Magazine Review Harley Heritage Softail Classic

The '09 Harley Heritage kicks up some '40s nostalgia.

Since its introduction in 1986, the Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic has been a staple in the Motor Company’s lineup. For 2009, the model’s 23rd birthday, the Motor Company has given the bike a makeover. It can’t be simple to refresh a bike that pays homage to the past, but, not surprisingly, Willie G. and his design team have found a way to make old new again.

The Heritage is the quintessential modern interpretation of classic Harleys from the ’40s — a time when Knuckleheads ruled the road and riders used the same bike for everything: touring, commuting, and cruising. Back then, motorcycles weren’t as specialized as many are today, and there weren’t different families of Harleys to choose from like there are now. As the name suggests, this bike proudly carries nostalgic styling of days gone by. At its core, it’s obviously a Softail created to mimic the lines of a vintage hardtail frame. It also flaunts studded-leather saddlebags, seat, and backrest. For almost 20 years, this bike was the lone retro Softail available. The Deluxe was introduced in 2005, and the Cross Bones in 2008. Sure the Springer Softail first appeared in 1988, and the Heritage Springer in 1997, but those bikes came and went, leaving this model to carry the torch.

Over the years, I have met and talked to many old-timers who rode the heck out of their rigid Knuckleheads back in the day because that’s all they had. When riding this bike, I can imagine what it was like, and I feel as if I’m keeping that spirit alive. Thankfully, I have the powerful benefits of a rigid-mount 1584cc Twin Cam 96B balanced engine, smooth six-speed Cruise Drive transmission, and the comfort of suspension. Call me a cheat if you must.

It’s no secret that I’m not a big fan of Softails in general, so I find it curious that I’ve always had an affinity for the Heritage Classic. Part of it has to be the fact that over the years, I’ve used this specific model on several spectacular trips, most recently blasting around Reno and the Sierras (see tour story on Page 92), and once while storming the Big Island of Hawaii. On both those trips, this model proved to be a capable and adaptable motorcycle. So when the opportunity came up to ride the refreshed 2009 seen here, I thought it only fitting that I take it on a nostalgic West Coast road trip to visit some old high  school friends scattered along the Pacific Coast Highway, from Sonoma, California, right down to Long Beach.

Joe K. burns a turn on the Harley Heritage, his favorite Harley Softail.

In all, I racked up a leisurely 800-plus miles in three days, reconnected with good friends, and rode some really cool roads. The Heritage easily handled everything I asked it to do, including navigating the crowded California highways, climbing the hills of San Francisco, and scraping floorboards on twisty, costal routes.

Thanks to the nonlockable, soft, leather saddlebags with quick-detach buckles, I was able to carry (and easily access) everything I needed. In hindsight, I should have brought along a lady friend because I had storage room to spare, and the bike could have comfortably accommodated a companion who I’m sure would have loved the newly enlarged passenger seat and backrest.

Truth told, the majority of the 2009 Heritage’s makeover is cosmetic. Immediately noticeable to me are the new fuel tank graphics with glass-filled, 3-D badges, new chrome nacelle, and the distinct trim that adorns the seat, front fender, and saddlebags. On a closer look, it’s hard not to appreciate the chrome cat’s eye console, retro speedometer face, half-moon rider footboards, and oval brake pad — all of which have been lifted from the Cross Bones, but fit nicely into the classic styling of the Heritage.

From an ergonomic perspective, the makeover has given this Softail taller, more ape-like handlebars and an enlarged passenger seat and backrest. Because of my size, the low seat heights that are associated with most Softails are a point of discomfort. But on this bike, it’s a nonissue thanks to a combination of the bars and half-moon floorboards, which create a fresh rider profile that provided me with considerably more room to move my feet and hands around. The tradeoff to having the extra room for my feet is the fact that those half moons stick out pretty far and scrape easily.

By the way, the photos seen here show the bike sporting its stock, detachable, king-size Lexan windshield. As regular AIM readers can guess, I removed it as soon as the photo shoot was done, so I have no comment on its functionality. At this time, I would like to thank the H-D engineers who came up with the quick-detach windshield system used on this bike and the Road Kings. Because of the design, I can always leave the shield behind.

The Harley Heritage received a cosmetic and ergonomic makeover in 2009.

Maybe it’s the combination beefy FL front end, classic 5-gallon Fat Bob tank, and FL rear fender, but I don’t see this bike as a Softail so much as a tourer from yesteryear, when the machine you had did it all. My time on this Heritage has convinced me this is a simple, versatile bike that’s equally at home on the highway as well as secondary roads, while paying worthy homage to Harleys past and present. As long as you don’t need the creature comforts of an Ultra, the Heritage makes a fine touring machine. It will take you wherever you need to go. ’Nuff said. AIM
–Joe Knezevic

Comments

  1. Rode a used 2012 Heritage home from the dealer last November. It had less than 150 miles on it, was purchased by an employee of the dealership, and was pretty loaded with new stuff when I found it. Made a very good deal mostly due to the good luck that comes when the 2013 models are in the back room headed for the floor the next day, added a few things to make it “mine” and headed home to surprise my wife. I love the bike.. and eventually even my wife learned to love it as well.. Over the winter I managed to put on 3200 mi which was made possible, in part, because of the grip warmers and the windshield. It’s very comfortable, looks great, sounds great (V&H shorts + stage one air)…. The hardest part for me was that I’ve had to make some adjustments to the way I think because of the air cooled 103 (coming from a liquid cooled Kaw Mean Streak) … soI purchased a crank case thermometer to help me with that goal and now that it’s warmer I’m learning how to be cognizant of the crankcase temps. It’s nice to hear the engine competantly rumble along with rpm’s in the low 20’s while going hiway speeds on the interstate.. Overall I have to report .. “So far so good.”.

  2. i’m looking to buy a Harley and I am torn between an 03 HD Road Glide with about 62,000 km for $ 12,000 plus tax or going with an 09 HD Heritage Softail Classic with about 7,000 km for $ 14, 500 plus tax.

    This may seem like a no brainer and go the 09 for year and mileage. I’ve always wanted to go Heritage if I decided to go Harley. However, i demo’d a Road Glide and have grown to like the profile, fit and ride.
    I’ve been warned that with the 03 the glides and pads on the primary tensioners should be replaced about now and that with the 09 softtail, that’s not even an issue.

    I can’t afford a Road Glide in the 09 range.

    I would appreciate ny pros and cons on what to watch for or which way to go?

    Thanks,
    Jim L

  3. Attorney says:

    roughnraggedyannie – NOT true, you’re warranty is good – especially with H-D parts and installed by dealer. You shouldn’t have a problem, however, I would be a bit leery of a dealer who sells you H-D products then tells you they “might” violate the warranty. I’d be more concerned about that aspect than Moco honoring the warranty.

  4. @Don. I think top speed is “oh sh!t”, going too fast and crash and burn. If you can outrun those trying to kill you then you’re winning. Which this bike more than adequately does.

  5. OK – We get it. Joe and a few of the rest of you always remove the windshield on Road Kings and this Softail. I wish you would always include photos with and without, and do include a brief description of the windshield’s effectiveness in your reviews, though. I’d think most of us would really appreciate that kind of information. You’re supposed to be riding and writing for us, not just for yourself, remember? How are we supposed to live vicariously through you and your glorious lifestyle with bugs in our teeth?

    It was nice of you to at least include it in the pictures here, as I think it shows what the bike REALLY LOOKS LIKE 99+ percent of the time.

    I’d rather ride comfortably (especially on the highway) with a windshield & half-helmet, and be able to talk to my wife, than ride with a full-face and no windshield. Looking around where I live and ride, I’d say most people agree, especially in spring and fall cold-weather riding seasons.

  6. roughnraggedyannie says:

    A question! I just bought a 07 Heritqage classic with a stage one screaming eacgle kit and SE stage 2 slip ons. After i purcahsed it with a the warranty they salespeople told me that HD might not honour the warranty with the SE stage 2 slip ons as the y were considered high performance aftermarkets…WTF I thought and then asked them what the point was in having a warranty on a bike that cost a small fortune if it wasnt redemmable because of the exhaust pipes? They shrugged and I said well F*** no forget the deal or fix the issue. they came up with ‘SE Stage 1 slip ons at no charge if I geve them the SE Stage 2 Slip ons to resell to some customer they knew of who want a pair. At the time my guts were telling me no no no but I did it anyway. So my question is…What just happened? Were they being real?…Did I get ripped? an d is there a huge significant difference in the pipes that was worth swapping them out?

  7. What is the top speed of a Heritage Soft tail ?

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