Motorcycle Road Test: Harley-Davidson FXSTD Softail Deuce

The "factory custom" motorcycle redefined. From the April 2000 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine.

Even though the parking lot held plenty of eye-catching iron, this motorcycle drew his attention immediately, and he made a beeline for it. He walked around it once, took a closer look at a couple of pieces, frowned faintly and asked, "Who built this bike?"

"Oh, Willie G., Louie Netz, and their mob."

The frown deepened, and he looked up to see if we were pulling his leg. He looked back at the bike again. "It's factory?" he asked. "Lock, stock and 1450cc barrels," we confirmed.

He pondered this Harley-Davidson for a few more moments, then nodded his head. "I guess that's why it has those ugly, black brake hoses."

Factory? Really?

Harley-Davidson's latest ego vehicle creates understandable confusion. Assembly-line motorcycles just don't look like the Deuce. They don't have these sort of sexy curves -- all that chrome and those super-clean details. You're supposed to visit a professional customizer if you want looks of this caliber. Judging from the comments our sample bike elicited, the Deuce is the best-looking full production motorcycle gracing any showroom.

The custom style starts right up front. The 21-inch wire-spoke front wheel could have been dipped in chrome. Hub, nipples, rim, and spokes are all coated with the shiny substance. The chrome permeates the front end, extending from the axle nuts all the way to the steering head nut. Only the brake components, fender, rear tire, reflectors and a few pinch bolts missed the shiny stuff. The fork juts out at an aggressive 34-degree rake, kicking off the long, low profile. The fork sliders have a unique, curving, narrow-waisted shape similar to those of some aftermarket items. Curved, swept-back five-inch risers lift the low-rise handlebar, which like other Harley-Davidson bars, is stainless steel.

From the handlebar, your eye drifts down to the fuel tank, another original component created -- like the fork sliders -- for the Deuce. Longer and narrower than other Harley tanks, the tank makes a major contribution to the long, low, flowing look of the Deuce, although it holds 4.9 gallons instead of the 5.0 on other current Softails. No visible seams mar the tank's profile, and instead of the familiar Harley tank-top instrument console, the stretched fuel vessel sports a chrome housing for the speedometer and ignition switch that extends the length of the tank, emphasizing its length and creating a divider.

Below the tank, the counterbalanced 1450cc Twin Cam engine wears black and chrome livery. Even the external oil lines are chrome. The elliptical airbox design of the new engines meshes nicely with the long look of the bike as do the shotgun dual mufflers, which now have their crossover tube behind the engine. Forward foot controls stretch the rider out in a posture that emphasizes the style too.

Behind the engine, the oil tank -- which wraps around in a U shape to show up on both sides of the frame -- glitters with additional chrome. The Softail rear suspension banishes the dual horizontal dampers from sight beneath the engine. That leaves the new rear end uncluttered. Uninterrupted by visible fasteners, swooping chrome rails bracket a fender that's vaguely reminiscent of the original FX Super Glide style. Small, clean turn signals and a shallow, semi-recessed taillight create minor visual interruptions and presumably push the regulatory limits for size.

Above the fender, a thin, almost seamless saddle glides from the tank up to atop the fender. Below, a disc-style 17-inch cast-alloy wheel carries the widest rubber ever to grace a stock Harley. The hulking 160/70VB17 Dunlop K591 and solid wheel (which is not chromed) create a stark visual counterpoint to the tall, narrow, almost spindly front wheel.

Overall the look of the Deuce shows that Harley has been paying attention to the work of aftermarket custom builders and is willing to ask its production people to give the extra effort needed to make a bike this clean. This motorcycle, which replaces the Softail Custom, goes much deeper into the territory previously occupied only by custom builders. However, it is not intended to eclipse them either. "This is still a canvas they can work with," Willie G. Davidson, Harley's Vice President of styling, told us. As the rider gawking at the Deuce in the parking lot observed, it isn't difficult to find things to change, even if you don't want to change the basic lines and style of the bike. Prettier brake hoses, foot controls, grips and other cosmetic components such as those found on Harley's limited-production CVO models, are obvious bolt-ons for someone looking to extend the production Deuce toward full-house custom.

Street Wise, Highway Smart

One of the major differences between this bike and a complete custom is that this production bike emphasizes function as much as fashion. No, it's not as comfortable as a Road King or as at-home heeled over in corners as an FXDX, but the Deuce does those things more competently than we expected when we first saw it.

Credit the latest incarnation of the Softail frame for the Deuce's steady handling, whether running straight down the road or bending through a smooth corner. The new frame is rigid and keeps the wheels pointed in the same direction much more effectively than the Evo-powered chassis. We expected the disparity in tire widths to create problems, but that didn't really happen. The weak link turns out to be the suspension, which is tuned for a plush ride. When you encounter bumps in corners, the lack of damping lets the bike bob around considerably. We were surprised at how much lean angle the Deuce delivers. The limit in smooth corners is the sidestand on the left; the right has a bit more cornering clearance.

The suspension makes up for its faults in bumpy corners with a compliant ride across small and medium-sized bumps. Sharp-edged irregularities slide past more smoothly than on most cruisers. The suspenders also offer enough progression to lessen the impact of large bumps well. The dual counterbalancers of the Twin Cam engine now powering the Softails diminishes vibration to a point where it's no longer a comfort issue.

The riding position, which places your legs and arms out in front of you, pleases some riders, but drew complaints from most, especially on long rides. If you rarely venture out of sight of city limits, you probably won't find much to complain about, and the aggressive look complements the bike's style. However, after a couple of hours, the riding position gets old. Part of the problem is that it puts a lot of weight on your butt, and though the saddle's padding offers better support than its thin profile suggested, it is relatively narrow. With the footpegs so far forward, the seat carries most of your weight. It works while patrolling the boulevard but loses its charm when you chase horizons. Passengers took a liking to the position they are offered but wished for a bit more padding and width on which to sit.

Whether performing as an urban assault vehicle or an open-road traveler, the engine is a delight. The additional power available from the Twin Cam 1450cc engine makes it easier to beat heavy-footed commuters away from a light than it was with the Evo-powered Softails, and the added power is also welcome when you want to get around a long truck on a back road. We were surprised that the Deuce was actually a tick quicker through the quarter-mile than the FXDX tested in this issue. The Deuce's counterbalanced engine makes slightly less power than the similar FXDX mill, which doesn't have the balancers to consume power. The FXDX is also about 30 pounds lighter. Few current V-twin cruisers can best the current 1450cc Harleys in power contests.

The new engines continue to turn in the excellent fuel mileage of past H-Ds. Despite mostly urban use in L.A.'s notorious traffic, the FXSTD averaged over 40 miles per gallon of premium gas. That sort of mileage will deliver almost 200 miles between fill-ups.

Still in the traditional location on the left side of the engine, the choke knob must be pulled out for cold starts. Though it takes a bit of time to warm up and run smoothly, once done, the engine responds smoothly and cleanly to throttle changes. Thanks to a lash-free drivetrain, those transitions from trailing throttle to acceleration (or vice versa) are never abrupt. A longish reach to the lever and the need for a strong pull make clutch operation a challenge for small or arthritic hands. The transmission is attached to the Twin Cam 88B engine shifts with slightly less noise and force than previous Harley gearboxes, but it still is not exemplary in this regard. Mechanical noise has been scaled back in the new engine design, and exhaust seems to be slightly more prominent.

Better-than-average brakes and tires create confidence during hard stops. Though the reach to the front brake lever best suits large hands, the four-piston brake provides superior control and good power.

Though the stylists shrunk all the lighting components, we had no complaints about illumination or conspicuousness. We wished for rear views from the mirrors that showed more of the traffic and less of our shoulders, and missed satisfactory perches to anchor straps when carrying objects on the back seat.

However, those are fairly minor quibbles. When you consider the Deuce's obvious devotion to fashion, you come away from a ride impressed that this bike is such a functional success. We all like bikes that look good, but we also tend to pass them over for serious riding because they aren't much fun to ride. It is noteworthy that even with a stable packed with sport cruisers, the FXSTD rarely languished in our garage. Harley's Deuce changes expectations for future advances in factory customs: It's not enough to look good, you need to feel good, too.

High Points: Advances the art of the factory custom, unique and handsome appearance, smooth and powerful engine, good fuel mileage and range, handles and stops well.
Low Points: Riding position unsuitable for long rides, suspension permits bumpy-corner wallowing, hand control levers require a large reach and aren't adjustable.
First Changes: Install aftermarket components -- such as billet footpegs and controls -- that are as beautiful as the rest of this bike.


Market research tells us that appearance tops the list of reasons why people buy cruisers. If so, the Deuce could be the best factory cruiser ever built. It's not a bike that I'd want for a long ride, and it's a bit unsteady in corners.

But the FXSTD still moves you. It provides respectable short-haul transportation, thanks to the smoother, more powerful engine, and it is a great ego vehicle. I also like the fact that it is easily distinguishable from all those other Harleys, making the rider more of an individual and less one of the flock.

Art Friedman
You can tell Friedman to flock off at

Sure it's pretty, but the Deuce ain't just fer looks; this beauty is hardly demure. Crack the throttle and hold on because there are plenty of ponies to spare. The frame is rigid, the suspension fairly plush (though jiggy in midcorner bumps), and the counterbalanced engine keeps your cavities in your teeth where they belong. Probably the best brakes I've experienced on a Hawg. The front felt a bit disobedient in the tight stuff, but then it's so far away, it's difficult to form a bond with it.

I'm still oohing and aahing over this magnificent sculpture, and Willie G's paean to the chopped out '70s is certainly worthy of a dropped jaw or two. I just don't know if I can afford the plastic surgery.

Andy Cherney

In the past, I was never a fan of Softails in general and several models within the line in particular. (Names withheld to protect the guilty.) Whenever we were forced to ride a Softail, I moaned and groaned about the vibration, poor handling, and weak brakes.

From the moment I threw my leg over the Deuce, I knew that the change in the 2000 Softails carried across the entire line. The 88B engine allows for long rides without feeling like my internal organs are being rearranged. The suspension and brakes are much improved. What makes the Deuce unique is the look. The Deuce is one of the slickest "off the rack" bikes I've seen from any manufacturer.

Since I've always been a fan of metric bikes, does this make me a turncoat? Perhaps, but remember that nothing says more about a motorcycle manufacturer than the worthiness of its adversaries. Harley has clearly realized that it will not be able to stay on top with just the legendary name alone. The Motor Company has rolled up its sleeves and begun to deliver functional motorcycles that can go head-to-head with the imports. Which is a good thing for motorcycling.

Evans Brasfield
Tell our former Feature Editor he's got his jacket on backwards through his website: Evans Brasfield.

2000 Harley-Davidson Softail Deuce

Designation: FXSTD
Suggested base price: $15,995 ($16,285 CA)
Standard color: Black
Extra cost colors: Blue, silver, orange, red, purple, add $240; blue/silver, orange/silver, red/black add $585
Standard warranty: 12 mos., unlimited milesRecommended service interval: 5000 miles

Type: Air-cooled, 45-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: OHV, 1 intake valve, 1 exhaust valve operated by pushrods, hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1450cc, 95 x 102mm
Compression ratio: 8.9:1
Carburetion: 1, 40mm Keihin CV
Lubrication: Dry sump, 3.5 qt
Minimum fuel grade: 92 octane
Transmission: Wet clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Belt, 70/32

Wet weight: 682 lb 55% rear wheel
GVWR: 1125 lb
Wheelbase: 66.6 in.
Overall length: 95.9 in.
Rake/trial: 34 degrees, 5.0 in.
Wheels: Wire-spoke 21.0 x 2.15 in. front, cast-alloy 17.0 x 3.0 in. rear
Front tire: MH90-21 Dunlop D402 tube-type
Rear tire: 160/70VB17 DunlopK591 tubeless
Front brake: Double-action, four-piston calipers, 11.5-in. discs
Rear brake: Double-action, four-piston caliper, 11.5-in. disc
Front suspension: 39mm stanchions, 5.6 in. travel
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, 4.0 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 4.9 gal (0.5 gal reserve)
Handlebar width: 33.0 in., 1.0 in. diameter
Seat height: 26.0 in.
Inseam equivalent: 32.4 in.

Charging output: 416 watts
Battery: 12v, 19 AH, sealed
Forward lighting: 6.0-in 55/60-watt headlight, position lights
Taillight: Single bulb
Instruments: Speedometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter, fuel gauge; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure, engine malfunction

Fuel mileage: 32 to 51 mpg, 42.5 mpg average
Average range: 208 miles
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 74.3 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 13.14 sec., 97.2 mph

Photography by Kevin Wing
A narrower drive belt permitted the designers to install the fattest rear tire ever used on a stock H-D. The disc wheel drew kudos.
With this stretched 4.9-gallon tank, Harley joins the few manufacturers now installing seamless fuel tanks on its cruisers.
Thanks to a good foam choice inside, the pretty saddle that tops the Deuce feels better than we expected, though it's a bit narrow for touring.
Harley's Deuce is the first factory bike with chrome fork sliders, and the sliders' curving profiles make them particularly noteworthy
Plenty of chrome and polish set off by wrinkle-black paint put the engine in the custom role. We'd want billet foot controls too.
Though the instruments are standard Harley fare, the attractive, full-length housing they occupy is an eye-catching innovation.
The taillight convinced some viewers that the Deuce was a genuine custom. It's much slimmer than those on other H-D cruisers.
2002 Harley Softail Deuce.
2003 Harley Softail Deuce (100th anniversary).