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Review: 2016 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic

This smaller touring motorcycle gets more power

By Pamela Collins, Photos by Pam and Tim Collins

Touring bikes—often referred to as baggers—may be the trendy models among motorcycle manufacturers now, but Harley-Davidson’s Heritage Softail Classic, last reviewed here in 2011, has filled that role for 30 years.

Not much has changed on this motorcycle in three decades with this Softail offering amenities like leather saddlebags, a windshield, and a sissy bar so it's ready for touring right from the showroom floor. Along with rider-friendly ergonomics, the Heritage Softail Classic has been the go-to motorcycle for motorcyclists looking to trade up to a touring motorcycle that doesn't have all the bulk.

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic beauty
Harley-Davidson’s FLSTC Heritage Softail Classic retro-styled tourer has been in The Motor Company’s line-up since 1986. Long beloved by women and men riders, the model received some upgrades this year to make the Classic a thoroughly modern tourer.

For 2016 the bags, windshield, and sissy bar are still standard equipment, but Harley-Davidson went one step further making the motorcycle more touring-capable by upgrading the engine to its High Output Twin Cam 103B with sixth gear overdrive, the same engine introduced in 2014's Project RUSHMORE motorcycles, and now found on all Harley-Davidson FL touring bikes, Softails, and most Dynas.

The High Output Twin Cam 103B is tuned to deliver strong acceleration and passing power with a new high-flow airbox and camshaft that optimizes torque at lower rpm. And with cruise control as standard equipment, long highway jaunts are more relaxed than ever.

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic woman riding
Pam enjoys the smooth, surefootedness of the Heritage Softail Classic. At 755 pounds, the Classic rides and feels like a smaller bike thanks to its low center of gravity. Its 5 gallon tank holds plenty of fuel for touring, and fuel mileage averages about 42 mpg.

My husband, Tim, has owned three Heritage Softail Classics over the years, so he and I took turns swapping between the 2016 Heritage and Harley’s Sportster SuperLow 1200T on a trip from Los Angeles to Death Valley. We both immediately noticed an increase in power over the Heritage’s previous generation motor without increased vibration. The motorcycle pulled smoothly, quickly, and easily from first gear. No matter what the speed, the mirrors remained clear and the ride comfortable.

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic air cleaner
The Twin Cam 103B engine has been in other Harley-Davidson motorcycles, but this is the first year for the Heritage Softail Classic. The motor and new-for-2016 electronic throttle control system work together to propel the Heritage Softail Classic down the highway smoother and quicker than before. Also new on the Classic this year is the air cleaner cover with its special “High Output 103” badge.

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic right
Studs and conchos on the bags and seat, laced wheels, whitewall tires, and lots of chrome are the DNA of the Heritage Softail Classic. The Crushed Ice Pearl/Frosted Teal Pearl paint option shown here reflects pure vintage style, but it’s an additional $750 over the base price of $17,349.

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic man riding
The now-standard anti-lock brakes help the bike to avoid skidding should you need to stop quickly. The heel/toe shifter on the Heritage Softail Classic is a nice feature commonly found on big touring bikes. It takes some getting used to using, but it allows you to upshift by pressing down on the shifter with your heel or by lifting up on the front lever with your toe. Either way, shifting through all six gears is met with Harley’s traditional, positive “clunk.”

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic man riding in leathers
The classic touring handlebar reaches up and back to the rider, and at 5 feet 8 inches tall, Tim is comfortable and relaxed on the Heritage Classic.

The Heritage Softail Classic is perfect for full days in the saddle. Handling is nimble and compliant. The Softail’s hidden rear shocks, important to complement the styling, work well at minimizing bumps and jars from the road.

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic seat height woman
At 5 feet 2.5 inches tall with a 29-inch inseam, Pam's feet comfortably touch the ground with some bend in her knees on the Heritage’s 25.5-inch seat height. However, her shorter legs cannot reach and retract the sidestand without help. She also needs to scoot to the front of the saddle to reach the touring handlebars, especially while turning.

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic seat height man
At 5 feet 8 inches tall with a 30-inch inseam, Tim feels right at home on the Heritage Softail Classic, saying the bike fits him “just right.”

Touring has been the Heritage Softail Classic’s purpose since its beginning, and over the years Harley has upgraded a lot of the touring goodies on the bike. The king-sized windshield is detachable for days when you're just rolling through town, as is the two-piece, two-up seat pillion for when you just want a solo seat.

For 2016, the saddlebags are redesigned with a new mounting system and internal rigid structure to prevent the sagging that plagued previous models. The bags now retain their shape making it easy to fill them.

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic saddlebag
The Classic’s saddlebags feature new hidden quick-detach buckles. The bags offer 1.27 cubic feet of storage, plenty of space for a multi-day touring trip. The bagger has a nice wide rider and passenger seat, but its width interferes with opening the saddlebag lids all the way.

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic fuel tank
Harley-Davidson subtly updated the look of the Heritage Softail Classic for 2016 without losing its distinct vintage style. The nostalgic vibe remains, but fewer studs, red glass inlayed “cat-eye” inserts in the conchos on the seat and saddlebags, and a new leather tank panel and 3-D tank medallion update the look.

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic fuel tank dash
The tank-mounted dash is retro-styled and includes an electronic speedometer with odometer, clock, dual tripmeter, RPM/gear display, fuel gauge with low-fuel warning light and miles-to-empty feature, low-oil pressure indicator light, engine diagnostics readout, LED indicator lights, and a 6-speed indicator light.

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic floorboards
The classic styling wouldn’t be complete without full-length, rubber vibration-isolating floorboards and a wide brake pedal. Harley-Davidson’s Genuine Accessory catalog includes vintage add-ons to customize the look, such as white floorboards and pedals, seen here on WRN.

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic wheel
The 2016 Heritage retains the bike's signature full-coverage steel fenders, steel laced wheels, front and rear 16 inch Dunlop tires (whitewalls are optional), and lots of chrome.

Cruise control is a welcome amenity on touring motorcycles and this year Harley-Davidson added it as a standard feature on the Heritage Softail Classic. The button to activate it resides under the left handlebar control cluster. You set the speed by pressing a small plastic lever with your thumb, and you can increase and decrease your speed using the lever.

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic cruise control
Cruise control is now standard on the Heritage Classic. It takes a little practice to use the far-reaching controller, but once it is set, it holds the bike at the set speed well. The cruise control will disengage by activating either brake, pulling in the clutch lever, or by turning off the cruise control.

review 2016 harley davidson heritage softail classic woman riding full face helmet
Ample storage space, comfortable ergonomics, and now more power make Harley-Davidson’s Heritage Softail Classic stronger on the highway. Now with Harley's most powerful engine, the bike can keep up with the big baggers easily.

Specs At A Glance: Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic
Engine Size: 1690cc
Seat Height: 25.5 inches
Weight: 755 pounds
Fuel Capacity: 5 gallons
2016 Colors: Vivid Black, Superior Blue, Billet Silver, Olive Gold, Crushed Ice Pearl/Frosted Teal Pearl, Amber Whiskey/Vivid Black, Purple Fire/Blackberry Smoke, Cosmic Blue Pearl
Price: Starts at $17,349

WRN Recommendation
A long-time favorite of ours, the Heritage Softail Classic is a comfortable mid-sized touring bike that handles long days in the saddle even better than ever, thanks to the addition of cruise-control and more powerful engine. For riders with some experience looking for a tour-worthy motorcycle they can handle easily that comes with a low seat height, the Heritage Softail Classic is an excellent choice. We love that you can roll right out the dealership with a windshield and saddlebags so it's ready for your first road trip. 

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2011 Harley-Davidons Heritage Softail Classic
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