Harley’s new hogs, ready for the 21st century
Harley-Davidson has released a batch of 2018 motorcycles, eight of them sharing a new chassis, new suspension and new engines. The company says the machines are lighter and more powerful, and handle better than the models they replace.
I’ve ridden two of them, and I agree.
For 2018, Harley has folded its Dyna line into its Softail line, and emerged with a field of new Softail motorcycles, retiring a few bikes (the Sportster 1200T, the VROD Muscle and Night Rod Special, and the Wide Glide) and renaming a couple (the Heritable Softail Classic is now the Heritage Classic).
It’s not just nomenclature. America’s bestselling motorcycle brand is losing market share and watching an increasingly elderly customer base age out of the sport.
The new machines, designed to address current owner complaints and prospective customer concerns, are an effort to reverse eroding sales and attract new riders.
Current and prospective riders told Harley’s CIA division (it stands for Customer Insights and Analytics) they wanted the bikes to be lighter and more powerful, and they wanted them to handle and corner better.
Harley has responded with bigger engines that produce more torque, on a chassis that offers better suspension, and motorcycles that weigh less and steer and corner more easily.
The new motorcycles in the Softail line are: Fat Boy, Heritage Classic, Low Rider, Softail Slim, Deluxe, Breakout, Fat Bob, Street Bob.
The new frames and chassis are stronger, stiffer and lighter than on 2017 models, the company said in announcing the 2018 models. Some weigh 35 pounds less than previous models.
Many have improved lean angles, allowing for better cornering. Some, such as the Heritage Classic, feature a return to old-school styling, with details that include spoked wheels, blacked-out rims and period-correct headlight bezels.
I was able to spend about an hour each on the Heritage Classic and Fat Bob models — swapping back and forth between the two bikes during a spirited run up and back down Angeles Crest Highway.
For full disclosure, I am not fundamentally a Harley guy. I tend to gravitate away from foot-forward cruisers and bobbers. While I’ve enjoyed some of the company’s biggest road hogs — like the 2017 Ultra Limited — I had low expectations for the new batch of Softails.
But I was pleasantly surprised. The two bikes performed as advertised. They do feel lighter, more nimble and easier to ride, and the new engines are a delight.
The Heritage came with the 107-inch engine, the Fat Bob with the 114. Both emitted the traditional Harley “potato-potato-potato” sound, and both had low-end torque and power to pull hard in any of the six gears from, seemingly, any speed.
Both the Heritage and Fat Boy sit low, making them appropriate machines for a smaller rider who still wants a bigger bike. Both featured adjustable rear suspension.
My crystal ball doesn’t predict sales. But it can predict that a prospective rider who tested last year’s Dyna or Softail models would be wise to give the 2018s a fresh look. These are better bikes.
Pricing on the 2018 models will range from a low of $14,999 for the Low Rider or Street Bob to $20,299 for the Heritage Classic or Fat Boy with the 114 engine.
Harley-Davidson representatives say the motorcycles are already on their way to dealerships.