The Heritage Softail returns looking better than ever.
The steady stream of news pouring out of its Milwaukee factory has left little doubt—Harley-Davidson intends to have a brisk season. In these still-early stages of the 2006 model year, The Motor Company has already unveiled six new production models, including a revamped Dyna line with commemorative pieces (35th anniversary Super Glide). From its Custom Vehicle Operations unit has come a fleet of three (four if you count the V-Rod-based Destroyer) and the Sportster line has been graced with new transmissions.
But since its introduction in 1984, no new model year could be considered complete without an upgrade or an addition to the Softail family. For 2006, that addition comes in the form of the reintroduced FLST/I Heritage Softail.
Originally brought to life in 1986, the Heritage model ended its initial production run in 1990. But, it’s back now and its presence has boosted the Softail clan to nine members.
With the base MSRP tag reading $20,419, the new Heritage Softail has to be regarded as a serious commitment. Still there are a few things to keep in mind before lapsing into sticker shock.
This is a point worth considering because among the FL-series Softails—FL and FX Softails are so designated because of model-year based coding—the Heritage is the most modestly priced. Its FL stablemates, the Softail Deluxe, Springer Classic, Fat Boy and Heritage Softail Classic tip the scales between $21,949 and $22,389. (These MSRP prices come directly from Harley Canada’s website and are applicable to the non-EFI, solid colour versions.)
Also bear in mind, the dreaded Harley price tag is really not so very far removed from any of its competitors, metric or standard.
Because of fit, finish and immense popularity, any Softail can rightfully fall into the category of “premium motorcycle.” (Though at $19,129 the FXST/I Softail Standard is still the reigning bargain of the bunch, especially with its new 200-series rear tire.) But how much of a difference is there between $19,129 and $20,419? And will you pay significantly less for the Honda VTX 1800, Vulcan 2000 or Triumph Rocket III? Certainly these motorcycles belong to the power cruiser class (which definitely does not include Softails) but they still represent the factories’ higher-end cruiser offerings, for which price tags have been creeping steadily closer to Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
So “serious commitment” the Heritage may well be, but it’s not outside the context of its market competition.
There’s something else too—the FLST/I Heritage Softail feels like a million bucks in your pocket when you’re on the road. This doesn’t mean the Heritage deviates from the traditional set-up of underslung horizontal rear shocks and counterbalanced Twin Cam 88B motor. Rather it’s the addition of unseen things that complement the silver powder-coated 1450cc powerplant and hardtail stylings.
Chief among these is a reduced effort clutch kit—new diaphragm spring and ball-and-ramp mechanism—that accounts for a featherlight pull on the lever. It’s unlikely that there’s an equivalent in the cruiser class. Combined with the new-generation five-speed gearbox—featuring helical-cut gears and prodded by a heel-toe shifter—ratio selection is a buttery-smooth process that’s more reminiscent of the sport-touring than the cruiser class.
Because of their similar FL front end, the Heritage Softail seems more like a Fat Boy with laced wheels than a stand-alone entity. It’s true, with the Softail line you have to account for a significant cross-over factor, but it’s in the details that the Heritage exists and, from them, exudes its sense of substance.
Its touring handlebars offer wonderful leverage and control. Indeed, set over top of the Dunlop 16-inch front touring tire, the bars are likely the critical element in a steering delivery that belies the bike’s 672 lbs. (305 kg). The liquid-smooth gear engagement and the deft turning touches leave behind the impression that much more has been done to subsidize the very fine ride quality of the Heritage Softail. But, in case you might be tempted to forget this is a Softail after all, the rear suspension components are predictably limited in their abilities—you’ll pay for that ever-cool hardtail look on the very first rough patch of road.
Nor should you expect miracles from the two-disc, four-piston brakes. The front brake requires a firm pull while the rear has a disquieting tendency toward the easy lock-up.
Rider comfort amenities include full-length floorboards and a solo seat (25.5”/647.7mm height) with a passenger pillion that’s stripped away by engaging a quick-release mechanism. This new design offers “comfortable touring accommodations with early dresser styling,” says Harley. A four-bolt rear-fender support attachment has also been added to hang the (optional) 1950s-style leather saddlebags that are found on the Heritage Softail Classic version. Also available as a factory-installed option are chrome aluminum profile laced wheels.
As it was in its previous incarnation, this year’s Softail Heritage is designed to evoke classic sensibilities. The wrap-around FL rear fender and skirted front, the black horseshoe tank and staggered dual exhaust are the key signatures.
The Heritage Softail is offered in four different colours: vivid black, black cherry pearl, fire red pearl and deep cobalt pear. All models sport a machete-style broad-stripe tank graphic.
Harley-Davidson has suggested that its latest Softail is a good launch pad for customers whose goal is to create a personalized custom. But the reality is, if you take this motorcycle no further than stock, you’re still in pretty good shape at the local show ‘n’ shine.
by John Campbell Canadian Biker #216