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Images: Gaurav Thombre
So much of owning a Harley-Davidson is about the image that the brand has perpetuated and continues to perpetuate through the years. The bikes with the bar and shield have pushed the envelope of ‘cool’ for decades but when Arnold “Terminator” Schwarzenegger jumped his Fat Boy off a bridge, things couldn’t get cooler. Everyone who wanted to be a biker but wasn’t interested in sportsbikes dreamt of manhandling a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. Over a quarter of a century later, the Fat Boy continues to dominate the psyche of most people aspiring to own a Harley. Hell, I have never wanted a Harley for myself and even in my head there couldn’t be a bike more quintessentially Harley than a Fat Boy. Naturally, when the chance to ride the new generation of this two-wheeled legend came along, I was only too happy to volunteer.
The old Fat Boy was characterised by its wide stance that leant itself to enormous road presence. That design ethos still continues to be a strong part of the 2018 Fat Boy’s aura as it comes with a wide body and those humongous 18-inch solid Lakester rims. The bike sits low with a saddle height of 675mm, which when combined with the wide raised handlebars and those floor boards makes for a nice and cushy riding posture that’s typical of the Fat Boy. The wheel arches are wide for obvious reasons and gets theme appropriate pin striping. So does the petrol tank. To complete the look, the tank is embellished with the original H-D emblem. The tank mounted console also bears the chromium elements that are prominent on the mechanicals. Plus, you get the usual Softail standard tech like the LED headlamps, steering column mounted USB charging port, keyless ignition, security system and ABS. There is still no lockable fuel filler cap as standard equipment and that will be the first accessory Indian buyers will spring for.
Underneath, the Fat Boy bears the same 30-deg raked out Softail double-cradle frame that the rest of the family is built on. However, used here is the wider version of the swingarm to facilitate the use of that mammoth 240-section rear tyre. As a matter of fact, 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.
Inversely, the upsizing makes this Fat Boy one of the laziest motorcycles on the go from Harley’s new Softail range. The bike refuses to take the bends with enthusiasm and one could forgive Harley for this, as they have pitched this motorcycle to be more of a mile muncher than a canyon blaster. For the latter they have the Street Bob or the more dynamic Fat Bob. However, what you cannot overlook is that the Fat Boy is tedious to manage in our hazardous traffic. The long wheelbase makes it a difficult task to safely make way through traffic.
The new engine however shines through. We Indians are restricted to the 107ci engine until 2018 when the 114ci will finally arrive on the 115th Anniversary Fat Boy. The 1746cc V-twin air-cooled (with oil-cooler) motor is a retuned Milwaukee-Eight engine. It misses out on the liquid-cooling but is smoother with the addition of an extra counter-balancer to the pre-existing one, subduing the unnecessary vibrations to a great extent. The radiator is moved between the downtubes. A six-speed transmission is mated to the 107ci motor as it churns out 145Nm. 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. I had refrained on commenting on the heat dissipation and vibrational issues troubling riders in our country after riding the Softails in Spain. But it is safe to say the engine performs quite well in India too.
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. It does slow down better than the old Fat Boy but there is still the problem of the front wheel pulling to the side upon hard braking.
At the end of the day it’s a stalemate. I can’t decide whether the 2018 Fat Boy is a step up or not but this has nothing to do with the bike itself. The engine and stability are leaps and bounds better than what we’ve experienced in the previous generation. The price point of Rs 17.49 lakh, ex-showroom Delhi, is not at a big premium over the old one when it was new in India, 50 grand being the difference. However you can get your hands on the limited stocks of the previous gen for Rs 14.99 lakh. Here’s my suggestion though: in case you are looking for that whole Arnie and Terminator vibe then stick with the new Fat Boy. But if you enjoy leaning your bike into corners then check out Harley’s new Softails. You will be pleasantly surprised.