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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Road test: 2018 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy

Harley has created a machine that looks massive but moves nimbly

The 2018 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. The US motorbike maker says it will not pass on tariff charges to customers. Antonie Robertson / The National
The 2018 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. The US motorbike maker says it will not pass on tariff charges to customers. Antonie Robertson / The National

The new Harley-Davidson Fat Boy is an impressive motorcycle. And that is a rather hefty statement from somebody who isn’t a HOG (Harley Owners Group) member. The boys from Wisconsin have done their homework on the highly debated re-imagining of the world-renowned marque.

Pulling 120kph and beyond in second gear on my first run brings this into focus, with a somewhat conspicuous streak of brushed chrome and LED upgrades.

Dropping the weight from previous Fat Boy models by 16kg, the updated bike features a new frame and a redesigned Milwaukee-Eight 107 (1,745cc) engine. With four valves per cylinder, the V-twin configuration features dual counter-balancers to cancel out vibration, which is a noticeable aspect during my test ride.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 17 JANUARY 2018. The 2018 Harley Davidson Fatboy 107 cubic engine. Photographed at Al Qudra lakes in Dubai. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Antonie Robertson. Section: Motoring.
The redesigned Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine. Antonie Robertson / The National

In turn, having the engine rigid-mounted in the frame allows for increased chassis stiffness that improves overall handling. And all this translates to some real-world power and control when you twist the throttle, even though at first look you might be forgiven for thinking this mass of an American machine could be a tad slow. The effect is impressive – satin chrome and black finish and all new solid-disc Lakester wheels give credibility to marketing term “Steamroller Stance”.

Shod with a 240-millimetre rear and 160mm front tyre, it looks, in a word, massive. And contrary to popular bike dogma, this doesn’t influence handling as one would expect. The rideability of the bike is superb, the scraped floorboards being a testament to this after three days of test riding in and around Dubai. The standard ABS does its job, and it does it well.

The suspension has also had a re-think. High-performance front suspension with a racing-style cartridge fork reduces the weight, but delivers linear damping. The rear now sports a high-performance monoshock that is easily adjustable – just don’t burn your hand on the muffler as you reach for the adjustment knob. These upgrades give the Fat Boy some up-to-date dynamic-cornering capabilities, while still preserving the more severe biker “hardtail” look. Controls are easy to understand at a glance and more intuitive than expected. They are also big and close at hand, so that managing them in traffic becomes second nature after the first couple of kilometres. The overall standard factory configuration takes no time at all to get used to, seat comfort and handlebar placement being key factors. The seat is plush and designed with a tad of support that means riders can place themselves firmly in the saddle – easy riding for both a workday coffee run or an extended excursion on the weekend.

The floorboards are rubber-mounted, which takes some getting used to in the beginning. Initially, it feels like they are giving way when swinging into a corner. But this sensation dwindles rapidly once you start enjoying what the Milwaukee-Eight has to offer.

Harley calls the lights “Daymaker Signature LED Headlamps”, and they live up to their name – bright and efficient with a crisp spread that makes it easy to see ahead in the dark. They are perfect for attracting the attention of complacent car drivers, without annoying them when left at full beam.

My only grumble is the exhaust note. It is slightly softer than I would expect from the legendary Fat Boy after depositing the requisite Dh97,600 into the dealership’s bank account.

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