OK, it’s a huge, heavy lump of metal carried on 2 wheels. And quite apart from the fact that that is really all it needs to be to get me grinning like a loon and twitching at the right wrist, I have rarely been quite as excited about doing a test ride on a bike as I was with the new Fatbob.
I was due to be telling you all about its extraordinary comfort, thumping torque, sweeping power and utter coolness a couple of months ago, but someone lost the key. And with Harley’s security-conscious ignition set-up on the Fatbob, it’s not just a case of getting a new one cut by the manufacturer and being a bit of an inconvenience for a couple of days. Lose the key to this hunk of metal and that really is all it is – a bloody great big hunk of metal that you can’t move. But with the right stuff, it’s perfect. Stand next to the bike with the right key fob and the proximity sensors turn off the immobiliser and alarm, ready for you to get cracking. No key fob means no go. Security gets a big thumbs up for a start.
And that’s just the start for the slightly unusual. Self-cancelling indicators on the relevant side of the handlebars. Takes a little getting used to. Oh, and you can’t see the revs on the very basic, but truly classic, tank-mounted clock. So red-line hits just about when you’re not really expecting it, which can be a little bit of a shock.
Back when Harley Davidson first created the Fatbob, they saw that it was brilliant. OK, it wasn’t brilliant, but it was a Harley and people loved it. Ah, no, they didn’t. They didn’t love it. They didn’t even like it very much. In fact, it didn’t do very well at all and Harley decided that it was a bad thing and shelved it.
But the Fatboy did well. And then the Street Bob. And H-D saw that they were good. Even Arnie got his mitts on a Fatboy for the most unbelievable stunt in Terminator 2 - like that bike would survive that drop, with that terminated lump on it! (That’s my trip to California scuppered, right there! Sorry, governator!)
With the success of Harley in Europe - despite people’s claims that hairy-ness and Hell‘s Angels weren’t quite how we did things this side of the pond – along comes 2008 and Fatboy meets Streetbob once more. Only this time…
I was fully prepared to be bowled over by the classical, sweeping looks; be blown away by the power of a sublime engine; have my bottom treated like a god by the seat and the suspension. I was also prepared to be disappointed because I had really been looking forward to the chance to find out what it could do and had that unshakeable feeling that it wouldn’t quite live up to my expectations. Well, more fool me!
Not only is it simply the best looking Harley of recent times, it’s better balanced, more relaxed and – I can’t believe I’m saying this – Harley just got cooler, or just cool if you aren’t really into your Harleys.
Comfort is as comfort does with a Harley. With other bikes the whole machine plays a part in how comfortable you are. Harley does it differently. Brakes are for braking. Wheels are for rolling. Engine is for making it go. Seat and suspension are for buttocks. Just for buttocks. And, boy, do they know their job.
And all the time your cheeks are cradled in blissful harmony, you’re making progress. Turn on the ignition and the world is you – not yours, it is actually YOU, the centre of everything. There is nothing else that matters except the fact that you are sitting on 1600ccs of utter cool, and it answers to you. There’s a really quick response to the throttle and plenty of power from that Twin Cam 96 engine to shift you – quickly. You obviously won’t get sportsbike response, but then you’re not looking for that on a Fatbob. And if you are, what are you doing on a Fatbob? No, seriously I tried it. And really, what was I doing on a FatBob? More of that later.
Quite apart from the unmistakable Harley judder from side to side that threatens to loosen joints and blur your world, the moment you twist your right wrist, the shuddering’s gone, replaced with, well, a physical hum that is most definitely not unpleasant. I think this is where the seat comes into its own. And you’ve read what I think of the seat.
Sitting is a new experience. There are no footplates or heel-toe gear change options, but your feet are positioned well forward, almost on a line with your bum. Initially, this felt a little odd, as though I had no control over balance, but the bike itself is so well-balanced that my anxiety was gone within, oh, I don’t know, about 3 feet!
And it’s the knowledge that you’re planted and solid and at one with it, that makes the Fatbob different. It’s got pretty standard tyres at 180 at the back and 130 at the front and as a result cornering is none too shabby. In fact, it’s not unknown to scuff your heel as you turn in on a roundabout and far from being scary, it’s actually a bit of a pat on the back. Yeah, I did that. Knee down, who needs it, I got my heel down! And ifthe wheels are pretty standard in size andshape, the tyres are most definitely not, because they’re practically knobbly – a very special, singular Harley design. Makes no difference to the ride itself, but they added to the whole appearance. I’m going to say it again, it’s cool!
You want to stop? The dual disc brakes on the front and the single rear do their job; no fuss, no snatching, nothing earth-shattering, but good. You are, of course, hauling a 320kg mountain on wheels to a stop, but some might say just stopping it is good enough. The brakes work though. Nuff said.
And if you can manage how you ride to reduce the amount of braking and accelerating, the 19 litre fuel tank will do you alright. It’s not going to set the world alight with economy, but in comparison to its sumo predecessors its thirst and appetite are of supermodel proportions, particularly with a claimed 50+mpg – although I didn’t get anything near that, even on the open road.
So it’s comfortable, quick enough, corners adequately and you ride it differently, as you would expect, from almost any other motorcycle. The thing is, I was a bit disappointed. Yes, I know, I’ve committed sacrilege and said a bad word, but I was. The Fatbob promises so much. It lookswonderful, sounds like a Harley should, rides well, but, and this is more down to me than the bike, I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t do everything I wanted it to. I’m actually going to blame Harley for this. I mentioned trying to ride it in a sporty way – alright, like a sportsbike and it couldn’t handle it – well, they’ve created a bike that is so good, you think it’s going to be able to do so much more. But, remember, it’s a Harley. You ride it differently. It’s a testament to how good it is that I wanted to be able to do more, felt as though I could and then found that I couldn’t and remembered I was on a Harley. But what a Harley!
There is a downside to every bike I’ve ever ridden. Whether it’s physical pain through lack of comfort, poor brakes, lack of power, or too much power for that matter, and this is where I get to the bit I just don’t like.
I’ve noticed this about a lot of Harleys. The engines are solid, the chassis is solid, but the nuts and bolts are, to put it bluntly, rubbish. If you’re going to spend thousands of hard earned pounds on a bike, you could at least expect the bolts and hangers holding the exhaust in place to look good. Well on this particular bike, they looked dreadful; rusty, flaky, and that was only after 2,000 miles in the summer (yes, our British summer, but even so…). One possible reason for this is that Harley Davidson know their customers will customise, so why put expensive nuts, bolts, hangers and exhausts on the standard machine when you know that they’ll be gone in a thousand miles, replaced with after-market parts? It’s the most believable reason so far, but I still wonder why, when therest of the machine is so damned good, it’s the little things that fall by the wayside.
The fact that I have spent so long talking about the feel of the machine should give you some idea of what this bike is really like. It doesn’t matter that it’s shoving 92 ft/lbs of torque through the rear wheel, or that it’s a belt driven, 6-geared V-Twin with fuel injection. What matters with this bike is how YOU feel on it. Other people can say it’s a gorgeous bike. They can say you look good on it. They can even say it’s right for you - the perfect bike. But only you know how it makes you feel. And that’s where, I’m afraid, I sup at the high table of corporate aspiration, because the Fatbob filled my boots. Just one last time… It’s cool. It’s an extraordinary machine. And everyone should have one. And by that, of course, I mean me. I really should have one. What about it Harley Davidson? It is a bloody good bike. And I have told everyone.