Softail Deluxe Test
It was somewhere down the back straight of the Norwell Motoplex during the ‘National Softail Tour’ event that I had a ‘Will Smith’ moment. You know, that scene in the original ‘Independence Day’ flick where he exclaims, “I have GOT to get me one of these!!!” The difference was that I was on board a beautiful 2019 Softail Deluxe, but the enthusiasm was similar.
Back on that ride day the only Deluxe in the Softail fleet had sat unridden for the first three shifts. I wasn;t the only one who had chosen a Fat Bob, FXDR and a Sport Glide before throwing a leg over the latest incarnation of the FLSTN - but when I did it really surprised me.
I know it shouldn’t have. It’s a new Softail, with all the inherent improvements that the Milwaukee 8 platform has wrought, but my head was still in ‘Twin Cam’ Deluxe space until I gave the new one a workout. How wrong I was. The two older models I previously tested for Heavy Duty were similarly great-looking machines and also a joy to be aboard, but it wasn’t till I got to compare them with the latest incarnation that I realised the new one’s pool of beauty runs much deeper.
The Showa Bendy valve front forks and the emulsion rear shock are a big part of the reasons why. As many Heavy Duty readers will be aware, the older Softail’s rear end achieved its rigid appearance by fitting the shock absorber parallel to the ground, under the bike, and it worked by expanding the spring and damping - rather that the traditional compression method. It meant lying on the ground to adjust the preload and had a tendency to wallow more the further back you went back in the model’s timeline.
The new chassis mounts the shock under the saddle and adjustment is very easy. Its road manners, handling, stability and general ‘chuckability’ now extend well beyond its lean angles. Tipping in to the Motoplex sweepers was an eye-opening delight. Any wallowing or handling vagary is a distant memory.
The other obvious improvement is the 107 cube Milwaukee 8 Engine. The previous incarnation’s 103B, twin-cam, counterbalanced power plant was smooth for a big block and had the kind of torque that made for effortless and relaxed boulevard cruising. The M8 takes it all to the next level. Vibration at operating speeds is almost non-existent and it’s a much more free-revving engine. The gearbox is still smooth and direct and whole package is simply sweeter to ride. It’s also 14kg lighter than the previous model in running order.
The other thing that started playing out in my helmet as I was tipping it in to the right hander at the end of the Motoplex back straight were the online comments and angst that were being directed at several of Harley’s latest offerings at the time.
Our images of FXDR had attracted quite a lot of negative feedback on our Facebook page and as for the LiveWire, well, you’d think that H-D had started burning effigies of Willy G in their R&D studios when we posted anything regarding the new electric bike, such was the blowback.
“Harley have lost their way” was a popular comment, along with several colourful epithets directed at the designers. But by the time I was hard on the gas, out of that right hander, full butt-off-the-saddle and loving the bike’s pure sweetness I actually said to myself “No they haven’t. If anything, they have found their way. This is delightful. And just look at it!”
As a result, I sent a series of emails to Harley’s PR folks. A few weeks later I was at Morgan & Wacker picking a brand new 2019 model with six kilometres on the clock. Black beauty - and what a beauty. On the way home I stopped at my Pal Doug’s place to show him the bike and to compare it side-by-side with his spotless ‘06 Deluxe.
We were standing on his driveway, scrutinising, when one of his neighbours was driving by. She stopped and said “I could see the chrome gleaming on that bike from half a mile away. What a beauty.”
That set the precedent for a myriad of people who complimented the appearance and style of the bike over the next three weeks. The only other test bike to garner such constant praise and positive comment to me was the 2017 Road King.
Putting the new model side by side with Doug’s ’06 was an interesting exercise. The most obvious difference between the two appearance-wise is the lighting. Harley have done a great job of incorporating modern (and quite brilliant) lights and indicators into the old-school Heritage lines of the bike. It all fits together beautifully. Otherwise the bikes are similarly pleasing on the eye.
The following weekend presented an opportunity for another interesting comparison as I headed out for a ride with Roberto on his 114 Cube Heritage Softail. His is essentially the same bike as the Heritage Classic tested in Heavy Duty #164.
The main differences between his and the Deluxe are that the Heritage comes with the bigger engine as standard, cruise control, driving lights, passenger accommodation, windscreen and luggage.
The Deluxe comes with acres of chrome, bling, bling and a lot more bling.
With these two side-be-side it seemed that any purchasing decision would come down to taste. the type of riding and what modifications a buyer would have in mind.
The Deluxe starts at $29,750 and the Heritage is listed at $33,995 in Aus and there are a few things I’d do to the Deluxe if it were mine.
I spoke to Lee Negus at Morgan & Wacker to get some ideas on pricing one up to my desired spec.
The first thing would be to add passenger accommodation. A Back seat, Rear pegs and kit Sissy bar (with pad) and tghat would run out to $1,315 fitted.
I’d also add cruise control, which is a standard upgrade on any M8 Softail for around $700. While that was being fitted, I’d upgrade the switch blocks and buttons to all-chrome, just to finish off the look from the cockpit - which would add a further $1,125 fitted.
I actually prefer the 107 Cube engine over the 114 in the pure cruiser models. It’s a sweeter engine for cruising. It vibrates less and is a bit more pleasant overall. The 114 is a better choice for hard out hammering.
If you do need a bit more grunt and noise from the 107, a Stage 1 upgrade including TTS Tuner, V&H Big Radius Pipes and Screamin’ Eagle Breather would cost around $2,600 fitted.
The Screen and Soft luggage options for occasional touring duty are pretty much endless. Either bike would give great service in a number of applications.
To that end I spent three weeks riding the Deluxe in all manner of conditions and found it will do great service a boulevard cruiser, rolls away the Freeways and open roads with sure-footed confidence and even proved very enjoyable and quite chuckable while giving it a handful in the tighter going.
It all drove home that the latest Softail Deluxe is at heart a quite versatile machine that is still one of the all-time great looking motorcycles. It still wins my vote as the best-looking cruiser ever. With the 2019’s engine, chassis, suspension and running gear upgrades it has gone truly next level. It’s a supremely enjoyable motorcycle to ride and to look at.
‘Lost their way?’ On the Deluxe evidence? I think not. Not by a Deluxe margin.
Engine: Milwaukee-Eight® 107
Bore X Stroke: 100 x 111.1mm
Displacement 1,745 cc
Compression Ratio 10.0:1
Fuel System Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Exhaust 2-into-2 shorty dual; catalyst in muffler
Length 2,415 mm
Seat Height, Unladen 680 mm
Rake (steering head) (deg) 30
Trail 145 mm
Wheelbase 1,630 mm
Tyres, Front Specification MT90B16 72H
Tyres, Rear Specification MU85B16 77H
Fuel Capacity 18.9 l
Oil Capacity (w/filter) 4.7 l
Weight, As Shipped 303 kg
Weight, In Running Order 316 kg
Engine Torque Testing Method EC 134/2014
Engine Torque3 145 Nm
Engine Torque (rpm) 3,250
Lean Angle, Right (deg.) 28
Lean Angle, Left (deg.) 28
Wheels, Front Type6 Chrome Steel Laced
Wheels, Rear Type Chrome Steel Laced
Brakes, Caliper Type 4-piston fixed front and 2-piston floating rear
Lights (as per country regulation), Indicator Lamps High beam, turn signals, neutral, low oil pressure, engine diagnostics, auxilary lighting, ABS, security, low battery voltage, low fuel
Gauges 5-inch analog speedometer with digital gear, odometer, fuel level, clock, trip, range and tachometer indication