Just to give you an idea of how much I like the Heritage Softail Classic, when I was asked on the last two touring press rides I attended to choose what Harley-Davidson model I’d like to ride, I chose the Heritage Softail Classic—the 2010 model when it was brand-new and the 2011 the following year. For me, the Heritage Softail Classic offers basic features I want in a long-distance motorcycle—windshield, saddlebags and floorboards—but in a size I can handle when I’m unsure of road conditions, weather conditions and group-ride distractions.
For women looking for a Harley-Davidson touring motorcycle who don’t want or can’t handle the large size of Harley’s FL touring models (FL is the touring frame designation), such as the Street Glide, Road Glide, Road King, or Ultra Classic, then the Heritage Softail Classic is the next best thing.
This “classic” of all the Softails has been in Harley’s Softail lineup since 1986, standing tall while other models came and went. (Remember the Night Train? The Bad Boy?) There’s something to be said for longevity. The bike works and does it well.
Adding to that nostalgic look are the soft-sided concho and studded leather saddlebags, which offer a decent amount of storage space, unlike some saddlebags that look big from the outside but are actually puny inside. You can stuff these to the gills. Like the bags, the windshield comes standard, as does the passenger backrest. That’s the beauty of this motorcycle. You get all these touring components as part of the base model price of $16,999.
Floorboards let you rest your feet while riding long distances, and the mini-apehanger handlebars provide that laid-back classic cruiser feel and look. But don’t let the term “apehanger” scare you off. The 11-inch height of the bars is very manageable and provides an ideal cruiser riding position, although I’d tilt them back toward me a bit to accommodate my girl-length arms.
Seat height on the Classic, of utmost importance for most women riders, is only 25.5 inches—the same height as on the Sportster 883 SuperLow! Can you believe that? However, the SuperLow doesn’t have the wide profile of the Classic. You lose about an inch in leg spread on the wide saddle of the Classic. The Classic is also 733 pounds—hefty, yes, and it feels kind of bulky even to me, though I’m a smidge taller than the average-size woman—but the center of gravity is extremely low, one of the lowest of all Harleys along with the highly-favored-among-women-riders Softail Deluxe.
The Heritage Softail Classic rides and feels a lot like the Deluxe, with a seat height just 1 inch higher than the Deluxe’s 24.5-inch seat height. So for riders who find the Deluxe too low, the Classic is an ideal alternative, plus you get the saddlebags, windshield and backrest for just $200 more. Those accessories alone would cost at least three times more when purchased separately.
While the 2011 Classic looks similar to the 2010 model, Harley-Davidson made some significant upgrades to the 2011 that were designed to enhance the touring experience. First, the hand controls are new, but you can hardly tell by looking at them—it’s more in the feel. There are fewer wires inside, making switching out handlebars a lot easier if you should choose to do that. This also translates to a different tactile feel of the buttons. You don’t have to press the buttons—the turn signals, the horn and the bright-light switch—as deeply for them to activate. I actually like it the old way, when you could “feel” that you were pressing a button. To me, it feels like the depth at which the button is depressed has been reduced by half.
Harley used all the wiring changes as an opportunity to move the odometer display button to the top of the horn button on the hand controls; its old position was on the speedometer gauge.You don’t have to take your hand off the bars now to toggle through the displays. On the right handgrip, the top of the starter button activates a one-push hazard button. Previously, the hazards were activated by pressing both turn signals at the same time.
One neat feature added to the digital odometer readout is a display for what gear you’re in and at what RPMs you’re running—basically a digital tachometer.
Also new for 2011 is the option of adding anti-lock brakes (ABS) and Harley’s Smart Security System, which come together as a package for an additional $1,195. My test model did not have the package, but I do have ABS on my Street Glide and I love it, not that I’ve used it much. But there’s just something about knowing that should you need to brake hard, the ABS will kick in and prevent you from skidding.
Out on the road, the Heritage Softail Classic is pure cruiser, but get it in the twisties and it carves decently. I recall riding the Fat Boy and Fat Boy Lo (other Softails) and feeling that I was lumbering through the turns. The Heritage Softail Classic doesn’t lumber. It actually has an aggressive feel to it if I really push the bike into the turns. I like that I can go from leaning back in the saddle on the straightaways to straightening my back, leaning forward and countersteering into the turns. There’s no big fat tire restricting your lean angle in those turns. Harley’s kept the 150 mm rear on this bike even while it’s upped the width of it on some other models.
The Classic’s 96-cubic-inch motor (or 1,584cc) rises to the challenge. There’s plenty of power in the stock motor for most riders—92.2 foot pounds of torque at 3,000 rpm—which provides enough get-up-and-go for riders more interested in touring than hot-rodding.
The Classic sports six gears—a great thing these days. I’m used to riding with that sixth gear to level out the rpms at cruising speeds now that I have it on my Street Glide. I recently rode a Japanese-brand cruiser with five gears and was frustrated when I couldn’t kick into a sixth gear at 75 mph to lower the high rpms to a comfortable touring mode. That sixth gear is a big selling point when comparing Harley-Davidsons to other bikes.
Suspension is another thing to look at when comparing motorcycles. Long and low cruisers lack the suspension travel needed to soak up bumps, which can really bug you over time. The Heritage Softail, with its 5.1 inches of travel in the front and generous 4.3 in the back, glides well over bumps. However, I’ve found that stock suspensions are not ideal for my light 118-pound weight. When I add even just a 25-pound backrest bag and load up the saddlebags, that’s enough to compress the stock suspension setting so that bumps are handled the way they should be.
The 5-gallon fuel tank provides plenty of range for long-distance riding. You’ll have to stop and go to the bathroom way before you even get close to running the tank dry. Harley specs indicate the Classic gets 35 mpg in the city and 54 mpg on the highway.
What more can I say about a motorcycle that I’d own if I wanted a second cruiser besides my Street Glide? The Heritage Softail Classic is a wonderful motorcycle. Yes, “wonderful” is the word to describe it. And among the new Harley-Davidsons today, the Heritage Softail Classic is one of the only ones left that still retains some “heritage.”
Specs At A Glance: 2011 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic
Seat Height: 25.5 inches
Weight: 733 pounds
Price: Starts at $16,999
Colors: Eight to choose from
The Heritage Softail Classic is a midsize touring motorcycle that works great for advanced riders who don’t want all the bulk of a full dresser or who are watching their budget. Couples who enjoy touring will also appreciate the comfort of this bike. Passengers can be mighty comfortable on this bike. We don’t recommend this bike for beginners who’ve not had seat time on a learner bike. Since it comes standard with decently sized matching saddlebags, a detachable windshield and a backrest, it’s a no-brainer to put this bike at the top of the list when considering a touring motorcycle.