Harley-Davidson Softails could teach politicians a thing or two about being polarizing. A lot of us either love them or hate them. Unlike the Dyna, the Softy wasn't born with optimal performance in mind. Jim Davis engineered the OG Softail suspension setup as a cheat to give rigid frame street cred without the bone-rattling ride that comes with it. The goal here was all about appearances, not busting 12 o’clock wheelies or maximum corner lean.
Softail popularity peaked in the 1990s after Harley-Davidson introduced the Fat Boy, which proved to be (arguably) the highest-selling H-D of the decade. Softails rode that wave of consumer love into the early 2000s during the rigid frame chopper boom but in recent years fell behind the Dyna as more people realized just how fun the rubber-mount Big Twin was to ride. Now that Harley-Davidson has merged the two model lines into one big happy family, it’ll be interesting to see what sort of custom configurations await it in the years to come. Until then, let’s take a look at some of the Softails we’ve run in Hot Bike. Click the captions to be whisked away to the full stories.
Almost instantly upon receiving his 2018 Harley-Davidson Fat Bob, Mark Atkins tore it down and got down to business transforming it into what he wanted: a stunt machine capable of handling his hard-charging style of riding.
Judging by the CMP Turbo on this Softail Slim’s 110-inch Screamin’ Eagle mill, I’m pretty sure it’s as evil on the streets as it is parked. It’s also SOP for any vehicle owner Chris Johnson keeps in his stable; he runs turbo kits on all of them. Like his touring bike, Chris’ 2016 Softail Slim is a lay-frame design.
Luca Manni collaborated with Harley-Davidson Viterbo to transform his Softail Deuce into something less chopper, more sleek performer. The result was his dream custom you see here.
Originally built in the 1990s for a go at the salt flats at being the world's fastest Knucklehead, the turbocharged motor and trans setup that are the basis of this Softail has a sad history behind it that ended well in this beautiful machine.
Taco Kustoms Softail was built from a vision for a bobber-style custom but not with a slender stance, to be sure.
Ken Nagai of Ken’s Factory has become synonymous with taking raw and bulky American machinery and remixing with an innovative Japanese style to create an almost new genre of custom. By using the catalog of Ken’s Factory mixed with one-off custom parts, this revamped machine hardly resembles the original in any way.
I don’t care who you are—three-peating anything is a bitch. Repeated success is a two-faced giant that loves you with one glance and wants to kill you with the other. John Shope knows a thing or two about that monster, seeing as how his bikes have been the people’s choice for the best on the Hot Bike Tour three years running.
When it comes to building the bike of your dreams, we often seek multiple avenues for inspiration. Whether it be the pages of Hot Bike magazine, your favorite Instagram account or Facebook page, or sometimes right in your own home, once the bike bug has bit, it’s hard to ignore the sting.
Winston Yeh from Rough Crafts is quite possibly the world’s most talented builder you’ve never heard of. Take for instance Winston’s Hot Bike Tour Build-Off bike. If you stare at it long enough, the bones of its former Softail Rocker C frame begin to emerge with its fat rear tire and telltale Softail swingarm.
Every so often we encounter a bike you’d never know started life as a stock Harley-Davidson. Such was the case with Mike Ludovico’s ’99 Softail. Building bikes out of his cramped garage in San Mateo, California, he uses passion and know-how to create something intricate and unique. Being that Mike pretty much built the entire bike, we let the story come straight from him.