Harley-Davidson is a breed apart, says Simon Hargreaves on the website of bike-insurance specialist Bennetts. Honda, Kawasaki, BMW, Triumph, and so on all make motorcycles. But “Harley only builds Harleys”. That is both a blessing and a curse for the company, because for every die-hard lover of the bikes there are many more who “cannot comprehend the love for the low-tech lumbering cruisers”. Changing the beloved Harley formula for the sake of the latter risks alienating the former.
For 2018, motivated by falling sales and stricter emissions regulations, Harley has simplified, streamlined and modernised its range, exemplified by its updated, popular hot-rod model, the Fat Bob. The “brutal” Fat Bob 114 featured here makes “one of the coolest, most imposing entrances in motorcycling”, says Hargreaves.“It arrives with its own theme tune, like Darth Vader.” It rides well too. The engine has “proper go”in it, the typical Harley exhaust bark is more prominent with less mechanical noise to mask it, and the bike goes through turns with “unHarleyesque agility”. This is “clearly a big step forward for Harley”. It even “works like a proper motorbike”. You’d have to be tone deaf not to love it.
It certainly elicits wows – followed by exclamations of “what the hell is that?”, says Evans Brasfield for Motorcycle.com. Harley has “dialled up the attitude” with its new designs, and the Fat Bob looks like a “superhero version of its former self”. It also features “improved ground clearance, proficient suspension and an engine that loves full-throttled clutchless upshifts”. The result is “a power cruiser that is as comfortable trolling the boulevard as it is chasing apexes”. Sports-bike riders may scoff at the feet-forward riding position, but it does the job as a cruiser and will appeal to a new generation of young riders.
Overall, Harley has struck the right balance with the Fat Bob, agrees Rich Taylor in GQ magazine. It’s not nearly as brutal as its looks suggest, yet is sufficiently sporty and modernised to tempt a new crowd. “If you’ve never considered a Harley before, try one out on your favourite twisty road. You might be surprised – and so will your mates on zippy sports bikes.” The Fat Bob is “a job well done”.
Price: from £15,495. Engine: 1,868cc, V-twin. Power: 93bhp at 5,020rpm. Torque: 114 lb ft at 3,500rpm. Tank size: 13.6 litres.