I’ve just returned from the worldwide media launch in Los Angeles where the bikes were put through their paces with a hot and heavy run up twisting mountain roads to Big Bear Lake and back.
The Breakout has been the top seller for Harley in Australia for three years now for its simple fat-tyre, raked front and clean lines.
Now it looks a little cleaner with the previously messy wiring harness tucked neatly away in the spine of the frame.
For 2018, the Breakout also gets a new LED headlight tucked in like the V-Rod and Livewire, tiny digital instruments integrated into the handlebar risers and a lower-profile fuel tank.
While we didn’t get a chance to ride the bike at night, LED headlights are known for their better illumination with more reach, a wider and more uniform spread of light and a whiter beam.
Softail program manager Brad McIlwee says the instruments are “barely legal” as they are so tiny, yet they are easy to read in any light conditions.
They include information such as speed, fuel and gear indicator and, by pressing the button on the left switchblock, you can toggle through several screens which provide other information such as range and trip meters.
You might need to keep an eye on that range, too, as the tank is smaller.
It looks thinner and creates a more exciting profile, but it should also decrease range.
The fuel capacity has gone from an 18.9L tank to 13.2L, but Harley says the bigger 107 Milwaukee Eight engine is more economical than the 103 Twin Cam it replaces. Besides, there is also a 15% drop in weight, or 17kg less.
However, if you opt – as many will – for the 114 engine, you could be scouting for a servo around 200km.
It now comes with dual-bending-valve forks and an adjustable rear shock with the preload adjuster knob conveniently down by your right side, so you can quickly pump it up when required.
Most importantly, the 34% stiffer frame completely reinvents the handling of this power cruiser.
It used to wallow and scrape on corners and wouldn’t even go in a straight line without tracking over parallel cracks.
At the end of a long ride, your shoulders would be aching from the effort of keeping it tracking right.
Now, the bike feels easier to control with a slightly improved static lean angle and a much improved dynamic lean angle because it doesn’t flex as much.
Softail styling manager Kirk Rasmussen says that to improve lean angle, they squeezed the swingarm and tilted the transmission up which raises primary cover and clutch pump.
It now scuttles along quite quickly through winding roads and you can use all that 240mm tyre.
Acceleration off the line is also greatly improved.
Brad says that compared with the previous Twin Cam, when the bikes reached 100km/h, the 107 would three bike lengths ahead and the 114 would be five bikes ahead.
Softail Fat Boy
Softail senior product manager Kevin Hintz says the Fat Boy is the “most copied motorcycle of all time”.
“This model has a brand as strong as some other motorcycle brands,” he says.
With its solid Lakester wheels and that fat 240mm tyre (up from 200mm), it has a “steamroller stance”, he says.
However, it’s less of a steamroller now with a 16kg weight-loss program.
Styling has been modernised with a smaller “atomic-era” headlight nacelle, LED lights, satin chrome finish and midsweep exhaust.
Like the Breakout, it comes with an external preload adjuster and the stiffer frame, but instead of the dual-bending-valve forks, it gets a racing style cartridge.
While it steers lighter than before and lighter than the Breakout with its straight drag bars, it doesn’t handle quite as nimbly nor corner quite as well as the Breakout thanks to the wider rear tyre, a bit more bulk and wide floorboards.
Perhaps Harley could have trimmed those floorboards as they have with the new Slim which now has surprisingly improved cornering clearance.
But that new 240mm wide tyre might just be the addition that puts this bike back at the top of the Australian Harley sales where it reigned for several years.