2018 Harley Fat Boy Test
By the end of the epic chase scene in Terminator 2 the black 1990 Fat Boy that was wrangled up, over and through LA’s drainage system had already joined the pantheon of most famous motorcycles in popular culture ever.
Now, just like the T2, the Fat Boy is ‘baaaack’.
Not that it ever went away, but the 2018 model has become more advanced, like the second Terminator. Even the Satin Chrome finishes are lustrous and change appearance with the light, like liquid metal.
The Press bike supplied by HD-A was kitted with the optional 114 Cube Milwaukee 8 engine fitted in the all-new Softail chassis. A combination that has taken what was already one of the best ‘pure cruiser’ style motorcycles on the market and turned it to eleven.
This is now the complete package: Engine, gearbox, chassis, suspension, style and aesthetic. Yes, I said aesthetic, because I actually like the look of the new and controversial headlight. Not only does it look pretty good it’s literally quite brilliant too. It casts a wide, flat beam that lights up country roads very efficiently.
The first things I noticed while heading uptown after picking up the bike up from Morgan & Wacker were the quality of the suspension and the smoothness - and the responsiveness - of the engine.
The ‘high performance’ suspension in the new frame is such an improvement over previous Fatty's it is quite remarkable.
Initially I kept ‘bracing for impact’ when a manhole cover or big pothole jumped out in front of me. Or when crossing the railway lines near the Port, but the older model Softail’s ‘hard landing’ isn’t there any more.
No jarring, no gritting teeth, just nice, efficient suspenders. Some of that would be down to how easy it is to properly dial in pre-load now. No more spanner-wrench and rooting around under the bike to change pre-load. Now it’s a matter of twisting the knob below the RH side cover. It takes about ten seconds to adjust and is particularly brilliant if you plan on carrying a passenger.
The Showa ‘Bendy Valve’ suspension married to the new 37% stiffer chassis also helps with the bike’s dynamics and cruise-ability.
That said – it’s still a Fat Boy and has footboards, so lean angles still aren’t its strong point. However, H-D lists 25.6 degrees of ‘tippage’ (up from 25.2 degrees on the ’17 model). The difference in cornering clearance definitely seems much bigger than point four of a degree. The new model felt like it had much better clearance and tips in much further. Maybe down to the improved suspension and wider front tyre, but I only touched the boards down lightly a few times during the two-week test. That certainly wasn’t the case with the older test bikes.
The front tyre has gone from a 140 section on the ’17 model to a 160 on the new. It’s noticeable. The whole package is still eminently cruise-able. On the Freeways and Highway the fat front and 240 section rear provide excellent stability. On rougher and more demanding surfaces the 240 does like to follow the creases in the tarmac and needs a bit more body English and effort to pull around a corner. Like all Fat Boys, it’s a matter of setting up for the corners correctly. Grabbing a handful of brakes mid-apex makes the fat front end want to stand up pretty quickly too. Set up right and it’s all-good.
The brakes on the new model also have taken what were good stoppers and made them even better. I hardly touched the rear brake at all during the test; the front was that strong and reliable.
That 1800cc feeling.
The engine is also so strong. 114 Cubic inches translates to 1868cc. A 102x114.3 bore and stroke. I have a 4 door car with smaller displacement! Harley claims 155nm @ 3000rpm (Up from 136nm @ 3000rpm on the ’17 model). With the standard exhaust and tune it’s a motor I tended to short-shift and ride in the max torque zone rather than tap it out looking for max power.
If you do give it a handful it gets up to freeway speed very promptly and when launching from the lights the traffic gets very small in the rear view mirrors very quickly - and equally pleasingly. It gets off the line VERY well.
That 240 rear puts it all to the ground nicely and even with that amount of rubber on the road it still has enough grunt to flirt with breaking traction without feathering the clutch at all.
The 114 produces slightly more vibration than the 107 cube variant, but in big V-twin terms it’s still negligible. You have to consciously feel for any vibes at most speeds – they aren’t intrusive. Even sitting at the traffic lights is relatively smooth.
Click go the gears.
The cable-operated clutch is as light as the hydraulic units on the M8 tourers and the gearbox is also just as sweet. For a bike that had around 1,000km on the clock when I picked it up the gearbox was even more remarkable. It had a great feel with every cog clicking securely into place. Neutral was easy to find when stationary and I don’t miss the heel shifter at all. In fact my size 14’s hated the things.
Overall the driveline feels as upgraded and improved as the new motor and chassis.
Even pushing it around the shed seems easier. Dry weight is down from 320kg (’17) to 304kg and that no doubt helps with its open road manners too.
The new saddle is also noticeably more comfortable than previous fatty’s. The gel-feel unit was all-day good while the rest of the ‘sit-at-the-dinner-table’ Fat Boy ergonomics are similar to the older models - comfortable and relaxed. The big bolster at the rear of the rider’s saddle is shorter and the passenger seat is smaller.
The new analogue and LCD instrument mix is stylish and remained legible in most conditions – day or night. They display all the usual Harley retro-tech: fuel range, tacho, odometer and gear indicator. The only time I had trouble making the LCD out was with the sun directly over my shoulder, but that’s common to all tank mounted displays.
You can’t ride pictures.
For a bike that created so much online angst when it was first announced the 2018 FLFBS is actually a fat arsed cruiser of the first order.
In the flesh it’s great looking, has a wonderful new chassis and engine – even the Lakester cast wheels look the part – but it’s still a Fat Boy at heart, one of the most famous motorcycles in popular culture … ever.
Hasta la vista baby.
ENGINE: Milwaukee-Eight® 114
BORE 102 mm
STROKE 114.3 mm
DISPLACEMENT 1,868 cc
COMPRESSION RATIO 10.5:1
FUEL SYSTEM Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
EXHAUST 2-into-2 staggered; catalyst in header
LENGTH 2,370 mm
SEAT HEIGHT, UNLADEN 675 mm
GROUND CLEARANCE 115 mm
TRAIL 104 mm
WHEELBASE 1,665 mm
TYRES, FRONT SPECIFICATION 160/60R18,70V,BW
TYRES, REAR SPECIFICATION 240/40R18,79V,BW
FUEL CAPACITY 18.9 l
OIL CAPACITY (W/FILTER) 4.7 l
WEIGHT, AS SHIPPED 304 kg
WEIGHT, IN RUNNING ORDER 317 kg
TORQUE 155 Nm
ENGINE TORQUE (RPM) 3,000
LEAN ANGLE, 25.6 L
FRONT TYPE Machined, Lakester cast Aluminium
WHEELS, REAR TYPE 7 Machined, Lakester cast Aluminium
BRAKES, CALIPER TYPE 4-piston fixed front and 2-piston floating rear