead…” is over, then you start to get comfortable with the idea that this bike is tough as hell and while you may want to make your own changes to the pipes or even the headlight, what the Motor Company did here is genius. They have again gone outside the box to deliver a bike that will continue to pave to road to the future. Not to mention that it’s like a dirt bike on steroids that’s legal for the street. Check it out today at your local Harley-Davidson dealership or see more info online at harley-davidson.com