2020 Harley-Davidson Softail range first ride review
For those who have been following the progress of the Milwaukee factory of late, you’ll be aware that Harley-Davidson have put a significant emphasis on the fact that they are expanding their range, with some very unusual undertakings by the MoCo over the last couple of years.
Aside from the all-electric LiveWire, there are also the new water-cooled machines such as the XG750, but also those that take Harley away from the traditional cruiser styling with the adventure-styled Pan America and the performance-oriented Bronx. But, just in case you thought they were leaving their century of heritage behind, along come a glut of bikes that are far more what we’d expect from the longest continually-produced motorcycle brand.
Rather unusually, Harley laid on a launch that wasn’t focusing on just one distinct model. Three days in Spain were spent looking at three different Softail models, and also an impressive variety of customised Sportsters - plus the aforementioned LiveWire too (you can read the review here) - but more on those soon as we take a closer look at the Street Bob, the Fat Bob, and the Low Rider S.
While all three bikes are clearly very different, they all use the same Softail chassis, and all use the Milwaukee 8 powerplant, albeit in 107 and 114 cubic inch forms. The Fat Bob is clearly the most radical, with its brutish looks emphasised by the fat tyres front and back, stacked exhaust cans, and a hefty front end with upside down forks and twin discs. The Street Bob is the classic of the bunch, with styling that relates to so many previous offerings from Milwaukee, with spoked wheels, long exhausts, ape-hanger bars and a single disc on the 21” front hoop. In between the two, sits the Low Rider S, with cast aluminium wheels, lower bars and a bikini fairing over the top of the LED headlight.
The 107” Street Bob is certainly the prettiest of the three Softail models we got to test, but don’t let that fact let you think that it’s any less practical or fun. That 21” front wheel may be a fairly tall hoop that takes some turning, but it’s actually very accurate with its steering, and easier to thread around tight streets and back lanes and through standing traffic than the much heavier steering Fat Bob. Those ape-hanger handlebars are, surprisingly, actually an aid in this, rather than a hindrance, and give a surprisingly comfortable riding position that is sustainable even at motorway speeds, contrary to what many naysayers will have you believe.
The clean design is aided by the fact that the clocks are situated in the handlebar clamp, giving clean lines, although those low-mounted mirrors do catch on the knuckles of armoured glove knuckles, but they could easily be mounted on the underside of the apes.
While it’ll undoubtedly get referred to as ‘Chunky Robert’, the 114”-powered muscle bike is unashamedly just that – all beef and brawn, and enough attitude to persuade everyone that this bike means business. It’s fortunate, then, that it is actually a very capable bike.
The riding position sits you in ‘attack mode’, elbows high and head low, and while the steering is a little on the heavy side, no doubt due in part to the broad rubber fitted front and rear. The big inch powerplant feels even punchier in this configuration and lights up the back tyre all too easily on the shiny Spanish tarmac.
The only real hindrance to enthusiastic riding is the ground clearance, although once you’re aware of just how much (i.e how little) clearance there is you can ride to suit, either in a point and squirt fashion, or leaving arching lines of smeared footpeg through each and every corner. And in any traffic light drag race, this is the Big Twin to choose.
Low Rider S
Having read about the slinky Street Bob, and the musclebound Fat Bob, you’ll perhaps not be surprised to hear that the Low Rider S sits somewhere between the two – a bit like a Street with a bit more punch, or a Fat Bob with a little less lairy attitude. As such, it’ll perhaps get ignored in favour of one of the other extremes, yet it is a very practical and handsome machine that probably offers a little more in day-to-day usage, being a touch more practical in every aspect bar the tank-mounted clocks, which make it feel as though you’re checking out your nether regions each time you want to look at the speedo or idiot lights.
Like the other two, the S has rather agricultural anti-lock braking system. Instead of a faint juddering when the ABS kicks in, the rear wheel locked, then let off, then locked, then let off again in a rather slow cycle that left a series of dashes on the road and a squeak-squeak-squeak from the sliding tyre. I only got this from the rear, as there wasn’t a time that the front was used anywhere near hard enough. Although the S has fairly efficient twin calipers at the front, it’d be interesting to see if the single caliper on the Street Bob is capable of locking the front wheel. Mind you, it isn’t anywhere near as plush and unobtrusive as ABS on other manufacturers’ brakes, it is still significantly better than just locking the wheel and sliding into immovable objects.
Harley-Davidson will be bringing the updated Softail range to our shores very soon. We don't expect the prices to change much.