MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: 2011 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic

A touring bike for those who don’t want the big tourers

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor
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.
The Heritage Softail Classic offers all the comforts of a touring bike without all the “bigness.” This is the 2011 model.

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.
The Classic’s retro look never goes out of style; my test bike had the standard black sidewall tires. However, the Classic looks much nicer with the nostalgic whitewalls that come when you order the chrome-laced wheels for an additional $510.
Here are the whitewalls on the 2010 model. Seat height is a very low 25.5 inches, accommodating my 5-foot-6.5 frame and 30-inch inseam well. The windshield is easily removable, as are the pillion pad and backrest that come as standard equipment.
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.
The saddlebags are truly nostalgic in that they are not lockable at a time when saddlebags on many touring bikes are. The bags close with a plastic latch hidden under the buckle.
Nostalgic styling comes through in the deeply valanced front fender with chrome trim and the three headlight lamps in front. This color is Merlot Sunglo/Vivid Black.

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.
2011 Heritage Softail Classic: 25.5-inch seat height, $16,999
2011 Softail Deluxe: 24.5-inch seat height, $16,799
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.
The button to toggle through the odometer and trip meters is now on the top of the horn button.

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.
I caught the display with my camera mid-word. The words “GEAR/RPM” scroll across the screen when stopped. In the same mode while moving, you can see what gear you’re in and at what RPM you’re riding.

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.

The ABS brake system for the front wheel is positioned above the voltage regulator on the frame’s downtubes, shown here.

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 deep-bucketed stock saddle on the Classic cradles my bum and provides plenty of comfort for long days.

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.
I’m all smiles riding the 2011 Heritage Softail Classic on a very cold autumn ride through Yellowstone National Park last summer. Thank goodness for my heated-gear hook-ups, easily installed on the Heritage, which I plugged into my heated jacket liner from Powerlet.

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
Displacement: 1,584cc
Seat Height: 25.5 inches
Weight: 733 pounds
Price: Starts at $16,999
Colors: Eight to choose from
WRN Recommendation 
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. 
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20 thoughts on MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: 2011 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic

  1. Being a guy, I’m happy to declare that Women’s Rider’s Now has just become my go-to website for detailed, un-biased reviews of H-D motorcycles. It’s refreshing to witness independent motorcycle journalism without the influence of factory-approved, regurgitated press releases so common in motorcycle magazine reviews today.This review of H-Ds 2011 Heritage Softail Classic was no exception. Well-written, detailed, and very informative with plenty of real-life illustrations.One minor correction, though. The reviewer writes, “…the Heritage Softail, with its 4.3 inches of travel in the front and generous 5.1 in the back, glides well over bumps…” These numbers are actually backwards. It is the front suspension with 5.1 inches of travel and the rear with 4.3 inches of travel.Why is this important? My mid-50’s girlfriend, who recently pursued her dream in obtaining her motorcycle license just over a year ago, began thinking about upgrading from her starter bike, a highly-recommended 2014 Honda Shadow Aero. She was having a difficult time deciding between an HD Deluxe and an HD Heritage, until we discovered here that the Deluxe has 3.6 inches of rear suspension travel vs. the Heritage with 4.3 (20% more) inches of rear suspension travel, something to do with engineered seat height for each bike I imagine.For my girlfriend in her mid-50’s, ride comfort is everything, and, at 5’6″ she went with the Heritage Softail, with its longer 4.3 inches of rear suspension travel.And, judging by the grin on her face, she had no trouble transitioning, after a year of riding, from a Honda Shadow Aero, to a HD Heritage Softail.

    1. Good catch, Ken! We will update the article to be correct. In the meantime, keep an eye out for our upcoming overview of all the new 2018 Harley-Davidson Softails. We’re glad to have you as a new reader.

  2. I am 73 years old and 5 feet 6 inch height, 150 pounds, and thinking about getting this 2006 Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic. I was wondering if it is to big for me to handle. I have had about 12 Gold Wings 1100, 1200, and 1500 and had to stand on my tip toes but had advanced lessons on how to handle these big bikes.Shat are your thoughts on this. Need a quick answer because this 06 will not last long and it is in mint condition. Thanks.

    1. Ed,If you’ve handled Gold Wings before you should have no problem handling this motorcycle. It has a low center of gravity and performs very nicely all around, like I said in the article. You could always have it lowered more, but being a guy, you have the additional upper body strength to muscle the bike around in parking lots, etc. Good luck and thanks for asking.

  3. I just traded in my Sportster 48 for a Heritage Softail and love the bike. The only thing I’m having problems with so far is reaching the pedals on my 5’4″ frame. Do you have any recommendations as to how to solve this issue?

    1. Hi, Susan—You might consider looking for an aftermarket seat. To name just a couple, the “Heels Down” seat from Saddlemen moves the rider lower and forward. Harley-Davidson also offers a Super Reduced Reach Seat that moves the rider lower and closer to the controls. You might also check out this article that talks about the pros and cons of changing out a motorcycle’s shocks in order to lower the seat height. Finally, another great place to ask this question is the WRN Forum, where you might receive advice from other Softail owners. Good luck!

  4. I recently purchased a 2013 Heritage Softail Classic. I had it lowered for my short height of 61 inches. I love this bike with the exception of the heat that the bike throws off onto my right thigh. This bike runs hot. I have since learned that Harleys often run hot. I was not prepared for this as my previous bike was liquid cooled rather than air cooled (2007 Honda Shadow Spirit). Still trying to figure out how to deal with this. Have put the Harley heat deflectors on but that has not completely solved the problem. May have to ride with leather chaps year round or as one friend does, put some pot holders on the inside of my riding jeans. Hope Harley can come up with a liquid cooled engine in the future. I love having 6 speeds, ABS, security system and a smooth ride.

  5. I used to own an ’07 Heritage Softail Classic and absolutely loved it. I now ride an ’09 Street Glide but I swear one day I will have a Heritage as my second bike. In 2010 my husband and I both rode Heritage Softail Classics to Niagara Falls, Canada from Virginia and it was a great ride. Road the Dragon and made many a long trip on it before getting my Street Glide. And by the way I am only 5 feet 4 inches and have a 27-inch inseam so I am not real tall but it sat low enough for me. It was even better when I put the Harley Signature seat with a backrest on it. I could ride all day! I recommend the Heritage to every women I meet who wants a bigger bike but does not necessarily want to go as far as a touring bike. The Heritage makes a great cruiser!

  6. I loved the look and feel of the Heritage from the moment I sat on it, however, it just wasn’t in the budget and I was worried it would be too big for my 5-feet 5-inch frame and 30-inch inseam and just too big for a beginner. I really enjoy the Super Glide Custom I bought in 2010 but the Heritage is definitely my next bike!

  7. I have a 2009 Heritage and love it as well. I learned on a Kawasaki 800 and bought this bike after just one month. It’s easy to handle and is is a nice size for touring. I ended up lowering it 1 inch front and back for my 5-foot-2 frame. I really like the features on the 11 and 12 but am not ready to trade the bike in yet. As Kim noted, don’t let the dealership talk you into something smaller! This handles better than the 850 that I learned on.

  8. My 2011 Heritage is my second bike. I could not have learned on it, however, after just three months of riding, I did a test ride on my husband’s Heritage and immediately knew this was the bike for me. Three thousand miles later I love it. I did put on a pullback riser so I could reach more easily. It is an awesome bike.

  9. I have an ’08 Heritage and when I bought it I thought for sure it was too big, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE it! From day one it was easy to handle and as my skills got better I grew into the bike rather than out of it. I am 5 feet 7 inches and it is a perfect fit for long trips as well as local riding. Cannot say enough great things about this bike! And I keep up with the big boys on touring bikes with gas stops. As Genevieve said, my bladder gives out long before the tank does! I added Harley-Davidson speakers on the handlebars, connect my iPod and I am good to go on long trips!

  10. I have a 2004 Heritage Softail Classic and agree it is an awesome motorcycle. kilometers (over 140,000) so I am having to make a decision soon regarding upgrading. I’ve had no problems at all with it just regular maintenance. I like the new features you’ve detailed on the 2010 and 2011. The other item I have on my 2004 that I would not ride without are the heated handgrips and the tour pak. I will be testing the metal on the new Heritage Softail soon.

  11. I own a 2004 Heritage Softail Classic and I love it. It is my first bike, and I ride alone and passenger, depending on the trip. I am 5 feet 6 inches and it fits me perfectly. My husband is only 5 feet 8 inches and he rides the bike with me on the back, fully loaded for a week long trip, and has no problems. Everyone keeps trying to talk us into the Road King, but we are happy with our Heritage for touring. We ride long distances, and love the comfort of the bike. If you’re a woman, and the dealership wants to talk you into something smaller, give the Heritage a try. Rent one, test ride it. You will find it is a great bike with lots of comfort and easy to maneuver.

  12. I’ve owned my Heritage for approximately three months now and have to say it’s the best riding bike I’ve ever owned. This was my first HD, and I really wasn’t interested in purchasing a new one. On a road trip I saw “sunshine” (color is HD Chrome Yellow), test rode her and was instantly hooked, despite being satisfied with my current bike. I traded the old one and haven’t looked back since! After putting on 4k miles in only 3 months, I have not one complaint. And HD did a fantastic job on the stock seat. It feels like a custom job, even after a 400-mile ride, no butt issues. I can’t say enough good things about this bike. I am hooked and forsee many years of happy riding.

  13. I ride a 09 Heritage Softail Classic and the first time I sat on her I knew that she was the bike for me, even though I had not yet taken my rider course! Once obtaining my rider certification in April 2010 we immediately took to the road and have been going strong ever since. In fact, in July 2010 we did a round trip to Kansas City, Missouri. Currently I’m not riding the twisty turnies here in WV because I’m scheduled for lumbar disc surgery but my bike and I get out whenever we can for day rides and short overnighters. I would recommend the Heritage Softail Classic model to anyone looking for a bike that is easy to handle, comfortable, good for short or long trips, and looks great!

  14. I started on a 1200 Custom Sportster, then a Dyna Supe rGlide and then my 2007 Heritage Softail Classic. I love this bike. It handles so well and is great for trips and in town. Now that I’ve got it fixed exactly as I want it (pull back risers to get the handlebars even closer, driver’s backrest, pythons, speakers, blue LEDS to show off the engine, chromed front end, chromed wheels) I am reluctant to trade it in for a newer one. My husband offered me his Street Glide but I decided to stick to my baby. She’s been good to me.

  15. This is a great article! And I’m happy to hear it’s such a great ride as this is what I just purchased myself! While it is my very first bike and I am just starting out, I think I will be very happy with it once I am up and running!Thank you again for the article on the new Heritage!

  16. I recently moved up to a 2010 Heritage Softail Classic from the Super Glide and while I really liked the Super Glide and felt super comfortable on it (after lowering it, I put about 15,000 miles on it) I absolutely love my Heritage. The girl I bought it from had changed the seat to the seat that came on the 2010 Heritage Convertible which gave me a nice narrow seat that is still very comfortable and put risers on the handlebars to get them in a more comfortable riding position for me. The stock seat was just too wide for me to get a comfortable feel when stopped. Standing at 5 feet 4 inches I want all the leg I can get in uneven footing. I have put 5,000 miles on the bike since February and have absolutely no complaints. I do have to agree that I’m glad it was not my first bike, but it was worth the wait!

  17. Love the Softail Classic! I have an 07 and the first thing I did with mine was ride the Dragon. It’s a great handling bike. I’m thinking of maybe going to a bigger bike like the Street Glide, but this bike sure does make it hard to. I’ve also been to Milwaukee for Harley’s 105th and at the end of the ride I had guys coming up to me who rode Road Kings, Street Glides and some Ultra’s saying they couldn’t believe I rode it that far without “bitching,” but the bike is just that comfortable. Looking forward to doing Harley’s 110th and just possibly on a new Street Glide, but if not, then my Softail Classic will be just fine.

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