New Engine, New Chassis; Ride It Again For The First Time

With the Softail Deluxe, Harley-Davidson brings a strong dose of nostalgia and antique design to a market that is rapidly shifting to cater to the youngest buyer demographic, who much to their credit, seem to have more of an appreciation for the craftsmanship of bygone eras than did the Gen Xers. With it comes H-D’s newest Big-Twin powerplant — the 107-inch Milwaukee-Eight — and its 109 pound-feet of stump-pulling torque that turns in a stronger top-gear roll-on than any previous engine family with the same 45-degree V-Twin while keeping the charm and engine lope that even the oldest fans of the brand would recognize. ABS, security and oodles of laid-back, classic vibes are included in the standard equipment package, so this is truly a melding of two technologically-distinct eras.

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

  • 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe
  • Year:
    2018
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    Milwaukee-Eight 107
  • Displacement:
    107 cubic inches
  • Price:
    17999
  • Price:

Design

2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe
- image 737382
Though you can certainly throw a two-up seat on there, the stock solo seat gives it a nice, almost-historical look.

Harley hit the bricks running with all sorts of changes to the Softail lineup for 2018. Not only did the range receive a bottom-to-top remodel, but it absorbed key players from the newly-discontinued Dyna line to become The Motor Company’s sole cruiser family nestled in the midrange between the baggers, Sporties and Streets. Among the classic, long-running designs to make the jump is the Softail Deluxe.

The current Softail Deluxe can trace its lineage back to 1949 when Harley-Davidson first mounted hydraulic front forks to replace the springer front ends on their rigid FL frames to beget the Hydra-Glide. Due to the nature of the faux-rigid Softail frames, the original geometry shines through in the upper lines that drop uninterrupted from steering stem to rear axle to culminate at the triangular swingarm that mimics the looks of the old hardtails, but mercifully, not the ride.

Out front, the fender carries shades of the old FL with a chrome brow and piping and a minimal touch of chrome at the trailing edge that suggests at the old-school fender skirts, but the fender itself is cut high on the sides to leave plenty of visibility for the laced rim and gangster whitewall tire. A chrome cover masks the hub on the non-brake side, and that cleans up the pretty side (right side) of the bike quite nicely. Yeah I know, chrome may not get you home, but it might get you laid.

Standard forks sport classic chrome beer-can skirts and tripletree covers that not only add visual weight to the front end, but hide more of the ugly/mundane much like the hub cover. The factory passes on the full nacelle action for a simple and clean cyclops headlight can that sports super-bright LED bulbs to match those in the whisker-mount pimp lights and turn signals which are actually part of the whisker bar. Can’t say I’m wild about the blinkers, but it is cleaner than the old hangy-downy turn-signal housings. Harley doubles down on that with a rear whisker-signal that also tidies up the rear fender so as not to detract from that timeless tombstone taillight that makes yet another historical connection.

Low and wide pullback bars mount to risers that also sport a bit of pullback as well to give the rider plenty of room to assume an upright (more like slouched, let’s be honest) riding position, and forward footboards/controls pull the legs forward into the windsock position typical of American-style cruisers.

At 26.8-inches tall (unladen), the saddle falls within the manageable zone for all but the very shortest of riders, and though you can certainly throw a two-up seat on there, the stock solo seat gives it a nice, almost-historical look. The original seat was hinged in the front and sprung in the back, an arrangement that acted as the rear suspension for the rider’s butt if nothing else.

Chassis

2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe
- image 737368
With a lighter and stiffer frame, you have a structure that delivers flickable handling with the stiffness to hold the line once you dive into a curve.

Harley has produced Softails since 1984, but this year sees the biggest frame changes ever implemented in this range. Ever. The factory improved the handling of the not-particularly-performance-oriented Softail line by both lightening and stiffening the frame. As ever, the frame comes made up of welded sections of steel tubing, but the clever devils in the drawing room were able to pare off 50-percent of the total frame components and 22-percent of the welds to lighten the wide FL models by 13 pounds and the narrow FX models by 18 pounds. Couple that with a frame that is calculated to be 65-percent stiffer than the previous gen and you have a structure that delivers flickable handling (relatively speaking) with the stiffness to hold the line once you dive into a curve.

Gone is the long-entrenched, pure-vanilla front suspension in favor of a set of Showa’s Dual Bending Valve forks that deliver a sort of self-adjusting damping feature that changes the damping values depending on fork speed. While this stops short of the manual (and automatic) adjustable forks, it does provide a superior ride to the previous gen, and hopefully is a signal that Harley is close to adopting some dial-in stems.

Out back, a coil-over monoshock buoys the special swingarm from its place hidden just beneath the seat, and it comes with the obligatory spring-preload adjustment that boasts a 240-pound range to allow you to adjust for passengers and cargo. Steering geometry leaves the Deluxe with front forks that are kicked out to 30-degrees of rake with a deep, 5.7-inch trail that helps the bike track in sidewinds and makes for a stable platform at speed.

A single four-pot caliper up front and twin-pot in back haul the thing down, but at 697-pounds wet, I think this sled should definitely have dual front anchors. Oh well, at least the ABS will allow you to use what you have to its utmost.

Lean Angle, Right (deg.): 28
Lean Angle, Left (deg.): 28
Wheels, Front Type: Chrome Steel Laced
Wheels, Rear Type: Chrome Steel Laced
Brakes, Caliper Type: 4-piston fixed front and 2-piston floating rear
Tires, Front Specification: MT90B16 72H
Tires, Rear Specification: MU85B16 77H

Drivetrain

2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe
- image 737380
The Milwaukee-Eight 107 boasts a stronger roll-on than previous engines. It doesn't matter if you're in fifth or sixth gear when you grab a fistful and twist, this engine has something to give.

So far, the Softail Deluxe has a lot of new goodies on board, but it’s the new-to-the-cruisers Milwaukee-Eight powerplant that steals the show. This newest addition to the Harley Big-Twin lineup makes its sophomore appearance this year having been successfully tested in the touring models last year. H-D stuck to the proven 45-degree Vee, and thankfully did away with the Twin-Cam foolishness in favor of a single-cam valvetrain that displays the proper pushrod geometry and returned the nosecone to something resembling its classic shape.

The Mil-8 runs an undersquare layout with a 3.937-inch bore and 4.374-inch stroke for a total displacement of 107 inches (1,746 cc) and a 10-to-1 compression ratio. Though the engine has the same loping offset to the firing order that we are accustomed to due to the conrods riding on a common throw, the engineers added a counterbalancer that tames much of the vibration associated with the brand for longer and more comfortable cruising.

The Mil-8 boasts a stronger roll-on than previous engines. It doesn’t matter if you’re in fifth or sixth gear when you grab a fistful and twist, this engine has something to give. In sixth gear, the Deluxe cruises effortlessly with reasonable rpms at interstate speeds, so while it lacks any sort of touring apparati I wouldn’t think twice about putting a few hundred miles behind me at a stretch on one of these.

Harley really put some mustard on the new mill. The 109 pounds of grunt pushes all of its cruisers, to include the Deluxe, into power-cruiser territory, and it comes on early at only 3,000 rpm so there’s no need to wind it to get to the good stuff. Still no sight of any sort of fandanglery like traction control or rider modes, I guess Harley just ain’t there yet, but I reckon they ought to start and sooner would be better than later. Wink-nudge, fellas.

Engine: Milwaukee-Eight® 107
Bore x Stroke: 3.937 in. x 4.374 in.
Displacement: 107 cu in
Compression Ratio: 10.0:1
Engine Torque: 109 ft-lb @ 30000 rpm
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Exhaust: 2-into-2 shorty dual; catalyst in muffler

Price

2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe
- image 737376
MSRP on basic black runs just under $18k and the sexy two-tones at the top of the pricing ladder will set you back $18.7k.

Like nearly every model Harley makes, the Deluxe comes with tiered pricing that varies depending on which paint package you choose. Vivid Black assumes its usual spot at the bottom rung with a $17,999 sticker. Next up is Twisted Cherry or Electric Blue (my fave) for $18,399, and at the top of the price ladder we find the two-tone models in Silver Fortune/Sumatra Brown or Wicked Red/Twisted Cherry for $18,749.

Colors: Vivid Black, Twisted Cherry, Electric Blue, Silver Fortune/Sumatra Brown, Wicked Red/Twisted Cherry
Price: Vivid Black $17,999, Color $18,399, Two-Tone $18,749

Competitor

2016 - 2018 Suzuki Boulevard C90 B.O.S.S.
- image 763408
2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe
- image 737383
It comes down to whether you want the look of the faux-hardtail frame and how much you're willing to pay for it.

It’s tough to find a straight-up competitor for this ride; Indian doesn’t have anything with a faux-hardtail frame, and everything else seems to be a variation on the theme. Suzuki seems to have hit fairly close to the mark with its Boulevard C90 B.O.S.S. The “Blacked-Out Special Suzuki” sports a fake-rigid rear end with a look that was clearly inspired by an earlier FLST and an additional little taste of Americana in the custom blackout touches.

Due to the dark nature of the BOSS, I reckon it’s natural that the whitewalls went to the inside, and the factory used cast blackout rims to mount the fat 17-inch front hoop and 16-inch rear. Suspension is very similar across the board, at least in shape. The BOSS sports the same fat forks, skirts and tripleclamp cover, but in an achromatic finish rather than chromed like the Deluxe. Both carry a tank-mount instrument console with a deep-scoop seat over upper frame members that help sell the illusion of the hardtail by mimicking the lines of the old rides. Rear suspension comes with naught but a preload adjustment across the board, but Suzuki’s stems fall a bit short of the ride provided by the DBV forks on the Softail.

Likewise, the BOSS falls short in the cubeage as well with only 1,462 cc tucked away in its water-cooled, 54-degree V-twin mill against Harley’s 1,746 cc monster. Both mills are similarly simple in that neither run any sort of fancy engine modes and such like, but Suzuki takes a beating with only 84.8 pound-feet of torque against 109 pounds from the Deluxe. The tables turn at checkout with a $12,399 sticker on the Boulevard that leaves Harley in another income bracket entirely. I guess it comes down to whether you want the look and how much you’re willing to pay for it.

He Said

“I love what they’ve done with the Softail line. The frame rework fixes the lacklustre handling previously associated with the family, and the Mil-8 engine just sweetens the deal even more. I would like to see some better suspension and maybe a rider mode function at some point, but for now, the Deluxe seems to be a winner, though I expect the edgier “Bobs” in the lineup might perform a bit better in the market. As for me, I love that classic look.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "I don’t know what to add. The new Mil-8 engines are awesome and the changes to the chassis fix the problems that plagued the old line: handling is better, performance is better, and much less vibration than was typical in the past. Honestly, if you rode a Softail before and didn’t like it, try it again. It’s a different bike."

Specifications

Engine:
Engine: Milwaukee-Eight® 107
Bore: 3.937 in.
Stroke: 4.374 in.
Displacement: 107 cu in
Compression Ratio: 10.0:1
Engine Torque Testing Method: J1349
Engine Torque: 109 ft-lb @ 30000 rpm
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Exhaust: 2-into-2 shorty dual; catalyst in muffler
Drivetrain:
Primary Drive: Chain, 34/46 ratio
Gear Ratios (overall) 1st: 9.311
Gear Ratios (overall) 2nd: 6.454
Gear Ratios (overall) 3rd: 4.793
Gear Ratios (overall) 4th: 3.882
Gear Ratios (overall) 5th: 3.307
Gear Ratios (overall) 6th: 2.79
Chassis:
Lean Angle, Right (deg.): 28
Lean Angle, Left (deg.): 28
Wheels, Front Type: Chrome Steel Laced
Wheels, Rear Type: Chrome Steel Laced
Brakes, Caliper Type: 4-piston fixed front and 2-piston floating rear
Tires, Front Specification: MT90B16 72H
Tires, Rear Specification: MU85B16 77H
Dimensions & Capacities:
Length: 95.1 in.
Seat Height, Laden: 25.9 in.
Seat Height, Unladen: 26.8 in.
Ground Clearance: 4.5 in.
Rake (steering head) (deg): 30
Trail: 5.7 in.
Wheelbase: 64.2 in.
Fuel Capacity: 5 gal.
Oil Capacity (w/filter): 5 qt.
Weight, As Shipped: 668 lb.
Weight, In Running Order: 697 lb.
Electric:
Lights (as per country regulation), Indicator Lamps: High beam, turn signals, neutral, low oil pressure, engine diagnostics, auxiliary lighting, ABS, security, low battery voltage, low fuel
Gauges: Five-inch with digital speedometer, gear, odometer, fuel level and analog tachometer indication
Details:
Fuel Economy: Estimated City/Hwy: 47 mpg
Colors: Vivid Black, Twisted Cherry, Electric Blue, Silver Fortune/Sumatra Brown, Wicked Red/Twisted Cherry
Price: Vivid Black $17,999, Color $18,399, Two-Tone $18,749

References

See our review of the Suzuki Boulevard C90 B.O.S.S..

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

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