Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
Harley launched the original Fat Bob in 1979, its name coming from a combination of Fat, from the width of its twin petrol tanks, and Bob from its cut down fenders, or mudguards. The original “bob-jobs” were American V-twins that had been lightened by having their front fenders removed and the rears shortened, or bobbed.
Bobber is motorcycling’s current buzz word, Indian and Triumph having recently introduced models of that name. Harley, on the other hand, has been humming the bobber tune for years. Since 2008, to be precise, when the Fat Bob was reintroduced, updating the traditional fat-tanked, stripped-down V-twin format with a new look featuring round twin headlights.
This latest Fat Bob’s rectangular LED headlight is the most visible feature of a bike that is updated as part of Harley’s new Softail family of eight models. All are fitted with Harley’s more powerful and refined Milwaukee-Eight engine, as introduced in the touring range last year. Our test bike was powered by the larger Milwaukee-Eight 114 unit, named after its capacity of 114 cubic inches or 1868cc. (The base-model 107 unit equates to 1745cc.)
Chassis design is all new, a lighter and stiffer steel frame and swing-arm contributing to a handy 15kg weight reduction. All the new Softails get uprated suspension and single, instead of twin, rear shocks. The alpha-male Fat Bob stands out with its higher specification incorporating racier steering geometry, upside-down forks and a second front brake disc.
This Fat Bob is a distinct step up from its predecessor in both engine and chassis performance. The Milwaukee-Eight 114 powerplant churns out V-twin torque almost from idle, feeling docile around town and then tuning all American pit bull when you tweak the throttle. In standard form the exhaust is fairly quiet, but the solidly mounted motor adds character by vibrating just enough to be involving yet not annoying.
That stiffened chassis works well too, though the Harley’s fat tyres mean it needs a fair bit of muscle to initiate quick direction changes. The suspension is fairly firm yet gives supple ride quality, and the Fat Bob corners well enough to be fun, even having a respectable amount of ground clearance. The extra front disc means it stops hard, too, without requiring a fierce squeeze of the lever.
Harley’s product planning chief calls the Fat Bob the firm’s “zombie apocalypse escape vehicle”, and there’s a distinct touch of two-wheeled Hummer about the chunky V-twin. Its drag bars, tank-mounted instrument panel, relatively tall seat and forward-set footrests combine to give an aggressive, snub-nosed look and a wind-blown but roomy riding position.
The Fat Bob is notably more sophisticated than its predecessor, featuring keyless ignition, an uprated charging system and a USB socket under its steering head. Almost four decades after the original Fat Bob introduced the combination of big-inch V-twin engine, wide tank and cut-down fenders to the masses, its latest descendant has its stubby finger right on motorcycling’s pulse.
Price tag of our bike: £15,845 (Fat Bob 107 from £14,295)