2012 Harley FLSTC Heritage Softail Classic Review

Here’s a surefire way to stir up the troops at the local biker watering hole: after grabbing a handful of beer nuts and repositioning your frosty mug in front of you, casually mention to those gathered round how you think that the Heritage Softail Classic — one of the long-standing models in Harley-Davidson’s vaunted lineup — makes such a fine bagger. Or calmly suggest that this Softail is a suitable everyday rider, a hog that you can rely on for work or play. Or if you really want to shake up the beer nuts, you can quote from Harley’s own propaganda sheet, citing that the FLSTC is a “custom-touring bike” like no other in the American V-twin market. Having done so, sit back to watch and listen as everyone gathered will assuredly voice his opinion on the matter, because the Heritage Softail Classic is a bike that is viewed differently by different people. More beer nuts, anyone?

No doubt, anybody who has spent time on a Heritage Softail’s two-piece saddle will have something notable to add to this debate. That’s because the FLSTC is a bike with a loyal following that dates back to 1986 when Harley-Davidson launched the Evo-powered FLST Softail Classic. That model paid homage to the original Hydra Glide of 1949, and almost overnight a classic was born. The following year, saddlebags and a windscreen found their way onto the Softail Classic, creating the FLSTC Heritage Softail Classic, and Harley has been making that model ever since. A low center of gravity, coupled with an equally low seat height (claimed 25-1/2″ off the deck), translates into an easy-to-manage ride for practically anybody to straddle the saddle. Well-placed footboards and a high-rise handlebar lends to ergonomics that, to this day, are unsurpassed in terms of riding comfort and control for the rider. If there’s a downside to the comfort factor, it’s the current passenger pillion’s configuration that digs into the small of the rider’s back. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same seating position today as in past model years.

That first-ever Heritage Softail Classic pretty much nailed it in terms of styling, too. Even though 1980s technology prevailed — like today, the early FLSTC used disc brakes and was powered by Harley’s latest-at-the-time Evolution V2 engine — the Classic lived up to its name thanks in large part to its timeless styling. And if you park today’s Heritage Softail Classic beside one of the original Evo-powered editions, at a glance you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two.

But in terms of performance, a lot has changed to make today’s FLSTC Heritage Softail the top of its class. The current Twin Cam engine displaces 103″, making it the most powerful Big Twin yet to reside in the Softail frame. Harley claims 96.9 ft-lbs. of torque (at 3000 rpm), which is over
4.5 ft-lbs. more than the 96″ engine that it replaces, while the single-cam Evo engine usually generated about 80 ft-lbs. at 4000 rpm (claimed).

But beyond improved specification figures on the printed page, today’s 103″ engine feels peppier in its all-around performance. Shifting through the Cruise Drive transmission’s six gears, you get the feeling that this engine likes to rev, which it does. Our acceleration figures revealed that the 96.9 ft-lbs. of torque propel the 730-pound (claimed dry weight) FLSTC from 20 mph to 50 mph in second gear in 3.4 seconds. A similar roll-on test in fifth gear paced the FLSTC from 60 to 80 mph in 4.7 seconds. Cruising in top gear at 70 mph, the engine churns out a lazy 2600 rpm (indicated on the digital readout), so there’s still torque to be found if you want to casually accelerate without downshifting to pass a vehicle ahead of you. In that context, the FLSTC shines as a daily rider because you can expect good performance when riding from Point A to Point B. The FLSTC stops equally well, and our ABS-equipped (optional package) test bike took 24′ to brake from 30 mph to a standing stop.

That same performance applies when taking a road trip on the Heritage Softail, too, but there’s even more good news to consider: Harley-Davidson claims a combined fuel consumption rate of 42 miles per gallon, and with a five-gallon capacity in those Fat Bob tanks, that gives a range of about 200 miles. Our best mileage figure yielded 45 mpg (admittedly, unusual for our heavy-handed riding techniques!), giving an effective range of about 225 miles.

Generally, though, we averaged about 40 mpg with our bike. But long-distance riding is more than simply going the distance in between fuel stops. You need cargo capacity, too, and again, the FLSTC shines because those two leather non-locking saddlebags can stow away more gear than you might think. You can also strap a buddy-bar bag to the backrest for additional gear, should you need additional space.

After reaching your destination, you might want to cruise the boulevard at night, so the detachable windscreen can be removed in seconds. No tools required, either. Just place the screen in your motel room and go prowl the night.

You won’t be embarrassed by the FLSTC’s looks, either. Our bike’s optional two-tone paint scheme (for an MSRP of $18,054; the Vivid Black base model retails for $17,349) drew plenty of comments whenever we stopped for fuel or food, and the Heritage Softail is proof that you can never have too much chrome on a Harley.

The 2012 model is the first Heritage Softail Classic to utilize Harley-Davidson’s new tubeless, chromed aluminum, lace-spoke wheels, and the wide whitewall tires certainly help bring attention to those hoops. At 16″ diameter, tire sizes remain pretty much in check, too. No fat tires here, folks.

There you have it — timeless styling mixed with Harley’s most current technology, and a heritage that dates back to 1986. Today’s Heritage Softail Classic is truly a classic example of Harley-Davidson’s time-honored heritage. AIM

NEW BIKE REVIEW: By Dain Gingerelli

As published in the September 2012 issue of American Iron Magazine.