The cat is out of the bag, dealers will be looking at remaining 2017 stocks on showroom floors and potential owners will face their usual dilemma of whether to buy now or wait. There will be bargains to be had – although dealers have been winding down stocks of certain models for a couple of months now in anticipation of changes – but new models are always alluring.
It didn’t take a genius to know that the new Milwaukee Eight motor would be rolled out through the Harley-Davidson range for 2018, but how they would do it was unknown.
We’ve been hearing tales of using common parts between the FL and Dyna ranges for more than six months, but we had also heard that ‘Dyna’ is a name that won’t carry forwards, hinting at a new FXR – which is why we ran Second City Customs’ stunning Twin Cam FXR a few issues back as a teaser. More recently, however, that the Softail will be seriously reworked with a drive train shared with the Dyna – a long primary chaincase – and revised suspension using shocks in compression behind the powertrain in the space that use to hold the oil tank which would be under the transmission.
The last one, supported by a photograph, suggested that the Dyna and Softail families would become one with a Milwaukee Eight – the pic was of a Fat Bob in a Softail-style frame – but it would need to be a very different Softail frame to retain the ride dynamics of a Dyna …
And apparently it is, and it heralds the biggest update in Harley-Davidson’s history!
Welcome to the world of the new Softail: a modified version of the 107-inch Milwaukee-Eight designed for a cruiser role, with twin counterbalancers to remove all primary vibration, slotted into a wholly new chassis that is 91% stiffer than the Dyna chassis – mainly because the twin counterbalancers mean it is rigidly mounted in the new frame – and 65% stiffer than the Softail. The revised position of the shock removes the need for the swingarm to follow the lines of a rigid frame’s chain stays so it doesn’t, but that’s only really visible from the primary side where the exhausts don’t hide it.
The powertrain has its oil tank slung beneath the transmission, which means the shocks can’t go there, but that’s no bad thing. Instead, a single conventional shock absorber sits beneath the seat – Vincent style, and dare I say like the original Victory V92 – which is adjusted either by a mechanical preload beneath the seat or a hydraulic wheel that protrudes from what looks like an oil tank but obviously isn’t. And it has a much wider preload range than previously to accommodate a wider weight range.
And while the Dyna has gone, the names haven’t. The Street Bob, Low Rider and Fat Bob are now Softails and have a new designation, and they look very different to their 2017 namesakes. But then so do the 2018 Softails.
Without further ado, and keeping it brief:
2018 FXBB Street Bob
The intro to the new big twin range, the all-new Street Bob is more bobbed than before.
A new and smaller 13.2 litre, smooth-topped fuel tank gives a better view of the 107-inch Milwaukee Eight motor, and its instruments are concealed in the ‘Digital Riser’ that clamps the mini-apes. And even though it is the entry level model for the range, it has the USB charging point that is common to all 2018 Softail models and a signature LED Daymaker headlamp.
It has the same 680mm seat height, and weighs in at 297kg, fuelled, which will actually work out as slightly less than its predecessor at 304kg.
2018 FXLR Low Rider
Retaining its twin clock tandem dash on a classic 18.9 litre tank, the Low Rider is one of the least affected, but has lost its distinctive line, one of its front discs and looks a little too much like the Blackline for my massively biased tastes.
It is to be hoped that the stiffer frame and improved suspension – all conventional forks get the new Dual Bending Valve damping technology introduced on last year’s Touring range and the Low Rider gets under-seat preload adjustment for its mono shock – will make up for that, and it gets a lower seat than last year’s mainstream model and loses the bolster.
It retains the chrome and cast wheels of recent Low Riders, and will work out at 11kg lighter when fuelled.
2018 FXFB Fat Bob
The most radical of the new Dyna equivalents, and indeed the Softails, the Fat Bob was at the front of the queue when the parts were being handed out, and cuts a spectacular figure.
It’s got something of the new Street Bob about it, so cropped is its rear mudguard, but it has a new and unique console on its 13.6 litre fuel tank, XR1200-style exhausts, inverted front forks and a shedload of attitude – apparently ready for the zombie apocalypse, especially in the Red Iron Denim which has more than a hint of red oxide primer about it.
Always the performance bike of its family, it retains a twin disc front end, flat bars, fat high-profile tyres on fat wheels and is also available as the FXFBS 114-inch model as well as the base 107, but it will be most notable for its headlamp, which you will love or hate on sight.
US models get side-mounts, we get a plate hovering in space behind the rear tyre: both have the hydraulic rear shock adjustment.
At 304kg, running, it is appreciably lighter than the 321kg Twin Cam.
2018 FLSL Softail Slim
Perhaps the least radically altered of the new range, the Slim has still been pared back, with reduced tins letting the shape of the fork yokes come through.
It retains the bobbed mudguards, classic tank, Hollywood bars and black rims on laced wheels of the 2017 model, its tuck n’ roll seat has a new cover and shape and the Daymaker headlamp lives in a conventional headlamp shell. The biggest difference will be when you ride it, and not just because of the motor: not only does it have the same weight reduction as the Fat Bob, but it has an additional 3° of lean in the bends.
2018 FLDE Deluxe
Always the shinier of the Softails, the Deluxe has lost the trim round its front seat, pillion pad and the beautiful rack in the name of showing off the curve of its rear mudguard, but retains the twin spotlamps flanking the headlamp – all now LED – and has unique blade-style indicators front and rear, as well as a new LED tombstone taillight.
Whitewall tyres on laced chrome wheels complete its distinctive statement, and it is anticipated that it is still a short reach model.
2018 FLFB Fat Boy
The iconic Fat Boy has undergone another major facelift – arguably more significant than the 2007 update, with radically redesigned wheels, fatter front tyre and a new sculpted nacelle.
Add the stiffer frame, improved ground clearance and the Milwaukee Eight motor and it’s a very different Fat Boy to last year but still very much an evolution of the original and a very striking bike to look at.
Like all of the classic ‘Softail’ Softails it has retained the classic 18.9 litre tank and a conventional console, but is the first so far with any sort of pillion seat, and is the first so far to come with a 114-inch engine option as the FLFBS.
It is also the first that we’ve looked at to come in an Anniversary colour scheme – in fact both as the Legend Blue Denim FLFBS ANX and two-tone Legend Blue/Denim Black FLFBS ANV.
2018 FLHC Heritage Classic
As if to underline this massive update, even the Classic has been brought up to date: no longer the saggy-bagged saddle tramp we’ve known and loved for thirty years, it has got new lockable, leather covered hard shell panniers, and while it retains a decent pillion seat it has lost the backrest … and the whitewall tyres, and an awful lot of conchos.
It has gained cruise control, and is the first Harley in years to have the lower part of the blade screen blacked out.
As a capable tourer it makes sense to offer it with the 117-inch motor as the FLHCS, so they have, and it is also available in the Legend Blue/Vivid Black Anniversary colour schemes as FLHCS ANV.
2018 FXBR Breakout
Having spent so long getting their FX Softail right, Harley must have sweated over the new Breakout but they seem to have pulled it off. Still hgalf drag racer, half custom bike, it retains the 240-section rear tyre under a cropped rear mudguard, a raked-out front end and looks great with its Gasser wheels, but I think that they’ve been brave to fit the smaller 13.2 litre tank.
A new funky LED headlamp in a modern shell, hydraulic suspension preload and the Digital Riser Gauge completes the picture, but I suspect the thing that will have more impact on its success will be extra 20Nm of torque from the Miwaukee Eight engine, the 15kg weight saving, stiffer frame and 3.5° additional cornering clearance, because this is a bike to ride hard.
It obviously comes in an FXBRS 114-inch version, as well as the FXBRS ANX Legend Blue Anniversary model.
And that’s enough for now, because there’s more than enough to take in on the Softails: more on the Touring family, CVOs and Sportsters to follow.