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

Video: Harley-Davidson's 2018 Softail Models are Lighter, More Powerful

First photos of a female journalist test riding the eight new motorcycles with details women care about

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor at Large

Editor's Note: The original version of this article quoted seat heights that were listed on Harley-Davidson's media site. Only one measurement was listed so that is what we included. Turns out that this measurement was the unladen seat height making our comparison to previous years’ seat heights inaccurate as we always use laden seat heights. This updated version of the article now reflects the laden seat height of the 2018 models making the year to year difference far less drastic than originally reported.

To celebrate Harley-Davidson’s 115th Anniversary year, the Motor Company is launching eight all-new Softail models that merge the hard-riding performance of the Dyna line with the unparalleled custom look of the Softail line.

And since Harley-Davidson leads market share among female riders, we at Women Riders Now anticipate that these updated models, with their lighter weight and more modern look, will appeal to a many women, young and old, looking to get into motorcycling for the first time. 
harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful softails
The eight motorcycles of the 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail family comprise the best of the Dyna platform (which is no longer being produced), with the best of the Softails.

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Designed under the largest product development project in company history, the new bikes compared to prior year models, feature a stiffer and significantly lighter frame built to harness the pulse-quickening torque of the new dual-counterbalanced Milwaukee-Eight 107 and 114 engines. With high-performance dual-bending valve front suspension and an easily adjustable hidden rear mono-shock, the aggressively styled 2018 Softail models are faster, lighter, and better handling than any of their Big Twin cruiser predecessors.

“The new Softail models are the result of the most extensive research and development program in the company’s history,” said Paul James, manager of product portfolio, Harley-Davidson. “Thousands of hours of research and testing were put into the complete ground-up design of these new cruisers. We focused on taking the total rider experience to a higher level, where authenticity, heritage, and soul meet the modern edge of technology for a ride that must be felt to believe.”

New Chassis

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful new chassis
The handling of a Softail motorcycle enters a new era with a lighter, more rigid frame that elevates form and function to a higher plane, while maintaining the classic look of a hard tail and delivers a thoroughly modern ride.

Benefits of the new chassis include increased lean angles, sharper turn-in response, quicker acceleration, nimble flick-ability, lighter weight, and easier side-stand liftoff than predecessor Softail and Dyna models. The steel foundation of the next generation of custom Harley-Davidson motorcycles has been forged.

Frame / Swingarm

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful swingarm
A new high stiffness carbon steel tubular frame forms the core of the 2018 Softail chassis. The completely redesigned frame and swingarm significantly increase the rigidity of the new chassis. The frame itself is 65 percent stiffer than the 2017 Softail frame, which leads to a 34 percent increase in overall chassis stiffness. Shown here is the Fat Bob.

The frame design achieves reduced complexity with a 50 percent reduction in component parts and a 22 percent reduction in welds. There are two unique swingarms, one for narrow and one for wide rear tires. The wide chassis is 15 percent lighter (13 pounds) and the narrow chassis is 20 percent (18 pounds) lighter than the 2017 Softail frame. The swingarm transfers rear wheel movement to the under-seat mono-shock while maintaining the pure, classic lines of a hard tail frame. 

High-Performance Suspension

All-new front and rear suspension components are calibrated to match the dynamics of the new chassis, wheels, and tires to enhance the comfort, control, and performance of the 2018 Softail motorcycles. 
harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful front suspension
The new high-performance dual-bending valve front suspension, which was first introduced on 2017 Touring models, delivers damping performance that is similar to a cartridge fork but with improved, more responsive damping characteristics. The suspension is optimized for both comfortable cruising and spirited riding with 130 mm of bump-devouring travel. Retuned and optimized rake and trail also enhance the motorcycles’ handling performance. Shown is the Softail Slim.

The new mono-shock rear suspension preserves the classic hard tail look while revamped geometry improves ride quality, traction and control. The new easily adjustable mono-shock enables a 240-pound range of payload capacity for increased passenger comfort and enhanced dynamic handling compared to 2017 Softail models.

Ride and Handling Agility
The all-new Softail models are up to 35 pounds lighter (varies by model) than 2017 models, delivering an improved power-to-weight ratio that provides quicker acceleration, better braking, and enhanced dynamic cornering capability combined with increased lean angles. Some models feature new tires specifically designed to work with the new Softail chassis and feature optimized constructions and improved compounds for a confident, long-wearing ride in all riding conditions.

New seat designs and materials provide an improved fit for a wider range of riders and greater comfort for cruising. Bar none, the 2018 Softail models are the best handling cruisers Harley-Davidson has ever produced.
New Powertrain
All 2018 Softail models get a new heartbeat from the most powerful engines ever offered in Harley-Davidson Big Twin cruisers, the new Milwaukee-Eight 107 and 114 V-Twins.

Iconic Look

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful engine
Milwaukee-Eight engines retain the iconic 45-degree V-Twin cylinder angle with a broad-shouldered top end accentuated by a single camshaft design that tapers to a slim bottom end for a muscular contour. The new Softail frame’s rigid engine mounting is engineered to tightly package the engine and reinforce the chassis stiffness. Shown is the Deluxe.

Smoother Running and Purer Sound
Milwaukee-Eight engines for Softail models feature a refined dual internally counter-balanced system that reduces engine vibration while maintaining the familiar Harley-Davidson feel. Harley-Davidson’s trademark “potato-potato-potato” sound comes through strong with less intake and mechanical noise.
Two Engine Displacement Options
Milwaukee-Eight 107 Engine (107 ci; 1746cc) Standard on all models
• 100 mm bore and 4.375 inch stroke with 10.0:1 compression ratio
• 0-60 mph: 10 percent quicker acceleration than the High Output Twin Cam 103
• 60-80 mph/5th gear: 16 percent faster acceleration than the High Output Twin Cam 103
Milwaukee-Eight 114 Engine (114 ci; 1868cc) Optional
• Available on four models: Fat Bob 114, Fat Boy 114, Breakout 114, Heritage Classic 114
• 102 mm bore and 4.5 inch stroke with 10.5:1 compression ratio
• Ventilator intake with 114 graphics and badging
• Standard ABS
• 0-60 mph: 9 percent faster acceleration than the Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine
• 60-80 mph/5th gear: 13 percent faster acceleration than the Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine
Modern Styling and Design
Interpreting Harley-Davidson’s history, authenticity, and styling DNA through a modern lens, the eight new Softail models feature all-new designs that strongly differentiate them from their predecessors and each other. From a new base of style, comfort, and performance, the next generation of factory custom cruisers are ready for riders to take even further with their own personalization.
“The authenticity of Harley-Davidson design comes by sweating the details from start to finish, ‘hard to do and hard to copy.’ Harley-Davidson motorcycles are not a commodity; they are handed down from generation to generation,” said Brad Richards, vice president of styling and design, Harley-Davidson. “We look at every nut and bolt on the bike, all the finishes, and every small detail. The new Softail frame is like a piece of art, and the more you take off the bike, the more beautiful it becomes. Its design speaks to the teamwork that our styling and engineering processes demand.”

Model Specifics

Here are the new Softails and their key features. Photos feature Women Riders Now assistant editor Tricia Szulewski, who was invited to test ride the new Harley-Davidson Softails, and is the first full-time female motorcycle journalist to get in the saddle of these new motorcycles. This is just a sneak peak. Full review coming soon.

Fat Boy

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful fat boy tricia
WRN Assistant Editor Tricia Szulewski rides the 2018 Fat Boy. The motorcycle that defined cool for decades has upped its wow factor with ripped and refined satin-chrome finishes delivering a bold, muscular styling statement. This bike is 30 pounds lighter, and seat height is 25.9 inches, slightly higher than the 2017 model's 25 inches.

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful fat boy gray
Features on the 2018 Fat Boy include: aggressive, steamroller stance and front end design; modern-day interpretation of the classic headlight nacelle; 160 mm front tire—the widest ever on a Harley-Davidson production model—wraps the solid Lakester front wheel; 31-pound weight reduction to previous model; standard ABS; 240 mm rear tire with solid Lakester rear wheel; optional: Milwaukee-Eight 114 Engine; shown is Industrial Gray color.

Heritage Classic

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful heritage classic riding
Tricia rides the all-new Heritage Classic in Red Iron denim color scheme. While weight has been reduced 32 pounds, seat height is higher at 26.3, up from the low 25.5 inches women appreciated.

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful heritage classic
Design cues on the Heritage Classic evoke the blacked-out styling of vintage 1950s Harley-Davidson models updated with a modern edge. Features include new detachable windscreen; new rigid, lockable, sealed, water-resistant saddlebags; taller suspension with increased passenger and cargo payload capacity; standard cruise control and ABS; optional: Milwaukee-Eight 114 Engine. Shown is Olive Gold / Black Tempest color.


Low Rider

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful low rider
Inspired by the individualism of the 1970s custom chopper era that birthed the original, the new Low Rider model is lighter and faster with corner-carving handling unimaginable back in the day. Throwback-style dual tank-mount speedo and tach gauges, headlight visor and fuel tank graphics; 19-inch front and 16-inch rear Radiate cast wheels; 2-into-2 Shotgun exhaust; Tricia's 5-feet-7-inch frame fits nicely on the 26.2-inch seat height. Color is Electric Blue.


Softail Slim

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful softail slim tricia
Stripped to its essential elements, the Softail Slim model pays homage to post-war custom bobbers with a narrow rear end, trimmed front fender, solo seat and minimal chrome. Dark finishes adorn the laced wheels, Hollywood handlebar, and all-new front-end design. Features include low-slung tuck and roll seat; bold and smooth new front nacelle and fork cover styling; 35-pound weight reduction to previous model; seat height is the lowest of the Softails at 25.5 inches.


harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful deluxe
A classic hi-line showstopper that stands out on any boulevard, the Deluxe glistens with bright chrome while delivering the ride of a seriously modern machine. Features include signature all-LED lighting from front to back—headlight, running lights, Tombstone taillight and blade-like turn signals; signature pull-back handlebar; 33-pound weight reduction to previous model; standard ABS; seat height is 25.9, up from the previous model's super-low 24.5-inch seat height.


harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful breakout
With more lean angle and agility than ever imagined in a bike carrying so much dragster attitude and style, the all-new Breakout model takes long, lean muscle to a modern edge. New smooth-top 3.5-gallon fuel tank; long and wide with low-slung raked out 49 mm front forks; 18-inch rear (240 mm) tire, and 21-inch front (130 mm) tire; Gasser style gloss black powder-coated cast aluminum wheels; seat height is 25.6 inches.

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful breakout studio
More features on the custom-looking Breakout include distinctive Daymaker Signature LED headlamp; low-profile, riser-mounted digital instrument screen; 35-pound weight reduction to previous model; standard ABS; optional: Milwaukee-Eight 114 Engine.

Fat Bob

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful fat bob
Asphalt-eating traction, pothole-devouring suspension, agile cornering, and a blacked-out take-no-prisoners look make the Fat Bob model a groundbreaking motorcycle that could only come from Harley-Davidson. Features include 2-1-2 upswept performance exhaust with a custom finish; largest aggressively treaded tires from the Motor Company: 150 mm front and 180 mm rear; dual disc front brakes; 3.5-gallon fuel tank; 33-pound weight reduction to previous model; inverted 43 mm cartridge style front forks; optional: Milwaukee-Eight 114 Engine; seat height is 27.7 inches.


Street Bob

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful street bob
A bare-bones bike with go-anywhere DNA, the all-new Street Bob motorcycle has a fists-in-the-wind attitude with nothing extra to weigh it down. Smooth-top 3.5-gallon fuel tank; black spoke wheels with chopped fenders; low-profile, riser-mounted digital instrument screen; 17-pound weight reduction to previous model; lowest MSRP in Softail lineup starting at $14,499. Seat height is 25.8 inches.

New technology featured on every Softail model:
• Unique Daymaker Signature LED Headlamps on all models
• Improved electrical system charging, more than doubled at idle speeds
• Easily adjustable rear shock pre-load settings (method varies by model)
• Under seat spanner wrench: Softail Slim, Street Bob, Low Rider
• External hand adjustment knob: Fat Bob, Fat Boy, Breakout
• Under seat socket adjustment: Deluxe, Heritage Classic
• Steering head mounted USB charge port
• New instrumentation
• Keyless ignition and security system standard
• New fuel tanks
Experience the ride and feeling that proves the new 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail motorcycles are Harley-Davidson’s most powerful, agile and responsive line of Big Twin Cruisers ever by taking your own test ride at a dealership today. 

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