2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Motorcycles Revamped & Combined with Dyna Line

2018 Harley Fat Bob 114

You’re looking at the new 2018 Harley Softail Fat Bob 114

Yup, you heard that right. Harley-Davidson has totally revamped its Softail line to accommodate the Milwaukee-Eight engine and has combined the Dyna line with the 2018 Softails. American Iron Magazine Editor Steve Lita had the chance to talk to Harley-Davidson engineers about the overhaul and was one of the first to ride the new Softails. Lita breaks down the changes for us in what he calls the “All New Softail Stunner.” – AIM

Here is the very first look of the new combined Softail/Dyna lineup. I had guessed long ago that the Softail family would be the next to get the Milwaukee-Eight powerplant. But I never imagined an entire revamp of not one, but two, complete vehicle platforms to make it happen. Before you thumb through a few pages with the intent of picking apart our coverage and head to your computer to fire off a snippy e-mail about how you expected more from us, let me tell you that this is the most comprehensive coverage available for this new family of motorcycles at the time of the magazine’s deadline. No, Harley didn’t let me take one apart and put it back together, but suffice it to say nobody has at this point (as I type this). By the time you read this I will have had a first ride at a private test facility, and another American Iron Magazine staffer will be on his way to the 2018 Harley-Davidson full-line product launch for a more extended ride on these new Softails. This is just the tip of the massive Softail iceberg and the beginning of our new Softail coverage.

In what’s being called the largest-ever product development project at Harley-Davidson, the Softail family has been completely redesigned to accept the Milwaukee-Eight powerplant. And it’s not just about shoehorning a new engine in place; a new chassis and suspension were developed, which retain that classic Softail “hardtail look” swingarm, albeit with a single under-seat shock now employed and the underslung twin shocks gone. Not satisfied with just those changes, in what might be considered the biggest part of this big news, the twin outboard shock suspension setup of the former Dyna family is gone; the Dyna nameplates are now Softails. And that Milwaukee-Eight engine I mentioned is not the same Milwaukee-Eight you’ll find in Harley Touring bikes. More on that in a moment.

The eight new Softail models are part of the 50-in-5-year bikes Harley promised. Four of those eight are available with two engine sizes. The 2018 Softail family shares some features among all models, with tweaks to individual models. Let’s start with one of the big changes that benefit all these models: the brand-new chassis. A stiffer and lighter frame is used in all the new Softails featuring high-performance front suspension and an easily adjustable hidden rear mono shock. This allows the restyled 2018 Softail models to reportedly be faster, lighter, and better handling than any of their predecessors. Riders will benefit from increased lean angles, sharper turn-in, quicker acceleration, nimbler handling characteristics, and easier sidestand liftoff.

New 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail frame

The new 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail frame

The new mild steel frame is 65% stiffer than that of the 2017 Softail, which leads to a 34% increase in overall chassis stiffness. The frame design is less complex with a 50% reduction in component parts and a 22% reduction in welds. There are two sizes of swingarm, one for narrow and one for wide rear tires. The wide chassis is 15% lighter (13 pounds less) and the narrow chassis is 20% lighter (18 pounds less) than the previous year’s frame. There are several combinations of specifications. Overall there are three different steering head angles (28, 30, and 34 degrees), with the two fat-tire bikes, Breakout and Fat Boy, getting the wider swingarm to accommodate a 240-profile rear tire, logging in at 34 degrees and 30 degrees respectively.

The new under-seat mono shock rear suspension aims to offer improved ride quality, traction, and control while the triangular swingarm maintains the pure classic lines of a hardtail frame. The easily adjustable mono-shock allows for up to 480 pounds of preload capacity for increased payload and passenger comfort, better handling, increased lean angles, quicker acceleration, and improved braking. In this rising-rate suspension the under-seat location of the shock allows a broader range of shock travel and offers a more efficient load path to the chassis. There are several differences among the models including two different shock lengths depending on model. There are three variants of exhaust, referred to as forward sweep, mid-sweep, and rear sweep. And some bikes will feature forward controls, while others have mids. The new tires (by varying manufacturers) have been specifically designed to work with the new Softail chassis and feature improved compounds for a confident, long-wearing ride. The new high-performance front suspension, with Showa Dual Bending Valve (SDBV) technology, delivers the damping performance of a racing-style cartridge fork with linear damping characteristics, reduced weight, and 130mm of bump-devouring travel (there is one exception; the Fat Bob has an upside-down fork with cartridge-style internals).

Adjustment of the new rear monoshock is accomplished via one of three methods. The three performance oriented bikes (Fat Bob, Fat Boy, and Breakout) all have a hand-adjustable shock with a knob protruding forward from the right sidecover. The two other methods are spanner wrench (Softail Slim, Street Bob, Low Rider) and socket wrench (Deluxe, Heritage Classic); the shock is adjustable via access under the seat. Also, the sidecovers of the bikes conceal the battery (right side) and electronic connectors (left side).

2018 Harley-Davidson Milwaukee-Eight 107 for Harley Softails

2018 Harley-Davidson Milwaukee-Eight 107 for Harley Softails

All of the 2018 Softail models get the new Milwaukee-Eight 107 and 114 V-twins. The engine is rigid-mounted for compact packaging and to reinforce chassis stiffness. This iteration of the Milwaukee-Eight has power output similar to that of the Touring bike, but it runs much smoother thanks to dual gear-driven counterbalancers. The counterbalancers rotate fore and aft of the crankshaft. There is a single unit on the Touring bikes. The wet sump configuration of the Softail engine allowed engineers to remove the Softail oil bag from previous years to make room for the under-seat mono-shock (Touring bikes have dry-sump). All of the Softail Milwaukee-Eights utilize precision oil cooling (no water-cooled version) with a trapezoidal oil cooler, and the oil capacity is equivalent to the Touring bikes.

All eight models of the Softail are available with Milwaukee-Eight 107, and four models are offered with the 114″ package: Heritage Classic 114, Fat Boy 114, Breakout 114, and Fat Bob 114. Once you step up to a 114″ Milwaukee-Eight you get a Ventilator Air Filter assembly with 114 graphics and badging and ABS as standard. All of the new Softails use fly-by-wire throttle, but the Heritage Classic is the only model equipped with standard equipment cruise control, as it was considered the most “touring oriented” of the pack.

There are some new features that are shared across the entire new Softail line, like Daymaker LED headlamps on all models, a steering head-mounted USB charging port, and all new instrumentation. All the fuel tanks have been redesigned, new seat designs and materials to fit a wider range of riders and more cruising comfort, and keyless ignition with security system come standard.

2018 Harley Heritage Classic

2018 Harley Heritage Classic

Overall, there are three main groups of bikes. The Fundamental Standards are comprised of the 2018 Heritage Classic with a darker, tougher look and one-touch-opening nonsagging leather bags; the the 2018 Deluxe with its chromed-out persona and the only model with full LED lighting, and the 2018 Slim with new front end and Hollywood handlebar.

2018 Harley Softail Fat Bob

2018 Harley Softail Fat Bob

The next category is the Modern Classics with the 2018 Low Rider paying homage to the Superglide, the 2018 Breakout with a very Livewire-esque headlight tucked between the front forks, and the 2018 Street Bob with its tiny 3-1/2-gallon tank and digital riser integral instrumentation.

2018 Harley-Davidson Softail/Dyna Line

Harley-Davidson is walking the walk and not just talking the talk with the launch of its 2018 Softail line.

Finally, the Revolutionary DNA group is made up of the 2018 Fat Boy with its new steamroller stance and a modern interpretation of an atomic-age-TV-screen-shaped headlight nacelle. And the hot rod of the whole bunch, the 2018 Fat Bob, comes with its all-business-in-the-handling-department, upside-down forks (the only model to have that) and Battlestar Galactica Bad Guy LED headlight surround. It’s a bike designed to help you escape the Zombie Apocalypse. With terms like Atomic Age, Battlestar Galactica Bad Guy (which are Cylons, by the way), and Zombie Apocalypse being thrown around, I honestly couldn’t believe I was sitting on the other end of the telephone line listening to a Harley-Davidson new model pitch.

Stay tuned for more Softail news and reviews in American Iron Magazine Issues #354 and #355 and on AIMag.com. You can also grab back issues of American Iron and American Iron Garage at GreaseRag.com 

American Iron Issue 354 Cover