Remember When the FXR Was a "Wannabe Harley?"

Harley-Davidson fans respond predictably to performance-minded changes in Harley’s new Softail line

When the Harley-Davidson FXR was released in 1982, you’d hear all sorts of hateful slurs being thrown at them and their owners. “Wannabe Harley, Kawasaki lookin’ Jap bike.” It was a dramatic change from the styling and performance that Harley owners had known and loved for years, and many of them rejected the new models. A shift to a more performance-oriented frame meant a shift away from the older chassis and styling, and it took the majority of H-D riders over 30 years to embrace that change.

The Dyna model was 26 years old, but it didn’t start its climb to the current wheelie-bro status until about ten years ago. Now we stand on the verge of a new era for Harley with another huge shift toward performance in its cruiser line, and it’s no surprise that the V-twin world seems to be losing its shit once again.

The people that seem to be the most upset in this deal are the ones who already own Dynas. Congratulations, you have your favorite bike! Continue to own and ride it; there will still be parts available for it and everyone will still look when you do burnouts. The Dyna is an awesome motorcycle—it has been for over two decades— so let’s move on.

Does a new, better-handling chassis with a stronger engine mean that your Dyna/FXR is no longer the best Harley? There's a good chance it does. Talking to Joe Mielke of Snap-Fab—who knows FXRs better than almost anyone—provided some unique perspective.

“The geometry isn’t too far off on some of them,” he said. “A couple of the models are pretty raked out, but looking at one of the tech sheets the Fat Bob has 28-degree rake with five inches of trail. That’s gotta be a pretty nimble motorcycle. And that’s got one of the taller seat heights, so even though there are some things that are flaws to that design and some things that guys are going to want to change, as far as your wheel sizes and your foot pegs, the geometry of that bike looks like it could be a very maneuverable motorcycle with that shorter wheelbase and almost deraked [front end] with good suspension. If I wasn’t such a big guy I’d be pretty excited about that motorcycle. I’m sure I’ll still enjoy riding one like I enjoy riding an FXR; I’ll just probably look like I’m humping a turtle.

“If there was somebody waiting for a 2018 FXR, this is going to be the closest thing that you’re going to see this year,” Mielke added. “As far as a bike that’s built like an FXR/Dyna—with a fixed driveline from the front cylinder to the rear sprocket— was the lifeblood to that platform that gave it the different handling and stability. Now you’ve got the under-transmission oil tank so you’ve got some weight removed from the bike. I think there’s a lot of performance added to the Fat Bob specifically, so just from what I’ve seen, it looks like that’s going to be the new nimble go-fast bike out of the group.”

2018 H-D Fat Bob
The 2018 Harley-Davidson Fat Bob is what Joe deems to be the new "go-fast bike."Harley-Davidson

Not all bikes fit Joe at 6’5” and 280 lb., but he makes a couple very good points. First, don’t knock it til you try it; everyone that has ridden this bike says it’s incredible and they are seasoned motorcyclists with a lot of time on different bikes under their belt, not the guy who’s been riding one model for the last five years and thinks he has it all figured out. Second, with all of the models sharing one chassis, the interchangeable parts make things much easier for riders to customize their bikes and manufacturers to make a wider variety.

Finally, what Harley is perfect off the showroom floor? Isn't a huge part of the game changing things up and making it your own? Hate the chunky exhaust or futuristic headlight on the Fat Bob? Put on an aftermarket pipe and take the mids off of the Street Bob and find a more classic light. Two Brothers had one mounted on Mark's bike a whole 24 hours after the unveil..

Don’t a huge portion of owners swap out their pipes and put on the Daymaker headlight before they even leave the showroom? Yes, there are some pieces that we wish were different but over the years we’ve accepted that customization is just part of H-D ownership. And the bikes of those complaining prove it.

If I hear one more person say “If I wanted performance, I’d buy a sport bike” I’m going to puke. You buy a Harley-Davidson because of the emotional response you get from the sound, feel, and vibe of the bike, but you also want something you can ride all day. The history of this American brand—and the fact that you’re supporting an American company—are huge factors, but when it comes to application, a stronger engine, better brakes and suspension will make for a safer and more enjoyable ride. H-D is the icon, and they’re moving forward with this change.

Brawny from The Speed Merchant said it best: “The fact that the designers at H-D have focused on making a better handling and lighter motorcycle is a step in the right direction. A couple of us were lucky enough to have ridden some of these new models a couple of months ago. And YES, they do handle better than previous models. This isn't the old Softail at all.”

Those who knew, knew, just like with the FXR and the Dyna when they were first released. Don’t let your shit talking keep you on the wrong side of motorcycle history. It’s all got a place in this two-wheeled world and I love my 70’s rigid as much as I love my raced-out Evo; I can’t wait to throw a leg over some of these new Softails.