The original “Softail” design was born – and shelved – in the mid-’70s. It wasn’t until 1986 that the factory combined its brand-new Evolution engine with the Softail frame for the original FLST. This base model borrows from the look of the ’49 through ’57 FL “Hydra-Glides” that came with a rigid frame and hydraulic front forks. The FLSTC “Heritage Softail Classic” that came out in 1988 did more than borrow suggestions from a certain era; it dove headlong into the custom world of yesteryear. Harley keeps the line alive with its new, 2017 FLSTC that comes with all the familiar touches from the past.

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

  • 2016 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic
  • Year:
    2016- 2017
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    V-Twin
  • Displacement:
    103 cubic inches
  • Price:
    17549
  • Price:

Design

2016 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic
- image 645414

Overall design features take us back to the pre-“Duo-Glide” days with the triangular, rigid-looking swingarm, hidden shocks and fat fork sliders with chrome tube shrouds. The lines flow from the full front fender, across the classically styled (and 3-D badged) fuel tank with chrome instrument panel, across the deeply scooped saddle down to the rear fender and studded, internally buttressed saddlebags. A windshield and pimp lights (er, passing lamps) complete the look, and the laced wheels with gangster white-wall tires round out the remaining details. The 45-degree, chrome-on-black engine sits like a gemstone in a setting, and removes any doubt that this is an American-made machine.

While technically a cruiser, the big bags, upright riding position and big windshield provide enough cargo capacity, comfort and protection for the “Heritage” to pull double-duty as a tour-bike “light.” With Harley’s Detachable windshield and pillion-pad with backrest, you can quickly strike or install sans tools to shift between the tour and cruiser configurations. The only downside is the rear suspension travel; Softail rear shocks run with approximately 4 inches of travel (less with lowered shock), and you may feel it in your behind after a long or rough road.

Chassis

2016 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic
- image 692053

Frame construction is typical for Harley; heavy tubular-steel members form a dual-cradle, twin-downtube frame that tapers off to nothing along the distinctive Softail swingarm. The large-diameter front forks are non-adjustable, and though you can adjust the rear shocks for preload, someone is going to have to get down on the ground to get to them – sort of the polar opposite of the remote-mount, push-button or even automatic adjustments available on so many machines.

Also typical for Softails is the low saddle height. At 27-inches unladen, and 25.5-inches laden, the seat is low enough for all but the shortest rider to be able to flatfoot. Regardless of stature, the deeply scooped seat places the rider in the bike, rather than perched on top. This lowers the center of gravity, making the “Heritage” easy to stand up and control at parking-lot speeds.

At 755 pounds curb weight, this is a lot of bike for just a single front brake, but at least Harley made it a big one; a 300 mm disc and four-pot caliper bind the front wheel, and ABS comes as a standard feature. No specs on the rear brake, but who cares – it only makes up 30% of overall stopping power anyway. (Even less if you use engine braking.)

Drivetrain

2016 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic
- image 648686

Much like the chassis, the engine has historical roots as well. The air-cooled, High-Output Twin-Cam 103B engine builds on the success of the Twin-Cam 88 and 96 (and on back, if you care to compare) to give the U.S. market more of what we want; more inches, more power, but keep it in the traditional 45-degree V-Twin configuration. Time will tell when we see the new Milwaukee-Eight in place of the HO Twin-Cam to bring a new generation to this classic ride.

Electronic fuel injection manages the induction, and helps the under-square engine produce 97.4 pound-feet of torque at 42 mpg (average). The torque comes on early too, maxing out at a low 3,000 rpm, so there is no need to wind the mill up trying to wring the power out of it. This engine boasts a strong 60 to 80 fifth-gear roll on, surpassed only by models with the Twin-Cam 110 mill, and, of course, the Milwaukee-Eight.

The six-speed, constant-mesh transmission comes geared to provide low cruising rpm with a top overall drive ratio of 2.79 to 1.

Price

2016 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic
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As usual, the bottom-line price of $17,349 is on the Vivid Black model only for 2016. Add $200 to that for 2017. If you want to avail yourself of Harley’s paint service, you can get the color option, two-tone option or custom color option for $17,949, $18,299 or $18,499, respectively — all $200 more than the 2016 MSRP. For that extra $200, the battery tender harness comes standard in 2017, saving you a trip to the accessories catalog. The security option goes for $395, and the California emissions package will pad the sticker by another two bills.

Competitor

2016 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic
- image 648681
2016 - 2018 Indian Chief Vintage
- image 762500

There are a few similar models out there (read: knockoffs) but the bottom line is this: Harley produced the first Softail as we know it, so any similarly designed bikes out there are mere copies trying to capitalize on Harley’s success. That said, I steered away from the Charlie-Davidsons and went with a model from H-D’s historical domestic foe; the “Chief Vintage” from Indian Motorcycles.

Far from a “Heritage” clone, the “Chief Vintage” reaches deep into its own history for the overall style – and wound up at nearly the same place in history as did H-D with the FLSTC! Low seat, skirted fenders and saddlebag design takes us back to the ’50s, and the windshield and pimp lights connect to the custom culture prevalent in same.

The 1,811 cc “Thunder Stroke” 111 from Indian is a bit bigger than the Twin-Cam 103 at 1,687.8 cc, and it cranks out a whopping 119.2 pound-feet of torque at three grand, enough more than the Twin-Cam that you can feel it in your heinie-dyno. Indian went a step further with engine design; it designed the rocker boxes to emulate the cooling fins on the old flathead engine, and kept the pushrod tubes separate and parallel with each other, another flattie feature. Usually I consider such efforts to be a waste of time, but Indian did a good job of capturing the look of the old engines without going too far with it. Even though H-D doesn’t take it this far, it doesn’t have to – the Twin-Cam falls within “the norm” for the factory, and so the engine has a nostalgia all its own.

Now for the price; I don’t get to say this very often, but the Harley is cheaper! At $21,999, the “Chief Vintage” is over four grand proud of the “Heritage,” and the power differential doesn’t quite cover the price discrepancy. Indian does make a good product, and seems to be improving under the Polaris umbrella, but four grand is a big chunk of change. I can’t help but wonder if Indian is shooting itself in the foot by overpricing Harley on this model; but then, consider the Thunder Stroke engine.....

He Said

“I won’t lie, I have always had a ’thing’ for the FLSTC. Classic looks, comfortable rider triangle and big bags were always the selling points for me, with the Softail frame as the pièce de résistance. I used to think of it as an ’old man’s bike,’ but as I age, I realize the really old guys are all on trikes. (It’s all relative, isn’t it?). Even though the look is dated, the high-output engine is certainly more at home blasting around town, not puttering around a planned community somewhere.”

She Said

My wife and fellow writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "The classic Softail two-seat is comfortable, no matter which cushion you’re sitting on. The pillion is bigger and the padded backrest makes it a comfortable ride for the passenger. I like the functionality of the leather-bound hardbags, but sometimes I do wish they’d sag just a little. Leather that stands proud by itself kinda looks fake, ya know?"

Specifications

Drivetrain:
Engine : Air-Cooled, High Output Twin Cam 103B™ 45-degree V-twin
Bore: 3.87 inches (98.4 mm)
Stroke: 4.374 inches (111.1 mm)
Displacement: 103.1 cubic inches (1,690 cc)
Compression Ratio: 9.6 to 1
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Transmission: Six forward Speed, Constant mesh, foot shift
Primary Drive: Chain, 34/46 ratio
Gear Ratios (overall) : 1st 9.311, 2nd 6.454, 3rd 4.793, 4th 3.882, 5th 3.307, 6th 2.79
Exhaust: Chrome, staggered shorty exhaust with dual mufflers
Chassis:
Rake: 31 degrees
Trail: 5.8 inches
Wheels, Front Type: Steel Laced
Wheels, Rear Type: Steel Laced
Tires, Front Specification: Dunlop® D402F MT90B16 72H
Tires, Rear Specification: Dunlop® D401 150/80B16 71H
Brakes, Front: 300 mm disc, Four-piston fixed caliper, 32 and 34 mm pistons
Brakes, Rear: Two-piston
Wheels, Optional Style Type: Chrome Aluminum Profile Laced
Performance:
Engine Torque Testing Method: J1349
Engine Torque: 97.4 Pound-Feet at 3,000 rpm
Lean Angle, Right: 24.4 degrees
Lean Angle, Left: 25.9 degrees
Electric:
Lights (as per country regulation), Indicator Lamps: High beam, front fender running lights, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, security system (optional), Six-speed, low fuel warnings, ABS, cruise control
Gauges: Tank-mounted electronic speedometer with odometer, time-of-day clock on odometer, dual tripmeter, RPM/gear display, fuel gauge with low fuel warning light and countdown feature, low oil pressure indicator light, engine diagnostics readout, LED indicator lights, Six-speed indicator light
Dimensions and Capacities:
Length: 94.7 inches
Width: 38.2 inches
Height: 54.9 inches
Seat Height, Laden: 25.5 inches
Seat Height, Unladen: 27 inches
Ground Clearance: 4.7 inches
Wheelbase: 64.4 inches
Details:
Fuel Capacity: 5 gallons
Fuel Reserve: 1 gallon
Recommended Fuel: Premium Unleaded
Fuel Economy: Combined City/Hwy: 42 mpg
Oil Capacity (w/filter) : 3.5 Quarts
Weight, As Shipped: 726 Pounds
Weight, In Running Order: 755 Pounds
Maximum Payload: 454 Pounds
GVWR: 1,160 Pounds
GAWR: Front: 430 Pounds, Rear: 730 Pounds
Colors:
2016: Vivid Black, Superior Blue, Olive Gold, Billet Silver, Amber Whiskey/Vivid Black, Crushed Ice Pearl/Frosted Teal Pearl, Pruplr Fire/Blackberry Smoke, Cosmic Blue Pearl
2017: Vivid Black, Superior Blue, Black Quartz, Mysterious Red Sunglo/Velocity Red Sunglo, Crushed Ice Pearl/Frosted Teal Pearl, Black Hills Gold/Black Quartz, Bonneville Blue/Fathom Blu
Price:
2016: Vivid Black $17,349, Color Option $17,749, Two-Tone Option $18,099, Custom Color Option $18,299
2017: Vivid Black $17,549, Color Option $17,949, Two-Tone Option $18,299, Custom Color Option $18,499

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

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