Harley-Davidson’s Heritage Softail has plenty of urge when you need it
Although winter is closing in, it’s actually a good time to buy a motorcycle. Harley-Davidson’s Heritage Softail, or FLSTC, for example, is listed on the company’s website for about $20,000, before extras and taxes. I can’t recall this bike ever being priced lower.
And certainly, the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies to this bike in spades. You could park the current version beside the original, introduced in 1986, and the differences would be minimal. Both are styled after Harley-Davidson’s Hydra Glide, which debuted in 1949 and was the first Harley equipped with hydraulic front suspension.
That’s not to say the FLSTC is out-of-date. It’s now fuel-injected, and it features the latest incarnation of Harley’s Twin Cam engine and a six-speed transmission. It also has disc brakes front and back, and it received a redesigned chassis a couple of years ago. Harley also upped the engine size of its Softail models back in 2006–07, and in this configuration, the air-cooled V-twin displaces some 96 cubic inches, or 1,584 cc. Like most motorcycle manufacturers, Harley doesn’t reveal the horsepower output of its bikes, but torque is rated at 92.195 foot-pounds at 3,000 rpms. According to my admittedly crude calculations, that works out to about 53 horsepower, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot for a bike of this size. It has a dry weight of 330 kilograms.
Nonetheless, the Heritage Softail has plenty of urge when you need it, and on the highway there’s no shortage of reserve and passing grunt. Don’t look for raw, tire-melting power here, but if you want a decent touring bike that’s also one of the definitive boulevard cruisers, you’ve come to the right place. The Heritage Softail won’t shield you from the wind as efficiently as Harley’s Electra Glide models, for example, and it lacks the various accessories and extras, but it’s as stable as an 18-wheeler once it gets up to highway speed. A cute little 6 on the headlight nacelle lights up to let you know when you’ve gotten into sixth, which I’ve always found kind of redundant. Put it this way: if you don’t know which gear you’re in, perhaps you should think twice about riding in the first place.
Moving right along, the Heritage has always featured a rigid-mount drive train. In other words, the engine is bolted directly to the frame, and there’s nothing to isolate its workings from the rider. There are two schools of thought here: some insist on having that cushion of rubber to kill the engine’s vibrations, while others like to feel what’s going on and maintain that a rigid mount is more traditional, and makes the most sense, because the engine stays put and doesn’t bounce around when it’s idling. Isolated drive trains certainly have the edge when it comes to all-day, dawn-till-dusk riding, but Harley has civilized this drive train to the point where it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference. This generation of the Twin Cam power plant is so much more refined than the old Evolution that preceded it, it’s hard to believe they came from the same manufacturer. Internal engine counterbalancers are partly responsible for the engine’s comparative smoothness, and this generation of the Heritage is arguably the most rider-friendly the company has put forward.
The Heritage Softail comes with a full-size windscreen, running lights, leather saddlebags, a goodly sized passenger pillion, a heel-and-toe shifter, and a sissy bar. In terms of styling, it has made few concessions to the present and still has the full-size fenders and various running lights that came with the original version. Seat height is a reasonable 64 centimetres, so the rider sits in the bike as opposed to on it, but the FLSTC is still a big hunk of iron with a wide girth, and shorter riders may have issues when it comes to getting both feet flat on the ground. After-market lowering kits are available, however, and you can drop this bike down several centimetres without affecting its balance or ground clearance.
In fact, the FLSTC’s low centre of gravity makes it one of the more stable low-speed models in Harley’s lineup. This bike is about as sure-footed as full-size cruisers come, and if you can remember not to lean it over too much through the corners, it’s a pussycat to ride. Because it has footboards rather than foot pegs, it will scrape the pavement if you lean it over too much. Said footboards are hinged, however, and will fold up to deal with such contingencies.
I can remember not that long ago when the FLSTC started in the $30,000 range, and the 2011 version—in show rooms now—is priced equally competitively. Since the differences between the ’10 and ’11 versions are purely cosmetic, if you’re in the market for a Heritage Softail, this might be a good time to go shopping and play one against the other when you talk to the salesman.