THIS ISN'T my usual ride report – far from it in fact. This is a David and Goliath epic, the story of how a 300kg Harley-Davidson took on a 1.5-ton Mercedes-Benz and won.
A bit of back story might help. We were returning to the hotel in convoy at the end of a long day’s riding around Thessaloniki on the Harley-Davidson FXDR launch, when we came across an unfinished toll booth. Unfamiliar with the road layout and ever-cautious of the crazy Greek drivers we slowed down to around 60kph (some say this deceleration may have saved me from worse injury, but I reckon the car would have missed me had I been going faster).
I could see a lorry passing through the slow lane of the toll, but nothing else – the high concrete barriers between us hid my assailant from my view and likely me from hers. That isn’t an excuse mind.
The first I saw of the black B-class was a fast-approaching blur in my periphery. Registering the car, I slammed on the brakes, held down the horn and swerved as far left as I could without hitting the concrete blocks which divided the road and the dead space in between.
But this was a woman on a mission, and no motorcycle was going to stop her (at least that’s what she thought). She slammed into my right hand side, crushing my leg against the bike and sending me into an uncontrollable tank-slapper.
Clinging on for dear life I wobbled up the road, pulling into the work zone, incredulous that I was still on the bike. Popping the Harley on the side stand I hopped off and examined the damage. The air filter had taken on an edgy new shape (coming to a custom shop near you soon), the exhaust was dented and scratched, and the rear brake pedal was now up behind the foot peg. That would explain the pain in my right foot.
Aware that adrenaline can mask injuries, I gave myself a quick once over. Head, shoulders, knees and toes, everything was still attached and pointing the right way. I could feel my foot swelling, but frankly I’ve had worse injuries from stubbing my toe.
Now this is where things started getting interesting. Unbeknownst to me, the crazy Serbian driver had completed her U-turn and done a runner down the opposite side of the motorway, pursued by one of Harley-Davidson’s tail riders, Costas. She hadn’t got far, however, because the impact had all but destroyed the front of her vehicle, tearing off her bumper, puncturing her tyre and piercing her radiator. And even if she had managed to escape both karma and Costas, she had left behind one vital piece of evidence – her number plate.
Costas marched her back to the scene where she launched into a tirade of what I can only assume was Serbian swear words. A group of workmen who had witnessed the accident joined Harley-Davidson’s tail riders in berating the woman in a mixture of Greek, Spanish and heavily-accented English. The arrival of the highway services, police and finally an ambulance only hastened the situation’s descent into chaos, and before I knew it I was being carted off to a Greek hospital, while the belligerent driver was cuffed and manhandled into the back of the police car. That evening, I saw the inside of Greece’s NHS (not advised), while she enjoyed a night behind bars.
As predicted, I was unhurt (although the X-rays did reveal two recalcified fractures that I was previously unaware of) and mighty peeved at missing the end of the ride, especially as I was really starting to gel with the power cruiser on the fast open road.
Based on Harley-Davidson’s successful Softail platform, which was launched a year ago, the FXDR is easily the most aggressive of its peers.
At 2416mm in length (that’s almost two and a half metres), 929mm wide, with a 34 degree rake and a seat height of just 704mm, it’s long and low. It cut an impressive silhouette through downtown Thessaloniki and stood in stark juxtaposition against the soft summer countryside.
Combined with a curb weight of 303kg, the FXDR is very balanced and stable – without a doubt the only reason I emerged upright and uninjured from the collision. This stability was evident at both high and low speeds, although if you went round a corner too slowly in anything but first gear it did feel like the bike could capsize like a huge unwieldy barge.
The coil-over monoshock (with internal free piston) has been shifted 13mm up the frame on the FXDR, providing a lean angle of 32.6/32.8 degrees and making it the most agile of all the Softails – however the pegs still scrape given half the chance.
And given the front wheel’s distance from the bike’s centre of gravity, I expected the steering to feel light and flighty. However, from pulling away at the beginning of the test ride the 19-inch wheel felt planted and responsive, with a decent push on the bar required to lean the bike into bends. The 240mm wide rear wheel – just inches from your bum – contributes to the aforementioned straight-line stability, but proves difficult to coerce into bends – it doesn’t half like to run wide.
Unfortunately, my ability to countersteer was hampered by the rider ergonomics. At 5ft7, I’ve never been obviously too short for a motorcycle, and certainly not a Harley-Davidson at that. However, on the FXDR I found myself perched uncomfortably on the front of the seat in order to be able to reach the bars. And that whacking great air filter – designed for ‘tuned flow length, optimized filter geometry and synthetic filter media’ – was positioned in such a way that it prevented me from gripping the tank with my knees, resulting in me clinging to the bars and hampering my ability to steer. It was uncomfortable to say the least, and irritated a previous lower back injury. Harley’s tail riders assured me that the manufacturer is making a ‘booster’ seats for shorter riders but unfortunately they weren’t available to test on launch.
Powered by the same highly tuned Milwaukee Eight V-Twin as the rest of Harley’s Softail and Tourer range, and benefiting from a massive weight reduction, you could argue that the FXDR is designed to keep you on the edge of the seat. This weight saving is achieved via a new aluminium swingarm, 43 per cent lighter than that on its peers, a welded aluminium tube subframe and composite tail section, lightweight fenders, cast aluminium wheels and clip on aluminium bars. As a result, the FXDR weighs a whole 2kg less than the otherwise lightest model in the range, the Fat Bob. It’s also the most expensive of the range, at £19,855. These materials feel quality, and there are no flaws in the design or bodywork – aside from that questionable brown/bronze colour scheme – with the whole package feeling well-built and quality.
The weight saving is vaguely evident in the acceleration, with the bike appearing to pick up speed a tiny bit faster than the models I rode last year – H-D call this stop light to stop light acceleration. The 118lb-ft of torque, which is in abundance lower down, packs a firmer punch and those clip on bars, deep seat and feet-forward pegs really ensure you feel it.
In the 114 (that’s cubic inches, if you were wondering) guise, that fuel-injected, 8-valve, 45° throbbing V-twin boasts a huge 1,868cc capacity and makes 89.8bhp. Peak torque of 118 lb-ft is reached at 3,500 revs, while the engine tops out just shy of 6,000. For the 2018 Softail range it received dual internal counter-balancing, which work with the rigid engine mounts to reduce vibrations. It’s still pretty shaky, mind, but in the FXDR that’s all part of the experience.
Dual 300mm discs up front (with ABS) provide enough stopping power to reign the beast in, although due to a lack of weight over the wheel, the tyre occasionally struggles to find grip, triggering the ABS.
And as for suspension? Well, while the 43mm inverted forks did the job they were made for, that repositioned coil-over monoshock wasn’t enough to dull the jolts from Greece’s battle scarred road. Although, given that my back was already aching from the riding position, I could be being unfairly harsh about it…
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