Harley-Davidson Fat Bob FXDF review

Date 01.5.2014

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader

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Harley-Davidson Fat Bob FXDF

THE DARK LORD

Imagine a women’s shoe magazine that did a comparison test between a pair of six-inch stilettos and a pair of Dunlop Volleys. It wouldn’t really matter what the criteria (comfort, grip, fit, finish, ease of use and the rest), the Volleys would win by a country mile. When you go clubbing on the weekend, though, what are the girls wearing? Certainly not Volleys.

The astute among you may possibly have noticed that, in Australian magazines, you don’t see comparison tests that include Harley-Davidsons.

If you tell the local distributor you want a Harley-Davidson to compare it with similar bikes in the marketplace, it simply won’t provide the bike.

The logic is obvious. Victory benchmarked against H-D with its current range and by most objective measures (acceleration, power, fuel economy and such), it’s a better product. Why would H-D encourage a comparison? Harley-Davidson is the stiletto of the bike world – in some areas its ‘competition’ is demonstrably better but of the top 10 cruisers sold in Australia, nine of them are H-Ds. When the new 500 arrives in March next year, the top 10 will all be Harley-Davidsons. Reason has its place in the world but, thankfully, the heart still has a role to play.

GYM JUNKIE

Don’t think, though, for a second, that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with the dynamics and performance of any particular H-D model (with the possible exception of the 72…). H-D has taken giant leaps forward this century and the exemplars are probably the ‘Project Rushmore’ models. It’s been a long time since there was any great sacrifice (apart from, arguably, a financial one) involved in owning an H-D.

The FXDF Fat Bob isn’t part of the new breed but an engineering and styling development of the model which first appeared in 2008. The engine grew from a 96- to 103-cubic-inch unit in 2012 but the 2014 model has been substantially restyled to align better with the ‘dark custom’ look.

New black-out features include the powertrain and air-cleaner cover, rear shock covers, triple clamps, headlight trim rings, console and battery box cover.

The aluminum wheels have also been powdercoated black and finished with a laser-engraved H-D insignia and rim stripe. Even the tyres have ‘Harley-Davidson’ moulded onto the sidewalls. Dunlop and Michelin make special Harley-Davidson series tyres, which is probably worth their while given H-D has more than half the entire US motorcycle market.

Harley-Davidson’s styling manager, the inappropriately named Tony Pink, had this to say about the makeover.

“We wanted to take the Fat Bob farther into the Dark Custom realm, and one of our inspirational thoughts was Mad Max meets Nascar.

“The compact, chopped lines of the new rear fender, the angle of the shocks and the slanted tank graphics all line up to create an aggressive, new stance that’s reinforced by the new, blunt-cut mufflers. The high-contrast details on the black wheels relate nicely to the tank graphic. The seat was given a new form and cover that’s more sporty and more comfortable. Bring it all together and the Fat Bob is ready to reassert its presence on the street.”

It requires probably more courage than I have to take on the H-D styling department but there are two areas of issue. The twin headlights seem out of place and a single unit would appear to be more in keeping with the styling of the rest of the bike. The Fat Bob is near-perfect from side-on but the rear guard looks a little bulbous from the top. Its circular, LED tail-lights are also disturbingly reminiscent of a n early ’80s Nissan Skyline.

STREET SMARTS

If the styling is designed to intimidate, it certainly works.

This is the Harley that strikes terror into cage drivers. It has sniffs of the Billy bike from Easy Rider and it reminds everyone who doesn’t ride about the potential danger of making eye contact with anyone on this style of H-D. Riding it though traffic makes you feel like Moses parting the Red Sea – it demands respect.

The “fat” bit in the bike’s title is achieved mostly by the 180-section rear and 130-section front tyres although the 19-litre tank helps as well, as does the matt-black paintwork.

A front tyre this size shouldn’t work. It should make the steering heavy and subject the front end to bump steer, the lever effect of hitting something on the outside of the tyre which twists the steering. Neither of these effects is obvious on the road. I thought for a while it was because the bike actually encourages you to ride moderately.

It’s a cool cruise through the city, you’re always first away from the lights and there’s no real incentive to ride much beyond the posted speed limits.

Perhaps the big front tyre would be more of a problem at 180km/h but these kinds of speeds would be rare for most owners.

Some of the credit for the Fat Bob’s excellent road manners comes from the chassis design. The word ‘sport’ crops up occasionally in the H-D promotional material and it’s not completely out of place. The Fat Bob’s rake, trail and wheelbase encourage great stability on the road, but it still steers promptly and its cornering clearance is better than you’d have any right to expect.

A majority of owners will never scrape anything, even if they’re trying. And that’s not something you can say of most of the Fat Bob’s competition or, indeed, of some of the other bikes in the H-D range.

Also smart for the street is the effortless torque from the ‘Twin Cam 103’ engine (1690cc). H-D claims 99lb-ft (134Nm) at 3500rpm but it provides grunt everywhere. You’ll clean up at the lights against any cage.

As with comparisons, H-D doesn’t release power figures for its engines. It simply thinks that if you ride it, you’ll get it, irrespective of numbers. Many H-Ds, however, go straight from the showroom to the dyno room and a stock 103ci engine regularly return somewhere between 75 and 80hp (55-60kW). Relatively speaking, this is modest, but it’s certainly enough to keep the rest of the traffic honest.

Various factory and aftermarket kits are available to easily lift horsepower closer to the 100 mark but the stock engine is sweet and arguably enough to satisfy the needs of most buyers.

If you own one and your mates on ‘foreign’ bikes are giving you the shits, challenge them to a drag on a dirt or loose-gravel road. The H-D’s combination of torque along with its power delivery will serve you well. Send me half your winnings.

The 103ci engine in the Fat Bob is rubber-mounted and, of course, fuel-injected. It also has hydraulic valve lifters and its combination of features points at low maintenance and reduced service costs.

MT has two H-Ds at the moment and you can notice the benefit of the rubber-mounted engine in the Fat Bob at both idle and at cruising speeds.

LIFE IN THE SADDLE

If the Fat Bob was a pet dog, it would be a rottweiler. Yes, they can be vicious, but they can also be very affectionate towards their owner.

As you amble out to your garage in the morning, the security fob attached to the steering lock key will let the bike know you are its master and it can relax. If you have the steering lock on, you can undo it while you’re sitting on the bike but if you haven’t bothered with it, you simply climb on the bike, turn the ignition switch on and away you go.

Anyone who attempts to climb on the bike without the transponder will activate the bike’s security system. It’s an easy (even lazy) system to get used to but if you’re using the steering lock you have to remember to remove the key. Inattention to this will see the key and security fob eventually vibrate out and have the bike treat you like a complete stranger when you next stop for fuel.

Once settled in the very-comfortable seat, you’re ready to roll. Forward controls are an acquired taste and in some ways define the Fat Bob. It doesn’t look like it should be comfortable but, up to a point, it is. A combination of lever length and the location of the gearchange lever makes changing a clunky operation. Until you get used to it, the easiest way around the problem is to lift your foot off the ’peg to do it, which becomes tiring around the city. The six-speed gearbox doesn’t help here as the torque available encourages short-shifting, which means you spend more time than you probably should looking for the right gear if you suddenly decide you want maximum acceleration.

On the highway at legal speeds, all this concern disappears. Loafing along in top gear at 100km/h is about as cruisy as it gets. If you want to overtake, a change to fifth lifts the revs into the torque zone and away you go. If you try to ride at speeds substantially above the posted limits, though, you’ll notice the wind attempting to force your knees away from the sides of the tank.

Riders born to forward controls have probably already made the muscle adjustment necessary to make this a non-issue but, for the rest of us, it can become tiring.

As the name suggests, the Fat Bob is a big bike – 320kg wet – and its slow steering reminds you of this at low speeds. It’s surprisingly easy to ride, though, and its seat height of 663mm allows the shorter among us to engage easily, although the stock ’bars and forward controls might be a bit of a stretch.

There are a couple of minor issues with the model. We found it difficult to fill the tank without occasionally splashing fuel. Despite its 19-litre tank, its average thirst of 5.5 litres per 100km sees you regularly at the fuel stop. There’s a period, analogue fuel gauge in the left-hand tank cap which doesn’t fill the rider with confidence but it’s supported by an electronic low-fuel light. The sidestand is an act of faith. It never let us down but it never seemed to go far enough forward to provide a sense of security.

RIDE TO BELIEVE

The key marketing issue H-D faces in Australia is to dissipate the marque’s established image and get non-Harley riders to engage with the brand. If you treat the bikes without the baggage of their social history, they are absolute contenders in the sectors in which they present themselves.

If you want a bike that does what the Fat Bob does, you should at least consider buying a Fat Bob. There are other bikes out there which do a similar thing but, in 2014, they’re no more reliable or ‘sensible’ than the H-D. They might be a little cheaper and that’s an issue but, none of them carry the 111-year history of the Harley. How about that – H-D finally has logic on its side to back up its emotional appeal.

THUMBS UP
– Comfort
– Road presence
– Grunt

THUMBS DOWN
– Clunky gearchanges
– Some styling aspects

SPECIFICATIONS

Harley-Davidson Fat Bob FXDF

ENGINE:
Type:
Air/oil-cooled, two valves per cylinder, 45-degree V-twin
Capacity: 1690cc
Bore x Stroke: 98.4 x 111.1mm
Compression ratio: 9.6:1
Fuel system: EFI

TRANSMISSION:
Type:
Six-speed, constant mesh
Final drive: Belt

CHASSIS & RUNNING GEAR:
Frame type:
Twin-loop mild steel
Front suspension: Conventional 49mm fork, non-adjustable, 127mm travel
Rear suspension: Twin coil-over shocks, 54mm travel
Front brake: Single 300mm disc with radial-mount twin-piston caliper, ABS equipped
Rear brake: Single 292mm disc with twin-piston caliper, ABS equipped

DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES:
Dry weight:
308kg (320kg wet)
Seat height: 663mm
Fuel capacity: 18.9 litres
Wheelbase: 1620mm

WHEELS & TYRES:
Front:
3.0 X 16-inch machined, aluminium slotted rim with 130/90 B16 Dunlop D427F Harley-Davidson Series tyre
Rear: 5.0 X 15-inch machined, aluminium slotted rim with 180/70 B16 Dunlop D427 Harley-Davidson Series tyre

PERFORMANCE:
Max power:
Not given
Max torque: 134Nm (98.8ft-lb) at 3500rpm
Fuel consumption: 5.5L/100km (18.2km/litre)

OTHER STUFF:
Price:
$25,495 rideaway
Colours: Amber Whiskey, Sand Cammo Denim, Black Denim, Vivid Black
Test bike supplied by: Harley-Davidson Australia
www.Harley-Davidson.com.au
Warranty: 24 months/unlimited km

*****

More reviews:

> Road test: Harley-Davidson Dyna Street Bob Limited

> Road test: Harley-Davidson Breakout FXSB

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