Friday, 19 July 2013

Harley-Davidson Fatboy Special and Softail Heritage : First Ride

Harley-Davidson have just made their CKD line up in India even more exciting with the inclusion of the Fat Boy and the Heritage Softail Classic. We take the big boys out for a spin!

Harley-Davidson Fatboy Special and Softail Heritage in action
Phat Boy!
Talk about the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy and the mind immediately takes you a couple of decades back when The Terminator 2 movie came out. Schwarzenegger was either trying to destroy the future or save it as the unstoppable T-800 cyborg. His high-speed rescue of young John Connor while steering his Fat Boy with one hand and doing one-handed shotgun pumps with the other was the ultimate in movie macho. I was simply overawed by what a big Harley could do in the right hands. So when the time came, I immediately straddled the Fat Boy leaving Arun with no choice but to take the Heritage Softail Classic.

Harley-Davidson Fatboy Special and Softail Heritage static shot

Back to the Fat Boy, India gets both versions, the standard and the Special with the latter sporting a new reduced reach handlebar, a lower narrower seat shape and a matte black and aluminium finish instead of chrome and boy was I glad about getting the special.  It looks simply fantastic and the absence of chrome makes it look even meaner. The bike turns heads wherever it goes with fat tires, fat bars, a fat fender and a big, powerful, black powder-coated, counter-balanced Twin Cam 103B engine.

Harley-Davidson Fatboy Special and Softail Heritage in action

The nostalgic style isn't just about the confident stance, chrome and old-school detail but about how you look riding it. It’s about the feel. With its classic, relaxed riding position, you're not just cruising. You're in charge - kicked back on a throne of machined metal surveying your domain. As far as Harleys go, the Fat Boy is a living legend - and it's no wonder Arnold Schwarzenegger chose one in ''The Terminator 2.'' The big tank, 200mm rear tire, shotgun-style tailpipes, beefy front fork, and gorgeous bullet-hole wheels are just some of the styling elements that highlight this much aptly named two-wheeler. 

Powering the Fat Boy is a 1,690cc pushrod V-twin and 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission (a little ''6'' digit lights up on the instrument panel when the sixth gear is engaged). The double-lever heel and toe-style gear shifter makes shifting easy, while the massive torque shoots you forward with a bang. Devoid of heavy fairings and saddlebags, the Fat Boy proves more nimble and responsive than its siblings.

 The Fatboy Special had the optional Screamin Eagle air-filter & exhaust system

With 132 Nm at just 3,250 rpm, you can easily get away from most tough spots while enjoying a sweet exhaust note. In fact our bike equipped with the aftermarket Screamin Eagle exhaust simply thundered down the road with the traffic ahead paving the way for the bike. Performance is there for the taking and overtaking those never ending trailers on the highways becomes a passing blur. Acceleration is relentless in any of the six gears and not being careful will see the bike power-sliding its way from starts.

Harley-Davidson Softail Heritage and Fatboy Special in action
Heritage Class:

I would be lying if I said I didn’t lust for the matte black Fatboy before Abhishek swiftly clinched the keys of it and assigned the Softail Heritage to me. But I wasn’t too disappointed as the Softail too is no slouch when compared to its more famous sibling. While it might not posses the Hollywood links as the Fatboy but when one thinks of a Harley-Davidson, the first image that strikes your mind is a big motorcycle with a gleaming V-twin nestled below a huge tank and that’s what the Softail is – a pure-bred cruiser. 

White side-walled tyres on chrome finished spoke rim

When you gaze your eyes on this American muscle on two-wheels, you are swayed by its enormous size. But even with this bulk the proportion of the bike has been well captured all around and it doesn’t look overgrown or swollen from any angle. The Softail is all about details, the huge and flowing fenders, white side-walled tyres on chrome finished spoke rims with a chunky wheel hub, huge bulging tank and big handle bars. Harley has given the bike dollops of chrome which are clearly visible on the V-twin heart of the bike, the massive front forks, the commanding 7-inch triple headlights and the double barrel exhaust pipes.
Old-school studded-leather saddlebags
Adding to the bike’s charm are the old-school studded-leather saddlebags and gorgeous contoured leather seat. Also with the shiny black paint job of our test mule, the chrome bits on the bike were beautifully highlighted. All though the basic design of the bike is almost 25 years old it has stood the test of time quite valiantly and it can still hold its own among the plethora of other bikes in the market.  

Visually the heart of the Softail is a sight to behold with the black powder-coated V-twin powerplant featuring machined cooling fin tips and chrome drenched rocker covers that give the engine a quintessential Harley-Davidson appearance. Powering the Softail is an air-cooled Twin Cam 103 cubic engine which has been honed on the lines of the classic Flathead, Knucklehead, Panhead, Shovelhead 88 and 96 engines. Talking about numbers the 1,690cc mill is capable of churning out an approximate peak power of 76PS @ 5,200 rpm and a torque rating of 130Nm @ 3,000rpm. On paper, it might seem as if the bike is underpowered owing to its double-digit power rating but it’s the torque which makes all the difference in the Softail.
V-twin powerplant featuring machined cooling fin tips and chrome drenched rocker covers

The boffins at Harley tuned the engine for maximum low-end torque so that the rider doesn’t feel wanting for power in any gear and for this purpose employed the counter-balance technology on the long stroke mill.  It was time to ride and as I rested my rear on the sofa like seat and I was impressed by the well sorted out ergonomics of the bike. The tall and wide handle bar is easy to reach out to and gives the rider a commanding view of the road whereas the full-length footboards with heel-toe shifter further enhance the comfort. Hit the start button and the Twin Cam 103 cubic comes to life with a mild rumble and even though the engine is rubber mounted, one can experience the bike shuddering and vibrating at idle. 

Harley-Davidson Softail Heritage and Fatboy Special in action

Initially I was overwhelmed by the astounding 341kg kerb weight of the bike and was hesitant whether I would be able to negotiate this beast through the traffic-clogged streets of Mumbai. But once in motion, both my apprehension and the vibes form the V-twin smoothened out and I was enjoying piloting the Softail until I encountered the notorious Mumbai traffic. Suddenly the engine temp was rising at a speed of knots and my left leg was getting toasted and suddenly the bikes weight was making its presence felt and it was a task to manoeuvre the bike through the thick traffic. I was longing that the traffic should iron so that I could hit the highway soon and my wish was fulfilled soon.  

Once on the open highway, the character of the Softail transformed dramatically and I felt as if I am riding an all together different machine. The engine temperature dropped, my arms and feet were relaxed and I was relishing the cool breeze of air which was cooling me down as I was drenched in sweat negotiating the Softail through the traffic in the summer heat. I whipped open the throttle to let the V-twin showcase its magic and the sudden surge of torque pasted a wide grin on my face. The same can’t be said about the six-speed Cruise Drive transmission which lets out a distinct clunk sound every time you engage it, so don’t expect a butter smooth shift like those of the Japanese brigade the clutch was beautifully weighed and I didn’t end up with a sore arm after the ride.

Harley-Davidson Softail Heritage and Fatboy Special in action
The Softail is in its own element when u slot the bike in sixth gear and enjoy the soft burble of the exhaust pipe in the background while coasting at 120km/h. I was also little apprehensive about the bikes 131mm ground clearance fearing it would bottom out over speed breaker and bumps but it just glided over such hindrances with finesse. The Softail conferred the twisties of the Khopoli Ghat with ease albeit the floorboard scrapping in few corners. Harley has employed ABS on the Softail which has been quite cleverly housed in the hub of the front wheel but the single front disc prove inadequate in stopping this beast which is my biggest qualm on the bike also the optional windshield would help in plummeting the windblast at high speeds.

Harley-Davidson Softail Heritage and Fatboy Special static shot

Even though both the bikes are powered by the same engine that is where the similarity ends. The Fatboy is a power cruiser full of enthusiasm and wants to slide and power its way out at every possible opportunity. On the other hand, the Softail Heritage is a relaxed soul which is designed to gobble up as many miles as possible in utmost comfort. Also by making both the bikes CKD, Harley-Davidson has been successful in bringing down the prices on the machine by as much as Rs 5 lakhs, which means the Fatboy Special is now available at Rs. 15.6 lakh and the Heritage at Rs. 16.25 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi) making it a very laudable move on Harley-Davidsons part. We feel that other two-wheeler manufacturer should also be inspired by Harley’s strategy and start CKD operations which would benefit both the customers and brand. So all you Harley aficionados who were craving for these mean machines but were holding yourself back owing to the bike’s pricing, well this is the right time to make your move.


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