- Photos: Anjum Chisti
- Text & tester: Syed Shiraz
Someone someday does a global survey on ‘motorcycle brand awareness’ and I am sure the name “Harley-Davidson” would come on top. It helps if you’ve made your first motorcycle shortly after the invention of the wheel… Well, almost. H-D built its first motorcycle in the same year as the Wright brothers flew the world’s first aircraft – that’s more than 110 years ago. Since then, the motorcycle company has not only endured situations that saw most others crumble down and shut shop, it has also tasted success that only few motorcycle manufacturers can boast of. Shades of life notwithstanding, the company has always been synonymous with freedom and self-expression, and therefore, the ride never stopped and the V-twins’ reach and popularity continued to grow exponentially across the globe.
Rider Gear Check:
Jacket: Cramster Eclipse
Gloves: Cramster TRG2 Gloves
Helmet: LS2 FF351 (Buy LS2 Helmets from Amazon)
Harley-Davidson came to India in 2009 and what followed was a series of Harley motorcycle-cum-lifestyle outlets being inaugurated in several Indian cities by the American two-wheeler major. It had become evident that the company was extremely serious about the Indian bike market and would leave no stone unturned in garnering the attention of the premium-bike buying populace of our country. To be honest, such special efforts were not even needed primarily because of two reasons: a) The brand’s image and awareness was already second to none here, and b) There was hardly any direct competition to Harley in India back then.
Still, the enthusiasm of a company is always more than welcome; it tells a lot about what the company is made of; instils confidence in those less aware and/or are new to the concept of two wheels; and the potential owners can as such get a glimpse of how they would be treated by the company once money has exchanged hands. Moreover, Harley did a first in its history by setting up an assembly unit in Haryana, India – the only H-D manufacturing facility in the whole world outside America! It manufactures the Street 750 and Street 500 motorcycles here, and assembles the complete Sportster, Dyna, and Softail lines too! While the Sportster family of bikes (after the Street 750) is responsible for the bulk of sales for Harley India, the Softail lineup is the most coveted of the lot, the Dyna range in between has somehow remained a little too inconspicuous on our roads. We rode the Dyna Fat Bob to check if it deserves to sell more or not…
Design, Features, and Instrumentation
One look at the Fat Bob will tell you that this is not your typical cruiser. ‘Dragster’ is more like it. The handlebars are not a km-wide affair and neither do they rise up and go down like a snake on a rock. Straight, no nonsense ‘bars are provided for leverage on this Harley. Of course, they are angled towards the rider and are within a comfortable length of reach.
The same goes for the tyres which break away from the thin-front-fat-rear mould. Rubber at the rear is a fat 180/70 section and is perfectly complemented by a 130/90 section at the front. The 16-inch alloy wheels are almost completely hidden by dual discs at the front and belt-drive/disc at the rear. The masterstroke here comprises the two white stripes on the edge of the rims with the company name also written between them in the same colour – neat! In true bobber style, the fenders are minimalist in size and do well in exposing that chunky rubber.
Those twin headlights impart an aggressive persona and the sight of this face, charging rapidly towards you, in your rear view mirror might leave you with a haunting memory, while the two LED roundels at the rear (yes, Harley carries the twin-light theme for the taillight too) would have you believe there’s an extra-terrestrial being staring at you from the darkness…
The fuel tank is again a class act. It’s wide, without getting disproportionate; it’s flattish, without being meek; and it houses some clever bits of instrumentation. For example, you see those two fuel-filler caps? The right one is where you would put the unleaded in, and the left one is actually an analogue fuel gauge! And that solid piece of shiny metal, below the serene-looking speedometer, is the ignition knob that also hides the ‘ignition lock’. And I’ll tell you why that is important.
Keyless ignition systems usually have an operating range of 15 metres, but, unlike cars’, the bikes’ key-fobs usually do not come with buttons, so there is nothing you can do from that kind of distance. Intrigued passers-by can. Imagine you are visiting a friend or a relative and park the bike outside their house. You go inside without locking the ignition and are out of sight, but still within 15 metres… Children and inquisitive folks can switch the ignition on and play with it for a few seconds before the bike’s security alarm goes berserk and scares the living daylights out of them! Of course, they cannot crank it even if they turn the ignition on. But if you lock the ignition switch, no one would be able to even rotate the knob and fiddle with lights, flashers, etc. But the alarm would still go off if it senses any mischief. Yes, I tested all of that indeed.
Oh, while we are still gazing at the tank, let me also tell you about the two in-dash small screens. The one inside the speedo will show you the chosen gear and rpm, clock, trip readings, etc., one at a time. The screen just above the ignition knob will tell you if you were successful in finding Neutral, and also if you are blinding the on-coming traffic with the high-beam. That space also shows if the self-cancelling flashers are still on… Speaking of which, the turn signals come with individual controls for the left and right pairs.
Use your right thumb to indicate right, and the left one to go left – non-intuitive at first, but very convenient once you get used to it. Big, chunky buttons those too! But the one to summon the horn, isn’t. The size wouldn’t have been an irritant if Harley had avoided giving it a dual function: its upper half controls the trip meters as well. And the sound of the horn is hopelessly feeble too! I wouldn’t have complained about it if my test bike came with Screamin’ Eagle exhausts…
Though it’s a given but let me mention it anyway that the paint & chrome quality and overall build, fit-and-finish is top notch.
Engine, gearbox and performance
This is the best part of the Harley-Davidson Fat Bob. Thumb the starter and the big 1585 cc twin roars to life but not before shaking the motorcycle first and then the earth beneath it – it’s an experience in itself! The clutch pull is pleasantly light making you oblivious to what is about to come… Tyre-spinning, arm-straightening, grin-widening acceleration is what follows! Every gear shift transmits enormous waves of torque to that fat rear, via a belt drive, while you hang on revelling in the fantastic surge and within seconds the bike flies past 140 km/h with three more gears to spare. No cruiser in its right mind should accelerate like this! Okay, so I’d already mentioned that this is a dragster, so there.
I did manage to find a long, empty straight and saw a speedo-indicated 180 km/h on it before I slowed down to avoid caressing the derriere of a Swift hatch, which appeared to be standing still. I soon realized that the car must be doing around 90-100 km/h; it’s just that the Fat Bob’s velocity, or my short-sightedness, made it look so… The six-speed gearbox shifts assuredly and I did not find a false neutral even once. But I also could not find the true, er, neutral on more than one occasion…
There is one more thing in the Fat Bob which is quite unlike a typical cruiser too. You just can’t amble around town in sixth or even fifth at 60 km/h. Try doing that and it will protest like a teetotaller refusing a drink. Third and fourth gears are the highest which you can go in at that speed. The Fat Bob understands cruising as 100 km/h in sixth gear where the crank is spinning at around 2,200 revs. Anything less is classified as plain commuting by this Harley.
But you would still love to commute on this motorcycle. And the best way to do that would be to keep it in as low a gear as possible and gun it at the first opportunity – fuel efficiency be damned! Which, by the way, never dropped down to below 10-11 km/l, and that’s a respectable figure for a 1,600 cc engine, especially taking into account how hard I rode it. With a moderate right hand, 13-14 km/l is very much possible and that means a range of around 250 km on a full tank of fuel (18.9 litres).
However, you won’t really care less about that because the trademark Harley staccato beat is so freakishly addictive when you twist that throttle hard that the child in you would want to hear it all day, and still wouldn’t have enough. And that’s when my bike had stock mufflers, which are quiet at idle and at low revs, and not sinfully loud at high revs either. I now wish to sample a Harley with those real loud ones… But I also feel that if I use the bike regularly, the stock acoustics would provide just the right decibel level, day in and day out, that one won’t grow deaf with. And mind you, passing poor innocuous road users at full chat would still make them tremble. So please be considerate…
By any chance, did you miss reading about the Fat Bob’s peak power and torque figures? You shouldn’t ideally, if you know Harley-Davidson. The company never publishes horsepower figures but proudly flaunts the unit associated with twisting force. For the Fat Bob, the technical specifications chart says 126 Nm at 3,500 rpm. And for perspective sakes, the new Swift petrol makes 115 Nm…
Ride and Handling
By the time I could take the delivery of my test bike it was 6 p.m. – the worst hour on a Friday evening during Festive season in the National Capital Region. This is the time when everyone and their ancestors and future generations too run out of their homes, offices, caves, graves, and labour rooms directly on to the road to discuss Armageddon. To me, it already looked like one. Moreover, the Fat Bob’s 320 kg kerb weight and that front tyre had gotten me thinking that the bike would be a handful in the maddening traffic I was about to encounter.
Thankfully, it wasn’t! The bike’s steering is surprisingly light even at crawling speeds, which, among other things, also means that you can ride this bike daily, traffic conditions notwithstanding! A great job done here too by the Milwaukee team, what otherwise could have been a pig to handle in our chaotic traffic. This trait of the Fat Bob should also tell you how it would take to corners. Of course, it ain’t no sportbike but neutral turn-ins will have you lean the bike effortlessly and picking it up also requires zilch effort! And this Harley can lean way more than what its foot-pegs and silencers would allow. The lean angle on the right is frustratingly limited because of the pipes; therefore, you go after the left-handers like a canine pursuing its enemy of the feline variety.
The Fat Bob’s stability, be it in corners or on straights, can only be rivalled by that of those JCBs – the ones that dig into the ground for support while drilling, etc. That, coupled with the aforementioned agility, make it a formidable machine for both city and highway use. And crosswinds? What crosswinds? Nothing fazes the Fat Bob; no, not even a rashly driven Toyota Fortuner overtaking it. The Harley also comes with ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) which does come in handy if the politico’s driver in that SUV suddenly swerves and stops to take a leak.
The dual-rotors up front are gripped by a 4-piston caliper and though powerful, the brake feel is spongy. The single, floating rear disc is managed a 2-piston caliper and offers great bite and feel in comparison. Also, though most would not complain but the ABS kicks in quite early for my liking. That being said, the brakes do what they are supposed to, which is, stopping the bike safely in a jiffy.
The suspension set-up on the Fat Bob is on the stiffer side and that is how it should be – you wouldn’t want to be bobbing on a bike mid-corner! Not only is it (the suspension tune, I mean) majorly responsible for the bike’s cornering prowess (for the segment, of course) it also does handle its core job effectively, which is, soaking up most road-irregularities without any complaints. The seat is wonderfully comfortable for the rider with its rear curve acting as a fine backrest for the rider.
But this is NOT a bike for the pillion; not only is the pillion seat area too small it has a weird protruding hard hump. I am certainly not giving you any ideas, and if you are getting one, then let me tell you that NO, no one will love sitting on it… But as someone said, “one who rides fast, rides alone…”
Every biker longs to have at least three bikes in his garage ideally – a standard for the daily commute, a sports for weekends, and a touring for long hauls. However, most of us would consider ourselves lucky to be able to own even just one of these. Now, a full-on touring bike will rest at home on weekdays and it would be the same story if you own a sportbike. The standard will keep you happy from Monday to Friday but you would feel that ‘special-something’ missing on fun rides.
Now, the Fat Bob is not just a motorcycle that CAN be ridden daily, it is also something that the cruiser brigade will love and the sports guys will admire. The only other Harley to achieve this yet is the V-Rod which costs around INR 22 lakh (ex-showroom) in Delhi (only the Night Rod Special is available). The Fat Bob, thanks to Harley’s local assembly, seems to be a bargain in comparison at INR 13 lakh (ex-showroom) in Delhi. Moreover, Harley-Davidson India offers the best finance schemes in the premium bike segment and the company also scores brownie points when it comes to after-sales service and personal attention.
So, if you’re not a weekend-only rider and find the sub ten-lakh-rupee bike segment to be just not exclusive enough for you, then the Fat Bob makes for an ideal candidate from Harley-Davidson to fill that tough spot. I say tough because the ‘demanding you’ wants one bike to do it all. Well, almost. The Fat Bob’s versatility will enable you to use it daily, over the weekends, and for those long rides too. And it will always turn heads, sound great, and remain fast enough for our roads without ever threatening to expedite your meeting in person with your maker.