“Long Live the King, the King is Dead”
New 2018 H-D Model Line-up
God save the King, Long Live the King! With the release of the new 2018 models some are asking has Harley Davidson forgotten its’ roots in dropping its’ traditional Dyna range with its’ twin shock suspension and replacing its’ Fat Bob model with a bike that appears to have run into the back of a truck. Gone are the sleek curves and flowing design. In its’ place a short wheeled, squarish design with an oblong headlight, and a heavily cropped tail guard with something that resembles a tow-bar affixed from the swing-arm. This supports a small spray deflector and appears like an after-thought to meet compliance in Australia. One must ask, “Is this the Ugly Duckling that can be turned into a Swan?” Amongst the plethora of cries there are few that have actually taken one for a ride to find out.
The manager, Paul, from Morgan & Wacker, Newstead allowed me to take the 2018 model Fat Bob for a brief test ride. This model is fitted with either the new “Milwaukee 8” 107 or 114 motor, the new mono-shock suspension design with easily adjustable dampening control, and inverted front forks with twin disks utilizing Harley’s 4-piston brake callipers. I test rode the Fat Bob with the 114 motor.
The first thing I noticed, before hitting the road, was that the forward controls are located back about 2 inches from where my 2013 Street Bob are located. This is probably a result of the overall shortening of the wheel base which has given the model a lighter, nimble feel about it. However, with this reduction there is a noticeable reduction in straight line stability. The forward controls are a modular unit that forms part of the actual frame. This section of the frame can be unbolted. I was told that you can get replacement mountings that provide extension of the foot position over the standard. However, this design does mean that most of the current after-market forward controls are incompatible.
The overall seating position is reasonably comfortable with a deep seat providing some lower back support, and the position of the controls maintains a comfortable upright seating position. My only criticism here was that the standard mirrors are located too close to the grips causing your fingers to be obstructed when changing grip from the levers back to the grips. But that’s just the first thing you’d easily change.
The first 800 meters of more from the Newstead shop was bumper-to-bumper traffic due to construction. So much for a road test. But, these road conditions drew my attention to how easy it was to ride in congested traffic, making it a useable commuter vehicle. It’s smooth delivery of power and light feel on the clutch made it effortless to ride and would comfortably crawl along between 12-14 km/h without having to slip the clutch.
Once clear of the traffic we could open it up a bit. The 114 motor was impressive in its’ delivery of power. The four-valves per head and twin spark plugs obviously assisted it making the motor very responsive to slight throttle movements. It had with plenty of grunt, and would wind out smoothly through the power band. The clutch control was smooth, and gear ratios appeared well matched (however it was not an extended ride to give it a full work-over). The suspension setup with the inverted forks and new mono-shock design worked really well (for a standard Harley) with no noticeable frontend-dive entering corners, and the rear was very stable, holding the road well. The brakes responded well to light pressures and pulled the bike up really well. Overall, the handling was quite impressive but its’ shorter wheel-base did make it more work to ride in a straight line.
Well, they say “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and I’m sure some may find the new Fat Bob visually appealing. But are these people part of an evolving market and not the traditional meat-and-potatoes Harley owners?
In looking at the model line up with either the 107 or 114 motor most models have retained their traditional lines, except for the Fat Bob with its’ squarish features and the Street Bob with its’ 13 litre fuel tank. My major criticism of the new 2018 line up, and this is just my opinion, stems from what the brand image of Harley Davidson is, what it has stood for more than 50 years, which has been an “attitude on two wheels”. A Harley should rumble with that throbbing vibration that makes it’s a pleasure to ride at 60 km/h or bark its’ authority at 160 km/h. This new line up purrs like a kitten. The really big question is whether a little after-market care would re-educate this kitten into becoming a lion on the road? New pipes might give it a bit of rumble but the new motor is really smooth; too smooth and, I don’t think this will change. Maybe with a new set of pipes, breather set-up and cams we might be able to redefine the image of the new line up. Whatever defines the new 2018 Harleys it will be distinctively different to what defined the pre-2018 Harleys.
The acid test for me is, “would I rush out and trade in my 2013 worked Street Bob to own one of the 2018 Harley models?” Definitely not the Fat Bob. Maybe one of the other models. I think the basic ingredients for a real power-house is there in the 114 Milwaukee motor, and they handle well from new (without having to fork-out to upgrade suspension and brakes), but I think I would always regret giving up something I know and love: it vibrates, with its’ throbbing rumbles, and I love the tactile feel it has. I don’t think I’d find the same feel on the new 2018 line up even with after market intervention