Bobbers have been around for ages, dating all the way back to the 1930s, when riders chopped the rear fenders off their bikes resulting in a ‘bobbed’ look; and it wasn’t just the fenders that were hacked down– everything deemed unnecessary was dropped from the bike, all in the quest of making it lighter and thereby, faster! Bobbers were homemade back then, but their existence was undeniably in the quest for performance. In that sense, the latest Fat Bob is more of an authentic Bobber now than it’s ever been, and we’re going to see if that’s a good or bad thing on our roads.
Harley-Davidson received plenty of praise for taking the bold step with the design of the 2018 Softail family, and the new Fat Bob received the biggest and most aggressive makeover of the lot. The majority of its newfound, bad-boy attitude comes from that in-your-face rectangular slab of an LED headlight. It’s unusual, wild and I absolutely love it; but the retro teardrop-shaped indicators seem out of place. Further adding to the Bobber theme is the motorcycle’s shorter look and the slashed rear fender that ends abruptly over the rear tyre. Minimal use of chrome, restricted to a small section on the cylinder heads and gearbox keeps the modern and mean theme going.
On proud display, under the fuel tank, is the beautifully finished Milwaukee-Eight V-twin. Another hint at the Fat Bob’s wild side comes through the cheeky bronzed header-pipe heat shields. The substantial engine guard on this bike is an optional extra that will set you back by about Rs 20,000. You’ll also have to pay more if you want a lockable cap for the 14-litre fuel tank. The Fat Bob does pack Harley’s keyless start as standard, but the system is quite redundant as you still have to take a key out of your pocket to lock and unlock the bike. Overall, the Fat Bob feels like a premium motorcycle, and as we saw with the Fat Boy last month, quality has taken a step forward with high levels of finish and premium-feeling componentry. Aside from a few haphazardly bunched cables near the headstock, there isn’t much to complain about.
You normally associate torque with lazy and effortless performance, but on this motorcycle, the great masses of torque bursting at the seams of the lovely Milwaukee-Eight result in urgent and laugh-out-loud performance. Take off aggressively from a set of traffic lights and the fat 180-section rear tyre will leave a long smear of melted rubber on the tarmac with wild laughter ringing through your helmet. This hooligan performance is thanks to the new four-valve air/oil cooled motor that displaces 1,745cc against the old Fat Bob’s 1,585cc V-twin. The result is about one Yamaha FZ25’s worth of additional torque in a motorcycle that has shed nearly 20kg of weight. That this is a faster motorcycle is undeniable, and that ever-ready, tidal wave of low-rev torque means throttle response at low speeds can be surprisingly sharp.
However, the Fat Bob will also pull off the peaceful cruise well. It holds 100kph at just 2,000rpm and anything up to 130kph (3,000rpm) is sustainable without any sign of stress. The engine pulls hard until 5,000rpm and gets stressed above this and there’s little sense in getting acquainted with the 6,000rpm redline. Twin balancer shafts have allowed the characterful ‘feel’ of the big V-twin to remain and the not-so-nice vibrations only begin to creep in above 3,000rpm. On the highway, this motor is an absolute gem; but if you get stuck in heavy traffic, you’ll quickly grow weary of the heavy clutch and vast heat wafting off the right side of the engine. The gearing is identical to the Fat Boy, which means it gets cranky and clunky at low speeds in higher gears and 60kph is the lowest sixth gear will comfortably allow.
All the new motorcycles from the Softail family use the same basic frame, but each has been tuned for its purpose. The Fat Bob gains the sharpest steering geometry with a 28-degree rake angle and has the shortest wheelbase of the lot, as well. Further, Harley has given it a brand-new Showa dual-bending valve and upside-down forks that complement the handling and braking performance. The Fat Bob runs on small 16-inch wheels and when you factor in the fat 150-section front tyre, it’s no surprise that the front-end demands some muscle to get it turned in and keep it there. Put in the effort, though, and the Fat Bob rewards with an eagerness to lean right over until the forward-set pegs scrape the tarmac (cornering clearance is a decent 31 degrees on the right and 32 degrees on the left).
Its stability is very good, as you’d expect from a motorcycle that weighs 309kg, and the Fat Bob is a remarkably eager accomplice when the road begins to twist. Braking performance is strong too, and there’s reasonably decent feel at the lever, as well.
However, the real pleasure is in how well the new suspension setup deals with our roads. Comfort is even better than the long and low Fat Boy and the new fork has a soft but supple feel that happily soaks up a number of rough surfaces, including mild potholes and poorly designed expansion gaps. Ground clearance, however, is low at 120mm, so you’ll want to watch out for sharp speed-breakers. The Fat Bob really does keep the rider in the mood to play, thanks to the sporty reach forward to the nearly flat drag handlebar. This is a bike that encourages and enjoys an aggressive ride. If you just want to lazily cruise about, however, the Heritage Classic or even the Fat Boy are smarter choices within the Softail family.
The new Fat Bob has taken a more focused role in Harley’s line-up and we are fans of its new identity. At Rs 14.01 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), the Fat Bob has no direct competition, as both the Indian Scout Bobber and the Triumph Bonneville Bobber are a good deal more affordable and pack smaller engines. The Fat Bob will appeal to those who crave a big Harley-Davidson with heaps of sheer, unadulterated badassery (there’s no other word for it!). The fact that it now feels a whole lot more premium and expensive is just icing on the cake.