IF ever there’s a Harley-Davidson to divide opinion, this is it.
Harley purists will hate it, for the huge wheels, sports bike-like styling and distinct lack of chrome, while the all-American manufacturer hopes it will act as a gateway model to new, ‘cooler’ customers.
One thing is certain, however. It’s an absolute lump, and certainly not one suited to the twisting mountain roads we tested it on. But, for what it lacks in finesse, it makes up for with its eye-catching looks and aggressive styling. Call it the muscle car of motorcycles, a Dodge Challenger on two wheels.
The Dyna Fat Bob, as it was originally known, made its debut in 2008, radical even then. But many features synonymous with Harley-Davidson remained – a large chrome tank-top instrument panel, chromed forks, engine casing, dual headlights and numerous other shining items of trim.
Fast forward last nine years and the Fat Bob has regressed into darker territories, with the 2018 model achieving ultimate badass. We rode it in Catalonia this weekend.
As with the rest of the Softail range, the Fat Bob boasts Harley’s Milwaukee-Eight V-twin. This engine was first seen in the 2017 tourer range, and for the Softails its received dual internal counter-balancing, which works with the rigid engine mounts to reduce vibrations.
The engine is unmistakeably Harley, retaining the trademark ‘potato-potato-potato’ soundtrack. Vibrations are still present, but lesser so at higher speeds – increasing the bike’s potential for longer distance rides.
On all eight Softail models, the 1745cc 107 unit is standard. For an extra £1,200, buyers can specify the 1868cc 114, which makes 92.7hp and 114 lbft of torque. Peak torque is reached at 3,000 revs, while the engine tops out just shy of 6,000.
This is a versatile unit, with an abundance of power – peak is reached at 5,020 rpm. According to HD figures, the 114 is 9% faster from 0-60mph than the 107, and 13% faster in fifth gear from 60 to 80 mph.
The Fat Bob has wide bars, forward footpegs and a deep seat, which provides decent lumbar support. These factors combine to give the bike a neutral riding position, which is surprisingly comfortable.
While comfortable, it’s far from the laid-back, relaxing ride associated with Harley-Davidsons. Thanks to wide tyres – 150mm at the front, and 180mm at the rear – the Fat Bob takes a decent shove of counter-steer to lean in to tight bends, and even more so at lower speeds. Mid-corner, the thick front just wants to stand back up. While the styling may mimic sports bikes, the ride certainly does not.
But, to give credit where credit’s due, this bike shines on wide open straights and fast, sweeping bends. Open the throttle up and it feels stable and comfortable – the deep seat holds the rider forward, keeping the pressure off your arms.
‘Pothole-devouring suspension’ is how Harley-Davidson has described the new Fat Bob’s set up. Personally, I’d be wary to take on any potholes bigger than a dog bowl, due to the wallowy inverted forks, which dive at the slightest jolt or touch of the front brake.
The new rear mono-shock is firmer, and features five-level preload adjustment, with a useful external adjuster.
Stopping power is accounted for by dual discs and a four-piston fixed caliper up front and a two-piston floating unit at the rear. The front is sharp, while the rear is adequate.
ABS is standard, while traction control is not an option.
Where this bike shines is in its styling. Or rather it doesn’t shine. It’s dramatic and dark, featuring a host of matt elements, and a new lighting signature.
The horizontal LED strip light replaces the previous chrome dual lights and what a facelift! Flanked by the thick black forks, it’s an imposing, bullish front end, upon which the wide bars sit.
The 16-inch cast rims and deep treaded tyres add to the bike’s aggressive nature, while the 2-1-2 upswept exhaust looks decidedly sporty.
Like a man who wears a small T-shirt to accentuate his muscles, Harley has scaled back on tank size to show off the big twin. At 13.6-litres it is one of the smallest in the Softail range. Combined with fuel economy of 44mpg, it won’t make for the best range, but this bike is more about being seen than long-distance touring.
Standard items across the Softail range include new instrumentation, keyless ignition with security system and a steering-head mounted USB port. While this model isn’t cheap, it’s certainly well equipped.
That aggressive, radical styling. While it won’t be to everyone’s taste, this bike is a guaranteed conversation starter.
We don't like:
The wallowy suspension, and wide tyres. This may add to the bike’s badass nature, but I feel they inhibit its riding potential.
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