When Harley-Davidson released its new Softail range in 2017, the Fat Bob stuck out like a sore thumb with its USD fork, twin 300mm disc brakes up front, and Dolphin-torch-style headlight. But a year on, it’s growing on us.
Combining the Harley-Davidson name with a dash of performance is what the Fat Bob is all about. Compared to a GSX-R1000 it’s not sporty at all, but for something with an H-D sticker, it’s new and exciting.
Harley newcomer Mark Penklis was surprised at how smooth the engine is following his first ride on the American muscle bike: “At idle, it’s ratting and shaking as a Harley should, but once underway the power delivery is smooth, you can pretty much go anywhere in any gear thanks to the huge 145Nm of torque on tap,” he said. “The styling is a good look also, with the fat tyres and flat bars.”
His son Alex was also impressed at how well the Fat Bob hit its power cruiser design brief. “The ground clearance is pretty good, I had it cranked over quite a bit through the corners and nothing was scraping. It’s a bit slow on the change of direction, it won’t win a WSBK race anytime soon, but it handles a lot better than you expect it will. The big balloon tyre on the 16-inch front wheel contradicts the sporty-looking USD fork, but they work well together.
“The rear only has 85mm of travel, so it will hit the bump stop on uneven roads. I’d say it’s an impressive package with a few niggles.”
Josh pointed out a few of his niggles: “When you pull up at the lights with the clutch in, the gear indicator disappears so there’s no way of knowing what gear you’re in,” he said. “For $27,496 it really should have a proper gear indicator, as well as span-adjustable levers, and let’s not talk about the alarm that requires the proximity key to even lift it off its stand.
“I don’t think it’s going to win any value for money competition, but I guess Harley fans don’t care too much about value for money, and as far as a good-looking urban or inner-city cruiser goes, this is perfect.”
The numbers on the Fat Bob’s voting cards were as varied as the opinions offered. Votes for performance ranged from mid three to high sevens, as did comfort; and while fans of the American marque seem willing to part with large wads of cash each time a new model is released, the MoTY test team scored the Fat Bob lower than its competition on the value-for-money-front.
Harley-Davidson may have enjoyed a recent run of sales good enough to push it to the top of the Australian roadbike sales charts, but it’s going to be at least another year before we have an air-cooled, big-bore American V-twin as an AMCN MoTY winner.
Second opinion – Paul Treverrow
Prior to MoTY, I’d had never even sat on a Harley-Davidson. The first leg of this year’s MoTY route was all highway miles which was the perfect opportunity for me to get accustomed to the nicely proportioned seat, wide and low-set handlebar and perfectly positioned foot pegs for my 187cm frame.
The easy-pull clutch, firm yet-predictable gear shift and brakes with plenty of feel and power meant most of my long-held Harley beliefs were left in my rear-vision mirror in the first few kays.
And by the time we were attacking the undulations and switchbacks of Kangaroo Valley Road, I was revelling in the new 107 cubic-inch Milwaukee-Eight engine, grunting out of one turn and into the next (the engine, not me). I was also surprised by the compliant suspension package and general rideability of the big hog.
Once I’d worked out a reasonable corning technique; slow and wide in, a little throttle and brake overlap then ride the big wave of torque out the other side, I was starting to get this Harley thang.
The tendency of the bike to bump steer, possible due to the large front tyre, is one of the few disappointing features I noted.
By ride’s end, my eyes were opened to the modern Harley phenomenon. It’s a surprisingly versatile machine that has plenty to offer other than the stereotypical Harley-Davidson Sunday cruising.
$27,496 (ride away)
Total 296.71kg (wet)
Dunlop Harley-Davidson Series
Power Not given
Torque 145Nm (claimed)
12-month fully comprehensive
Estimated based on a 50-year old Sydney CBD resident who has held a motorcycle licence for longer than five years, has had zero at-fault claims and has completed an accredited riding course
A Seat height: 710mm
B Peg to seat:680mm
C Peg to bar:730mm
D Bar to seat:610mm
Read the full test review that appeared in AMCN magazine Vol 67 No 08
One of these machines has been crowned the 2018 Motorcycle of the Year!
Photography Josh Evans