2006 Harley Davidson Softail Standard - Road Test

2006 Harley-Davidson Softail Standard

Back in 1984, Harley-Davidson set the motorcycle world on fire with the introduction of an innovative model known as the Softail. The newly designed chassis would be one of the bright spots for the company as the new management team attempted to separate itself from the dark days of the AMF era. In conjunction with the Evolution engine, the new Softail chassis would go far in showing the faithful just how serious the company was when it came to building high-quality, reliable, and stylish motorcycles. The model was a huge success, and, as they say, the rest is history.

What helped put the Softail over the top was a chassis design that drastically changed the way the rear suspension worked when compared with other models the Motor Company was producing at the time. Not only were the workings of it different, the overall look and styling of the frame was reminiscent of hardtail frames produced by Harley in years past.

By combining a rigid-look frame with a swingarm controlled by a pair of shocks and springs mounted horizontally below the transmission, the Motor Company had come up with something many riders were looking for: classic good looks and a comfortable ride, all in the same bike.

For 2006 the Softail family has grown to nine models, compared to eight in 2005. This year's Softail Standard FXST/I is presented to the riding public as a blank canvas, to be taken wherever your creative juices lead you. Unlike other members of the Softail family, the Standard rolls from the factory with pure and simple styling consisting of clean lines and elements that just beg for customization. While many riders may opt for models with plenty of attitude, such as the Fat Boy FLSTF/I or the Softail Springer Classic FLSTSC/I, the Standard is the perfect bike for someone looking for a starting point. Whether you plan on hand-picking items from Harley's P&A; catalog or building a full-blown custom, the Softail Standard is a perfect starting point.

New for 2006 on the Standard, as well as the Night Train and Springer Softail, is a major change as Harley joins the plethora of manufacturers and builders putting serious rubber on the back of their bikes. While their tires may not be as big as some of the tires used by some of the other manufacturers out there, three of this year's models will be outfitted with a 200/55R17 78 tire from Dunlop (Harley-Davidson Series).

Last year's 150/80B16 71H pales in comparison when set alongside the new 200. This year's rubber measures out at approximately 1-1/2 inches wider than what was available in 2005.

So just how did they fit that much more tire in the chassis? The answer is simple. Harley's engineers redesigned the frame, swingarm, transmission pulley, final drive belt, rear pulley, rear wheel, rear-brake caliper, fender, and struts. Adding 2-1/4 inches to the width of the back of the bike left plenty of room for the new 17x6-inch cast rear wheel fitted with the Dunlop. Helping make room for the fatter tire is a 20mm final drive belt; compare this to the standard 29mm belt normally associated with Twin-Cam Harley-Davidsons. Up front, the Standard wears a MH90-21 54H mounted on one of Harley's 21-inch chrome laced Profile wheels. Bringing the bike to a sure stop is a pair of four-piston calipers that squeeze 11-1/2-inch one-piece steel rotors. The bike's trail figure of 5 inches, along with last year's 32-degree raked neck, was left alone, while an additional 1-1/2 degrees were added to the trees, which are designed for 41mm tubes.

In the engine department, Harley has stuck with its proven air-cooled Twin-Cam 88 balanced mill (silver cast finish), which is solidly bolted to the chassis, providing the rider instant feedback and connection to the bike as the motor spins through the rpm band. An enclosed wet-chain primary consisting of a 36:25 ratio spins the nine-plate wet clutch assembly, which is connected to the five-speed transmission. Transmission ratios remain the same as last year's and are as follows: First, 10.110:1; Second, 6.958:1; Third, 4.953:1; Fourth, 3.862:1; and Fifth, 3.150:1. Final drive also remains unchanged, with a 32-tooth pulley up front and a 70-tooth pulley bolted to the left side of the rear wheel.

The Standard's sheetmetal consists of a small front fender, 5-gallon Fat Bob tanks, and a 3.5-quart black oil tank. A widened bobtail rear fender that allows plenty of the 200mm tire to show announces it's all business at the back end of the motorcycle. Ergonomics include a set of medium-rise bars set in curved risers, a thickly padded two-up seat, and a set of forward-mounted foot controls.

As soon as we heard rumors of the new bigger tire, we couldn't wait to get our hands on one. We weren't disappointed. The thought of a Harley shipping with a 200mm rear tire sounded almost too good to be true. As soon as we got the call that the bike was ready for pickup, we were off. With the papers signed, we thumbed the starter and hit the road. The first thing we observed was that the Standard is a bike designed around riders averaging 5 feet, 8 inches tall. Since we were in that general range, all the controls were within easy reach.

A quick squeeze of the clutch revealed a much lighter pull than we had grown accustomed to on a Softail. This reduced effort can be credited to a redesign of both the ball-and-ramp assembly and the diaphragm spring, which sits atop the clutch. We were informed by the factory that the new setup allows for a reduction of 24 percent in the effort needed to disengage the clutch. As we rolled on the throttle and banged through the gears, everything felt smooth due to the counter-balancers, which help keep motor vibrations to a minimum.

We were impressed with the handling characteristics of the new 200mm-so much so that at times it was hard to tell the bike wore such a wide rear tire. Dunlop did a good job with the tire's profile; it has a well-designed crown that allows very smooth transitions as the bike is tossed from side to side. There is no feeling that the bike wants to stand up while in a turn, which often happens on bikes with tires fatter than 200mm. Also adding to the riding experience is a ground-clearance figure of 6 inches, compared to last year's 5.6 inches. In addition, the lean angle on the right side of the bike has been increased by 4 degrees to 35 degrees; the left side remains unchanged at 34 degrees. In the power department, the bike is said to put out 80 lb-ft of torque according to our factory sources. Although we did not put the bike on a dyno, we feel reasonably sure that rear-wheel hp would come in somewhere around 62-65, with a torque number around 72-75 lb-ft. The Delphi Electronic Sequential-Port Fuel Injection (the bike is also available as a carbureted model) worked flawlessly, allowing for both cold and hot starts, with no problems. At varying engine speeds the EFI did what was expected of it, with no pops, hiccups, or stumbles. While the bike is not underpowered, riders used to larger-displacement engines will probably opt for a big-bore kit or other performance modifications.

The bike we tested wore a Red Fire Pearl paint job and had a MSRP of $14,780.Once we added the options (EFI, $225; California, $100; and polished rear wheel, $495), the total came to $15,600.

As we stated before, this bike has tons of potential-or you can keep it stock. The choice is up to you.

REAR TIRE {{{200}}}/55R17