Not Your Grandpa’s Softail.
Out of all of the other motorcycle manufacturers in the world, Harley Davidson has one of the most unique marketing problems any brand could have. They have to find a way to attract new customers without alienating all of their existing ones. That’s a pretty standard problem for a company trying to sell a product, but Harley can’t do it in the same way that other companies do it.
It feels like any changes that they make in the name of performance get scolded by veterans of the brand and any decisions made to preserve the “heritage” of the bikes gets an adolescent eye-roll from the young crowd looking to go fast. With the 2018 Softails the MoCo has tried to do both and as a result it feels like they tore off a band-aid causing a few people to cry out with knee jerk reactions only for them to realize that change is not that bad.
Killing the Dyna.
The controversy comes from the fact that Harley has decided to stop making Dynas and has elected to move the models formally known as Dynas onto the Softail platform. Now it’s important to remember that this platform is new from the ground up. New Frame, New Suspension, New Engine, they could have very well killed the Dyna and Softail name and made it something new but because the new mono-shock rear suspension kept the rigid hard tail look of the Softail line they opted to keep the name which is probably why the grandpa bike crowd wasn’t all too fussy about the change.
The younger guys however, who preferred the exposed shocks of the Dyna (because they provided better handling and cornering) were the ones who cried foul. Here’s the kicker though, if performance is the reason you loved the Dyna then you should be head over heels for the new bikes. I’ve now owned the new 2018 Softail Street Bob (Formally a Dyna Model) since October of 2017 and have just got it back from it’s 1000 mile service. This is my impression of the bike so far.
My Experience on the Softail Street Bob.
The thing that stands out most about the Street Bob to me is the power plant. The new Milwaukee 8 in the 107 cubic inch configuration found in this iteration of the Softail pulls smooth off of first gear and I get a grin on my face every time I shift up to second. My favorite thing to do on this bike is to be stopped on the line at a red light and as soon as it’s safe and the light is green I let off the clutch and open up the throttle and go. HD estimates that the 107ci will pull 110 ft-lbs of torque at 3000 rpms but chances are they are being generous with their estimates. Most of the stock Dyno pulls I’ve seen online have been closer 104-107 ft-lbs. That is still pretty amazing that you can get that kind of pull from a stock motor. Horse power is a bit less impressive coming in under 80hp but if you are even considering a Harley chances being Sub 100 on the hp scale probably isn’t a deal breaker especially if you are planning on customizing or getting a Stage 1-4 kit installed on it. For a me I couldn’t be more satisfied, I get plenty acceleration off the line and I am able to get up to spirited cruising speed in no time, what more could you want from a big twin cruiser?
The most impressive thing about the power the Bobber is putting out is the how controllable it is. The new softies use a throttle by wire system as opposed to the traditional throttle tube set up and while many Fly-By-Wire setups can be twitchy the Street Bob has always responded the way I wanted it to when I opened up the throttle to pull ahead and when I closed down to get some engine breaking. It consistently does what I want it to do when I want it to. For a bike that can pull over 100 ft-lbs of torque that really needs to be the case.
For the performance snobs who still want to get as much power out the M8 as possible there will be a plethora of after market support coming, with plenty of air intake options already on the market and exhaust manufactures will catch up in getting better full systems out there. Two Brothers Racing already has their Comp S 2 into 1 pipe being installed and Vance and Hines already have their popular Short Shot Staggers ready to make your neighbors eardrums bleed. I’ve even already seen people online boaring out their engines and putting in torque cams. As long as they keep making Harleys there will be shops and individuals more than willing to hot-rod them and make them do something ridiculous.
Suspension and Handling.
The Milwaukee 8 was already a proven power plant in the Touring Models essentially getting plopped in where the Twin Cam used to live after the Rushmore updates. Many assumed that the Softails and Dynas were going to get the same treatment only to be suprised by this new frame and suspension system. The M8 is hard mounted to the frame now making the bike more rigid and the inclusion of the Mono Shock under the seat helps improve the stiffness. Throw in the Showa Dual Bending valve front end and you have what is arguably the best handling Big Twin motorcycle ever.
I don’t hit the corners and bends in a super aggressive manner but every time I start to put a bit of lean and counter steering into the bike it goes exactly where I want it to. I’ve also noticed that I’ve gotten a bit more spirited in the bends and curves in the roads I’m more familiar with in the last 200 miles. This bobber just seems to inspire confidence the more I ride it. The Street Bob has one of the longer rakes on the front end compared to bikes like the Fat Bob but when you consider the fact that the Street Bob doesn’t have as wide of tires as the other Softies suddenly the cheaper and more conservatively styled bike feels like it might be more practical if you are planning to hitting the curvier back country roads. Harley tends to favor form over function to a fault sometimes but as a result the Street Bob starts to look like a steal if you’re looking for the best handling Big-Twin.
Harley estimates that the bike is above 650lbs in running order but it feels lighter than that. It’s definitely not a Sportster by any stretch of the imagination but once you get the bike moving it flicks around the corners a lot more quickly than you would expect from a Big Twin. In my time on an Iron 883 I couldn’t take a right hand turn without the peg scrapping but the mids on the Bobber hardly ever touch the ground unless i’m putting in the effort. Another way you can tell this is not a Sportster is the ride feel. There are some rough roads all around my neighborhood that bucked me around on a sporty that this bike almost glides over. You still feel it on the deeper manhole covers and pot holes but the Mono-shock and Showa front end do a great job of making me enjoy the open road as opposed to figuring out how to navigate it. I weigh about 220 lbs and I have the preload set at about a 3 which is what is around what the owners manual recommends and I have yet to feel the need to adjust it even when I’m decked out in full gear and have some stuff in my backpack that I’m bringing with me.
Ergonomics and Aesthetics.
I’m not going to lie I find the Mini Apes on this bike to be a bit of an eyesore. They are certainly not as offensive as some of the American Chopper style Ape Hangers you’ve seen at local car shows or as obnoxious as the T-Bars that you see on Club Style bikes that seem be all over instagram but it takes what would be a sleek looking bike almost on the verge of being a breakout with a skinnier back tire and mids (Which sound like an amazing bike if you ask me) and makes it look like… well… a grandpa bike. But the most infuriating part is, they are super comfortable. After a quick little adjustment of pulling the bars down and bit closer to me than the dealership had them set they pretty much sit exactly where I want them to. If I got a lower sitting bar I would have to lean more forward for them and if I wanted to get a drag bar in the same position I would just be making another SOA clone bike. I guess sometimes you have to appreciate the function over the form.
I like the mid controls on this bike and every person I talk to looks at me like I’m crazy for it. I’m about 6’1 and some change, and everyone I talk to seems to be all about forwards but I have found them to be awkward and I don’t feel like I get as much leverage on the bike. I think another aspect is I’m longer in my torso than I am in my legs. Which I’m going to assume makes the combination of the mids and mini apes such a comfortable combination. If my legs were longer and my torso shorter I’m sure I would have to be on something like the Breakout or the Fat Bob to get the same effect but sometimes that goofy looking suit just fits you so well.
The monkey in the wrench of the comfort setup of this bike had got to be the seat. I know that it’s all part of the Harley Tax everyone has to pay but they really could have at least tried to give this bike a decent solo seat. The pads on the other Softails look like Lazy Boys in comparison to this piece of vinyl, foam and plastic you could get at Walmart. The thing that makes this seat terrible is the lower back support. I have to keep reminding myself to sit up right on the bike because I keep slouching at my lower back causing me discomfort after a solid 30 minutes of riding.
The Harley Shake, or Lack Thereof.
Harley is well aware of the reputation they have built of making very mechanical and clunky machines. It is probably the number one thing that separates the Harley lovers and the Harley haters. Harley knows that there are people who love the shake and break feel that their V-Twins have given them and that for many other people it turns them off over the assumption that a shaking bike must have something wrong with it. The thing is the new softails don’t shake, or at least not in the way that many people perceive when they think of Harley Davidson. Harley has stuck a counter balancer into the M8 motor which has reduced the vibration by about 70% which is one of the reasons they were able to hard-mount the engine to the frame. HD has even admitted that they could completely eliminate all of the shake if they wanted to but they still have a sizable customer base who loves the Harley Quake and that completely getting rid of it would mean that they’ve completely sold their soul.
The other amazing thing about the bike also unlike what comes to mind when a hater thinks about Harley is that the bike doesn’t get nearly as hot compared to its predecessors. When the M8 came to market Harley made a big deal about how much cooler having 4 valves per cylinder made the engine, along with some other engineering tricks that they have thrown in. While the newly designed engine might contribute to not cooking the side of your leg I think a lot of it has to be the oil cooler they placed in the front of the frame. When I first saw the promotional material of the bikes online my first thought was “Did they just sneak a radiator onto these bikes.” Turns out it’s just an oil cooler meaning that it is still technically “Air Cooled” but I can’t help but feel that the small addition of an oil cooler has gone a long way in helping the performance and comfort of this bike.
The Harley Tax.
I mentioned earlier how Harley knowingly skimps on certain items under the assumption that you are going to upgrade them anyways with the sorry excuse for a seat that they put on this bike. Well there are some other items that Harley skimps on or just flat out doesn’t include that I have no choice but to consider shelling out for to get the bike set up perfectly. Aside from the atrocious seat that I have previously mentioned the first thing I want to change is the exhaust. I know that Harley has to meet EPA and Sound regulations when putting these bikes out but it’s almost sad hearing the sound of these stock pipes. When I’m riding I can hear the clanging of the Motor in front of me more clearly than the exhaust behind me. I’m still doing quite a bit a research on pipes and as of right now the after market options for the new Softails is still pretty limited. Considering that I’m being fairly budget minded and that I mostly want an after market exhaust for sound as opposed to power I’m considering a set of Vance and Hines Twin Slash Mufflers. I’m sure over time I’ll end up wanting the power of a full system but at the moment I’m happy with the power the 107 gives me, I just want the bark to match the bite this bike has.
The other thing I am considering for this bike is passenger accommodations (Which also means a new two up seat) From what I have found this bike might be one of the easier bikes to get a set of passenger pegs onto the question is what do I get? Bung King has been one of the earliest after market companies I have sound to start supporting this new platform with accessories and they have a set of rigid passenger pegs that double as crash sliders . They also have a front frame slider that bolts onto the forward side for the frame. The investment in getting pegs for a passenger while also getting some tip over and slide out protection for the bike is super appealing. There haven’t been many reviews online since they are fairly new products. But the whole point of crash protection is that you don’t ever want to actually test it.
The Softail Street Bob is My Bike.
Other than those two things I can’t really think of much else I would change on this bike. The power and handling of the bike are exceptional, It looks bad ass and aside from some weak vocals and an uncomfortable seat I couldn’t be happier with the bike. Sure it’s not the fastest bike ever, I’m sure as hell not taking it to a track day and the 3.5 gallon tank makes it a bit difficult to take it on a long haul. But it’s exactly what I wanted in a motorcycle. It make my morning and evening commutes my favorite part of the day. It makes a trip to the coffee shop that much more exciting, and when I just need to get out of the house for an hour or two all I have to do is suit up, grab my helmet and go for a ride. That’s what I wanted a motorcycle for. To take the boring things I do and the mundane place I go and make it exciting. That’s what owning a Motorcycle has done for me and in it’s first 1000 miles of use my Softail Street Bob has done just that.