The latest Fat Boy stays on course.
The 28th of December 2006, that was first day that I ‘got’ the Fat Boy and I’ve been a fan-boy ever since.
It was a lovely Summer’s Thursday on the North Island and I had a brand-new Khaki ‘07 Press Bike in my possession. As most of my riding buddies had gone back to work, I decided that a solo ride around the Coromandel Peninsula was the order of the day.
Several of those Pals would tell this was a crazy idea, I mean, the ‘Corro Loop’ is one of the best sports riding scratch roads on the planet. If there is a better day ride out of a major city anywhere – I sure want to ride it.
As it was, I’d done the loop in both directions dozens of times – attacking the endlessly twisty roads on a variety of machines – from rapid litre bikes, high-performance sports-tourers to well performed, big capacity Adventure bikes.
These were halcyon days when there were hardly any traffic cops on NZ roads. All that changed drastically not long after, but part of the reason I originally bought a Buell was that its superb handling and cornering clearances made for a perfect motorcycle for the ‘Corro’.
But a Fat Boy? With its limited lean angles, that zany 200 section rear tyre and those lounge chair ergonomics. Well … it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable rides I had that summer.
Instead of charging around the glorious landscape apace, I was forced to do what the bike was designed for: cruised.
I buttoned off, and although the pace was still brisk enough, I had time to look around and even do a bit of exploring. Instead of hard charging to the next spectacular set of twisties, the challenge of gently kissing the wide footboards on the tarmac became the game.
Slow in, fast out and as soon as the apex was negotiated, the joy of winding on the torque screw from the 96-cube twin cam and pulling out with gusto beckoned.
Then it was a matter of using the big bore’s sturdy engine braking to wash off speed before the next corner - to throw it in with exaggerated body English to accommodate the lean angles – and repeat. And again. All day. All the time thinking “How good is this!”
In the ensuing 15 years and a dozen Fat Boy test bikes later the experience of that day has held true. Especially as the model has evolved from 96-cube to 103-cube to 107-cube M8 to the current 114-cube Milwaukee 8 motor that is as sweet as any big twin Harley have produced.
As often mooted in HEAVY DUTY, every time we ride a new model of M8, the engine seems a little smoother and more refined.
Mick reckons it’s down to the fuel mapping so I asked a few of friends of the Mag for their theories. “Yep – you are right ¬– it has to be the mapping” said Rob Keuning from Gasoline Alley. “Up until this year it’s been the same engine, same components.”
Mark Harris form HCH-D agreed but did also note that the 2021 model is running a new Engine Control Unit (ECU) and that may also contribute to this test bike engine’s smoother performance.
“It’s also causing a few issues with performance upgrades and tuning,” he continued. “There are some issues getting past the speed limiter with some tuners, but we’ve found that the Screamin’ Eagle or Maximus tuners will work with exhaust and engine upgrades.”
But Mark also agreed that the motor definitely runs smoother and is more responsive that the earlier incarnations.
To the Here and Now
Apart from the engine evolution the only other significant change to the machine from the unit we tested in Issue #156 is bling.
The engine cases, nacelle, rocker covers, exhaust fork leg uppers and details that were previously a brushed metal finish are now glorious H-D quality chrome – and it looks fantastic.
The super-fat, solid Lakester wheels remain bright metal finish and H-D says they are coated in a corrosion resistant finish. Even so, they still do get a little bit of ‘sweet water’ spotting and in some lights are noticeably less blingy that the rest of the machine. Personally, I would paint or powder coat them like the 30th anniversary models. I’d also stick some stage one pipes on it and add Harley’s excellent cruise control option and it would be job done.
Just ride it.
Not only looking strong and muscular, enjoyment is also what this bike is about – it remains eminently pleasurable to be aboard. With one caveat. This isn’t a bike for a novice fresh off a LAMS.
The massive 240-section rear married to the 160-section front (which is the same width or wider than the rear on many bikes) and the 317kg wet weight can offer some quirky handling, especially at low speed, off-camber manoeuvres.
It needs more effort to get it around a corner – but for an experienced rider that adds a big dose of fun-factor. It really is grin inducing.
It’s also means that you need to get it facing in the right direction before nailing the throttle, rather than accelerating into it.
Conversely on the freeway or at higher speeds the new Softail chassis and suspension offer a very planted and delightfully solid feel. The big tyres are not nearly as inclined to follow imperfections or ridges in the tarmac as previous models. It tracks nicely for such big hoops.
Of course, getting the power and torque to the ground is what the big rubber is all about – as a result, launching the Fat Boy from the lights or low speed is quite joyous. The Sports air cleaner allows the motor to breathe as well as the stock exhausts allow, and the traffic gets very small in the mirrors mighty quickly.
Then when up to operating speed the 114 chugs along with smoothness and 155Nm of roll-it-on torque hammer on hand.
It’s also very comfortable. Harley describes the riding position as ‘relaxed’ and it’s a fair assessment. The big wide footboards, ranch-style pulled back handlebars and surprising plush (to look at it) gel saddle make for a machine that is a pleasure to sit on all day.
Which is what I did for several all-days during the test period. I put over 1000km on the bike in a variety of riding conditions around Southeast Queensland. Not quite the Coromandel’s level of spectacle, but with some very good Hinterland bike roads nonetheless.
Around town it’s a feel-good, head turner that the projects like it’s the king of the boulevard.
On the freeway and open roads, it’s very strong and steady while the 18.9litre tank gives good range and the ergos work well without the need for screens or bodywork.
On the scratch roads – well it’s time to button off a bit and enjoy the scenery, and as I found out 15 years ago, that can be mighty enjoyable too.
To that end, throughout its long history, the Fat Boy has stayed true. The 2021 unit is a worthy chapter. Possibly its best.
Guts and Bolts
Length: 2,370 mm
Seat Height, Unladen: 675 mm
Trail: 104 mm
Wheelbase: 1,665 mm
Tyres, Front: 160/60R18,70V,BW
Tyres, Rear: 240/40R18,79V,BW
Brakes, Caliper Type: 4-piston fixed front and 2-piston floating rear
Fuel Capacity: 18.9 l
Oil Capacity (w/filter) : 4.7 l
Weight, As Shipped: 304 kg
Weight, In Running Order: 317 kg
Bore: 102 mm
Stroke: 114 mm
Displacement: 1,868 cc
Compression Ratio: 10.5:1
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Primary Drive: Chain, 34/46 ratio
Engine Torque: 155 Nm
Engine Torque (rpm) : 3,250
Lean Angle, Right (deg.) : 25.6
Lean Angle, Left (deg.) : 25.6