Published on February 2nd, 2018 | by Boris



Imagery by Nick Edards/Half Light Photography

I think the success of any new Harley-Davidson model is directly proportional to the amount of screeching angst that comes out of its traditional customer base when the new bike is launched.

I know this because I once owned a Shovelhead. And when the new Evo came out, all of us Shovelhead owners turned into a troop of howler monkeys.

“Harley is dead to me!” we honked, waving our schooners in the air. “Look at this plastic rubbish! That’s not a real Harley! How dare they foist this crap on us! I’m never buying another Harley again! I will keep riding my Shovelhead forever! Why don’t they just keep producing the same old shit they’re producing now and which will invariably go home in the back of a ute on Sunday?”

Deep-dish mag wheels and a warm summer evening. Perfect combo.

I made that last sentence up, but the previous sentences were all said, loudly and often.

This is pretty much what has happened with the advent of Harley’s 2018 line-up.

The traditionalists have picked up their pitchforks and flaming torches and have assembled in the village square to yell at the sky.

Thank the Road Gods most of them don’t know how to use social media or the mewling would be almost unbearable. Happily, most of them are riding the very last bike they will ever ride. Harley knows this and while it has always been a company brilliantly faithful to its traditional customer base, it is also a company that knows it must start to appeal to a younger and more discerning demographic.

I love the back-end. It’s just so fat.

Do not let the grinding noises unsettle you.

Bleat all you want, old people. No-one is really listening anymore. At 70, you just don’t have the same marketing clout you had when you were 50.

So let us move on to what can only be described as Harley’s Renaissance – a Renaissance long overdue in my view.

Three important things have happened here.
The first is the gorgeous Milwaukee 8 motor is now in every Big Twin model and comes in two capacities – 107-cubic inches (1753cc) and 114-cubic inches (1866cc). The big donk is available on four models, of which the Fat boy is one.

Satin chrome – love it. And see the round black knob above the top exhaust? That’s the thing you twist to adjust pre-load.

The difference (and I have ridden both) lies in where in the rev-range the torque is made. The 107 makes it earlier and so feels punchier around town. The 114 makes it a touch later, and out on the open road it shines a tad brighter as a result. As a shameless size-ist, I will choose the 114 every time and always wish Harley made a 120 or even a 130-cuber. Seriously though, you’d have to ride them quite hard and back to back to pick the difference.

So the new engine is delightful and I have addressed it HERE.

The next important thing is that big changes have been made in the frame stiffness, suspension, gearbox, and of course, styling.

I don’t understand why some old people don’t like this headlight. It’s stunning. Maybe it reminds them of a scary robot from Lost in Space.

The difference these changes have made to the Fat Boy and all the other Big Twins is astonishing. You have to ride an older model to truly understand, but the whole package is certainly a quantum leap forward for Milwaukee.

A gearbox that shifts smooth, quiet and precise, suspension that actually works (and is easily adjusted at the back), and a frame that’s 34 per cent stiffer than what has gone before. The bikes are also up to 15kg lighter, and while this isn’t much, every little bit helps in this weight class.

Tougher and cleaner all at the same time.

You won’t know yourself if you’ve ridden the earlier models. These are smoother, vastly better-handling, and heaps more powerful.

So why all the screeching from the village sqare?

Two things – the end of the Dyna range and the New Age styling on the 2018 models.

Let me address the Dyna issue first.

Granted, it was arguably the best handling Big Twin. But we’re not talking about the cutting-edge handling of a S1000RR, blokes. In real terms, Dynas handled a bit less shit (relatively speaking) than the other Harleys.

And while it’s always amusing to hear old school Harley riders (of which I am one) talk nonsense about “handling” as if they actually knew what the term meant, I’m telling you it’s all relative.

The simple truth is the new Harleys will outhandle the old Dynas.

What’s a few sparks between friends?

There. I said it. Let’s move on.

Now then, about that styling.

I actually love it, but I will concede that beauty will always reside in the eye of the beholder, and that some will disagree.

For me, the new Fat Boy is the best-looking Fat Boy ever built. The burnished satin chrome, the lovely new headlight nacelle (containing a headlight worthy of the name), the sexiest solid mag wheels ever put on any bike ever, and a fat-arse rear tyre that’s bigger than Kim Kardashian’s appetite for chocolate, makes it so. Yes, shortening the back guard so the world can behold the fat rear hoop was the right stylistic call.

The deep-dish wheels are beautiful. I am so pleased Harley brought back the solid mag just like on the first model Fat Boy.

It’s all a bit modern. And it should be. And it has to be.

I shall now wait while the greybeards type their outrage at my heresy slowly with one finger, or maybe just forget what they were doing and limp off to neck their liver pills.

It’s 2018, people.

Harley has built a Fat Boy for 2018, and it’s great.

Levering the Fat into a corner requires determination. Anything with tyres that chunky (that’s a 240 rear) requires persuasion, but once you’ve chosen a line, you’ll be surprised at how well that line is held. Gone is the exciting and traditional combo of frame-flex, arse-steering, and front-end indifference. You will still find your progress limited by the bike’s ground clearance (which has improved), but you will no longer feel like you’re riding a giant metal eel.

It sure does have some presence.

Frame stiffness and better suspension, ladies. It’s a good combination. The Fat is 317kg wet, but it carries it very well.

I think what impressed me the most was the suspension. Using just your hand, you can easily dial the pre-load up on the back if you want, and let it and the new cartridge forks up front sail you over bumps. This is such a vast improvement over the previous “Here! Take that, bastard spine!” suspension system, I just couldn’t believe it.

This is the most refined and powerful Fat Boy since Butterbean left the boxing ring.


Twin-plug heads and an Old School Fat Boy tank badge. And a sidestand I don’t like.

There have been a lot of styling tweaks (dash, footboards, blinkers, seat) all of which have combined to modernise the Fat’s aesthetics while still making sure it will never be mistaken for anything other than a Harley.

So there’s quite a lot to love about the 2018 Fat Boy. It’s never been more muscular or more agile. It is a glorious paradox.

What’s less than glorious is the new sidestand. Once upon a time, Harley had the greatest sidestands on earth. Double-action jobbies that were long, easy to deploy and recall, and hard for the bike to roll off of.

Then they fitted this stubby bastard to the new line-up.

Yes, I am probably a bit too close to the centreline. But I didn’t die. So shut up.


It’s very short. And unless you leave the bike in gear when you park it (and do be an adult and do that), or if you’re careless or rushing and don’t fully extend the sidestand, there’s a chance the bike might inch forward and…well, I don’t have to draw you a picture, do I?
So not a deal-breaker. Just something you have to adjust to as an owner.

The next thing that was less than ideal was the width of the primary case. I’m not sure what kind of legs you need to have in order for your calf-fat not to be sitting on the primary when you come to a stop and put both feet down, but maybe something segmented below the knee would work. Like a cockroach.

I solved the issue of my calf resting upon the hot primary by not putting my left foot down at all when I stopped.

Then I thought about it, and decided Harley may be doing its bit to stop people riding their lovely bikes in Middle-Eastern shorts. In which case the primary is perfectly located and proportioned.

As you can see, I’m pretty much nit-picking. I mean, I could also bitch about the tyres being a little less than ideal in the wet, but I’m thinking so few new owners will ride their Harleys in the wet, the odd one that does will quickly work out how much throttle is too much throttle.

And that is something we should all know anyway. So I’m not saying it like it’s a bad thing.

The 2018 Fat Boy is, by any objective measure, far and away better than any previous Fat Boy. And that is to be applauded.

Welcome to 2018, Harley-Davidson.

It’s so nice of you to join us.


Fat Boy 107- $30,995

Fat Boy 114 – $33,995


About the Author

is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.

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