Last August, Harley-Davidson rocked the motorcycle world by announcing it was taking its Dyna motorcycle lineup and folding it into its Softail line, creating a family of eight bikes. Four of them are available with either a 107-cubic-inch Milwaukee-Eight engine or the more potent 114 c.i. engine.
My friends at McHenry Harley called in September to ask if I'd like to take a new Fat Bob out for a test. Upon arrival, I had a choice of the 107 or 114 engine. It was an easy choice.
Looking at the 2017 Fat Bob next to the new model showed drastic styling changes. Last year's bike was handsome, while the new one is more menacing and bold. The one I rode in Raven Black looked sinister, like a bike the new superhero Black Panther would ride.
Fitted above the inverted cartridge fork is a new rectangular LED headlight replacing the boring round unit. A new 3.6-gallon gas tank has been reshaped to show off the cylinder heads, making the engine look larger in the new, stiffer frame, with a 28-degree rake for a more aggressive look and handling characteristics. Fat header pipes stretch forward then curl back into a dual staggered exhaust, finished in satin copper color, before attaching to the upswept exhaust cans for an aggressive look.
Lean angle is also slightly improved. Also fitted are a chubby 150/80-16 front and 180/70B-16 rear tire package with aggressive tire treads, mounted to 16-inch cast wheels.
The appearance of the new Fat Bob is outstanding, but it's the Milwaukee-Eight 114 engine that is the real star. Its rigid-mounted to the new frame, with dual counterbalancers that make the engine feel smooth at idle, and it stays that way until you hit about 3,700 rpm, when you begin to get some vibes sneaking through the pegs and grips. Not enough to be bothersome, but enough to remind you you're piloting a bike with a lot of power at your right wrist.
Harley claims 118 foot-pounds of peak torque at 3,500 rpm, and I've no reason to doubt it. This is a "grip it and rip it" motor that begs to be ridden hard. You can lug the engine down to 25 mph in third gear, and it will spool up quickly when you twist the throttle. And sixth gear is strictly for highway cruising (and in most riding conditions, you won't use fifth gear much, either.)
You hear less mechanical sounds from the engine, and it's replaced by a wonderful sound coming from those upswept exhaust pipes, especially when you really jump on it (which means you'll hear it a lot). No need to replace these pipes.
The suspension is excellent. That new rear monoshock, with an external hydraulic adjuster, gives you 4.4-inches of travel, so it soaks up most bumps easily without sending shivers up your spine, or bottoming out. The front end does its job, as well, so relaxed cruising is quite comfortable.
But when you dial it up in the curves, the suspension is up to the task of holding an aggressive line with no need for mid-corner corrections. The Fat Bob always feels stable and athletic, especially in side-to-side transitions. Steering isn't quite as sharp as some of the other Softails, which is mostly due to the meaty tires. However, you get good leverage from the bars to lean it into a turn with authority.
ABS brakes come standard, and the dual front floating discs feature four-piston calipers. There's a two-piston set up for the rear. The strong brakes have good feel; you can easily employ your trail-braking skills when you're riding really aggressively.
Overall, this could be the best handling Harley I've ever ridden.
The ergonomics of the Fat Bob are dialed in for a wide range of rider sizes. With my short, stubby legs, I usually don't care for forward controls, but I had no trouble reaching the controls comfortably. And the handlebars are placed so I wasn't stretching for them, which made my riding position comfortable on my back. When the reach to the bars is too much, coupled with forward controls, a bike can be painful to ride for more than an hour or so. This Fat Bob was all-day comfortable.
The seat offers good lower back support and keeps you in place when you crank the throttle for hard acceleration (and you'll find yourself doing that often!). The pillion pad, however, will probably only be comfortable for shorter stints, as it's small and fairly thin. And like most Harley's, the low 28-inch seat height makes it an easy reach to the ground.
Don't bother looking for the ignition switch. As long as the key fob is on your person, just hit the starter button, and the bike fires up. The single, round, tank-mounted gauge could stand to be a bit larger to accommodate a larger LED display screen, where you'll get dual trimeters, gear indicator, speedometer, gas mileage, clock, etc.
Naturally, some folks will lament the loss of the Dyna name. Yet, however they classify this new Fat Bob, it's a much better motorcycle than the older models. You get gobs of power and torque, striking good looks with plenty of attitude, and a solid performance suspension for any type of riding condition.
This is a wonderful power cruiser, which will put a smile on your face every time you ride it.
The Fat Bob with the 107 engine starts at $16,999, while one with the 114 engine in Vivid Black starts at $18,699 or $19,099 for optional colors.
• Email Glassman at KGHawkeye650@aol.com.