A few months ago, Mrs V and I were riding through Albuquerque, New Mexico and stumbled upon a Demo Ride Day at the Thunderbird Harley-Davidson. I have seen US dealer demo days on YouTube before and I thought it would be fun to check it out. The dealer must have had 40+ Harleys in their demo fleet. The band was sound checking on a makeshift stage in the carpark and the BBQ was fired up ready to go!

After filling in some paperwork, I was sitting on a 2018 114ci Fatboy. In my opinion, Harleys feel physically smaller when compared with Indians. Overall length of Fatboy is 2,370mm, Road King Special is 2,420mm and Chief is 2,630mm (Harleys are 210 - 260mm shorter). Interestingly, the wheelbase is closer in length: Fatboy is 1,665mm, Special is 1,625mm and Chief 1,730mm (difference of only 65 - 105mm). Yet, Indian feels much bigger than these numbers suggest. It is also worth noting that the wheelbase of the new cruiser (2018 Fatboy) is now longer than the traditionally larger touring bike (eg. 2017 Road King). If you haven’t heard, 2018 Harley Softail range rides on a brand new, lighter and more rigid frame. I speculate that Harley may release a new, equally improved, touring bike frame in the next year or two. Is this the first time Harley put their bikes on a diet?

Before the test ride in Albuquerque, I read that the new 114ci Milwaukee Eight in the Softail range is fully counter balanced (100%), while the 107ci M8 in the touring range is partially (75% less vibration than the previous generation Twin Cam engines) counter balanced. I have ridden a 2017 Road King for 4 days and a 2017 Street Glide for 3 weeks so I was expecting a very smooth engine in the Fatboy. But that didn’t happen. More on that in a moment.

The 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail comes with a fob and a fork lock key made of aluminium, presumably to save weight in your pocket? Indian riders have been enjoying the keyless ignition since 2014 so it is not news to us. Unfortunately, you have to hold the ‘start’ button down until the engine starts. Whereas the Indian start button is a press-and-forget system where the onboard electrics crank the engine until it starts. It’s the small details that add to the rider experience. Also, you will not see the red ‘kill switch’ on the control block. Harley combined the ‘Run’ and ‘Kill Switch’ some time ago and made them black. From the 2018 model year, Indian will do the same. Competition is awesome, even if that means copying one another! 😜


The two 2017 M8 Harleys I have ridden so far exhibited the same annoying trait. Shifting into neutral was difficult. So the first thing I did after starting the Fatboy was to kick it into 1st gear and shift it back into neutral - got it the first time. I repeated. Found neutral again easily even with the cold engine. Harley definitely revised the gearbox for their 2018 models. 👍

On the topic of gearboxes, the 2017 Road King and 2018 Fatboy both have quiet and smooth shifting gearboxes. Oddly, my rental bike (2017 Street Glide) had a clunky gearbox. Initially, I thought the clutch cable needed an adjustment but it is equiped with a hydraulic clutch and cannot be adjusted. I am unsure if the clunky gearbox is due to manufacturing tolerance or the rental bike being abused. Need to ride a few more M8s to know for sure.

In the showroom, I played with hydraulic clutch levers on a few other 2018 Harleys. They are noticeably heavier than the cable actuated clutches on both the Harleys and the Indians. I found the hydraulic clutch difficult to hold at the friction point (eg. when performing a u-turn). However the benefits of never snapping the clutch cable or having to adjust it seems worth the effort. Interestingly, all Softail models are using the cable actuated clutches, which behave as expected.

As the engine on the Fatboy was warming up, I inspected the fit and finish. I liked the polished metal tank bib with holes in them... a clear nod to the ‘90s Evo Fatboy which had wheels with holes punched out. The gauge is new and more modern in appearance. I welcome the larger built in digital screen for better legibility. Then I looked up and noticed an ugly gap between the handlebar and the control block. The handlebar steps down in size from 1.25-inch to 1-inch diameter. That unsightly ‘step down’ should have been covered up by the control block but is not. I thought it was a one off, assembly issue on this demo bike but all the 2018 Softail models are assembled this way. Why?


I have a chaperone for my demo ride. He gives me a nod. I try to retract the side stand but it is harder than it seems for some reason - it even gets stuck half way up. On the 2017 Street Glide, the side stand is short and the angle keeps the bike more upright than on Indians and past Harleys. I believe this upright stance is to assist riders getting the bike off the side stand with less effort. It is unnerving to see such a heavy bike parked so upright. Thank goodness Fatboy leans over more but the side stand is still rather short.


I follow my chaperone out of the dealership parking lot. I am surprised. For a bike with fat 240mm rear and 160mm front tyres, it turns well. I half expected it to be a wrestling match. Maybe it would be at higher speed?. The demo bike was equipped with mini-apes so that may place a part. I twist the throttle some more and shift up. It is immediately noticeable that the 114ci Milwaukee Eight is rough. Very rough, in fact. It shakes so much under moderate acceleration, I thought it was running on one cylinder!

The M8 on Softail range is hard mounted to the frame but they are fully (dual) counter balanced. Why they shake so much more than the less (single) balanced but rubber mounted 107ci M8 in the touring range of bikes, I don’t know. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Since that test ride, I have heard of several demo riders complaining about the roughness of 114ci M8. Oddly, some people complimented the smoothness of the same engine. I am uncertain if such mechanical variation exists between 114ci M8. Perhaps, it comes down to subjective opinions of individuals.

Once we got to the highway on ramp, I slowed down a bit. Once I had enough room between myself and my chaperone, I dropped the hammer. It had enough get-up-and-go to put a smile on my face but I definitely preferred the characteristics of 107ci M8 in the Road King and the Street Glide. The roughness seems to exaggerate the feeling that this bike is strangled. Like most stock Harleys and Indians, it could benefit from a performance air cleaner, slip-on pipes and a tune. I wonder if Screaming Eagle Stage 3 Big Bore 114ci Kit shakes and vibrates like the Softail 114ci M8?

On the freeway, I maintained a fixed speed. There was less vibration when cruising but as soon as I twisted the throttle, the bike vibrated uncomfortably. I knew in that short test ride that I will not enjoy riding this Harley when touring, possibly not even just running around town. I left wondering, is the roughness normal OR abnormal for 114ci? When I get a chance to ride another 114ci, I will report back.

Back in Melbourne, I had the opportunity to ride a Street Bob with 107ci fully counter balanced M8 and it vibrated less than 114ci but the family trait was unmistakable. Street Bob is suitable for someone with very short legs. When I took it out for a quick demo ride, my knees doubled as my ear warmers. Yet strangely, the handlebars were positioned forward. So the Street Bob is perfect for someone with long arms and short legs. 😜

Although I have not ridden at night to comment, all the 2018 Softail models come with LED headlights. If they are as good as Daylight Maker (made by J.W. Speaker), they are onto a good thing. Again, 2019 might see factory LED headlights fitted to Harley’s touring models? If that happens, would Indian follow with factory LED lights? The current LED headlight from Indian is reflector type and not very effective. They do appear more old school and matched the style of original Indians, but now with more modern style, Dark Horse range on offer, perhaps projector type LED headlights are in demand?

Having owned a Fatboy myself, I have a soft spot for them. However, the characteristics of 114ci M8 I have experienced discourage me from lusting after the 2018 Fatboy (Thank Goodness! 😝).

Finally, Australian pricing doesn’t help. In the States, 107ci Fatboy is priced at USD$19,000 and 114ci at USD$20,300 (plus taxes and fees). The difference is USD$1,300 (AUD$1,700). In America, 114ci option also includes ABS brakes on 107ci. That is value for money. But in Australia, Harley is asking $3,000 more for 114ci ($34,000) over the 107ci Fatboy ($31,000). When you consider the Australian 107ci Fatboy already comes with ABS, $3,000 difference appears pricey. Factor in that a Fatboy comes with a single front disc brake, no cruise control and no saddlebags, and it is not looking like a value proposition. 🤔

I am told the 2018 Breakout and Fatboy are Harleys’ top selling bikes at the moment. I guess the value proposition and logic only gets you so far when you want something. They are great looking bikes after all. 😀
Let's be kind to one another.
Melbourne, Victoria
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