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Since 1999, the #1 Motorcycling Magazine for Women and the Men Who Ride with Them









Review: 2018 Harley-Davidson Softails

Comprehensive detailed review of each of the eight new models

By Tricia Szulewski, Assistant Editor
10/30/2017

Kudos to the designers and engineers at Harley-Davidson who were given the challenging task of revamping some of the brand’s most iconic models from the ground up. Last month WRN reported the big news about the eight all-new 2018 Softails that merge the models previously known as Softails and Dynas, marking the Motor Company’s largest R&D project in the company’s history.

review 2018 harley-davidson softails line up
Powerful statement! A line-up of 2018 Harley-Davidsons awaits the motorcycle press at Lake Arrowhead Resort in California. Harley-Davidson’s new slogan is #FindYourFreedom.

I was the only full-time female moto-journalist invited to the two-day press introduction test ride of all eight models around beautiful Lake Arrowhead in California. Harley-Davidson organizers created an efficient system to ensure we all had enough seat time to evaluate each model, putting no less than 50 miles on each bike. It was scorching hot, reaching 104 degrees at times, but the weather did nothing to take away from the cool factor the new Softails received everywhere we rode.

review 2018 harley-davidson softails tricia low rider
I’m riding the 2018 Low Rider on one of the many great roads mapped out for us. This model comes in four colors, but this Electric Blue is my favorite. I’m wearing Harley-Davidson’s (H-D) Triple Vent System waterproof textile riding jacket ($295), H-D Reveau mesh gloves ($45), H-D Curbside Sun Shield X06 half helmet ($125), H-D Bradbrook performance boots ($180), and BMW City women’s pants in Anthrocite ($300).

All eight Softails—Street Bob, Low Rider, Slim, Fat Bob, Deluxe, Breakout, Fat Boy, and Heritage Classic—are powered by the dual-balanced, rigid-mounted Milwaukee-Eight 107 inch (1746cc) engine in a new frame and chassis that incorporates a redesigned rear mono-shock that improves ride quality, traction, and control. Hidden to create a hard tail look, the shock is easier to adjust than ever before.

review 2018 harley-davidson softails suspension knob
The Breakout, Fat Bob, and Fat Boy rear shock preload is adjusted by twisting the external remote knob.

review 2018 harley-davidson softails socket wrench
The other Softails come with a combination spanner/socket wrench to make under-seat shock preload adjustment easy.

review 2018 harley-davidson softails street bob riding right schuberth m1
The three models that derived from the Dyna line— Fat Bob, Street Bob, and Low Rider—maintain their signature looks even with a hidden rear shock. This is the lowest priced Softail, the Street Bob, which starts at $14,499.

Four Softails—the Fat Bob, Breakout, Fat Boy, and Heritage Classic—are also available with the Milwaukee-Eight 114 ci (1868cc) engine. A back-to-back comparison ride on the Heritage 107 versus the 114 reveals not only a more immediate torquey response, but less shifting and more relaxed revs at higher speeds. I definitely see the benefit of having the bigger engine for riders who will be loading up a long tour’s worth of gear.

review 2018 harley-davidson softails anniversary paint
Because 2018 marks Harley-Davidson’s 115-year anniversary three of the 114 models—Breakout, Fat Boy, and Heritage Classic—are available with special anniversary paint and badging (indicated with ANV and ANX in the model designation). Shown is the Heritage Classic 114 (FLHCSANV) in Legend Blue/Vivid Black.

The new Softail design results in lighter, stronger, more powerful motorcycles that are more fun to ride and easier to lift off sidestands—something all women will appreciate. Improved cornering clearance is well received by riders like me who regularly scrape footpegs in curves.

The new Softails’ power-to-weight ratio is vastly improved, and editor Genevieve Schmitt goes into more detail about specific technical changes and weight reductions in her article here. It’s also important to note that the new design drops the center of gravity lower, which directly attributes to having better control at low speeds, something women will definitely appreciate.

review 2018 harley-davidson softails modula platform
The new Softail’s modular platform includes three steering head angles, two fuel tanks (3.5 and 5 gallon), and two swingarms with different widths. Each model combines these elements differently creating a unique character that gives each bike its own look and feel.

review 2018 harley-davidson softails led lights
Each Softail gets LED headlights which offer not only the best way to see and be seen, but are uniquely designed for each model, forming their own signature style that you’ll learn to recognize in no time. Shown here is the Heritage Classic, which comes with LED driving lights and round halogen turn signals.

With regard to that all important seat height measurement, critical to a woman feeling comfortable and in control on a motorcycle, seat height gains were less than an inch, except for the Slim, Deluxe, and Fat Bob (The 2018 Slim seat height is 1.7 inches higher than its predecessor, the 2018 Deluxe is 1.4 inches higher, and the Fat Bob is 1.6 inches higher.)

Incorporating modern styling and technology without losing the iconic feel of the Harley brand was no easy task. While I personally think the styling department proved each model more than worthy of the Harley-Davidson badge, many of the initial comments I saw on Facebook when the motorcycles were first shown involved the loss of chrome for black. Black bikes and satin finishes have been trending for the last few years, so it’s no surprise to see more exhausts, forks, and air cleaners being treated to these finishes.

But remember, these are still Harley-Davidsons; they are supported by the best aftermarket offerings for customization available. I expect to see just as many bone-stock Softails cruising down the road in 2018 as I did in all the years prior (almost none). After all, making your bike your own is a huge part of what makes owning a Harley-Davidson so appealing. And the Motor Company is ready with a full line of all-new accessories to fit the 2018 Softails.

What I immediately noticed on each bike was how easy it is to use the new sidestands. I’m a fairly tall woman at 5 feet 7 inches and even I have struggled to reach a far-away Harley sidestand on previous years’ models to put it down. The company finally rectified this issue and all the stands are shorter, well-placed, and designed so it’s no longer a challenge to use them while seated on the bikes.

I was very impressed with the overall quality of every model. Harley’s engineers and stylists did a world-class job making sure each new Softail has its own look and ride character, making it distinctly unique from its siblings. Below, I call them the way I see them based on what I found to be each model’s special attributes.

Click the image to go to the page for that model or just click the link below the pictures to go to the next page.

Click here to go to the first Softail.
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