Harley-Davidson have uprated their engines and gearboxes for 2007 on all their bigger sized bikes, with a new 1584cc engine powering the Softail, Touring and Dyna models.
The big V-twins still have plenty of old fashioned motorbike feel, but now have a sixth gear overdrive, a smoother throttle response and an improved transmission.
Alastair Walker spent a week getting into full retro cruiser mode aboard the 2007 Heritage Softail Classic.
Harley have really gone to town lately, releasing the beautiful XR1200 flat tracker prototype, the new Night Rod performance cruiser and updating the bulk of its range with a new 1584cc motor, plus new fuel injection, improved clutch and a six speed gearbox.
Yet the Softail still looks pleasantly old fashioned, in a kind of 50s Happy Days kinda way, with its low slung chassis, vintage footboards and fat, teardrop shaped gas tank. There appear to be two fuel caps, but the left side one is the fuel gauge, and in a truly old school way, the real gas cap doesn’t even lock – so don’t park the bike where fuel-siphoning chavs are likely to strike.
That kind of detail sums up the bike really. It looks like a 50s jukebox on wheels, but underneath Harley-Davidson have pulled off a neat trick by updating it to make it a safe 21st century touring bike.
For example, I had to slam on the brakes when a gaggle of traffic suddenly stopped behind some berk who thinks indicators are optional, and can report that the single front disc brake actually works well. The massive 326 kilo machine came to a halt before I made a big dent in the hatchback in front of me. Handy.
What’s more, the rear brake is worth stamping on as well, offering a little bit more feel than the front lever. A few years ago, you could say that Harley-Davidsons had poor brakes for riding in the maelstrom of hatred and idiocy that is modern traffic, but things have definitely improved.
But some things remain true to form. The gear lever still requires a rugby player’s lunge to clonk its way from 1st to 2nd gear. There’s a distinct graunching noise when you select 1st in the morning when the engine oil is cold. But you do feel that the bike is built to last, well mostly.
One or two details don’t look like they belong on a fourteen grand (yes, £14,000) motorcycle.
For example, the rear footpegs are cheap and nasty, the toggle switch for the extra front lights looked straight off my Hillman Minx circa 1968 and the handlebar switchgear isn’t anything special. It should be. This should feel like a Pullman train carriage, a Bentley from the 60s, or a bespoke Savile Row suit, a truly custom built piece of engineering.
The chromework looks durable, the paint is nice and thick and the bike rides comfortably, but the details are at odds with the overall classiness of the motorcycle. It costs almost 50% more than a Honda VTX1800, but it doesn’t look like it’s worth that price in the engineering quality of individual components, and I think it should.
RIDE TO THE NEXT HORIZON
But how does the Heritage Softail ride? In a word, it’s `easy.’ Everything feels relaxed, slightly vibey, but the suspension offers a plush ride overall, the bike steers with minimal body-shifting at low speeds and the engine is a peach. I was so impressed with the way the bike simply thrums along at 80mph all day long.
The gearbox seemed to loosen up over the week long test and the 450-odd miles I clocked up. Apart from clunking into first, it does the other changes without too much drama, at least compared to Harleys of recent history. The clutch was very easy to use in traffic too and showed none of the `snatchiness’ that I remember from years ago.
Harley have definitely gained more torque from having a 1584cc engine, rather than the old 1450cc unit I rode a few years back. The Softail pulls really well, even in top gear, which is now 6th of course.
They claim the new 1584cc makes 86 ft/lbs at 3200rpm, up 19% on the old Twin Cam 88 motor. There’s also an improved fuel injection, which Harley claim boosts low rpm throttle response, I tend to agree, the response is immediate even from tickover and the bike runs very smoothly in stop-start traffic.
Another clever clogs bit of technology is the power valve Harley have built into the air intake and exhaust system. Basically, it seems to be a bit like an EXUP valve, making the power pulses more even, as well as making the engine run smoother and quieter at low revs.
The big V-twin runs very hot however and although it was autumn when I tested the bike so waves of heat were actually welcome, I wouldn’t like to ride a bike suffering this level of hot flush in summer. I guess if you want a big V-twin, especially an air cooled one, you’ll have to accept the immense heat that the friction of the moving parts is bound to generate.
The bike handles nicely, especially for something so weighty, but there’s barely any ground clearance to be had, and the scrape of the footboards tends to alarm other traffic on roundabouts. It’s fun, but the Heritage Softail runs so low, you just know that after the boards touch down something more solid on the chassis will and then you might have an expensive problem if the thing slides away from you.
You might argue that the typical Softail rider won’t be grounding the bike down, but believe me, it’s incredibly easy to do on a bumpy corner.
The Heritage Softail Classic comes with screen and panniers as standard, plus a handy backrest. The panniers however are leather, so not waterproof and very narrow – it was difficult to squeeze a rucksack with camera gear in there in fact. There’s no `give’ in the panniers, so the neck of them doesn’t stretch to accommodate bulky stuff, like say a waterproof jacket, too easily. Obviously they don’t lock either.
The screen was very good however and kept off the worst of the rain from your upper body, although it does direct extra water at your knees above 40mph.
The bike does have some security. There’s a new for 2007 security system in fact which sense the presence of the ignition key card, so you don’t have to simply flick the central switch on the gas tank to fire up the ignition system.
Otherwise, the bike remains all too nickable, and again, for fourteen grand, I don’t see why it doesn’t come with a tracker fitted as standard, even if you have to pay an optional extra subscription cost for real time vehicle tracking in the event of it being stolen.
If I was touring on this bike, I think I would constantly be nervous about the petrol being stolen, the panniers ransacked, or the bike being wheeled away into a large van by two burly men. The Heritage is a bike that demands attention, crowds tend to gather, and not everyone is there to simply gawp at the bike.
Kids these days have no fear of messing about with other people’s stuff as there are no real penalties adults can use against them anymore. I know you can buy extra security for the Softail, but surely a locking fuel cap and data chipped component parts should be standard these days on any ten grand plus motorbike?
If all this sounds like nitpicking, I guess you’re right, because overall the Heritage Softail Classic is a big fun, old time cruiser, which looks and sounds fabulous. It’s a proper Harley, not a girl’s bike like a Sportster and the resale values are strong enough to persuade you that you could own this machine for five years and still not lose more than three grand on it – no Japanese cruiser can offer the same promise in terms of long term value.
More than that, you’ve bought the Real Thing; Pepsi cola, not Rola Cola. When you ride the Softail, you’re Elvis, not Shakin Stevens and the world smiles as you rumble down the road. Things are different on a Harley and that undeniable charisma is the secret of the brand’s ongoing success, in some ways more important than the bigger motor, extra 6th gear, or any fancy-pants power valve in the exhaust.
It’s a Hawg boy. Everything else is just sincere imitation.
Get Harley Davidson motorbike insurance for the harley davidson heritage softail classic 2007.
|Engine||Air cooled, V-twin, 1584cc, DOHC|
|Bore and stroke||95.3 X 111.1|
|Claimed torque||86 ft/lbs @ 3200rpm|
|Chassis||Steel tubular cradle frame|
|Front suspension||41mm Telescopic forks, non adjustable|
|Rear suspension||V-Twin rear shocks, non adjustable|
|Brakes||twin 11.5 inch discs, 4 piston callipers|
|Wheels/tyres||16 inch 90/90 front, 16 inch 150/80 rear|
|Dry weight||326 kgs|
|Fuel capacity||18.9 litres|
|Estimated top speed||110mph|
|Price||£14,000 November 2006|