The Black Sheep of the 90's
Some 20 years ago, a young Willie G. Davidson created a beautiful, blacked-out, tricked-out version of a popular Harley-Davidson model. The result was one of the coolest bikes ever produced by the Motor Company -- the legendary Cafe Racer. Based on the Ironhead Sportster, the XLCR debuted in 1977 and went out of production in early 1979. In our opinion, the bike was easily one of the coolest of the AMF era. However, no one at the time thought so: 1923 XLCR's were sold in '77, 1201 in '78 and, get this, only 9 in '79. Evidently, the bike diverged too far from the "traditional" Harley image. Ever since the Motor Company has been very conservative with its new model offerings.
As it so often happens, history repeated itself on Juneau Avenue. In 1995 Harley again released a blacked-out, tricked-out version of one of its popular models. It was cool. Really cool. It had a black springer front end, black rear struts, a black oil tank and yes, oh yes, best of all, dirt-tracker bars. What did they call this creation? The FXSTSB Badboy. And guess what? No one bought it and we can't figure out why.
If you read our article on the 1998 Harley-Davidson models you may have noticed that the Badboy was not mentioned. That's because it was discontinued. Among the staff at Motorcycle Online, it is a favorite. Okay, so the name is a little corny, but short of that, we think Willie G. hit a homer with this the coolest of all Softails.Riding Position
The first thing we noticed about the Badboy is its riding position. It feels more like a Sportster than a Big Twin. The position is forward rather than laid back. This alone separates it from all other Softails. The rule for the FXST's has always been to emulate the "Easy Rider" ideal -- high, pull-back handlebars and feet as far forward as possible.
The Badboy's stepped seat pushes you toward the bars so that the forward foot controls are easily reached without straightening your knees. The straight handle bars are a joy. There is no way buckhorns would have flown on this bike. The combination of seating position and dirt tracker bars creates a feeling of tight control rather than Lazyboy comfort.From your first minute riding this bike it is clear that this is no big, heavy Softail. This bike is meant to be ridden hard and thrown around corners. A great city bike. The tight rake of the Springer front end, as compared to the Softail Custom, produces relatively nimble handling and inspires confidence.
No other Softail begs so much to be opened up. And perhaps no other feels so hamstrung by the stock exhaust. The aggressive feel of this bike really seems to exaggerate the wimpy, putt-putt exhaust note. In any respectable garage this bike wouldn't last very long in stock trim. Then again, that is true of any Harley.
What is also truly different about this bike is the way it connects the rider to the engine. There seems to be nothing between you and the motor. It has the same fine mixture of elements that make Sportsters great machines: A rider, an engine, and just enough other stuff to let you aim. If this is the essence of riding, then the Badboy has it in spades.
A Factory Hotrod
Here at Motorcycle Online we have always considered the term "factory custom" to be an oxymoron. A custom bike by definition looks like no one else's bike. Clearly, if you produce 10,000 units of a model, no matter how unique, it is not a custom. It is a stocker. What we have here could perhaps best be described as a "factory hotrod" without a hopped up engine.Having said that, the Motor Company added some really trick details to this stocker. First and foremost on the list is the black-out treatment. In these days of chrome overdose, the Badboy is a refreshing study in contrast. What is chrome meant to be anyway, but a bright shock of contrast to draw the eye to different elements of the design.
The folks in the Harley design department understood this when they laid out the Badboy. Starting with the forks, the girders are treated with beautiful black powdercoat, yet the springs are left chrome, as are the shock and headlamp. By sprinkling just enough chrome into the mix, every element of the front end stands out. The same holds true for the contrast between the chromed engine and exhaust system and the blacked frame, oil and gas tank. Brilliant. It's nice to see that subtlety still has a place within the cruiser market.Second on the list of trick details are the first ever floating brake discs installed by Harley. These technological marvels, which allow the disc to bend and twist slightly, are designed to help keep brake discs from warping. A great idea, but on the Badboy they are simply trick for trick's sake. A skinny, 21 inch front wheel with a lone, single piston brake ain't gonna stop you fast no matter what you do to it. But hey, we have to admit they look damn cool.
Other items worthy of note include the slotted solid chromed rear disc wheel and the bullet shaped headlight. However, the standard bobbed rear fender and minimal front fender have been used too often to be considered unique.Last Words For many reasons, it's sad to say goodbye. Like the Cafe Racer, the Badboy was an existing model taken to a design extreme. It was great to finally see an aggressive Softail, even if the engine's performance wasn't enhanced. As moto-journalists, we like seeing companies experiment. Unfortunately, the public didn't take to this experiment.
So does this mean another 20 years of conservative Harley-Davidson offerings that are slanted toward traditional styles? It shouldn't. The old Milwaukee firm is stronger than it has ever been. If ever there was a time to create new and exciting designs, it is now. The Badboy is a great, fun bike, and will remain a favorite at Motorcycle Online. We hope that it is only the first in a long line of such designs.
Harley-Davidson is one of the few manufacturers with the freedom to explore wild design concepts. Almost any motorcycle with a bar and shield on its tank will be viewed by many as legitimate. The bike will hold its value and it won't be seen as a risky purchase, so let's hope H-D uses this freedom. No one wants a cruiser future full of only fat, slow, 1940's-styled bikes.Specifications:
Manufacturer: Harley-Davidson Model: 1997 FXSTSB Bad Boy Price: $14,925 Engine: V-twin OHV Evolution Bore and Stroke: 3.498" by 4.250" Displacement: 1340cc Carburetion: 40mm Constant velocity with enricher and accelerator pump Transmission: 5-speed constant mesh Wheelbase: 64.4" Seat Height: 25.8" Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gal including .4 gal reserve Claimed Dry Weight: 620 lbs