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MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: Why Women Love the Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe

One of the more popular bikes for female riders

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor
9/19/2009


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If you asked me which motorcycle among Harley-Davidson's Big Twin models is the most popular with women riders, I'd answer the Softail Deluxe FLSTN, judging by my own observations attending events and getting out there among the female motorcycling community. Ever since the motorcycle's introduction in 2005, I've seen more women riding that motorcycle than any of the other Softails, Dynas, and Touring model platforms, those considered the "Big Twins." 

I caught this woman riding a Softail Deluxe in Laughlin. She added a rear tour pack and saddlebags.
I caught this woman riding a Softail Deluxe in Laughlin. She added a rear tour pack and saddlebags.

The reason, I believe, for its popularity among the fairer sex is because up until this year it boasted the lowest seat height of any Harley at 24.5 inches. That alone is enough to pique womens' interest. For the record, in 2007 the Rocker was introduced with the same seat height measurement as the Softail Deluxe. And now for 2010, the Fat Boy Lo, a new model, has bragging rights as the Harley with the lowest seat height at 24.25 inches, a quarter inch lower.   

My 2009 test model was outfitted with a Harley-Davidson Genuine accessories sissy bar and windshield. The luggage rack comes standard on the bike.
My 2009 test model was outfitted with a Harley-Davidson Genuine accessories sissy bar and windshield. The luggage rack comes standard on the bike.

The Softail Deluxe gives shorter women an opportunity to ride a powerful motorcycle, a Harley no less, with a seat height that enables most of them to touch the ground flat footed. Throw in that the bike has attractive nostalgia styling with its wide white wall tires, spoke wheels, among other things, and wha-la!, you have a motorcycle that has many of the features women say are important to them.

I put more than 800 miles on a 2009 Deluxe, which except for two minor upgrades (explained later), is the same as the 2010 model. Indeed the low seat is the first thing I notice when I swing my leg over the saddle. I'm 5 feet 6.5 inches with a 30-inch inseam (5-feet-7 with boots on).

At 5-feet 6.5 inches, I easily flatfoot the bike with a few inches to spare as seen by my bent knee. I tested this bike on a ride to the Laughlin River Run, the reason for my luggage on the back. I'm wearing my Arai SZ/Ram III helmet, and my elk skin jacket from Walter's Leathers.
At 5-feet 6.5 inches, I easily flatfoot the bike with a few inches to spare as seen by my bent knee. I tested this bike on a ride to the Laughlin River Run, the reason for my luggage on the back. I'm wearing my Arai SZ/Ram III helmet, and my elk skin jacket from Walter's Leathers.

What I also notice is the wide-ness of the bucket style saddle. Many shorter women have told me that while the bike is certainly low, the wide saddle forces them to lose leg-reaching inches so instead of being flatfoot, just their toes touch.

Danielle Martinico from Chandler, Arizona, tands 5 feet and rides a Softail Deluxe after making a few modifications. She took the seat to a boat re-upholstery shop and some foam out to narrow the nose of it bringing her legs closer so she had more length to touch the ground. The she added foam to the back of the seat to push her forward a bit more to better reach the brake and shifter.

Danielle Martinico on her lowered Softail Deluxe. She stands just 5 feet.
Danielle Martinico on her lowered Softail Deluxe. She stands just 5 feet.

Danielle lowered the suspension 1 inch in front and back with a front lowering kit and lower rear shock. She also changed the handlebars because the stock bars were too wide. The new ones from Harley-Davidson are not as wide and come back towards her more making it comfortable for her neck, shoulders and arms.
Danielle lowered the suspension 1 inch in front and back with a front lowering kit and lower rear shock. She also changed the handlebars because the stock bars were too wide. The new ones from Harley-Davidson are not as wide and come back towards her more making it comfortable for her neck, shoulders and arms.

Updated Info on 12/16/09: What Danielle used to Lower her Bike
Harley-Davidson Buell of Rocklin, in Rocklin, Calif., installed a Low Profile Front Suspension kit from Harley-Davidson Genuine Accessories that lowered the front of Danielle's 2005 Softail Deluxe by 1 inch. Part number is: 54596-94, $109.95. The rear shock was lowered using a Harley-Davidson Genuine Accessories Rear Lowering Kit (with shock stud), part number 54001-04, $89.99. The shock was not replaced, rather a stud was installed to lower the existing shock. She replaced the stock handlebars with Harley aftermarket bars, part number 56557-95.

Harley-Davidson must have heard people were cutting up their seats because a couple of years ago it came out with its own of this re-upholstered seat as aftermarket item calling it the Reach Seat. It pushes the rider forward 1/2 inch and narrows the nose by 1 1/2 inch over the stock seat. The Harley part number for that Reach Seat for the Softail Deluxe is 51762-06.

The stock saddle has a chrome grab rail in the back that a passenger can hold on to, but also works as a style element. The pillion pad can be removed as it is a separate piece.
The stock saddle has a chrome grab rail in the back that a passenger can hold on to, but also works as a style element. The pillion pad can be removed as it is a separate piece.

The aftermarket Reach Seat replaces both the pillion and rider seat with one seat.
The aftermarket Reach Seat replaces both the pillion and rider seat with one seat.

Having ridden many of the Harley-Davidson motorcycles, the ergonomic triangle of the Softail Deluxe is very favorable to a wide size range of riders. While the seating position relative to the handlebars, and relative to the footboards was perfect for me, riders shorter and slightly taller should be able to fit on the bike comfortably, too. And for the women who are shorter than me, that Reach Seat is available. As for the stock seat's "cush" factor, as Goldilocks observed about the three bears' beds, "Not too hard and not too soft. Just right."

Check out the ergonomic triangle of me riding the Deluxe. This is one big motorcycle where my butt actually fits in the entire saddle enabling me to take advantage of the lumbar support provided by the scooped rear part of the seat.
Check out the ergonomic triangle of me riding the Deluxe. This is one big motorcycle where my butt actually fits in the entire saddle enabling me to take advantage of the lumbar support provided by the scooped rear part of the seat.

I talk so much about seat height and ergonomics as that is the number one attribute cited by women when shopping for a motorcycle, according to a survey of 1000 female riders by Women Riders Now. And because the ergos are dialed in just right along with an industry leading low seat height measurement, the Softail Deluxe is a popular motorcycles among women.

The Softail Deluxe is powered by Harley's air-cooled Twin Cam 96B motor found in all the Softails. The 96 cubic inches translates to 1584 cubic centimeters (cc). The B means the rigid-mounted engine is counter balanced to the frame to reduce the vibration. The B is not found on the engine designation for the Dyna models, for example — it's called Twin Cam 96, without the B—because the engine is rubber mounted to the frame, a feature inherent in the design of the Dyna frame.

If you haven't ridden a Harley Big Twin the 1584cc is, in my opinion, is more than enough power for most riders. The motorcycle has a lot of get-up-and-go making the 724-pound machine — yes it's that heavy — seem much lighter. And actually, seeing that the bike weighs that much shocks me. My Street Glide, a touring model, is just 60 pounds heavier and includes a fairing and hard sided saddlebags. The Deluxe, though, has many big bike features including FL front forks and fender. FL is the touring platform's frame designation.

The only time I really feel the weight of the Deluxe is lifting it off the side stand. Thanks goodness for the bike being so low as I’m able to use my legs and my arms to right the bike. I say this because beginners thinking because the seat is so low that they can handle this motorcycle, think again. It's a large bike with a wide profile relative to say, the Dyna models. Fortunately, that low seat makes for a very low center of gravity making it relatively easy to move the weight around.

Turning the bike around on a slight grade for my photo shoot requires slow careful movements. This isn't a bike most women riders can whip around.
Turning the bike around on a slight grade for my photo shoot requires slow careful movements. This isn't a bike most women riders can whip around.

I like that the Deluxe has floorboards that let me relax and move my feet up and back on the board. And the heel-toe shifter is a welcomed feature, something I've gotten to used to using on my Street Glide. I find it's easier to use my heel to kick the shifter into neutral than my toe.

The 6-speed engine is fuel injected so just the right amount of fuel is delivered to the engine no matter what temperature or altitude you find yourself in. Fuel injection has been standard equipment on all Harleys for a few years now and while I'll always love the quirkiness and character of a carbureted engine, just reading the word "carbureted" makes such engines seem ancient now. The 6th speed on Harley-Davidson transmissions is called a Cruise Drive, which means it's more of an overdrive lowering RPMs when you're cruising at 70-75 mph.

A new feature on the 2010 model is a helical cut 5th gear, which means the edges or "teeth" of the gear are cut at an angle improving the sound and smoothness of the shifting.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect with the Deluxe in the twisties. Last time I spent any amount of time on a Softail was the Fat Boy and it sort of lumbered through the turns. The Deluxe glides effortlessly through the turns going right where I point it. The bike feels very solid and planted giving a rider not so used to its bigger size a lot of confidence. A rider skilled at canyon carving will soon find herself scraping the floorboards exclaiming "Wheeeee!" as she marvels at how this big bike can feel so zippy.

The Softail Deluxe is so confidence inspiring that one will soon find herself leaning farther into the turns.
The Softail Deluxe is so confidence inspiring that one will soon find herself leaning farther into the turns.

The suspension is the standard Harley Softail suspension setup with a single horizontal mounted coil shock hidden in the rear and 41.3mm telescopic shocks in the front. My 116-pound weight is too light for the stock setting that's dialed in for a 180-pound rider; I fly off the seat on big bumps but with the added weight of my 30 to 40-pound backrest bag, the bike glides over the bumps instead of jarring me out of the saddle. The preload on the rear shock can be adjusted but you need a special wrench; it's not something I’d do myself. I'd have my dealer adjust it.

The 5-gallon fuel tank holds more than enough gas as I stop about every 100 miles or so to stretch my legs and rehydrate regardless of how much fuel I have left. Harley press notes state the bike gets 54 mpg on the highway.

Harley-Davidson has the styling down just right with the Deluxe leaning toward a nostalgia theme that resonates with female riders. Along with the whitewall tires and chrome spoke wheels mentioned earlier, the valanced fenders with chrome edges, the vintage styled tank badge, and tombstone taillight add to the old school cruiser look.

Many bikes in the early days featured the tombstone taillight named because the shape resembles a tombstone.
Many bikes in the early days featured the tombstone taillight named because the shape resembles a tombstone.

Three headlights, one main and two accessory lamps accessed by a separate switch, are also an "old school" feature. It's nice to have that extra light at night.
Three headlights, one main and two accessory lamps accessed by a separate switch, are also an "old school" feature. It's nice to have that extra light at night.

The tank-mounted electronic speedometer has a digital odometer that with the flick of a rubber button on the left side rotates through to show a time-of-day clock, dual tripmeters, and a fuel countdown that shows you how many miles you have left before the tank is empty.
The tank-mounted electronic speedometer has a digital odometer that with the flick of a rubber button on the left side rotates through to show a time-of-day clock, dual tripmeters, and a fuel countdown that shows you how many miles you have left before the tank is empty.

The motorcycle comes in a large selection of solid and two-tone colors. This white gold pearl/black pearl combination is popular among women because of its nostalgia appeal.
The motorcycle comes in a large selection of solid and two-tone colors. This white gold pearl/black pearl combination is popular among women because of its nostalgia appeal.

A light on the dash indicates you're running low on fuel and an improved fuel tank sender feature for 2010 gives a more accurate reading of your fuel level. Also, a little numeral 6 lights up indicating when you've shifted into 6th gear.   

After spending a lot of time on this bike, I can see why women like it.
After spending a lot of time on this bike, I can see why women like it.

Kudos to Harley for giving women an easy to ride, easy-to-reach-the-ground motorcycle in a big bike package. That, with the custom styling leaves little for a rider to tinker with that is, unless she doesn't want her Deluxe to look like everyone else's. 

Specs At A Glance: 2009 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe
Displacement: 1584cc
Seat Height: 24.5 inches
Fuel Capacity: 5 gallons
Weight: 724 pounds;
Price: Starts at 17,499; 2010 starts at 16,799 (price dropped in 2010)
Colors for 2009: Vivid Black; Flame Blue Pearl (New); Black Denim; Red Hot Sunglo (New); Two-Tone White Gold Pearl/Pewter Pearl; Two-Tone White Gold Pearl/Black Pearl; Two-Tone Deep Turquoise/Antique White; Two-Tone Red Hot Sunglo/Smokey Gold; Two-Tone Black Ice/Blue Ice
Colors for 2010: Vivid Black; Flame Blue Pearl; Red Hot Sunglo; Two-Tone Scarlet Red/Vivid Black; Two-Tone White Ice Pearl/Black Ice Pearl

WRN Recommendation
Any woman wanting to enter the big leagues of motorcycling should consider this motorcycle unless she's unusually tall, then she may feel cramped on the bike. The Softail platform is right below Harley's big touring platform so if you don't need all the storage of the touring bikes and don't think you can handle the size, the Softails are a great place to start. The Deluxe with its low seat and great styling is a bike that can grow with you adding touring accessories as you wish.

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Reader Comments


Love the article. I read all 17 pages of comments and learned something from all of them. I just traded my '08 1200 Sporty Low for a brand new '14 Softail Deluxe in the hard candy colour Voodoo Purple. I'm so excited to do some mods to make it my own.

I did get some very good tips such as "cool thighs," types of Reach Seats, and that I can put Road King Hard bags on the Deluxe. I want to have a matched colour set put on -- also change the pipes so that there is one on each side. I am an experienced rider at 47, 5 feet 1 inch and 120 pounds. The bike is an amazing fit -- my first big bike.

Thank you for the great article Genevieve

Lisa
Lethbridge, AB, Canada
Wednesday, November 05, 2014
I traded my 2006 Sportster in on a 2014 Softail Deluxe a couple of weeks ago. It is like night and day the difference in the two bikes. I couldn't believe how much easier and more comfortable the Softail Deluxe is to ride. I was afraid that a bigger bike might be more difficult to handle, but it is completely the opposite. I am so much more confident on my new bike. The Sportster felt like you were riding on top of the bike and the Softail feels like you are part of the bike itself. The low center of gravity makes for easier turning at slow speeds and the bike just feels so well balanced. I have no regrets and wish I had done it sooner! I appreciate all the comments here, which I read prior to my purchase. They were extremely helpful!

Donna Wiegle
Swan's Island, ME
Monday, October 06, 2014
I enjoyed this article and the posts from other riders. I started on a 250 in March 2012. I moved to a 750 in June 2012. In September 2012 I test rode a Deluxe. I had been riding six months, but that bike made me feel like I had been riding for 20 years. It is so well balanced. It seems to anticipate your inputs; it responds so quickly.

I put $500 down to take possession of the bike in the spring of 2013 (which gave me all winter to think of modifications/additions, see below). I signed the papers on my Deluxe one year to the day from when I bought the 250. She is ember red sunglow and looks like a slammed Road King. Chrome forks, windshield, heated grips, extended turn signals, ABS, security, tubeless tires, stage 1 air, Bassani 2-into-1 road rage pipes, Road King bags that match, LED lights front and back, oil bud oil cooler, "live to ride" derby cover, engine guard, luggage guard, heel guard, HD thigh shields along with some leather ones that sit back further, sissy bar (to strap luggage on).

Karen
Thornton, CO
Thursday, May 29, 2014
I just purchased and brought home an 2007 Softail Deluxe, and OMG, this bike rides like a dream! I had no idea that a bike could handle or respond as nice as this one does. I have been riding an 2006 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883L for the last two years, and although it is a nice intro bike, it's not very comfortable, the fuel tank is small and my slim 5-foot 7-inch frame always felt cramped on it. I made the decision to move into the Softail Deluxe and now I can't believe I waited as long as I did. With the Sportster, I never really wanted to go for long rides because I always had to "control" the bike at top speeds, but with the Deluxe I can sit back and enjoy the ride. I can't wait to hit the open road with it. My advice, if you're considering buying a Deluxe, just do it. You won't regret it for one minute!

Christine D
Coal Valley, IL
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
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