Anticipation has mounted since The Motor Company announced its newly designed family of 2018 Milwaukee-Eight-powered Softail models. Technical Editor Kevin Cameron whetted our appetite with an in-depth analysis of what has been touted as “the largest product development project in company history.” Also, Editor-At-Large Peter Egan provided his take following a brief ride aboard each of the eight new Softails.
Much like a year ago when I joined a select handful of motojournalists at Blackhawk Farms Raceway near Beloit, Illinois, to be the first to sample the then-new eight-valve V-twins, Egan’s seat time at Blackhawk amounted to the same rapid-fire two-lap stints on the 2018 Softails and their respective 2017 predecessor. That’s a whole lot to digest in a single day—an intoxicating tasting that would leave even the most disciplined connoisseur wobbly with wonder.
While I can’t speak for Egan, I identify as a beer man who prefers the full-body experience of a large-displacement jug of Milwaukee’s finest consumed on the home front. To this end we’ve wrangled a 114ci Softail Heritage Classic and took to some favorite Southern California roads to learn how this latest breed Harley-Davidson Big Twin cruiser rides in the wild.
"Adhering to Softail doctrine, the solid-mount engine transmits a pleasing level of mass-rich vibration at idle."
Our Vivid Black test unit (color and two-tone options are also available) projects a purposeful no-frills appearance that forgoes shiny distractions that can blind one’s measure of a bike’s performance, handling, and functionality. Before I had even thumbed the starter and brought the easy cranking air-/oil-cooled twin to life, I noted a standout feature that’s given the Softail line a new leg to stand on: The newly designed sidestand is much easier to deploy and retract. My boot located the tang without fail, and there’s more clearance swinging through its motion when parked on an uneven surface.
Fob-sensing keyless ignition is another new convenience, and the traditional barrel-key steering-head lock has been replaced by a quarter-turn conventional-style key. I like the new larger LCD multi-function display integrated into the lower portion of the boldface speedometer located on the fuel tank console. The old display was “harley” bigger than a stick of gum, whereas one can now more easily read engine rpm, tripmeter, or fuel range remaining at a glance. The LCD features a fuel-level bar graph and gear position indicator that both remain persistent as you toggle through the other functions with the left thumb switch.
Adhering to Softail doctrine, the solid-mount engine transmits a pleasing level of mass-rich vibration at idle. Its assist-style clutch requires only moderate effort at the lever, and while engagement was a bit grabby initially, it soon became more linear as I rode. This and a bit of difficulty engaging neutral when at a complete stop was possibly due to dragstrip testing the previous day. While the new Heritage lacks the heel-toe shifter of its predecessor, I didn’t mind, as the M-8 Cruise Drive six-speed box has very good shift action under way and there’s unobstructed aft foot placement on the floorboard to boot.
Short-shifts at low revs produced truly relaxed chugging from one traffic signal to the next. Even in top cog the engine pulls cleanly from low as 1,400 rpm equating to 40 mph but feels happiest running between 2,000 and 4,000 rpm, producing more than 100 pound-feet of torque throughout this range and only begins to feel busy once revs surpass 4,000 and approach the 5,500-rpm rev limit. A good twist of throttle in any gear unleashes linear acceleration and a very hearty exhaust note accompanied by amazingly little mechanical clatter reflecting off the windscreen.
Cruising the freeway en route to the desert community of Borrego Springs shed light on a number of key areas. Given its 114ci capacity, the dual counterbalanced M-8 runs remarkably smooth at speeds beyond 80 mph, the cruise control is simple to operate (tap it rather than hold it for smooth acceleration response), the mirrors remain clear, the mid-height ape bars are comfortably positioned and angled, the saddle is oh-so plush, and the floorboards rock.
I soon achieved a good sense of what the Heritage Classic offers over its Softail stablemates. All-day ergonomics, storage, and wind protection top the list. Its new hard-formed “sagless” leather saddlebags provide a deep rectangular cavity that appears capable of consuming a 12-can case of PBR (not that I tried) and has a locking flip lid for blue-ribbon security. I did fill one bag with a change of clothes, quilted hipster jacket, beanie cap, and toiletry bag, while the other swallowed my backpack containing a laptop.
While tall enough to keep bug splat from soiling my jacket, the top edge of the PD-style windscreen sat just below my line of sight. While I appreciated the coverage (doubly so had it rained) I have to report that helmet buffet proved tiresome at sustained speed above 75 mph. The screen can be removed in mere seconds without tools, so I logged some miles without it, to air out the pits and take in the unobstructed view of the headlamp nacelle while enjoying clean airflow at helmet height.
Speaking of headlights, a moonless desert night provided a good test of the new LED Daymaker lamp’s excellent side coverage and illumination.
Leaving the desert floor the following morning and heading up Montezuma Grade, a serpentine ribbon composed of tight hairpin, medium and fast sweeping corners put the all-new Softail chassis through its paces. Manhandling the bike produced rider-induced wiggles and wobbles. Steering is light effort and rewards a gentle touch. Give the Heritage its head, bank smoothly into corners and it tracks sweet and true. Despite being sprung and damped foremost for comfort, the Showa bending valve fork and single shock also proved up for a spirited pace. Aside from the hinged floorboards grounding, ridden in a swift-yet-sensible manner the frame and lower muffler were spared from contact when exploring the claims of improved cornering clearance. The fork felt supportive under hard braking, and the rear resisted bottoming in all but the most extreme hits. It took some extensive searching for my 180-pound weight to find a G-out bump that used all available rear travel, and even then, after repeated passes I remained impressed with the chassis composure and improved ability to take a sharp blow.
If the 114ci Heritage Classic is any indicator, Harley-Davidson has brought the Softail family in line with the times, delivering the most refined powertrain and chassis The Motor Company has brewed to date.
|List Price||$20,299 (black), $20,699 (color), $21,049 (two-tone), $21,199 (anniversary)|
|Importer||Harley-Davidson Motor Co. Inc.|
|Customer service phone||(414) 343-4680|
|Warranty||2 years/unlimited mi.|
|ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN|
|Engine||Air-/oil-cooled 45º V-twin|
|Bore & stroke||102.0 x 114.3mm|
|Valve train||Single cam, eight valve|
|Valve adjust intervals||N/A|
|Oil capacity||5.0 qt.|
|Battery||17.5 Ah AGM|
|Weight: Tank empty||698 lb.|
|Weight: Tank full||728 lb.|
|Fuel capacity||5.0 gal.|
|Seat height||28.5 in.|
|Ground clearance||4.7 in.|
|Load capacity (tank full)||432 lb.|
|SUSPENSION & TIRES|
|Claimed wheel travel||5.1 in.|
|Claimed wheel travel||4.4 in.|
|Front tire||130/90-B16 Dunlop D401F|
|Rear tire||150/80-B16 Dunlop D401T|
|1/4 mile||13.23 sec. @ 100.7mph|
|0–30 mph||1.9 sec.|
|0–60 mph||4.4 sec.|
|0–90 mph||9.4 sec.|
|0–100 mph||12.9 sec.|
|Top gear time to speed:|
|40–60 mph||4.4 sec.|
|60–80 mph||4.9 sec.|
|Measured top speed||N/A|
|Engine speed @ 60 mph||2250 rpm|
|Avg. range inc. reserve||220 mi.|
|From 30 mph||33.7 ft.|
|From 60 mph||132.2 ft.|
|30 mph indicated||29.5 mph|
|60 mph indicated||58.6 mph|
Sean MacDonald, Digital Content Manager
The Heritage 114 surprised me the most out of all the bikes from Harley-Davidson’s new Softail lineup. It’s ready to ride across the country as soon as you get it off the showroom floor with super-comfy ergonomics, a potent powerplant, and a chassis that begs to drag floorboards. Pull the fairing and bags off and the perfectly swept bars and triple headlight come into their own aesthetically to make for a tastefully blacked-out take on the classic cruiser that’s perfect for a daily rider. Birds, meet stone.
Don Canet, Road Test Editor
Radical change can be difficult to accept, particularly for those vested in a bike that’s been around for decades. For many Harley faithful, the wholesale update to the Softail platform may carry elements of bittersweetness. That’s only natural, but don’t be quick to judge until you’ve ridden the new machine. As often is the case, time marches on and the new generation soon becomes the status quo. I like the direction Harley-Davidson has taken the Softail and look forward to where it’s headed.
Mark Hoyer, Editor-in-Chief
There’s this thing called “Dyna bounce,” and if you spent any time on the now-discontinued rubber-mount cruisers from H-D, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It was real. I felt it a lot on the old Dyna Switchback long-term testbike we had. This Heritage Softail is a much better light touring bike, and the 114ci kick is a nice touch. As for the old Heritage Softail, there’s no comparison with this all-new design.