Old Models Get New Life And An Across-The-Board Revamp

Well folks, it’s that time of year again. The Sturgis bike rally is over and Harley-Davidson has revealed to the world its 2018 lineup, and while what there is would definitely qualify as big news, what there isn’t is almost as important. Noticeably missing is the Dyna family and the V-Rods. I’ll be honest; with only a few exceptions I never really cared for the Dyna family — didn’t see anything wrong with the FXR family that it replaced — so it doesn’t hurt my feelings to see it go away. Perhaps “go away” isn’t the correct terminology here since the sport-handling characteristic of the Dyna got engineered into the all-new faux-rigid frame of the 2018 Softails. At the end of the day, the range has been eliminated right along with the apparently-failed experiment that was the V-Rod family.

What we’re left with is pretty remarkable. At first, I was ready to deride H-D for taking shortcuts with its promise to produce 100 new models by 2027, and I’m still about half-cheesed at what constitutes a “new design” in Milwaukee, but at some point the preponderance of changes has to add up to something beyond a simple update. That is exactly where I think we are at with Harley’s all-new Softails. Think I’m overstating it? Read on and see for yourself.

Continue reading for more on the 2018 Softail lineup.

Old Is New Again

Harley-Davidson Announces 2018 Softail Lineup
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Harley-Davidson Announces 2018 Softail Lineup
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2018 Fat Bob 2018 Street Bob
Softails used to beat you to death on a long trip, and didn't corner particularly well. That's changed with this new generation.

Harley has been in the Softail business since ’84 and so it has well-established naming precedents to try and meet while also looking to the future. First up we have the heavily bobbed Street Bob with blackout touches and a 17-pound weight loss and the even more bob-tacular Fat Bob that lost about twice that amount of fat and picked up sporty inverted forks. These two make a connection to the old-school “gassers” and other assorted stoplight burners that used to terrorize urban streets.

Harley-Davidson Announces 2018 Softail Lineup
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Harley-Davidson Announces 2018 Softail Lineup
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2018 Fat Boy 2018 Softail Slim

Next up we have the less-fat Fat Boy that lost 31-pounds over the summer and added a fresh headlight nacelle along with the not-so-slim Softail Slim that reaches for a post-war bobber connection.

Harley-Davidson Announces 2018 Softail Lineup
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Harley-Davidson Announces 2018 Softail Lineup
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2018 Heritage Classic 2018 Deluxe

Another classic connection is made with the aptly-named Heritage Classic that sports a detachable windscreen and new saddlebags to continue in its role as an old-school tourbike. The Deluxe carries a similar stance and look, but goes for broke with the chrome treatment for more of a classic showbike look.

Harley-Davidson Announces 2018 Softail Lineup
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Harley-Davidson Announces 2018 Softail Lineup
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2018 Low Rider 2018 Breakout

A Low Rider model replaces the FXDL as the obligatory, ’70s throwback model that is meant to bring to mind the choppers of that era, but lacks any kind of street cred due to the lack of any sort of rake or stretch. Hell, the Breakout has even more rake for more of a chopper look to go with its 49 mm forks and gasser roots. Besides some clever LED lighting and minor changes in the designs, these bikes will be very familiar to fans of the breed— until they start to look at what’s beneath the sheet metal...

Re-engineered Chassis

Harley-Davidson Announces 2018 Softail Lineup
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For the first time in my life, right here for your reading enjoyment, I'm going to use the word “flickable” in reference to a Harley product.

Since its inception, the Softail has been more about the classic look and lines of the frame where they meet at the point of the triangular swingarm, and less about handling and performance. All that changes this year as the factory shaved 13-pounds from its FLST frame and a whopping 18-pounds from the narrower, FXST skeleton. The factory used its customary, mild-steel tubular frame, but managed to remove half of the frame components while improving the stiffness over the previous gen Softail by 65-percent.

Greater turning clearance was a front-burner topic for the engineers, and for the first time in my life, right here for your reading enjoyment, I’m going to use the word “flickable” in reference to a Harley product. That’s right, I said it, right in front of God and everybody. H-D apparently understands that the old standards just won’t do, and we want more from our rides than just the Harley marque on what amounts to basic transportation in many cases. This enlightened design philosophy carries into the front suspension where we see the dual-bending valve technology that delivers improved ride quality even if it falls short of going to the top shelf for some actual adjustable forks. Wink-nudge, guys.

A revamped rear monoshock resides under the seat with an increased adjustment range of 240 pounds to better accommodate cargo and/or, shall we say, well-fed passengers. Overall better handling, lighter weight and improved suspension to go with the ABS that either comes standard or is an available option for the whole range. In case you haven’t noticed, this is not your dad’s Softail.

New Milwaukee-Eights

Harley-Davidson Announces 2018 Softail Lineup
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The Milwaukee-Eight engine that tested out so well in last year's tourbike lineup makes it into the cruiser bracket to replace the Twin Cam, and it definitely brings some much-needed performance to Harley's mainstay category.

As cool as all of the above really is, it pales next to the beating heart of this new-and-improved lineup. The Milwaukee-Eight engine that tested out so well in last year’s tourbike lineup makes it into the cruiser bracket to replace the Twin Cam (that I never really liked, either), and it definitely brings some much-needed performance to Harley’s mainstay category.

Named for its eight-valve heads, the Mil-8 107 (1,746 cc) comes stock across the board with 109 pound-feet of torque for faster acceleration than even the High-Output Twin Cam 103. The 114 cubic-inch (1,868 cc) big brother really brings out the big lumber with 119 pounds o’ grunt and the capacity to lay more smoke than a retreating Iraqi army but it is only available as an optional upgrade for the Heritage Classic, Fat Bob, Fat Boy, and Breakout. Purists might say that the engine is too quiet and vibration too subdued, but it’s in keeping with the tamer, higher social-value image the factory is trying to cultivate.

As always, the engine has that classic “V” configuration with the external pushrods that have defined H-D mills for ages. The difference with the Mil-8 is, since the factory abandoned the Twin-Cam bollocks, the cases and pushrod-tube geometry have returned to a more natural-looking shape that fans of the Evo and even late Shovelheads would recognize. A six-speed gearbox crunches the ratios across the board for a balance between solid holeshots and relaxed cruising rpm.

What Does It Mean To Your Wallet?

Harley-Davidson Announces 2018 Softail Lineup
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Considering the extensive revamp, the prices aren't all that much more than last year.

The Street Bob is the budget bike of this bunch at only $14,499 with the Low Rider in a close second at $14,999. Next up is the Slim at $15,899, Fat Bob at $16,999 and Deluxe at $17,999. At the top of the range, the Heritage Classic, Breakout and Fat Boy command an $18,999 MSRP.

Competitor

2017 - 2018 Triumph Bonneville Bobber
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2017 Indian Chief Classic 2017 Triumph Bonneville Bobber

As usual, the only real domestic competition comes from the Polaris-owned Indian Motorcycle. Indian’s unquestioned dominance on the flat track is getting the brand advertisement that you just can’t buy. While Indian doesn’t have a faux-rigid frame to offer, it does have the Chief line of cruisers that fall within the same price range with a similar, low-slung and relaxed riding position and undeniably classic design. We have the usual range of metric cruisers that try to imitate, but never quite duplicate, the look and feel of a domestic bike.

[Triumph-rub179] poses something of a threat with its adorable Bonneville Bobber and its hardtail-looking frame, but the mill only clocks out at 1,200 cc, so it’s not going to be quite the same riding experience or the same sort of buyer. In short, Harley seems to be trying to redefine its cruisers, and I’m really digging the direction they’re going.

He Said

“The Softail look has long been my favorite of the big-twin models, so this is kind of a dream come true. Softails would beat you to death on a long trip, and didn’t corner particularly well either, and it’s nice to see that H-D isn’t tone-deaf to the Softail feedback after all.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says. "This new lineup is very exciting. For me, it’s as exciting as when they went from the old Shovelhead to the Evolution in ’84 that really modernized the engine for the first time in eons. The changes in the lineup — keeping the classic look, but modernizing the handling and suspension, as well as the engine — really make them appealing for the younger buyers. The folks at Harley realized they need to keep up with the times, meaning make products that appeal the new generation of buyers, or die."

References

Indian Motorcycle Chief Classic

See our review of the Indian Motorcycle Chief Classic.

Triumph Bonneville Bobber

2017 - 2018 Triumph Bonneville Bobber
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See our review of the Triumph Bonneville Bobber.

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: harley-davidson.com, indianmotorcycles.com, triumphmotorcycles.com

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