Photography by Gaurav S Thombre
Of the four Harley Softails launched last month, I had ridden three of them. The only one that none of us really got a taste of was the generation upgrade to the iconic Fat Boy. So, when one fine evening Sirish messaged and said that the bike was available for evaluation, all I could do was gawp before I got my act together and volunteered to evaluate the only motorcycle in the group I hadn’t. In the process we have become the only magazine in the country right now to have gotten our hands on the all-new Harley-Davidson Fat Boy with the 107-ci engine.
In short, everything. After undergoing a nearly three-year product overhaul phase, Harley-Davidson had revamped its entire Softail range and merged it with the Dyna models. I tried out some of these new bikes and their abilities had left me flabbergasted. So to say that I was excited to try out the Fat Boy on our roads was going to be a bit of an understatement.
To give you some insight into the motorcycle, the Fat Boy has been one of Harley’s most successful bikes to date. Launched in 1990, the designer team of Willie G Davidson and Louie Netz had drawn up a design with a bold, in-your-face styling and was characterised by the overdose of chrome and solid-cast disc wheels at both ends. The design may have undergone subtle changes over time yet it remains true to Willie’s “patriotic and nostalgic” appeal. Apart from the obvious bad boy looks and the great sales figures, the Fat Boy was also used by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1991’s Terminator 2 with the iconic jump made on the predecessor of this very motorcycle. The US television series, Sons of Anarchy, also made extensive use of the Fat Boy. So this baby just had to look cool.
And it does. The front LED headlamp is ensconced inside a heavily chrome treated panel that neatly merges into the fork covers. The front wheel arch is wide and does not extend too far around the wheel. The rear one is wide for but obvious reasons and ends intermittently just to cover a slight portion of the tyre. The low saddle height of 675mm is enough to make Harley aficionados happy. They would also be delighted with the wide raised handlebars and floor-boards for pegs, a typical riding posture that you would associate the Fat Boy with. There are a few colour options available amongst which the ‘Wicked Red-Twisted Cherry’ dual tone scheme is my favourite (check out the previous page, bottom right corner). The tank as well as the fenders get theme appropriate pin striping, the tank embellished with the original HD emblem. The tank mounted console also bears the chromium elements that are prominent on the mechanicals.
Apart from the above you get the entire barrage of standard tech like the steering column-mounted USB charging port, keyless ignition, security system and ABS. The fuel cap still remains keyless and that will be the first accessory Indian buyers will spring for given the stealing of fuel that persists in our urban areas.
The biggest update on the 2018 Fat Boy is the upscaling of tyres at both ends. On both ends you have 18-inch Lakester machined rims, stepping up from the earlier 17-inch bullet holes disc rims. The front tyre section has been increased from a 140 to a 160, the rear one going from 200 to 240. That changes the entire dynamics of the motorcycle as it adopts more of a steamroller stance on the go. Once out on the open highway, the Fat Boy will be a great mile-muncher as these tyre sizes, along with the 30-degree rake angle help it remain super stable on endless straights.
What’s it like on the go?
The downside to upscaling the rubber is that the Fat Boy has become sluggish and is reluctant to go round the bends. You may have heard of the adage, “slow in, fast out.” Well here it is better to be slow through the entirety of the corner, open the gas only when you are at the absolute end of the turn. In fact, this is the only one of the new Softails that has lost some of its cornering clearance from its predecessor. The problem is compounded in our jam-packed traffic environment. Negotiating through spaces is a bigger task than what it already was.
Thankfully the motorcycle’s saviour is the brilliant new Milwaukee Eight 107 engine. The oodles of low down torque help you get moving quicker and for a big bore motor of its size it is extremely heat efficient, even though this one misses out on liquid-cooling. I had refrained on commenting on the heat dissipation and vibrational issues troubling riders in our country after riding the Softails in Spain. Simply put, it is great to know that the vibrations are extremely subdued, the credit going to the addition of an extra counterbalance shaft to the motor.
The Showa Dual Bending Valve forks and the rear monoshock do a neat job of absorbing minor undulations that our roads throw at you unexpectedly. However, in the event you have to take on the larger crater-esque potholes (god forbid), I hope you have good core body strength to keep the bike planted. The brake setup is identical to the outgoing model. The bike does slow down earlier than the old Fat Boy but there is still the front wheel pulling to a direction upon braking.
On the money?
Thus at the end of the ride, I was left with this question – is this Fat Boy a step up? I am split in making that decision. The engine refinement and road holding capabilities are definitely a marked improvement over the old gen Fat Boy. But the cornering characteristics are lethargic. The price point of Rs 17.49 lakh, ex-showroom India, is not at a big premium over the old one when it was new in India, Rs 50k being the difference. However you can get your hands on the limited stocks of the previous gen for Rs 14.99 lakh.
Much like Arnie in the new Terminator movie, the Fat Boy is Harley’s trump card. There are better motorcycles in the line-up and Harley wants to promote them. But don’t we all wait back in the theatres to catch Arnie saying, “I’ll be back!”