Harley-Davidson Softail Standard UK road test and review

H-D Softail Standard Visordown Review

If you want that iconic Harley-Davidson look, the Softail Standard is the bike for you. Here’s what we learned after a two-week road test

WAY back in the late 80s early 90s, a kid in Coventry scribbled out the shape of a motorcycle on a spare page of his schoolbook.  The shape of the bike was fairly crude, long, raked out forks, tall handlebars, and a peanut fuel tank below which a large, air-cooled V-twin sat. Rounding out the rear end was a chunky rear tyre wrapped around a spoked wheel and a clean, neat rear mudguard.

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The kid was me, and this year I got to ride the actual bike that in my head I was drawing. It’s probably one of the most instantly recognisable shapes in the modern (cough) motorcycle world – the Harley-Davidson Softail Slim.

To a seven-year-old Toad, this was the only motorcycle that existed. And that’s despite my dad and uncles on all sides riding British-built singles and twins. It’s an enduring memory and one that was brought sharply into focus the day the Standard was wheeled out of a van and placed on my drive at home. Deja vu anyone!?

The first thing that hit me about seeing the bike in the flesh was just how clean and neat everything is. From the hidden wires and cables from the handlebar controls to the small LCD dash that’s mounted in the top yoke – it’s as neat and tidy as the seating plan at the OCD Society’s Christmas party.

The billet machined wheel-hubs are a thing of beauty and the polished aluminium engine casings were gleaming in the bright sunshine. Stood staring at it, I’m struggling to find a thing I don’t like.

A wet weather 200-mile ride is not the friend of chrome and polished aluminium

Harley-Davidson Softail Slim engine

Now, I’m not going to get bogged down in the numbers here, because, with Harleys, they don’t really tell the whole story. Yes, an inline-four of half the size will make more power, but it won’t have the same ability to instantly make you grin as you leave black lines away from every traffic light you stop at!

And there is another thing worth noting here. The Softail Standard is equipped with the smallest Milwaukee 8 engine in the H-D range. The 107ci (1753cc) engine is a bit of a dark horse though. Compared to the 114ci (1868cc) engine found in the Street Bob and Lowrider S for instance, it feels much more free-revving, and it makes the same power as its bigger sibling and only 7.3lb-ft less torque.

Vibes from the V-twin are surprisingly thin on the ground, with just a buzz of disapproval through the bike when you venture over 80mph. Keep it at a sensible 70-75mph and it’s a very pleasant place to be.

Harley-Davidson Softail Standard road holding

I was going to title this section handling, but it didn’t seem appropriate. Like all Harleys, the back end does get squirrelly if provoked – even in the dry. Once you embrace that though you start to factor it into the way you ride the bike. You don’t have much lean angle to rely on, so get it to the apex as best you can, give it a handful and the back end will dutifully sweep around and tighten the line for you without scraping the exhausts to shit – sorry Harley…

You’ve only got a few inches of travel to play with at both ends, so smoothing out lumps and bumps isn’t the bike’s forte. That said, its not overly stiff in the frame or the suspension, and does pitch onto its nose when you give the front brake a four-fingered heave.

And while we’re on the subject of braking. I could insert here that the front brake is lacking bite and lacking feel and blah blah blah. In truth, if you need to haul the thing to a stop in an emergency, a front and rear brake combo will get the thing stopped fairly sharpish. In truth, during ‘normal’ riding, you shouldn’t need them. The engine braking from the V-twin is colossal, with downshifts into second and first gear causing audible chirps from the rear tyre.

All Harley-Davidson foibles noted, show the Softail a twisty road on a sunny day and it’ll still entertain you. Progress will be brisk but above all, you’ll definitely have a smile on your face.

Low on tech’, high on pleasure

Riding one of the classic cruisers from Harley is a refreshing experience. We talk a lot about technology in this job – manufacturers go to a lot of trouble to develop the kit, so we’re obliged to try it all out. For those who prefer the simple life, the little black Softail is a gem. No traction control, ABS that just about does the job, no riding modes, IMU control, or Bluetooth connectivity. All you have is a tiddly but fairly legible LCD dash, with a few trips, rev-counter and speedo.


Harley-Davidson Softail Standard comfort

Harley describes the Softail Standard as a ‘Raw, stripped-down bobber style. A blank canvas for customisation.’. In reality, that means you have mini-ape bars, a low seat, and mid-mounted footrests. During my time with the bike, I did manage to hack out a couple of long rides around 200-miles in a mixture of weather. For the most part, the bike is a perfectly adequate place to hang my 5’7” frame. Sure, the riding position means you have the aerodynamic profile of an octopus clinging to a washing line. It’s never really a huge issue though, as the 13.2 litre fuel tank will see you hopping off around every 100-miles for a leg-stretch and refuel anyway.

That raw, stripped-down bobber style does come at a price though. You are going to get soaked to the skin when it pisses it down. Rain will get pushed up your sleeves (regardless of how to strap on your gloves), and the sitting on the loo riding position will leave the hem of your jeans/textiles/leathers gaping open, basically inviting the weather inside.

Look, it’s not ideal but it’s not a hack-a-day bike for riding through the worst of it. And with all that chrome and polished alloy, any wet weather riding just means more cleaning and polishing. Best just avoid it altogether!

Harley-Davidson Softail Standard verdict

There was a big hoo-ha on the interwebs when H-D bosses dropped the Sportster from sale in the UK. The bike was a firm favourite with riders and was also seen as something of a starting block in the Harley range. I don’t see why the little Softail Standard can’t step in and hoover up those riders. It’s got basically the same thumping engine character, the same authentic US custom styling, and is arguably a better looking bike, right out of the box.

At £12,995 it’s also one of the best value models in the range and still comes with a pre-approved Yellow Pages-sized catalogue of goodies to splurge your cash on.

For more information on the 2021 Harley-Davidson Softail Standard, head to: www.harley-davidson.com