On August 22, 2017, Harley-Davidson turned the motorcycling world on its ear by announcing that it had scrapped the entire Dyna line of motorcycles and rolled it into a completely revamped Softail line. When the dust settled, eight new Softails – four of them available with the buyer’s choice of a Millwaukee-Eight 107 or optional 114 engine – stood as the heart of a completely new cruiser lineup. The names of the Softails were carryovers from the previous generation, and for the most part, the new models were easily distinguishable as their previous generation’s namesakes. In the case of the 2018 Fat Bob, this wasn’t necessarily a given. Yes, once you knew you were looking at the new Fat Bob, it made sense, but at first glance, the 2018 Fat Bob elicits wows – followed by what the hell is that?
Perhaps only one other 2018 Softail, the Fat Boy, looks as radically different as the Fat Bob does from previous generation. This is because, Harley’s designers felt that, by remaining true to the lines and heritage of the other Softails and former Dynas, they could take some liberties. Brad Richards, Vice President, Styling and Design, noted: “If you do [the] foundational motorcycles correctly, our customers will give us permission to stretch the brand into places they might not have thought it could go.” The Fat Bob is definitely a stretch for Harley.
Before we consider the functional changes, which were a different kind of stretch for the Motor Company, let’s look at how different the Fat Bob is stylistically. The 2018 Fat Bob looks like a superhero version of its former self – perhaps bulking up after being bitten by a radioactive spider. The fat 150/80–16 front and 180/70B16 rear tires look menacing mounted on a pair of 16-inch cast rims which are highlighted by a pair of floating brake rotors. The tires’ tread pattern looks capable of handling any form of pavement, almost as if they were ADV-inspired. Mounted above the inverted cartridge fork is an LED headlight that looks like the eye-slit of a 1950’s robot, ready to shoot laser beams. (Think Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still only boxy.) Beneath the new 3.6 gallon tank that was specifically shaped to show off the top of the engine, the big-twin seems almost outsized for the frame, a powerful appearance that is highlighted by the fat header pipes that arch forward of the crankshaft before swooping back like a mating pair of bronze pythons into the staggered upswept satin-textured dual exhausts.
Tasked with the job of carrying all that badassery, a model-specific Softail frame with a 28° rake strives to give the Fat Bob the performance to match its aggressive stance. Dynamic performance is the name of the game when it comes to the changes that Harley made to this new version of the Softail frame, which is claimed to be 35% stiffer from contact-patch-to-contact-patch. Similarly, the SAE lean angle measurement has increased one degree to 31° and 32° right and left, respectively – though in actuality, it feels like much more.
The new more conventionally-mounted rear mono-shock gains an external hydraulic adjuster and allows for 4.4 in. of wheel travel in addition boosting cornering clearance. (To learn more about the specifics of the Softail line’s chassis updates, check out our “Harley-Davidson Introduces All New 2018 Softail Line”.)
The Milwaukee-Eight 114 engine has been updated for its rigid-mounting in the new frame and is now graced with a second counterbalancer. This doesn’t mean that the engine has lost its V-Twin character. While it remains smooth at low rpm, some vibration does enter the pegs and grips around 3,500 rpm to remind you that you have beefy 102 mm pistons stroking through 114.3 mm to produce a claimed 118 lb-ft of peak torque – also at 3,500 rpm. As with all Milwaukee-Eight engines we’ve tested, the fuel metering is spot on with nary a miss or a shudder unless you’re lugging along just above idle and open the throttle too quickly. One of the benefits of the M-E series being mechanically quieter than the Twin Cam engines is that a more mellifluous exhaust note can exit the 2-into–1-into–2 exhaust without exceeding the EPA’s noise standards.
Perhaps the most divisive feature of the Fat Bob is the feet-forward riding position. Many sportbike riders scoff at a performance-focused motorcycle placing the rider’s feet out front. The Fat Bob is a cruiser first-and-foremost, but a cruiser with, a cruiser with sporting intent. It’s not a standard or a sporty-bike. So, when viewing the tool through the lens of the job it is intended for, I see no issue with the foot position. Yes, the current peg location does limit cornering clearance. However, when the models are ridden back-to-back, the lean angle available compared to the previous generation Fat Bob is more significant than Harley’s single degree claim would lead one to believe. Moving the pegs rearward would require a much higher seat and make the Fat Bob an altogether different motorcycle.
What keeps the riding position from falling into the dreaded clamshell category (like that of the dearly departed V-Rod) is the position of the grips relative to the pegs. Take a look at how my 5-foot eleven-inch frame fits the FB’s chassis. The pegs are forward but are not a stretch for my 32-inch inseam. The tapered aluminum bar brings the grips back to where they are a comfortably sporty reach, keeping my back with a slight forward lean to combat the wind. Crank up the intensity, and the rider will naturally lean a bit forward to better manipulate the controls.
Thanks to their wider bars and different wheel/tire sizes, some of the other Softails may steer lighter than the Fat Bob, however, that doesn’t mean that the Bob’s bar isn’t wide enough to offer good leverage. With a firm hand on the tiller, the Fat Bob bends precisely into corners. Once leaned over, stability is the operative word. This shouldn’t come as a surprise with a wheelbase measuring a longish 63.6 inches. Although this is the shortest member of the Softail line, it shouldn’t be considered “short” by any means. Still, the Fat Bob is more than happy to change lines mid-corner or hustle through a series of esses. The Harley-branded Dunlop tires deserve some props for the FB’s friendly handling. The tire shape – despite the adventure-styled tread pattern – contributes to the neutral steering and the confidence-inspiring grip, even when the pegs are skimming the pavement.
The suspension is suitably firm for performance riding without being harsh. G-out bumps get absorbed without the boinginess of excessive rebound – even when cranked over in a high-speed sweeper. Other road imperfections rarely affect the chassis until they get to the larger, sharp-edged size, but even then, the additional shock stroke is appreciated. In my stint through the twisties on the Fat Bob, I never bottomed the shock – something I was never able to say about the dual shocks on previous Dynas.
The Fat Bob has improved ground clearance, proficient suspension, and an engine that loves full-throttled clutchless upshifts. At some point, you’re gonna have to slow down. The floating dual front discs squeezed by four-piston calipers accomplish the task with a decent amount of feel at the lever. If trail-braking is your thing, you can happily do it all the way to the apex of the corner. ABS is standard.
With the reinvention of its new Dyna subsuming Softail line, Harley-Davidson has taken some practical performance steps for its cruiser models. In the case of the 2018 Fat Bob, the combination of the Milwaukee-Eight 114 engine and the updated chassis have created a power cruiser that is as comfortable trolling the boulevard as it is chasing apexes. For those who lament the loss of the Bob’s Dyna designation, I recommend a test ride on the new generation Softail. The engine is better in every measurable instance, and the chassis puts the old one to shame. What could be better than that? Additionally, if my experience is representative, the FB’s looks are attracting the interest of the younger segment of riders that manufacturers are courting.
The 2018 Harley-Davidson Fat Bob 114 retails for $18,699 in black ($19,099 for optional colors).
|2018 Harley-Davidson Fat Bob 114|
|MSRP||$18,699, $19,099 (color option)|
|Engine Type||Milwaukee-Eight® 114 45° V-Twin|
|Bore and Stroke||102 mm x 114.3 mm|
|Fuel System||Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)|
|Valve Train||4 valves per cylinder, pushrods|
|Transmission||6-Speed Cruise Drive|
|Front Suspension||Inverted cartridge fork|
|Rear Suspension||Mono-shock, hydraulic preload adjuster, 4.4 in. travel|
|Front Brake||Dual 4-piston calpers, floating discs, ABS|
|Rear Brake||2-piston caliper, floating disc, ABS|
|Rake/Trail||28° / TK in.|
|Seat Height||28 in.|
|Curb Weight||676 lb. (claimed)|
|Fuel Capacity||3.6 gal.|
|Available Colors||Vivid Black, Industrial Gray Denim|
One platform; two personalities
With the motorcycle industry collected in Cologne, Germany, for Intermot, Honda made the surprise decision to present its latest Neo…