Harley-Davidson’s iconic boulevard bruiser is back and it’s better than ever before.
Twenty-eight years ago, the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy gained instant celebrity status. With Arnold Schwarzenegger (or his stunt double, rather) making a massive leap of faith over an LA culvert, the Fat Boy became America’s cinematic answer to Steve McQueen’s great escape on a period-incorrect Triumph. The imagery has stuck with the Fat Boy ever since, but the motorcycle itself – thankfully – has evolved substantially.
The Fat Boy, by design and politically incorrect nomenclature, is synonymous with Harley-Davidsons and the new version seems virtually unchanged in its silhouette. Get reasonably close and the changes begin to emerge. The signature Fat Boy elements are all there – from the solid Lakester wheels, to the imposing and low-slung head-on stance, and the beefy central mass. The 2018 model replaces most of its chrome with satin-finish metal and, prominently, gets a new LED headlight assembly that looks radical and offers good (if not extra-ordinary) lighting. The trim and fixtures are of a very good quality – H-D has done well to step up its fit and finish game to match Indian Motorcycles’ – and the quality of welds is good and consistent too. There is still some way to go, though, and there are a couple of minor poorly finished bits, but it is a big step regardless.
Of the Softail family, the Fat Boy is the second-most expensive and it looks it. Here’s a motorcycle with tons of attitude and this comes across even more strongly when you swing a leg over it and settle into its generous seat. The handlebar is wide but not demanding of your arms and there’s nothing hindering your view of the road ahead. A simple digital-analogue instrument cluster sits neatly within a tank-mounted shroud and on either side of it are two fuel-tank caps (on a rotary thread), with the one of the left being faux but adding to the symmetry. The Fat Boy isn’t blatantly aggressive, but enforces its attitude in the commanding way in which it seats you.
Picking it up from its side stand is easy and its 320kg kerb weight (14kg lower than the last-gen Fat Boy) isn’t immediately apparent. What helps is the low centre of gravity and also the friendly 670mm seat height, both of which make the Fat Boy more approachable than you’d expect it to be. You no longer need a key for any function except the manual steering lock (Indian has an electronic lock which is more price-appropriate), which does make the ‘keyless’ operation redundant. You will never leave a Fat Boy with its handlebar unlocked and if you have to reach low and ahead to unlock it with a key, you might as well slot the key into the ignition yourself. The motion-sensing security system isn’t very convenient for a country like ours either, since it sets off a minute-long alarm every time someone touches it – doesn’t that happen all the time in selfie-hungry and big-bike-curious India? It’s not the best motorcycle to ride to a first date, then.
A Fat Boy, however, isn’t the kind of motorcycle you’d want to leave parked for too long. Thanks to its 1,745cc, V-Twin Milwaukee Eight motor, the Fat Boy is a sensory treat you’ll never tire of, if you’re a die-hard cruiser fanatic. The engine fires up to an impressive rumble and the gearshift is decidedly mechanical but not as crude as a few older-gen Harleys. What the Milwaukee Eight also does admirably is retain the characteristic and likeable V-Twin vibrations while largely ironing out ones that aren’t quite. Even the clutch is reasonably weighted and, in heavy traffic too, it is easy to use despite the lack of adjustability. Harley-Davidson has developed this motorcycle with a lot of insight and the end-result is unfiltered attitude without the expected side effects – never a bad thing, right?
Now, the Fat Boy may be more rider-focused than ever before but it isn’t docile. You will discover this as it darts off from standstill to 100kph in just 4.7sec. For a motorcycle of this size, the Fat Boy has serious grunt and while it can’t match the Ducati XDiavel on this front, it’s thrilling enough in the realm of sanity. It’s also at ease cruising upwards of 100kph, where the motor gets quieter (in sixth, at around 3,000rpm, you can barely hear a thrum) and with decent roll-on acceleration, this means you can clock serious highway riding days on it, effortlessly. In the city, the Milwaukee Eight offers good low-speed rideability but the gear ratios could do better in this aspect; I couldn’t go below 40kph in third and 70kph in sixth gear without severe protests from the engine. This isn’t a deal-breaker – it’s just a matter of getting used to – but a little more tractability would make it even sweeter.
I didn’t expect the Fat Boy to be a ravishing handling package – and it isn’t – but it is surprisingly good. The redesigned chassis on the new Softail family is 65 percent stiffer and also facilitates increased lean angles and a more precise steering. You still end up scraping the footboards when leaning ambitiously but the agility with which you can bank the Fat Boy into a corner is what is addictive. Alright, so it’s not enviable by conventional motorcycle standards but considering Harley has equipped the Fat Boy with its widest front tyre ever (160/60 R18), and with an equally immodest 240/40 R18 rear tyre, its handling characteristics are quite impressive. Braking is absolutely phenomenal, especially for a motorcycle of its girth, and that it can get from 100kph to a dead halt in just 3.40sec (in just 47.81m) should tell you how impressive it is. The brakes are not only prompt but also predictable, and the lever progression is good for the brakes.
What adds to the Fat Boy’s premium-ness is the suspension. For 2018, H-D has equipped the Softails with the Showa Dual Bending Valve fork previously seen on the Touring range. This isn’t just a lighter fork but also provides more comfortable damping without making the steering lethargic by its class standards. Also new is the underseat monoshock, which absorbs most bumps decently without unsettling the rider and is definitely an improvement over the twin shocks (positioned under the engine) on the older bike. Best of all, H-D has retained its hardtail look, which is precious to Harley purists and definitely looks cool!
Is the Fat Boy the ultimate cruiser money can buy? Yes, as long as you don’t have a pillion that features in your motorcycling dreams. Both, Rishaad and I had a go at riding pillion and it was, undoubtedly, the most unforgiving experience that became intolerable beyond 10 minutes. I would also disarm the security system because trusting someone else with the keys (to disable constantly set-off alarms) in one’s absence is a big ask. Also, a thief who can actually push this monstrosity of a motorcycle for beyond a few feet probably deserves to keep it, right? Priced at Rs 17.49 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the Fat Boy is a lot of motorcycle for your money, and beyond the incredible cool factor it’s properly fun to ride, too. Just keep it out of Arnie’s reach, okay?