Can you imagine the faces of the Harley-Davidson design team when management announced, that they will be launching 100 new high impact models over the next 10 years? That is quite a bold statement, even for Harley-Davidson to make. A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step, and last year H-D unveiled the Milwaukee Eight engine which was a giant leap for them. This year, Harley-Davidson launched eight new Softail models, and to prove that their new bikes can handle well, they launched them in Spain where twisty roads and beautiful scenery abound.
Ben McGinley, Senior Designer Stylist, described the Milwaukee Eight engine as the crown jewel. This year, their focus was to create a new setting for that jewel. A new frame was created that was lighter, stiffer and less complicated. They even introduced a mono-shock rear suspension while retaining the classic Harley hard-tail look. To hear him speak so passionately about the brand was a revelation. His youthful appearance belied his staggering knowledge about the brand and about what makes Harleys so unique. Asked which model is his favourite, he showed us a photo of a bare Softail. Just frame and engine. His reasoning is: “If the bones are right, the rest follows easily.”
The entire range shares the same basic frame, but two different size swingarms, and different rake angles mean that Harley Davidson could produce eight unique models. Over the two day event we got to ride four of the eight models.
Day one started with the Street Bob and Breakout. To give these bikes a custom look, both bikes are devoid of the traditional chrome dials. Instead, there is a very small LCD panel sitting neatly integrated on the handlebar, called a ‘tech-riser’. It contains a surprising amount of information and is clearly visible, even in direct sunlight.
This bike is small in comparison to the others here and it props you upright with raised handlebars. The ride was comfortable but slightly cramped for my length. I think moving the foot pegs to the forward position would improve the ride comfort.
The Breakout came with a reputation as a bike that was not good at changing direction. This was also a bike that was known to have such terrible lean angles that merely turning the indicator on made bits scrape already. However, the new chassis goes a long way in improving both the cornering and lean-angles. With a 17kg weight saving over its predecessor, it was the most fun to ride, and I was reveling in scraping my boots on the tar.
On day two we got to ride the Heritage classic and the one bike that probably everyone here was looking forward to: the Fat Bob.
The Heritage Classic has a plush seat, feet forward and a blacked out screen to round out the classic Harley-Davidson picture. It comes with two beautifully crafted side cases and cruise control. It is obvious that this is a long distance cruiser.
The star of the show was, without doubt, the Fat Bob. Its mental looks had the core Harley-Davidson customers frowning. However, Harley-Davidson set themselves the target of attracting two million new riders to the brand, and the Fat Bob will be leading that charge. The seating position is feet forward, and the handlebars are thick brutes, tapering towards the controls. They remind me of bull horns. I was a bit concerned about the cornering ability of that fat front tyre, but that fear soon vanished once we got to the bends. With the 114 cubic inch engine I was never short of grunt. The pillbox LED headlight looks mean, and this is, hands down, the model that attracted the most attention.
Harley-Davidson made some bold decisions over the last few years, stepping carefully, not to upset their core riders. They interviewed thousands of riders, and they look to be heading in the right direction. I will wait patiently for my invite to the remaining 92 models.
By the time the sun set behind the Spanish mountains, my mind was made up. If I could ride one home, it would have to be the Breakout, with the Fat Bob just losing out by a whisker.
According to South Africa’s Marketing manager, Aidan Johnson, the new models will be arriving at the beginning of November, but orders can already be placed from the 15th of October. Prices might still change, depending on market conditions. – Brian Cheyne