In case you have been snowed in all winter, you are in for a shock when you get to your local Harley-Davidson dealer when the roads clear come spring.
For the motorcycle company that has defined the American motorcycle for over a century, how do you blend modern technology and the timeless style of the Harley-Davidson? In an effort to stay relevant in the 21st-century, this year brings all new big twin cruisers, with an all new frame, and the Milwaukee Eight motor first seen in the touring line.
Chief Engineer Ben Wright describes trying to walk the tight rope of tradition and modernity as downright “scary.”
“The new Softail models are the result of the most extensive research and development program in the company’s history,” said Paul James, manager of product portfolio, Harley-Davidson. The 2018 Softails feature a whole new frame, new motor, new suspension – calling them new from the ground up wouldn’t be far off. Vice-President of Styling & Design Brad Richards says the 2018 lineup is the biggest launch in 115 years, which is really saying something, yet “form follows function, but both report to emotion.”
Here are a few things we know about the 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail lineup. The Harley groups the 12 bikes into 3 categories: Foundational Standards, Modern Classics, and Revolutionary Design DNA. All are built on entirely-new frames, with 3 rake angles, 2 ride heights, and narrow and wide swingarms (for traditional or wide rear tire bikes). As with all Hogs, there are lots of common parts to shift around to come up with entirely unique bikes all with a different look, feel, and ride.
- 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Heritage Classic 107 – Always the shiny best-seller, with a traditional ‘50s Panhead look, but in darker themes. The new lighter and stronger frame and hidden rear shock aim for better handling, with more power from the Milwaukee-Eight 107 cid V-twin.
- 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Heritage Classic 114 – With a blacked-out Milwaukee-Eight 114 ci V-twin, a more aggressive look, and more power, this may look like your granddad’s bike but it sure doesn’t move like it. As with the 107, the 114 also features double balance shafts for smooth riding at all rev ranges.
- 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe 107 – The Deluxe features more chrome accents and a traditional look and feel. The new frame is lighter and stiffer, for more responsive handling.
- 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim 107 – This year’s updated Slim is just as attractive, but lighter and better-handling than before. As in the rest of the lineup, the Showa Dual Bending Valve front fork is more responsive for better control and predictable braking.
- 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Low Rider 107 – Just like the old Panheads that were customized into ‘70s choppers, the Low Rider is an excellent canvas for individualization. It might be hard for traditionalists to say “Softail” and “Low Rider” in the same breath, and they will miss the look of rear twin shocks, but the power and handling should provide a strong argument.
- 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Street Bob 107 – Bob, as in “bobbed,” or stripped down. The less is more approach makes this bike the least expensive and lightest weight model in the Softail lineup. For those new to the Harley family, that makes this a great bike to get started on.
- 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Breakout 107 – A modern updated take on the Breakout, this drag-bike inspired cruiser features a modern LED headlight, straight from the electric Harley-Davidson LiveWire prototype, digital gauges, and smaller and slimmer fuel tank.
- 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Breakout 114 – Take the updates from its little brother, and just ad more motor. With the more powerful 114 ci V-twin, along with the lighter frame and components, this Breakout is nearly 20% quicker off the line than the outgoing one powered by the high-output Twin Cam 103.
Revolutionary Design DNA
- 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Fat Boy 107 – One of the most-popular bikes in the lineup since its introduction in 1990, the all-new Fat Boy has also been retro-modernized. Fat Boy keeps its defining 18″ disc wheels, shod in 160 mm and 240 mm wide tires, front and rear, but adds a host of other improvements.
- 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Fat Boy 114 – More power to you, with the blacked-out 114 ci motor pushing this Fat Boy, about 9% faster off the line and 13% faster 60-80 mph in 5th gear than the 107 ci version. Both Fat Boys get the updated frame, suspension and brakes, and a more modern look.
- 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Fat Bob 107 – Stripped down and full of attitude, the Fat Bob 107 is the best performer in the Softail lineup, except for the 114, anyway. The company suggests it’s an even better handling bike than the outgoing Dyna Low Rider S.
- 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Fat Bob 114 – If the Fat Bob 107 is fast, mean, and sporty, then the Fat Bob 114 is downright scary. It’s not traditional, and maybe not a bike for the faint of heart, but the aggressive styling and performance is sure to please.
Is the 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail lineup a radical change? Indeed, it is – the Dyna is gone, folks – and we’ve basically covered a dozen new 2018 Harley-Davidson Softails, redefining the genre as we know it. The real questions are, “Did Harley-Davidson come up with the right definition?” and “Will Harley-Davidson fans get it?”
You can get a much more in depth look at these bike via Cycle World’s excellent mini website dedicated to the 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail.