I’ve never been much of a Softail guy, truth be told. Or at least not in the barely distant past.
The series has always felt overly styled for my tastes (more form over function), with mediocre suspension and a squirrelly chassis further sabotaged by perennially weak brakes. And if you had a lot of crap to carry, well, god help you; there weren’t many places to strap it to. My list of preferred touring bikes featured mostly Road Kings or, for the long days, an FLT or maybe even a Dyna. But now there’s no more Dyna.
So there I was last autumn, saddling up a 2018 Harley Softail Heritage Classic for a stint in the mountains of northern Spain with a bunch of Brits. The four of us, all competent riders (some more than others), had our pick of a couple of different 2018 Softails for the three-week tour. I didn’t want something as hefty as a Touring bike squeezing through narrow goat paths and old medieval villages for three weeks; it’d be like bringing a bazooka to a knife fight. But I still wanted cargo capacity, so Heritage Classic it was.
Related Video: Dyno Numbers: 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Heritage Classic
Like the dudes at Cycle World, from the start I was surprised at how well the Heritage moved right off the sidestand, but it was only after 23 consecutive days of running crumbling mountain roads, strafing endless switchbacks, and dodging stinky diesel trucks that I felt like I hit the lottery. Satisfied with my choice? Let me count the ways.
Room For Your Stuff
When you're living out of your bike for nearly a month, you need space, pure and simple, and the 3-gallon capacity (combined) of the Heritage’s hard-sided, leather-wrapped non-saggy-bags did the trick (we carried a supplementary tail bag too). In all kinds of riding situations, the Heritage had me sorted; group rides, speed sorties, commutes into town, and light touring, rain or shine. It could easily swallow my rain gear, tool kit, first-aid kit, multiple water bottles, walkie-talkies, cameras, and a change of clothes, with extra room in there for a couple of tapas and a bottle of wine from the local supermercado for after the day was done. Those bags are also lockable, sealed, and water-resistant (all of which came in handy).
Being chased by two Fat Bobs and a Street Glide through the dirty, mud-splattered canyons can make for some hair-raising situations, but with its all-new Milwaukee-Eight engine, the Heritage delivered well beyond any reasonable expectation I had. The four-valve mill has plenty of grunt (H-D says 109 pound-feet at 3,000 rpm from the 107 mill, while our dyno run of the 114 showed 112 pound-feet) to stay with the pack, and with 1,746cc of displacement, it’s easily up for smooth passes against slower traffic.
The super-smooth M-8 sports “a refined dual internally counterbalanced system that reduces engine vibration while maintaining the familiar Harley-Davidson feel,” which, in Harley-speak means don’t worry, you’ll still get your potato-potato sound. And it has a nice growl to it too.
Looks And Lighting
The H-D designers refer to the 2018 Heritage Classic as “Young Elvis,” thanks to its subtly blacked-out-leather vibe. That seems about right, since the previous Softail model definitely channeled the sparkle and flash of Vegas Elvis (or Fat Elvis, as we like to say). The 2018 model goes back to its ’50s Panhead, rock-and-roll roots, with a slimmer, low-profile stance topped with a hint of menace and darkness. Young Elvis is where the cool blacked-out lights, fork, motor, and windscreen come into play, while the new, visually slick LED Daymaker lights bring darkness-busting abilities that put the previous incandescent-equipped models to shame.
Handling And Suspension
Maybe the best part of the 2018 Heritage is the Showa fork, an item that made its way into the Harley ecosystem on last year’s Touring line. After weeks of flat-out abuse through some of Spain's finest motorcycling roads (some of them barely paved), I can testify that the new Showa Dual Bending Valve fork, now on all 2018 Softails, served up unbelievably up-to-the-task damping for any one of my many dashes down the mountain. Front end feel on uneven roads was excellent, with transitions from straight line to suddenly kinked-up turns evolving smoothly. Harley claims this new Heritage is 32 pounds lighter than the 2017 model, and that might not sound like much, but less weight combined with the stiffer chassis and new monoshock rear suspension makes for a motorcycle that's far better balanced than the one it replaces. Everything just feels more composed. Even a large rock I struck head on wasn’t enough to shake the HC off its line. Scared the bejeebers out of me though.
It sounds like a broken record to say it, but everybody knows a Harley when they see it, new or old. The only time locals didn’t want to stop us in the street to chat is when when we rolled through a couple of small towns at high speed, all draped in sinister helmets and armored clothing. Of course they probably thought we were the police or militia or whatever sent to break up their peaceful day. Didn’t matter; we laid down rubber getting out of there.
Remember those aforementioned goat paths? Yep, they're everywhere in Europe (and even North America) and navigating them on a dressed-up battle cruiser can be more than just an annoyance. In this case, a soft bagger was the way to go, particularly when you can quickly and tool-lessly remove the windshield like you can on the Heritage. You’ll definitely want to remove that shield in town too; in its wisdom, Harley decided it would be a good idea to tint the entire bottom half black, which doesn’t make it easy to spot road obstacles right in front of you.
At the end of the day, the new Heritage Classic has, for me, become one of Harley’s best do-it-all bikes, with a level of fit and finish befitting a more expensive machine, and a versatility and nimbleness that belies its rock-and-roll good looks. Road trip!