Video: Harley-Davidsons 2018 Softail Models are Lighter, More Powerful

First photos of a female journalist test riding the eight new motorcycles with details women care about

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor at Large
Editors Note: The original version of this article quoted seat heights that were listed on Harley-Davidsons media site. Only one measurement was listed so that is what we included. Turns out that this measurement was the unladen seat height making our comparison to previous years’ seat heights inaccurate as we always use laden seat heights. This updated version of the article now reflects the laden seat height of the 2018 models making the year to year difference far less drastic than originally reported.
To celebrate Harley-Davidson’s 115th Anniversary year, the Motor Company is launching eight all-new Softail models that merge the hard-riding performance of the Dyna line with the unparalleled custom look of the Softail line.

And since Harley-Davidson leads market share among female riders, we at Women Riders Now anticipate that these updated models, with their lighter weight and more modern look, will appeal to a many women, young and old, looking to get into motorcycling for the first time.

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful softails
The eight motorcycles of the 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail family comprise the best of the Dyna platform (which is no longer being produced), with the best of the Softails.

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Designed under the largest product development project in company history, the new bikes compared to prior year models, feature a stiffer and significantly lighter frame built to harness the pulse-quickening torque of the new dual-counterbalanced Milwaukee-Eight 107 and 114 engines. With high-performance dual-bending valve front suspension and an easily adjustable hidden rear mono-shock, the aggressively styled 2018 Softail models are faster, lighter, and better handling than any of their Big Twin cruiser predecessors.

“The new Softail models are the result of the most extensive research and development program in the company’s history,” said Paul James, manager of product portfolio, Harley-Davidson. “Thousands of hours of research and testing were put into the complete ground-up design of these new cruisers. We focused on taking the total rider experience to a higher level, where authenticity, heritage, and soul meet the modern edge of technology for a ride that must be felt to believe.”

New Chassis

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful new chassis
The handling of a Softail motorcycle enters a new era with a lighter, more rigid frame that elevates form and function to a higher plane, while maintaining the classic look of a hard tail and delivers a thoroughly modern ride.

Benefits of the new chassis include increased lean angles, sharper turn-in response, quicker acceleration, nimble flick-ability, lighter weight, and easier side-stand liftoff than predecessor Softail and Dyna models. The steel foundation of the next generation of custom Harley-Davidson motorcycles has been forged.

Frame / Swingarm

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful swingarm
A new high stiffness carbon steel tubular frame forms the core of the 2018 Softail chassis. The completely redesigned frame and swingarm significantly increase the rigidity of the new chassis. The frame itself is 65 percent stiffer than the 2017 Softail frame, which leads to a 34 percent increase in overall chassis stiffness. Shown here is the Fat Bob.

The frame design achieves reduced complexity with a 50 percent reduction in component parts and a 22 percent reduction in welds. There are two unique swingarms, one for narrow and one for wide rear tires. The wide chassis is 15 percent lighter (13 pounds) and the narrow chassis is 20 percent (18 pounds) lighter than the 2017 Softail frame. The swingarm transfers rear wheel movement to the under-seat mono-shock while maintaining the pure, classic lines of a hard tail frame. 


High-Performance Suspension

All-new front and rear suspension components are calibrated to match the dynamics of the new chassis, wheels, and tires to enhance the comfort, control, and performance of the 2018 Softail motorcycles. 
harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful front suspension
The new high-performance dual-bending valve front suspension, which was first introduced on 2017 Touring models, delivers damping performance that is similar to a cartridge fork but with improved, more responsive damping characteristics. The suspension is optimized for both comfortable cruising and spirited riding with 130 mm of bump-devouring travel. Retuned and optimized rake and trail also enhance the motorcycles’ handling performance. Shown is the Softail Slim.

The new mono-shock rear suspension preserves the classic hard tail look while revamped geometry improves ride quality, traction and control. The new easily adjustable mono-shock enables a 240-pound range of payload capacity for increased passenger comfort and enhanced dynamic handling compared to 2017 Softail models.

Ride and Handling Agility
The all-new Softail models are up to 35 pounds lighter (varies by model) than 2017 models, delivering an improved power-to-weight ratio that provides quicker acceleration, better braking, and enhanced dynamic cornering capability combined with increased lean angles. Some models feature new tires specifically designed to work with the new Softail chassis and feature optimized constructions and improved compounds for a confident, long-wearing ride in all riding conditions.

New seat designs and materials provide an improved fit for a wider range of riders and greater comfort for cruising. Bar none, the 2018 Softail models are the best handling cruisers Harley-Davidson has ever produced.

New Powertrain
All 2018 Softail models get a new heartbeat from the most powerful engines ever offered in Harley-Davidson Big Twin cruisers, the new Milwaukee-Eight 107 and 114 V-Twins.

Iconic Look

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful engine
Milwaukee-Eight engines retain the iconic 45-degree V-Twin cylinder angle with a broad-shouldered top end accentuated by a single camshaft design that tapers to a slim bottom end for a muscular contour. The new Softail frame’s rigid engine mounting is engineered to tightly package the engine and reinforce the chassis stiffness. Shown is the Deluxe.

Smoother Running and Purer Sound

Milwaukee-Eight engines for Softail models feature a refined dual internally counter-balanced system that reduces engine vibration while maintaining the familiar Harley-Davidson feel. Harley-Davidson’s trademark “potato-potato-potato” sound comes through strong with less intake and mechanical noise.
Two Engine Displacement Options
Milwaukee-Eight 107 Engine (107 ci; 1746cc) Standard on all models
• 100 mm bore and 4.375 inch stroke with 10.0:1 compression ratio
• 0-60 mph: 10 percent quicker acceleration than the High Output Twin Cam 103
• 60-80 mph/5th gear: 16 percent faster acceleration than the High Output Twin Cam 103
Milwaukee-Eight 114 Engine (114 ci; 1868cc) Optional
• Available on four models: Fat Bob 114, Fat Boy 114, Breakout 114, Heritage Classic 114
• 102 mm bore and 4.5 inch stroke with 10.5:1 compression ratio
• Ventilator intake with 114 graphics and badging
• Standard ABS
• 0-60 mph: 9 percent faster acceleration than the Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine
• 60-80 mph/5th gear: 13 percent faster acceleration than the Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine
Modern Styling and Design
Interpreting Harley-Davidson’s history, authenticity, and styling DNA through a modern lens, the eight new Softail models feature all-new designs that strongly differentiate them from their predecessors and each other. From a new base of style, comfort, and performance, the next generation of factory custom cruisers are ready for riders to take even further with their own personalization.
“The authenticity of Harley-Davidson design comes by sweating the details from start to finish, ‘hard to do and hard to copy.’ Harley-Davidson motorcycles are not a commodity; they are handed down from generation to generation,” said Brad Richards, vice president of styling and design, Harley-Davidson. “We look at every nut and bolt on the bike, all the finishes, and every small detail. The new Softail frame is like a piece of art, and the more you take off the bike, the more beautiful it becomes. Its design speaks to the teamwork that our styling and engineering processes demand.”

Model Specifics

Here are the new Softails and their key features. Photos feature Women Riders Now assistant editor Tricia Szulewski, who was invited to test ride the new Harley-Davidson Softails, and is the first full-time female motorcycle journalist to get in the saddle of these new motorcycles. This is just a sneak peak. Full review coming soon.

Fat Boy

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful fat boy tricia
WRN Assistant Editor Tricia Szulewski rides the 2018 Fat Boy. The motorcycle that defined cool for decades has upped its wow factor with ripped and refined satin-chrome finishes delivering a bold, muscular styling statement. This bike is 30 pounds lighter, and seat height is 25.9 inches, slightly higher than the 2017 model’s 25 inches.
harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful fat boy gray
Features on the 2018 Fat Boy include: aggressive, steamroller stance and front end design; modern-day interpretation of the classic headlight nacelle; 160 mm front tire—the widest ever on a Harley-Davidson production model—wraps the solid Lakester front wheel; 31-pound weight reduction to previous model; standard ABS; 240 mm rear tire with solid Lakester rear wheel; optional: Milwaukee-Eight 114 Engine; shown is Industrial Gray color.

Heritage Classic

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful heritage classic riding
Tricia rides the all-new Heritage Classic in Red Iron denim color scheme. While weight has been reduced 32 pounds, seat height is higher at 26.3, up from the low 25.5 inches women appreciated.
harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful heritage classic
Design cues on the Heritage Classic evoke the blacked-out styling of vintage 1950s Harley-Davidson models updated with a modern edge. Features include new detachable windscreen; new rigid, lockable, sealed, water-resistant saddlebags; taller suspension with increased passenger and cargo payload capacity; standard cruise control and ABS; optional: Milwaukee-Eight 114 Engine. Shown is Olive Gold / Black Tempest color.


Low Rider

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful low rider
Inspired by the individualism of the 1970s custom chopper era that birthed the original, the new Low Rider model is lighter and faster with corner-carving handling unimaginable back in the day.Throwback-style dual tank-mount speedo and tach gauges, headlight visor and fuel tank graphics; 19-inch front and 16-inch rear Radiate cast wheels; 2-into-2 Shotgun exhaust; Tricia’s 5-feet-7-inch frame fits nicely on the 26.2-inch seat height. Color is Electric Blue.

Softail Slim

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful softail slim tricia
Stripped to its essential elements, the Softail Slim model pays homage to post-war custom bobbers with a narrow rear end, trimmed front fender, solo seat and minimal chrome. Dark finishes adorn the laced wheels, Hollywood handlebar, and all-new front-end design. Features include low-slung tuck and roll seat; bold and smooth new front nacelle and fork cover styling; 35-pound weight reduction to previous model; seat height is the lowest of the Softails at 25.5 inches.


harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful deluxe
A classic hi-line showstopper that stands out on any boulevard, the Deluxe glistens with bright chrome while delivering the ride of a seriously modern machine. Features include signature all-LED lighting from front to back—headlight, running lights, Tombstone taillight and blade-like turn signals; signature pull-back handlebar; 33-pound weight reduction to previous model; standard ABS; seat height is 25.9, up from the previous model’s super-low 24.5-inch seat height.


harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful breakout
With more lean angle and agility than ever imagined in a bike carrying so much dragster attitude and style, the all-new Breakout model takes long, lean muscle to a modern edge. New smooth-top 3.5-gallon fuel tank; long and wide with low-slung raked out 49 mm front forks; 18-inch rear (240 mm) tire, and 21-inch front (130 mm) tire; Gasser style gloss black powder-coated cast aluminum wheels; seat height is 25.6 inches.

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful breakout studio
More features on the custom-looking Breakout include distinctive Daymaker Signature LED headlamp; low-profile, riser-mounted digital instrument screen; 35-pound weight reduction to previous model; standard ABS; optional: Milwaukee-Eight 114 Engine.

Fat Bob

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful fat bob
Asphalt-eating traction, pothole-devouring suspension, agile cornering, and a blacked-out take-no-prisoners look make the Fat Bob model a groundbreaking motorcycle that could only come from Harley-Davidson. Features include 2-1-2 upswept performance exhaust with a custom finish; largest aggressively treaded tires from the Motor Company: 150 mm front and 180 mm rear; dual disc front brakes; 3.5-gallon fuel tank; 33-pound weight reduction to previous model; inverted 43 mm cartridge style front forks; optional: Milwaukee-Eight 114 Engine; seat height is 27.7 inches.

Street Bob

harley davidson 2018 cruiser models are lighter more powerful street bob
A bare-bones bike with go-anywhere DNA, the all-new Street Bob motorcycle has a fists-in-the-wind attitude with nothing extra to weigh it down. Smooth-top 3.5-gallon fuel tank; black spoke wheels with chopped fenders; low-profile, riser-mounted digital instrument screen; 17-pound weight reduction to previous model; lowest MSRP in Softail lineup starting at $14,499. Seat height is 25.8 inches.

New technology featured on every Softail model:
• Unique Daymaker Signature LED Headlamps on all models
• Improved electrical system charging, more than doubled at idle speeds
• Easily adjustable rear shock pre-load settings (method varies by model)
• Under seat spanner wrench: Softail Slim, Street Bob, Low Rider
• External hand adjustment knob: Fat Bob, Fat Boy, Breakout
• Under seat socket adjustment: Deluxe, Heritage Classic
• Steering head mounted USB charge port
• New instrumentation
• Keyless ignition and security system standard
• New fuel tanks
Experience the ride and feeling that proves the new 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail motorcycles are Harley-Davidson’s most powerful, agile and responsive line of Big Twin Cruisers ever by taking your own test ride at a dealership today. 

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18 thoughts on Video: Harley-Davidsons 2018 Softail Models are Lighter, More Powerful

  1. I can see this going both ways. I am 5 feet 8 inches and may have more choices with more experience, but starting out with motorcycling I have more cramped seating to deal with. This is only my third year riding and am still trying to modify my 1200 SuperLow XLT to fit my frame to be comfortable on rides that are longer than 90 minutes.I’m sure that actually sitting on bikes and test riding will be the only way to decide what fits and feels right. I do appreciate the information provided here and will use what works for me and let the rest go.That being said, I actually came to this site for information about the Sportster 1200 vs a newer Heritage Classic. I have sat on a couple 2018 Classics but am a bit intimidated by the floorboards and increase in power. Any comparisons or differences would be appreciated!

  2. Hi. Thanks for the informative article. I just purchase a Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 XL and though I haven’t ridden it for very long I am already thinking of an upgrade. I rode a Honda Shadow ACE 750 previously. I am 5 feet 6 inches with a 32 inch inseam and I feel I would like my seat to be higher and feet a bit more forward.Off the subject of the article, just wondering what pants and boots you are wearing in the photo of the Low Rider, Tricia. I love this website and it is extremely helpful and informative!

    1. Hi Julie,I am wearing Harley-Davidson’s Newhall boots in brown. This is a short style boot measuring a 5.25 inch shaft height. I love them because they are very easy to get on under pants and have a cool harness and buckle. And the vintage brown color is really cool. But they also come in black.The pants are BMW women’s city pants that I purchased from my local MAX BMW dealer. They are an abrasion-resistant cotton/Cordura blend with removeable hip protectors and knee armor. They are a very dark grey color and have lots of pockets.

  3. All have higher seats and all are ugly. What are they even thinking? Glad I kept my old-school ride. Now they don’t even make ’em. So sad what is becoming of this company. They need to hire people that ride, not sit behind the wheel of a car all the time.

  4. While some may think that Harley doesn’t care about women and hence the slightly higher seats, my guess is it may have something to do with the cooling systems and oil sump on bottom vs. the old oil tank and air cooled engines. Don’t know for sure but it may have to with aero dynamics and the functionality. I ‘m 5 feet 10 inches, so I don’t struggle with height issues others might, but wearing a 1 inch to 1.5 inch heel on your riding boot could solve the problem. Not high heels, just a good solid riding boot. I haven’t sat on the new ones yet as I ride a 2002 Fat Boy that I enjoy and probably won’t trade in anytime soon.I guess I’m impressed with the new technology and I see a lot of pluses with the new designs. Change always seems a little foreign to us all at first, but I believe they have kept in tradition with their design—mimicking the old “hard tail classics” they started out with in the beginning but using a truly awesome Softail frame design.I say, go to your dealer and sit on one and ask questions. Then you will know if the new design will work for you or not.

  5. I love the new 2018 models! I am 5 feet 2 inches and currently ride a 2016 Sportster 1200T. Bike weight is 600 pounds, seat height is 26.1 inches. I comfortably flat-foot my bike. I’m looking at the 2018 Softail Slim, Fat Boy, Deluxe, and Low Rider. All sit lower than my current bike except for the Low Rider by 1/10th of an inch. However, the stock seats will no doubt be wider. Regardless of my decision I will update the seat to a Harley-Davidson Reach seat that is more narrow and pushes me closer to handlebars. Don’t be discouraged by the seat height on the new models. Change the seat, wear some boots with a heal and join HOG. You won’t regret it!

  6. While it is true the the width and seat height of a motorcycle play a large role in the selection of a bike for a majority of women, Harley-Davidson is missing the mark. Most short women cannot flat-foot a bike. The raising of seat height will deter women from buying those models and when a woman buys a new bike why should she have to add to the cost by lowering the bike or changing the seat. I am 5 feet 1 inch and will be shopping for a new bike in the near future and it will not be a Harley-Davidson.

  7. Hi. I absolutely love the new bikes. One question for me though is the handling of the new Fat Boy with the larger tires. I have ridden the 2017 Fat Boy S and loved it. This was the bike for me, but with the 2018 model being brought out with the fatter tires might be a bit of a problem. People who have ridden the Breakout said the bike didn’t handle corners very well. Just want to know opinions. I will of course be test riding one myself, but just wanted overall opinions. Cheers.

    1. Hi Carolyn,I too, was a bit timid about how the handling would feel with those gigantic rear tires on both the Fat Boy and the Breakout. I was surprised by how easily and seamlessly the bikes turned into corners. Not a huge Fat Boy fan from past year models, I was particularly fond of the 2018. I will certainly touch on this more in my upcoming full review, but in the meantime, I encourage you to schedule a test ride to see for yourself. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  8. I am new to riding and still learning everything about each bike and the connection between specs and handling. Luckily, I am 5 feet 7 inches and have long legs. But, the first thing I look for is the ability to put my feet flat on the ground. I understand how certain changes will make the bike easier and lighter to handle, which is right up there with whether or not I can stand or sit flat-footed while stopped or getting on and off. If the bike is shorter but too heavy, there’s a problem. If the bike is taller but lightweight and easy to handle without having my feet flat when stopped, it could counterbalance the bike. However, does that counterbalance go right out the window if you have to stretch or tippy toe to get on or off then chance dropping your bike?I can see both sides. I however need to feel just as comfortable getting on and off as sitting still or riding down the road.So for those who are shorter but graceful on their toes, the new models will be fine with a higher seat. For those of us who need to feel grounded, the new heights will be a mistake if we can’t put our feet flat.

    1. Getting on and off a motorcycle, even a tall one, is made much easier when the bike is leaned on its sidestand and bars are turned fully to the left. You can actually climb on and off, so long as you’re careful not to shift too much weight in the opposite direction so the bike tips over.You and I are lucky, Christy. Our 5 feet 7 inch height allows us to put both feet flat on the ground while seated on each of these Softails.

  9. The editor misses the point. I’m sure the new models handle better and out-perform their predecessors. Urging us to try them is unrealistic, since we physically cannot touch the ground. Harley is not going to have customized lowered bikes for us to test ride. I’m pretty certain they don’t want us dropping them.

  10. Personally none of the new styles of these bikes even remotely appeals to me. I personally feel H-D is missing the boat. Time will tell.

  11. Seriously? They are claiming to make the bikes more woman-friendly and they raise the seat height!They use a 5-foot-7-inch woman to demonstrate. Most women are not 5 feet 7 inches. I am 5 feet, and as any short person can tell you there is a much greater difference between someone who is 5 feet and 5 feet 4 inches than between someone who is 6 feet and 6 feet 4 inches. I ride a 2009 Nightster and it doesn’t look like I will be moving up anytime soon.Major Fail!

    1. Catherine,Some of these new models have only slightly higher seat heights than the stock Nightster and one is actually lower. It’s also important to note that the seat shape, frame width, and what is below the rider’s hips all play an important part in the reach to the ground.You simply cannot judge how you will fit a bike until you actually sit on it.Also, Harley-Davidson offers a full line of accessories, including reach seats, that will help shorter riders reach the ground and controls.

  12. So the number one thing that most women want is to put our feet flat on the ground and Harley raises seat height. Yes handling and performance are important, but if you don’t feel comfortable or confident how do you test ride a bike that you have to be on your tippy toes instead of flat footed. I own a 2017 Street Glide Special which I love but had to spend a big chunk of money to put on Legend suspension to lower the bike for me. I think Harley blew it on these new models with seat height and small gas tanks.

  13. Harley-Davidson’s new 2018 models are made for men. With the increased height and bigger engines it appears Harley-Davidson is telling women they do not belong here. I have 99,493 miles on my 2005 Deluxe (seat height 24.5 inches) and 65,444 miles on my 2011 103 inch Street Glide (lowered in forks, rear shocks, and seat). I love to ride, but I don’t need to be the fastest bike in town, just have my feet firmly planted on the ground. Too bad Harley doesn’t get it.

    1. If you judge a motorcycle by only its spec sheet you are missing the bigger story—the ride quality and ease of handling. The new Softails are much-improved over their predecessors, as I will explain in my upcoming story. While I sympathize with short riders who need that extra inch to reach the ground, if you are in the market for a big V-twin Harley, you will appreciate the better weight distribution, better handling, and better ride overall. I encourage you to test ride the new Deluxe or any of the new Softails to feel the difference.

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