When you’ve been making motorcycles for over a century, you accumulate plenty of grist for your creative mill, and Harley-Davidson has made a business model out of revisiting past designs. Harley fans typically have an appreciation for historical references and tribute bikes, a fact H-D takes to the bank over and over again. They’re now trying to score with that concept once again with the FLSTN Softail Deluxe. This ride comes absolutely dripping with nostalgic touches that come backed up by modern technology — just not too modern if you know what I mean — and it plugs a small hole in Harley’s lineup. With that in mind, I want to take a look at this ride and try to pick out all the little touches that reach back in time and make the Deluxe such a special ride.

Continue reading for my review of the Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe.

  • 2015 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe
  • Year:
    2015- 2017
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    Air-Cooled, High Output Twin Cam 103B
  • Displacement:
    1690 cc
  • Top Speed:
    112 mph (Est.)
  • Price:
  • Price:


2015 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe
- image 692138

The first thought that crossed my mind as I beheld the FLSTN the first time was that Harley had made a fairly faithful reproduction of the old Hydra Glide that ran from ’48 through ’57 before being replaced by the Duo Glide in 1958. The faux-rigid frame of the Softail range makes the perfect platform since the old FL in question ran hydraulic front forks on a hard-tail frame.

Laced rims and whitewall tires work with the fullish fenders that come complete with badging and chrome trim to lend the bike a gangster vibe, and the whisker bar-mounted pimp lights serve as a nod to the custom culture of that era. A chrome instrument console covers the gap between the split tanks, and a moderately scooped saddle carries the top lines back to a minimal P-pad with a postage stamp-sized luggage rack.

The rider’s seat also sports a vestigial seat rail that hints at the look of the old spring-post seats, just more details that carry us back to the target era and serve as a conversation piece for people familiar with the old bikes.

One might be tempted to call the Deluxe a stripped-down Heritage Softail Classic, but in fact the FLSTN is truer to the production FL models from back in the day, while the Heritage is more of a custom reproduction with some of the common features from that era. No matter how you decide to label it, the Deluxe has an undeniable appeal that seems to beg for a relaxed beach cruise or weekend putt around some lazy country roads.


2015 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe
- image 685994

Mild steel tubing makes up the double-downtube, double-cradle frame that supports the engine with minimal visual impact and fits within the classic design elements elsewhere on the bike. The steering geometry reflects a definite tendency to want to go in a straight line with little effort, but the 32.1-degree rake angle and 5.8 inches of trail will make it a little reluctant in the corners and the fat, 16-inch tires do little to improve that handling trait.

Unladen seat height is definitely on the low side at 26.4-inches high, and a 180-pound rider will push that right down to 24.5-inches off the ground. Softails have always been some of the lowest bikes around, and this one is certainly no exception, although it doesn’t have much in the way of a waist so the rider’s legs don’t exactly have a straight shot to the ground by the time your feet are clear of the footboards.

Ground clearance is predictably low at 2.3-inches and you can only get around 26-degrees of lean on it, so fiery-eyed pegdraggers need not apply. Well, unless you want a ride that’s easy to scrape. wink nudge

Harley pulls off the rigid look by tucking a pair of preload-adjustable, coil-over shocks up under the transmission, well hidden from casual view. A set of beefy, 41.3 mm front forks come with the classic, “beer can” covers, but nothing in the way of adjustability for the front suspension responses.

Front and rear suspension components provide 5.1 and 3.4 inches of travel respectively; not exactly the kind of bike you want to ride across a continent, but certainly comfortable enough for reasonable trips on civilized roads. Massive, 300 mm front brake discs all but completely hide the sexy, laced wheel, but I guess that’s okay ’cause safety first, right? A pair of four-pot, opposed-piston calipers bind those big front discs, and a twin-pot caliper pinches the 292 mm rear disc all under the watchful eye of the ABS that comes as part of the standard equipment package.


2015 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe
- image 686017

The 2015 model year saw the Deluxe released with the 103.1 cubic-inch, Air-Cooled Twin Cam 103B while the ’16 models got upgraded to the High-Output (HO) version of the same engine. As with all of Harley’s air-cooled Big Twins, the Twin Cam comes in the traditional, 45-degree angle with both connecting rods on a common throw for that off-balance firing order and lope we love so much. Both engines run on an electronic-controlled, fuel-injection system that helps to produce the claimed 42 mpg, but Harley declines to get into any further engine wizardry.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the factory trying to keep things simple, but I kind of feel like H-D is falling too far behind the other big names who are offering ride-by-wire, traction control and variable power-delivery/rider modes on similarly priced bikes. To be fair, the HO does come with a few bits and bobs from Screamin’ Eagle that squeezes a little more power out of it, but that’s nothing compared to some of the goodies showing up on the top-shelf bikes around the world with some features trickling down to the mid-grade, as it were, and the MoCo is running out of excuses.

Power numbers are every bit as ballsy as you would expect. The 3.87-inch bore and 4.374-inch stroke describes a decidedly undersquare mill with the characteristic high torque numbers that come on early. At three grand even, the 103B in the ’15 Deluxe cranks out a total of 97.4 pound-feet of torque, which isn’t bad and just a skosh short of power-cruiser status. The HO, on the other hand, breaks the threshhold with 100.3 pound-feet at the same rpm and qualifies as a bonafide power-cruiser with a definite old-school bent.

Both run a six-speed transmission and belt drive with a vanilla clutch; another place where H-D could step up and give the entire range the slipper clutch featured in the CVO line. Just sayin’, Harley.


2015 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe
- image 686009

Harley offers a variety of ways for you to blow up the pricetag, and it starts right off the bat with a selection of (gorgeous) paint packages. As usual the ’15 basic Vivid Black is the cheapest with an $18,099 sticker, and it goes up from there. The first color upgrade option costs $18,499, while the two-tone option will set you back $18,849, the custom color option goes for $19,049 and the hard candy commands the top dollar at $19,299. Prices on color packages went up by $450 across the board for the 2016 model year, but stayed steady for 2017 and you get the battery tender harness as standard equipment to boot. No matter which year you get, you can count on $395 for the security system and $460 for the wheel option.


2015 - 2018 Indian Chief Classic
- image 686018
2015 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe
- image 685993

When it comes to modern bikes that exude an authentic historic vibe from America’s motorcycling past, it’s impossible to beat America’s oldest homegrown brands Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycles. This makes perfect sense because those two largely shaped the domestic market as the motorcycle business on a whole boomed after the end of WWII, and so I didn’t even bother looking anywhere else and went straight for the jugular with Indian’s Chief Classic.

You can clearly see the common threads in the widely spaced, large-diameter forks even with the very Indian-esque front fender and headlamp nacelle. It’s a cleaner look than that of the Harley, but it lacks the extra illumination from the pimp lights and visibility is safety.

A monochrome instrument panel matches the tank and fenders, and the upper lines flow down to a solo seat for a similar profile to the Deluxe. At this point, both manufacturers seek to trick the eye, if not the mind. Everyone knows Harley’s little trick of using an articulated swingarm that looks like an old rigid frame. Nobody is fooled into thinking it’s really a hardtail, but the illusion adds to the looks.

Indian seems to try to trick the eye with frame geometry that hints at the look of the rigid and hides the swingarm behind that oh-so-Indian rear fender that carries forward to become a body panel. Both have that old-frame look, but they are both just clever, clever liars.

Indian gets it right with the engine. Not only is the Thunder Stroke 111 easy to look at with its flathead-looking facade, it’s a real powerhouse. At three grand the Indian produces 119.2 pound-feet of torque, more than a handful of pounds over the Twin Cam 103B HO at the same rpm (and probably a more fair comparison would be with Harley’s Twin-Cooled Twin Cam 110). Both are air cooled mills nothing in the way of gadgetry, so as pretty and powerful as they both are, the control systems might be a little on the antiquated end of the spectrum.

Pricing is neck-and-neck with a range on the Harley Softail Deluxe that starts at $18,549 and goes up considerably from there while the Indian Chief rolls for $18,499. Hardly worth mentioning, and not a dealmaker if you were hoping for a tiebreaker at the register.

He Said

“OK, yeah, pencil me in as a fan. I’ve always liked the ’48 through ’57 era, something about the blend of technology as rigid rear ends and hydraulic front ends co-existed side by side for almost a decade. I think the look is boss, like a Heritage Classic without all the “old man” stuff hanging off it. Erm, on second thought, perhaps a set of detachable saddlebags would be in order, at least for grocery runs. The paint is particularly nice on this range, and trust me, pictures do not do them justice; some things must be viewed in person, in broad daylight.”

She Said

My wife and fellow writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “Even Harley-haters should admit that Harley-Davidson is the King of Paint, that’s true. The Softail Deluxe is very comfortable to ride. With the low-low seat height, I don’t have any trouble flat-footing it and even have enough inseam left for a slight break at the knee. It’s a very vintage look that puts me in mind of the old bad-boy bikers such as James Dean and Marlon Brando.”


Engine: Air-Cooled, High Output Twin Cam 103BTM
Valves: Pushrod-operated, overhead valves with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters; two valves per cylinder
Bore x Stroke: 3.87 in. x 4.374 in. (98.4 mm x 111.1 mm)
Displacement: 103.1 cu. in. (1690 cc)
Compression Ratio: 9.6:1
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Air Cleaner: Paper, washable
Lubrication System: Pressurized, dry-sump
Primary Drive: Chain, 34/46 ratio
Final Drive: Belt, 32/66 ratio
Clutch: Multi-plate, wet
Transmission: 6-Speed Cruise Drive®
Gear Ratios (overall) U.S.:
1st: 9.311
2nd: 6.454
3rd: 4.793
4th: 3.882
5th: 3.307
6th: 2.79
Frame: Mild steel tubular frame; rectangular section backbone; stamped, cast, and forged junctions; forged fender supports; MIG welded
Swingarm: Mild steel, round tube sections, forged junctions; MIG welded
Front Forks: 41.3 mm telescopic, “beer can” covers
Rear Shocks: Hidden, horizontal-mounted, coil-over
Wheels (Chrome Aluminum Profile Laced option): Steel Laced
Front: 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)
Rear: 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)
Caliper Type: 4-piston front and 2-piston rear
Rotor Type (diameter x width): Solid, uniform expansion rotors
Front: 11.8 in. x .2 in. (300 mm x 5 mm)
Rear: 11.5 in. x .23 in. (292 mm x 5.8 mm)
Anti-lock Braking System: Standard
Suspension Travel:
Front Wheel: 5.1 in. (130 mm)
Rear Wheel: 3.4 in. (86 mm)
Engine Torque (per J1349) North America: 100.3 ft. lbs. @ 3000 RPM (136 Nm @ 3000 RPM)
Lean Angle (per J1168):
Right: 25.8°
Left: 26.7°
Fuel Economy (EPA urban/highway test): 42 mpg (5.6 L/100 km)
Length: 94.9 in. (2410 mm)
Overall Width: 37.2 in. (945 mm)
Overall Height: 43.3 in. (1110 mm)
Seat Height:
Laden: 24.5 in. (622 mm)
Unladen: 26.4 in. (670 mm)
Ground Clearance: 4.3 in. (110 mm)
Rake (steering head): 32.1°
Fork Angle: 32°
Trail: 5.8 in. (147 mm)
Wheelbase: 64.4 in. (1635 mm)
Tires (Dunlop®Harley-Davidson®Series, wide whitewall):
Front – D402F: MT90B16 72H
Rear – D402: MU85B16 77H
Fuel Capacity: 5 gal. (18.9 L) (warning light at approximately 1.0 gal.)
Oil Capacity (w/filter): 3.5 qts. (3.3 L)
Transmission Capacity: 1 qt. (.95 L)
Primary Chain Case Capacity: 1 qt. (.95 L)
As Shipped: 701 lbs. (318 kg)
In Running Order: 730 lbs. (331 kg)
Gross Vehicle Weight Rating: 1160 lbs. (526 kg)
Gross Axle Weight Rating:
Front: 430 lbs. (195 kg)
Rear: 730 lbs. (331 kg)
Battery (per Battery Council International Rating): Sealed, maintenance-free, 12V, 19-amp/hour, 315 cca
Charging: Three-phase, 38-amp system (439W @ 13V, 2000 RPM, 489W max power @ 13V)
Starting: 1.2 kW electric with solenoid shift starter motor engagement
Lights (as per country regulation):
Headlamp (Quartz Halogen): 55-watt low beam, 60-watt high beam
Tail/Stop Lights: Incandescent
Turn Signal Lights: Incandescent self-cancelling
Indicator Lamps: High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, security system (optional), 6-speed, low fuel warning, low battery, ABS, cruise control
Warranty: 24 months (unlimited mileage)
2015: Vivid Black, Morocco Gold Pearl, Brilliant Silver Pearl/Vivid Black, Mysterious Red Sunglo/Blackened Cayenne Sunglo, White Hot Pearl/Blue Hot Pearl, Black Magic, Hard Candy
Cancun Blue Flake
2016: Vivid Black with Med. Silver pinstripe, Superior Blue with Blue and Med. Silver pinstripe, Mysterious Red Sunglo/Velocity Red Sunglo with Med. Red and Pale Gold pinstripe, Crushed Ice Pearl/Frosted Teal Pearl with Gray and Teal pinstripe, Purple Fire/Blackberry Smoke with Proper Purple and Charcoal Metallic pinstripe, Cosmic Blue Pearl, Hard Candy Gold Flake
2017: Vivid Black, Superior Blue, Velocity Red Sunglo, Crushed Ice Pearl/Frosted Teal Pearl, Bonneville Blue/Fathom Blue, Hard Candy Mystic Purple Flake
2015: Vivid Black: $18,099, Solids: $18,499, Two-Tones: $18,849, Custom Colors: $19,049, Hard Candy Custom: $19,299
2016, 2017: Vivid Black: $18,549, Color: $18,949, Two-Tone: $19,299, Custom: $19,499, Hard Candy Custom: $19,749
TJ Hinton
TJ Hinton
T.J got an early start from his father and other family members who owned and rode motorcycles, and by helping with various mechanical repairs throughout childhood. That planted a seed that grew into a well-rounded appreciation of all things mechanical, and eventually, into a formal education of same. Though primarily a Harley rider, he has an appreciation for all sorts of bikes and doesn't discriminate against any particular brand or region of origin. He currently holds an Associate's degree in applied mechanical science from his time at the M.M.I.  Read full bio
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