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2018 Harley-Davidson Softails First Ride Report

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2018 Harley-Davidson Softails First Ride Report

2018 Softail Breakout first ride review
2018 Softail Breakout first ride review

American Iron Magazine Editor Steve Lita gives the 2018 Softail Breakout a quick shakedown. (Brian J. Nelson Photo)

Our initial exposure to this new line of Softail motorcycles was brief, but enjoyable. The short ride opportunity included a comparison between each model’s 2017 brethren. We can now offer a small taste of what it’s like to ride the new Softails. Bear in mind, our first ride opportunity took place during one rain-shortened afternoon at a private test facility, where part of our riding time was spent on 2017 models for comparison purposes, and only a few laps of the track were allowed on each 2018 Softail.

In this family of Softails there are relaxed cruisers with distinctive design, all-purpose power bikes with high-tech aggressiveness, and standard retro fun. Each bike has its own distinct reason for being and this move consolidated the cruiser portfolio. The fundamental tenets of this product line are; engine, dynamic capability (better handling), rider and passenger comfort, and weight reduction. No rider can argue that improvements in these points don’t lead to a better ride.

Many readers might inquire about the new dual engine counterbalancers on this Softail Milwaukee-Eight. I learned that the two gear-driven counterbalancers are located fore and aft of the crankshaft. They are designed to remove primary vibration, especially at idle when compared to the 2017 Dyna models. This Milwaukee-Eight uses mass-efficient interference balancers with anti-backlash drive gears for better sound quality, as compared to a chain. This not only leads to more comfortable riding, but also reduces wear and fatigue to the motorcycle’s chassis and electrical components caused by engine shaking.

The new under seat location of the shock allows better shock travel and more ability to tune the jounce bumper. The old Softail had a harsh bump stop, and it was found that many Softail owners didn’t adjust the shocks mounted underneath the chassis, because access was too difficult to attain. There will be a period of educating the riders and dealers on proper suspension adjustment and details are in the owner’s manual. Front suspensions are non-adjustable. While all of the models with conventional fork look the same, the SDBV is tuned differently for each model and internal parts are different (shim thickness, orifice sizes, etc).

All of the new models are head and shoulders above their previous year models. Some more than others. However, all the bikes have taken on all new personalities. It’s no doubt that these models were created for the new generation of forward thinking rider.

The new Softail design directly addresses the old Softail's shortcomings when leaned over. (Brian J. Nelson Photo)

The new Softail design directly addresses the old Softail’s shortcomings when leaned over which Lita demonstrates on the 2018 Low Rider. (Brian J. Nelson Photo)

2018 FAT BOY

The 2018 Fat Boy has reduced trail compared to 2017 and a 160-18 profile tire up front, but it handles better than any bike with a rear tire on the front should. (Thanks, Motorcycle Product Planning Portfolio Manager Paul James for that quote). Compared to the 2017 Fat Boy, which felt heavy, full of vibration, and lethargic, the 2018 was easy to lift up off the side stand thanks to its short stubby sidestand. The initial press on the handlebar to initiate lean in a curve is quite easy. Then you reach a point where it gets progressively harder to maintain the lean angle (thanks, fat tires). It feels almost as if the bike were connected to a spring. Maintaining a long sweeper requires effort.


This new Heritage Classic gets my vote for most comfortable ride. It holds the line through corners easily, and sharp throttle roll-on at mid corner makes the Heritage squirt out of a corner. It’s taller and comfortable to ride and turn in is quite easy.


One of my longtime favorite models, the Lowrider rides great. However, I don’t like the new buckhorn bars. I would like the straighter, adjustable 2017 handlebars on the 2018 bike. I hit my shin on the mid-control footpeg trying to manipulate the short sidestand. Eventually I learned to use my toe to flip up the sidestand.


After spending all of last summer on a loaner 2017 Softail Slim, I knew all too well; it was too easy to touch down the floorboards in corners. However, on the 2018 version of Slim, I was barely able to touch down floorboards at all through the same corners at even higher speeds. The handling is oh-so-light and less fatiguing.


I’ve never spent much time on a Softail Deluxe in the past, but that’s sure to change soon. It’s stylish and comfortable and, of course, lean angles were increased over previous years, but I could still touch down the boards on the new model. Faster acceleration is easily noticeable, and ride quality was superb.


During our short test ride we were treated to a bevy of Breakouts. First up was a standard 2017 equipped with a 103ci engine. It grounded forward control footpegs way too easily, and it took fistfuls of throttle to get moving. Then I jumped to the 2018 base model equipped with a 107ci Milwaukee-8. This bike handled much better, but I was still able to find the limits of lean angle. The Milwaukee-8 provided much more acceleration with seemingly less effort. Then on to the 2017 CVO Breakout with a 110 ci engine, I was back to grinding footpegs to a razor-sharp edge way too easily, and the busy Twin Cam engine was annoying. But the king was the 2018 Breakout with 114 ci engine. The lighter front end made it easier to handle and the small side-stand is appreciated because you can stand the bike up from a parked position with minimal effort.

American Iron's Steve Lita tests out the lean angle on the 2018 Harley Fat Bob. (Brian J. Nelson Photo)

American Iron’s Steve Lita tests out the lean angle on the 2018 Harley Fat Bob. (Brian J. Nelson Photo)

2018 FAT BOB

The Fat Bob features comfortably mounted controls located midway between Mid and Forward and is the weapon of choice for attacking twisty roads. Aggressive hang-off riding is definitely possible and power output is amazing. This is the high performer of my test ride, and I spent most of our extra ride time on the Fat Bob.


Another surprisingly fun and comfortable riding bike. I did not expect the Street bob to handle as well as it did with those tall-ish mini-ape bars. But the Street Bob was agile and light through high speed corners.

The above is an excerpt from the Full New Bike Review story appearing is issue 355 of American Iron Magazine. Abbreviated spec sheets were provided in issue 354. Full spec sheets are now available and posted on our web site; AmericanIronMag.com. As each new model becomes available to us for longer test rides, we will publish more in-depth individual stories on each new model in upcoming issues, with full spec sheets for that model.