Just like the Harley-Davidson Fat Bob - until the 2018 model that is - has always put me off, the Street Bob has always flipped my switch. This lithe Dyna has always had my number. Of course, now with the Harley-Davidson merging the Dyna range into the Softails the Street Bob has a new role to play. It is the most accessible of the Harley-Davidson Softails. And as the company representatives pointed out, the Street Bob is very important to the Motor Company. It is usually the first big twin that a Harley owner purchases as he comes up through the Sportsters or now, the Street range. It is also a motorcycle that lends itself to an unusually diverse range of personalisation.
The new Street Bob looks dark and smart while retaining the simple, approachable lines that go with the name
To sum up the changes - we have detailed stories elsewhere - the Street Bob gets the all-new frame that is much lighter than before. Into this frame goes the dual-counterbalanced Milwaukee 8 1,750cc V-twin. This is the engine that has oil-cooling for the exhaust valves with the oil cooler tucked neatly in between the frame downtubes. As with the other Softails, the Street Bob also gets the new SDBV, or Showa Dual Bending Valve forks. At the rear is the shorter of the two monoshocks that handle the rear-ends of the new motorcycles. We are reliably told that should you feel the need, you should be able to upgrade to the longer shock that does duty on the Heritage (touring intent) and the Fat Bob (cornering clearance intent). You can adjust the preload though you don't get the remote knob that is so neatly integrated into the sidepanel on, for example, the Fat Bob.
The 2018 Softails all get LED head lamps with intricate interior detailing that looks very nice
Harley-Davidson masterfully integrated a tiny but extremely effective LCD screen into the bar clamp. It's breathtaking in simplicity and at least for motorcycles with basic instrumentation, I cannot imagine why you'd need more. The screen shows speed, fuel and gear selection as the primary elements. And you can scroll through the odometer, tripmeters, time and my personal favourite, a rev counter in the second line. It takes a moment or two to get used to and there are certain sunlit situations where the screen is hard to read but I really, really like this. Below the bar-clamp screen is a small add-on tab in black that holds all the idiot lights and I do wish that Harley could just move all these to the bar clamp as well.
Digital instrumentation on the Harley now sits atop top the handlebar clamp to give you an unobstructed view of the road ahead
The Street Bob is as slick a riding experience as the wee LCD screen's integration. But let's back the truck up because the Street Bob wasn't a wilting lily in the dynamics department to start with. It's always been of the the Harleys I've rather enjoyed riding and that's despite the fact that I haven't grown old enough to slow down. Yet.
The new one is better in every conceivable way. The stiffer frame - 34 per cent more thanks to the stressed member engine - and the lighter weight (about 8kg in all) make the Street Bob even more eager than before. But while the Breakout lacks clearance, the Fat Bob makes you work for it and the Heritage Softail is almost too quick to steer, the Street Bob is just right. The low stance, excellent leverage from the bars and generally alert manners means that the Bob feels completely natural to ride.
It turns smoothly and swiftly into corners and for a motorcycle this long, it has excellent responses. Cornering clearance is up by a small margin but we ground through the footpegs, scraped up the heat shields rather well anyway - such is the confidence in the motorcycle.
The brakes feel good too and part of that is the suspension because technically, the 2018 models don't get new brakes. The suspension is a big part of the story, in fact. The Showas give the Street Bob small-bump and sharp-bump compliance that makes the experience feels more serene than I was expecting. You will feel the big hits but the heavy-handed thunk-clunk of the older Street Bob will be hard to recreate now.
And of course, the Milwaukee 8 is excellent. When I lost the keen edge of the rhythm, I could run a gear or two higher and allow the torque to pull me along at the group's elevated pace. Or when I was on it, I could pick up the revs from 2,000 to 3,700-ish and enjoy a more, um, active riding experience. The shorter linkages, as another journalists pointed out, does also make the gearchanges the most positive of all the four Softails we tested in Spain.
It isn't hard to see that the Softail line's entry point is a good one. In my head, the Street Bob is what a Harley is supposed to feel like. And Harley officials at the launch agreed that to many, the Street Bob is the right Harley to get when you're convinced about being part of the lifestyle.
The 2018 model, even in Indian conditions, will be more comfortable than the older model by some margin I think. The light weight and the ease of handling should make it easy to ride in our chaos too.
The two issues I did have were with the seat and the control levers. I found the Street Bob's seat to be unusually slippery though none of the other journos reported this. The other crib I have is the levers. Harley says they design the levers to fit the maximum range of hand sizes but for a motorcycle this expensive, I think, this isn't good enough. A span adjustable set of clutch and brake levers would dramatically change how comfortable the motorcycle is, especially when you're in stop-go traffic or in the mountains. Not that I wouldn't do it again in a hurry but I had aches and pain in both fingers during the riding day - both attributed to the fact that the levers weren't right for me. And please, Harley-Davidson, pointing me to the Product and Accessories Catalogue for every little thing isn't the solution I am looking for.
Now, the terrific little Street Bob will go on sale in India this November along with the other Softails. Like the others, I expect that there will be a small rise in price - we expect the final tag to sit at about Rs 12 lakh ex-showroom. The Street Bob will only come with the smaller 107 (1,750cc) engine to India and will be assembled at Harley's Bawal facility.