Harley Davidson Fat Bob and Street Bob: PH2

Last week PH2 tested two of Harley-Davidson's new Softail range, the Heritage Classic and the Breakout. Now it's the turn of the Fat Bob and the Street Bob, which take Harley's normally rigid design conventions and gives them a ruddy good shake.

More of the same, only different
Both the Fat Bob and the Street Bob use the all-new Softail platform, with its stiffer frame and Milwaukee-Eight motor in either 107 or 114 guises. However, where the likes of the Heritage Classic, Fat Boy, Deluxe and Slim models have rather conservative and traditional Harley styling, the Bob bikes have a very different outlook on life...

These are the models that Harley expects to attract new riders with, a responsibility which makes them more European targeted and certainly more challenging in terms of look. You have to hand it to Harley-Davidson, when it goes wild the results are impressive, especially with the Fat Bob.

Harley-Davidson Fat Bob (from £14,295 in 107, £15,495 in 114)
The man from Harley genuinely told PH2 that the Fat Bob was designed to give the impression it could survive a zombie apocalypse. This is one solid motorcycle, which is just what you want when it comes to ploughing down the undead - not to mention turning heads when it comes to the living.

Visually the Fat Bob is bloody awesome. Really, it is. It is so imposing and mean that it almost gives the impression of being a two-wheeled tank. And when you tap parts you quickly discover that everything that could be metal is metal (tank, mudguard, headlight shroud). The 16-inch wheels with their fat and chunky tyres only add to the bike's presence as does the pitch-perfect bronze exhaust pipes. Its visual heft is underwritten by enormous physical bulk: the Fat Bob living up to its name at 306kg. But here is the great news, this is a Harley designed for European riders and that means inverted forks and twin discs come as standard along with the promise of good handling and decent ground clearance.

When you hop on the Fat Bob the impression of size remains undimmed. It's a substantial bike and the wide bars give the impression you are gripping onto the horns of a very wild bull. Hit the starter and the Milwaukee-Eight motor rumbles into life and with a clunk, you are off. Which is when you need to recalibrate your brain a bit...

As with Harley's Breakout model, the Fat Bob's styling plays a part in how it rides. The 16-inch wheels are seriously chunky and that means it requires a bit of effort to get it to turn into bends. It's not a bad thing, just a quirk that you need to understand before you can really get to enjoying the Fat Bob; which is not difficult as it features decent brakes backed by a commendable suspension.

The sheer weight of the bike means it would have its hat handed to it by something like a Ducati Monster, but the Fat Bob is still adept at cornering and only scrapes its pegs when you are pushing on, rather than at every bend like some of Harley's other models. Nevertheless, it's the all-round feeling you get when you ride the Fat Bob that made it so appealing; this is one of those bikes that turns every ride into an event, and that counts for a lot in my book.

The 114 motor is fabulous, the handling adept, the brakes up to the job and the suspension - although lacking adjustment - also worthy. But it's the Fat Bob's look that wins me over. I really wish that Harley had binned the old-school tank-mounted clocks for the Breakout's bar-mounted digital set-up, but other than that this is a Harley I could actually see myself owning. Do I wish it had fully-adjustable suspension, radial brakes and a bit of super naked-style bling? In some ways, yes, but then I'd probably find the chassis and motor lacking, so I reckon Harley have got it right in terms of overall balance.

My only concern for the Fat Bob is that the last time Harley built something to appeal to European tastes, the XR1200, it bombed. Could the Fat Bob suffer a similar fate? While it looks the part I reckon the Bob has enough of the traditional Harley about it to ensure it sells. It remains very much a Harley at heart and that should see it appeal to Harley fans as well as newcomers in equal measure.

Harley-Davidson Street Bob (from £12,295 in 107)
The Street Bob is another European-targeted bike that has sold well since its launch in 2006, although I've never ridden one before - and on first impressions, it probably qualifies as one of the weirdest machines I've ever ridden.

The Street Bob is a sort of stripped-back custom bike and that means you have a very peculiar riding position where your arms are high on the tall bars and your legs tucked up on the mid-position pegs. A fellow hack called it the 'angry monkey' riding position and to start with it is plain odd and not very pleasant as you don't really feel in control of the bike. But soldier on and it eventually becomes a bit more natural and easier to like.

I didn't expect much from the Street Bob in terms of handling - especially after the Breakout with its limited ground clearance - but I was wrong. The Bob might be a high-bar cruiser, but it can be thrown into bends and has a reasonable amount of ground clearance. And when you do feel comfortable enough to get the hammer down a bit the Bob becomes a real joy to ride. Not in terms of the riding position maybe (which is uncomfortable) but certainly in terms of its fun factor. The 107 Milwaukee-Eight motor (you don't get a 114 option) suits it perfectly and although the single disc at the front is a bit lacking, you don't feel like you really need an extra one as on the Heritage Classic because the Bob is lighter and you probably won't have a pillion given the fact that passenger's seat looks even more painful than the rider's!

The Street Bob is far from criticism-free, of course: the mid-pegs smash your shins when you pull up, the side stand is tucked away really annoyingly under the left-hand peg and it hopped out of gear a few times on me - but it is a strangely compelling machine. It's uncomfortable for any distances and the pegs do scrape, but I absolutely loved riding it thanks mainly to the fundamentals: a cracking motor, a good chassis and a natural balance that just makes it fun to ride. If you are into the custom scene and want a cruiser that handles and can very easily be customised, for me the Street Bob is the Harley to get. Honestly, try one - just give it a few miles to adjust to that riding position...







P.H. O'meter

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Comments (12) Join the discussion on the forum

  • D200 24 Oct 2017

    The Fat Bob is the nicest cruiser made. Sounds like a great bike and actually not bad value

  • bigkeeko 24 Oct 2017

    Nice bike for sure but not sure of the new headlight style. I like the look of the Lowrider S but found it a little cramped when I sat my arse on one at a dealer.

  • Glasgowrob 24 Oct 2017

    never liked Harleys but theres something strangely alluring about these two.

    christ next ill be wearing denim

  • bigkeeko 24 Oct 2017

    Glasgowrob said:
    never liked Harleys but theres something strangely alluring about these two.

    christ next ill be wearing denim
    Could be worse could be a frock.

  • andburg 25 Oct 2017

    Less outside the Harley box than the XR1200 so I reckon it'll sell.

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