Making Nostalgia New Again
By Dain Gingerelli
Photos by Riles & Nelson
Nostalgia has a way of picking you up by your pant cuffs, turning you on your head, and shaking yesterday right out of your pockets. It happens more subtly, though, if you ride a Softail Deluxe, aka FLSTN — and the N doesn’t stand for Neluxe, either.
The N was initially attached to the FLST family name in 1993 to create the FLSTN Heritage Softail Nostalgia, a bike that gained the unenviable nickname “Cow Glide” because its seat and saddlebags had genuine black-and-white Holstein calfhide inserts to give it a touch of, well, nostalgia. Practically oozing chrome from end to end, and sporting an old-time, two-tone paint scheme, the Nostalgia offered Harleyites a quick trip down memory lane to the glory days of Hydra Glides and Panheads. The following year, Harley stylists scaled back on the Nostalgia’s excess, stitching all-black leather inserts into the saddle for a more conventional look. By 1996, the FLSTN became known as the Heritage Softail Special until it was dropped the following year to make way for another nostalgia-based model, the FLSTS Heritage Springer. It wasn’t until model-year 2005 that the FLSTN officially returned to the lineup, this time in the form of the Softail Deluxe. For the past nine years, the FLSTN has retained essentially the same styling features that made it a favorite among certain enthusiasts in 2005, with year-to-year updates applied mainly to the drivetrain, paint, and such.
The 2014 Softail Deluxe resembles what was first offered nearly 10 years ago, although the optional wild and flamboyant Hard Candy Voodoo Purple Flake paint job is something you couldn’t find on any FLSTN until recently. Actually, the wild purple paint scheme you see here (the FLSTN is also available with optional Sand Pearl/Canyon Brown Pearl in addition to the standard solids and two-tones) is a product of Harley-Davidson’s Hard Candy Custom color program, a recent upgrade list that allows Harley customers to personalize certain new models such as the FLSTN at the dealer level. Fittingly, candy and metalflake colors created by the Hard Candy Custom paint crew have their roots in the 1950s when auto painters like Larry Watson, George Barris, Joe Bailon, and Von Dutch began experimenting with wild colors for their custom cars. Thanks to Watson and Von Dutch in particular, the colors spilled over into the motorcycle arena, and by the 1970s Art Himsl, Ron Finch, and others were applying candy, metalflake, and pearl toners to their custom motorcycle paint jobs. The quality and application of the Hard Candy Custom paint jobs are on level with reputable custom paint shops today, making this upgrade a bargain for people who don’t have a custom painter nearby.
Yet, while the Hard Candy Custom colors remain an option, ABS is a standard feature for the 2014 Softail Deluxe. Single front and rear rotors measuring 11-1/2″ in diameter are pinched by four-piston and two-piston calipers (front and rear respectively) to deliver a 30-mph panic-stopping distance of 33′. Hand lever and foot pedal feedback remain positive and linear while slowing the 695-pound (claimed dry weight) Deluxe during normal riding, and the classic chrome bell covering the front hub’s right side remains a styling trademark for nostalgia-based FLST models with glide front ends. Perched atop the fork is a nostalgic 7″ ball headlight. Our test bike has traditional hubs laced to chrome steel rims that are wrapped with Harley-Davidson Series Dunlop wide whitewall tires to further the nostalgia theme. Tubeless chrome aluminum rims are optional for the FLSTN, while tire sizes remain MT90-16″ front and a slightly wider MU85-16″ rear for either selection.
Perhaps the FLSTN’s trademark feature is the abundance of chrome that’s found throughout. We’ve got chromed beer can covers on the fork uppers, a chromed tank console with electronic speedometer housing, a chromed luggage rack that’s especially handy and useful for toting odds and ends during day rides, chromed engine covers, chromed oil bag, chromed highway bar and lights, chromed handlebar pullback risers, and the list goes on to make this one of the shiniest bikes in Harley’s lineup.
Those pullback risers create another hallmark feature found on the Softail Deluxe, and that’s a seating position favoring people built low to the ground. The risers place the traditional stainless steel handlebar closer to the rider, and the low seat (24-1/2″ high with a 180-pound rider on board) tapered up front to assist riders when placing both boots firmly on the pavement at stops. When coupled with the stylish and spacious footboards, the FLSTN represents a Softail that inspires confidence for short riders and new riders alike. For comparison, I stand about 5’8″ and, in truth, the FLSTN’s cockpit feels too confining. Replace the pullback risers with stand-up risers, and I’m guessing the rider triangle formed by the handlebar/seat/footboards would be more suitable for me.
But one thing that FLSTN riders of all sizes and experience levels will enjoy is the solid-mount, internally balanced Twin Cam 103″ engine’s power delivery. Harley claims 97.4 ft-lbs. torque at 3000 rpm, which is enough to launch the Softail Deluxe smoothly and quickly off the line. The stacked shotgun mufflers deliver a DOT-legal, yet deep, resonating tone, and with fuel mileage averaging between 38-45 mpg (Harley, with the EPA’s blessing, touts 42 mpg), you’ll go about 200 miles before refilling the 5-gallon gas tank. Roll-on performance from the air-cooled engine is about what you should expect from any of Harley’s Big Twin-powered models. Our 20-50 mph sprint in second gear netted a time of 3.5 seconds, and 60-80 mph in fifth took 4.4 seconds. Click the heel/toe shift lever to put the six-speed Cruise Drive transmission into top gear and the engine lopes along at a relaxing 2600 rpm while cruising 70 mph, verifiable by thumbing the gear indicator command with the rocker switch on the left hand control. Nice, and much better than any Hydra Glide could have delivered 60-some years ago.
No doubt, the FLSTN’s styling projects a link to yesteryear when Big Twin Harleys were known for their eccentric lines and lavish chrome trim. But with the blink of an eye and a twist of the FLSTN’s throttle, you easily find yourself back to the present as electronic fuel injection, ABS, and modern suspension prove that a lot has changed since the days of the Hydra Glide, reminding us that nostalgia isn’t necessarily reality. The Softail Deluxe is proof of that. AIM
This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of American Iron Magazine. To order a copy, please visit Greaserag.com.