I t’s true. The new 2018 cruiser line from Harley-Davidson has motorcycles that carry Dyna-like names, but the new design, known internally as Serengeti, is inspired by, and called, Softail.
The deviation from the Softails of old is huge, but the “design language,” as the artists like to say, is clearly linked to the 1936 EL Knucklehead and ’49 Panhead. The “continuous line from steering head to rear axle” has been at the heart of the Harley-Davidson design ever since.
Harley-Davidson is betting on that image, and an entirely new design, to carry the cruiser line forward. The Milwaukee-Eight engines are solidly mounted and twin counterbalanced. The “rubber soul” of the Dyna will have to be channeled through the FL touring line and Sportsters, both of which feature similar elastomer engine mounts that give you the happiest parts of engine vibration and character at idle and certain other rpm but also flips to a glass-smooth sweet spot tuned for a nice wide swath of “normal rpm” running.
Dynas have been the “performance” Big Twin since the FXDB Sturgis debuted in 1991. But before there was FXD there was FXR. The FXR Super Glide II rolled out in 1982 and combined the elastomer mounts and powertrain of the touring bike in a lean and (relatively) light hand-welded steel-tube frame. The Dyna lowered cost by using an easier-to-build frame, and it also took it a little more long and low but still sporty.
The cult of FXR remains strong, and in recent years it’s really seemed to bloom. The joke at the Born-Free custom show this past summer at Irvine Lake in Southern California was to get on the PA and say, “Would the FXR rider who left his lights on please go to the parking lot,” and watch the entire event empty out. The rubber-mount performance thing is really strong here in California, but it’s made its way east in a big way. These are passionate, creative people, and the spirit of FXR is also expressed in the large number of high-performance Dyna builds you see.
Harley-Davidson cited its research that found people wanted better performance—and to that I say, of course. But does that mean they want a performance Harley that’s not a Dyna? Is it relevant to the fans of the twin-shock Dyna platform that the 2018 single-hidden-shock Softail Fat Bob performs better? Is outright performance really the motivator of the Dyna buyer? We’ll find out.
H-D’s motorcycles have always been about look, sound, and feel (the company’s words, by the way), and the new Softails do not look or feel much like Dynas, though the sound remains the same. Perhaps the greatest expression of the Dyna line was the 2017 Low Rider S, Cycle World’s Best Cruiser last year and also the first model created under the direction of Brad Richards, who took over from a certain Willie G. Davidson as the head of design and styling.
And what if the love for rubber soul is too strong? You could probably take care of at least one aspect of the rubber-mount performance crowd by building a radically stripped-down FL tourer—sort of an FXR in spirit but without the lighter frame.
Of course, the 2018 Softail move could also open the door for actually bringing back the FXR in some form. Imagine a rubber-mount Milwaukee-Eight in an FXR-inspired welded-steel frame that incorporates styling and design elements seen in the rich customs on the road and at shows.
As it is, we’ve sort of lost our current traditional holy trinity of Big Twin: Touring, Dyna, and Softail. But there once were no rubber-mount Harleys at all. No belt final drive. No Softails, in fact. As much as Harley-Davidsons are perceived to stay the same, there is a history of change. I saw an old sticker on a helmet at Born-Free that said: “RIP Harley-Davidson: 1903–1969.” AMF bought The Motor Company in ’69. H-D is not resting. It is, now more than ever, looking to find new customers who in 20 years might be asking what all the fuss about rubber mounting was.