2013 FLSTFB Fat Boy Lo Harley Motorcycle Review

2013-FLSTFB-Fat-Boy-Lo-Harley-1As i told you last month in my dyna Street Bob review, Harley-Davidson did the press launch of its new models a bit differently last year. Instead of having the event before Sturgis, H-D did it right after and took us on a spectacular, three-day ride through the Cascade Mountains and into Canada to test the new bikes. What a great way to do a bike review!

However, unlike the Street Bob, which got a major makeover for 2013, the Fat Boy Lo (MSRP $16,799-$19,499) is exactly the same as the 2012 version, except for the 110th anniversary colors and badging. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things to go over. So, as I usually do, let’s start with my favorite part of a motorcycle, the powertrain. According to H-D specs, the 103″ (1690cc) counterbalanced motor puts out 97.5 ft-lbs. of torque at 3000 rpm (at the crank). What’s also the same (thankfully!) is the EFI system, which is still seamless in its operation, no matter the altitude, outside temperature, or any other variables that come up on a ride. H-D has this system dialed in nicely. And though the Dynas I test rode had an odd engine vibration (rough spot?) that showed up when the engine was between 2300 and 2900 rpm (it’s at its worst at 2500), that’s not an issue on the Softails. Though definitely on the quiet side, the exhaust note from the Lo’s over and under shotgun pipes has a nice sound. And as you can see, the mufflers and muffler shields have the same satin-chrome finish as the primary cover and some other components, while the header shields are flat black. There’s no news regarding the primary system and transmission, either. As always, clutch action is smooth and clean, and the Cruise Drive six-speed shifts smoothly with a clunk. And, yes, it’s still hard to find neutral most of the time when the tranny is hot and the bike is stopped. As for the bike’s overall gearing, H-D also has this dialed in. I always had plenty of power when I wanted it, and there are no annoying gaps between gears.

2013-FLSTFB-Fat-Boy-Lo-Harley-2As I said in the headline, the Fat Boy Lo is one of my favorite models. In fact, it’s the one I always ask for when I rent a bike for a tour and don’t need saddlebags. I enjoy riding this machine or its brother the standard Fat Boy. They’re essentially the same bike, but with slight changes made for those of short stature, such as yours truly (5’4″ with a 30″ inseam). The Lo has an unladen seat height of 26.4″ (670mm) and 4.8″ (122mm) of ground clearance. The standard Fat Boy has an unladen seat height of 27.1″ (690mm) and 5.1″ (130mm) of ground clearance. If you’re more interested in laden seat height stats, the Lo has a laden seat height of 24-1/4″ (616mm), the Fat Boy 25″ (635mm). While that half-inch or so doesn’t seem like a lot, it can get you flat-footed when you don’t have a lot of leg to work with. Especially when you add in the Lo’s narrow-cut seat.

So what’s it like to ride the Lo if you’re not a short stack? My 6’1″ assistant editor, Tyler, had this to say, “My height put my knees pretty high, up to my elbows, which shifted my weight back. That meant I wasn’t able to put as much weight as I would like on the floorboards. I felt like there was only pressure on my hands and butt. I had to work to keep my feet on the floorboards at highway speeds due to this seating position. However, the handlebars are comfortable for sport or distance cruising.”

As for the 0.3″ of ground clearance difference, that also doesn’t sound like much, but it does work against you a little in turns. I scraped the floorboards a bit sooner on the Lo than on a standard Fat Boy. However, since the floorboards will fold up a little, if I find myself scraping them when I need a bit more lean to get through a turn, I know I can take my foot out of the way and get that extra bit of leeway.

2013-FLSTFB-Fat-Boy-Lo-Harley-5As the Fat Boy Lo was last year, the 2013 bike is a pleasure to ride. However, there are two things I should mention as far as handling. First, in a strong crosswind you’ll find yourself fighting the front end a bit, just as you would on a Fat Boy thanks to those solid wheels. Of course, this usually only happens while riding across open plains or mountain tops. Second, if you’re coasting to a stop with your hands off the handlebars, the front end will make a slight headshake at around 35-40 mph. It’s definitely nothing to worry about and goes away when you drop below 30 or go above 45. More importantly, it doesn’t happen if you keep your hands on the bars. Another test I do when reviewing a bike is to see how easy it is to steer with just my body, sans my hands. The Fat Boy Lo, like the Fat Boy, is well-balanced. Though I definitely don’t suggest you do this, I have no problem guiding the machine though sweepers using just body inputs. Handling in the corners is always predictable and smooth on the Lo. The suspension and Dunlop H-D Series 17″ tires, a 140 up front and a 200 in the rear, work well. Of course, braking is excellent since there’s an ABS-controlled four-piston caliper up front and a two-piston unit out back. With ABS, you don’t have to worry about controlling how much brake you apply to stop as fast as possible without skidding. All you have to do is grab the lever and mash the pedal as hard as you can, and hold the bike straight. From 35 mph, the average stopping distance I got without trying hard was 56′.

2013-FLSTFB-Fat-Boy-Lo-Harley-3We should, of course, talk a bit about the only major change for 2013: the paintwork and commemorative solid bronze fuel tank badges. As you can see, the Fat Boy Lo is one of the 10 models available with the 110th anniversary colors and emblems. Each one is serialized and only 1,750 FLSTFB Anniversary models will be produced to ensure exclusivity. These bikes come with all available factory-installed options as standard equipment. Yup, that means the Smart Security System. However, you can’t get the Lo in any of the new Hard Candy Custom paints. Nor is it, like the Street Bob or 1200 Custom Sportster, part of the H-D1 Factory Customization program. If the 110th Anniversary Vintage Bronze/Anniversary Vintage Black color scheme is not your thing, the Lo is also available in Vivid Black, Candy Orange, and Black Denim.

Bottom line: the Fat Boy Lo is a great bike for riders with short shanks who love the look of the Fat Boy, ergo the Lo designation. If you’re not in this group, go for the standard Fat Boy. AIM


Story as published in the January 2013 issue of American Iron Magazine.

2013 Harley Dyna Street Bob, A Nightster On Steroids

Harley-davidson did things a bit differently this year. Instead of having the press launch of its new models before Sturgis, H-D did it right after. Sturgis was over on August 11, and I was flying out to the launch on August 12. My destination was Seattle, where I joined a number of other journalists and the H-D staff who would present Harley’s latest and greatest. But that wasn’t the only change in the way H-D was doing things. Knowing the test riders prefer to spend at least a few hundred miles on a bike for a review, The Motor Company hired the Global Enduro tour company (GlobalEnduro.com) to take us on a spectacular three-day ride through the Cascade Mountains and into Canada. These guys did a fantastic job, and I’m looking forward to going on another tour with them. As for H-D, this was a great way to give us some seat time on the new machines. When the launch was before Sturgis, I always rode the bike I was reviewing to the rally to get at least 500 or more miles on it. This arrangement did all that and gave me enough time to ride two different Street Bobs, as well as a Fat Boy Lo that you’ll read about in an upcoming issue.

To me, the big news for 2013 (besides the 110th, of course) is the restyled Street Bob. Check out that paint job and rear section setup! And though I usually start my reviews by talking about the powertrain, the chassis has to take the lead this time. Let’s start with that paint job, which is just one of the new Hard Candy Custom colors that can be ordered as factory paint. It’s easy to see that The Motor Company has been watching what some of the aftermarket and garage builders have been doing for the last few years. Smart move! You can check out all the bike’s colors and specifications on page 58, so I won’t go through all that here.

To sweeten the pot a bit more, the Street Bob is now part of the H-D1 Factory Customization program. That means you can go online to Harley-Davidson.com, select the Bike Builder option, build your dream bike on the screen, and then order it through an authorized Harley-Davidson dealer. Your selections — which include paint, wheels, handlebars, seat, and foot controls — will be installed onto your motorcycle as it’s assembled at the factory. You take delivery of the bike just the way you ordered it. Pretty neat, huh?

I picked two differently set up Street Bobs so I could compare some of the options. The one you’re looking at is stock (with the ABS option), while the other one has been jazzed up with a few H-D1 Factory Customization items. As you can see, the stock Street Bob has the Hard Candy Custom Big Red Flake paint job with the bronze medallion on the fuel tank, mid-foot controls, solo seat, black rimmed 40-spoke laced wheels, and stainless steel, internally wired miniapehangers. This version has a MSRP of $13,729, or $14,924 with the ABS and security system option. The customized Bob I rode has Lucky Green Flake paint, drag bars, forward controls, five-spoke black wheels, two-up seat, and black and chrome 103″ engine. This one has a MSRP of $15,249, or $16,444 with the ABS and security system option.

So how did the bikes perform? Both machines handled and ran like Nightsters on steroids! The Bobs were a pleasure to roll through the twisties, as well as blast down the straights. At no time did either machine do any head shaking, wobbling, or anything else you don’t want a bike to do, whether ridden at low speed or high. Handling in the corners was always predictable, and I had lots of ground clearance (almost 5″), though my heel did hit the pavement a couple of times with the forward controls. The suspension and Michelins (a 100/90-19″ up front and a 160/70-17″ out back) did their job well. Braking was also great, since both machines have the ABS option. The fixed front four-piston caliper and rear two-piston caliper had no trouble bringing me to a stop reasonably quickly with smooth operation. Basically, the Street Bob is a well-designed machine, like the other Dynas in the lineup, with no unwanted surprises. For those readers who are rocking a short inseam as I am (32″), the Bob’s 26.7″ (unladen) seat height made it easy to touch down flat-footed at all times. On the stocker, I also had no problem reaching the apes comfortably; ditto for the drag bars. Guys with long legs may prefer the forward control option over the mid-controls. As for me, I was about an inch on the short side of putting my instep on the footpegs with forward controls, but I was still comfortable on the bike. A big difference between the machines comfort-wise was the seat. The solo felt like a slab of wood after a couple of hundred miles, while the two-up was much better.

Okay, time to talk about my favorite part of a motorcycle, the parts that make me go. Unlike the rest of the 2013 Big Twin lineup, the Street Bob and FXDC Super Glide Custom come stock, still powered by a 96″ (1584cc) Twin Cam. I was told this was done to keep the MSRP low. However, if you want a 103″ (and you know you do), it’s available as an option. The bike in front of you has the stock 96″ mill, while the other Street Bob I rode was 103-powered. Though the 96″ has plenty of juice to move the Bob along nicely, the extra power the 103″ provides definitely made things more fun. But then, I always want more power, so take that into consideration. As usual, the EFI system was seamless in its operation, no matter the altitude, outside temperature, or whatever else it faced. The exhaust note from the dual, straight-cut, staggered, shorty mufflers was also nice, for a stock system.

Now for the bad news: unfortunately, there’s an odd engine vibration (rough spot?) that shows up when the engine is between 2300 and 2900 rpm. It’s at its worst at 2500, but smooths out nicely at 3000. Every Dyna I rode on the launch had the same rough spot, but it’s not a fuel delivery issue. At first, I thought the flywheel assembly was causing the problem and that H-D was using a different balancing factor in the lower end, but I was told that is not the case. The Touring models don’t have this odd vibration even though they use the exact same engine, so I don’t think it’s due to a mechanical issue. Just for the record, any Softail I rode didn’t have it either, but that’s not a surprise since the engine’s counterbalancers would nullify it if it was there. At this point, I’m at a loss as to the cause; I just know it’s there.

As for the primary system and transmission, clutch action was smooth and clean. The Cruise Drive six-speed is the same as it always is, doing its job with a clunk whenever you shift. It’s also hard to find neutral when the tranny is hot. These are definitely not major concerns, but they should be mentioned for those who have not used a Cruise Drive sixer and are used to the five-speed. The bike’s overall gearing was right on the money, and I always had plenty of power when I wanted it, be it blasting out of a turn or down a straightaway.
Bottom line: the Street Bob is a lot of fun to run. In fact, I hated every time I had to give up one of the Bobs during bike swap time and couldn’t find another one to ride. AIM


Atory as printed in the December 2012 issue of American Iron Magazine.