Motorcycle: Overhead Valve Twins - Softails-FXST Softail, 1984
Date: Sunday, October 31 @ 15:04:11 UTC
Topic: Motorcycle, Motorcycles, Motor Cycle
FXST Softail, 1984
Certain motorcycles have stood out as memorably special over the years, mobbed for days on end at motorcycle shows. Honda's original CB750F was one, as was Ducati's sensuous 916. In recent years, the Milwaukee equivalent has surely been the first Softail, from 1984. True, all Harley-Davidsons are someone's idea of beauty but the FXST had a quality all its own.
Based on the existing FXWG Wide-Glide - somewhat loosely, to judge by appearances - the Softail had bikers not knowing quite where to look. Did they focus on the all-new Evolution V2 engine or eyeball that strangely elegant rear end? Most probably they did both and Softails are still being eyed covetously to this day.
The Softail's rear suspension was a clever piece of lateral thinking based on an old theme, created for Harley by consulting engineer Bill Davis. The inspiration almost certainly came from custom craftsmen such as Arlen Ness — and even carries a distant echo of the Goudier-Genoud endurance racing Kawasakis. Essentially, it's an inverted cantilever rear end (as per Vincent and Yamaha) in which a triangulated assembly pivots at the top, near the seat, rather than at the usual place. Paired, gas-charged Showa shock absorbers he unobtrusively under the engine. The layout has little to do with function but a lot to do with style, something it demonstrated superbly. Despite the space constraints inherent in the twin-damper system, Softails in fact boasted more rear suspension travel — 4in
(103mm) — than any other models in the
Maybe the Softail look wasn't keenly anticipated, since most people didn't know it was coming, but the engine certainly was. Although a few very early
1984 Softails may have been built with Ishovelhead engines, every one since has had belt-driven Evo power. With its all-new light alloy top end, the new big twin produced around 70bhp at 5,000 rpm and a withering 84 lb/ft (114Nm) of torque at just 3,600rpm. Indeed, the spread of power was so immense that almost no-one complained that 1984 examples had to make do with four-speed gearboxes. A five-speed cluster was installed for 1985, by which time a lighter diaphragm spring clutch had also appeared.
The chassis is characterized by an immense 66.Sin (1,685mm) wheelbase and a seat height of lin (25mm) lower than even a Low Rider's seat. Fuel is carried in the familiar, bulbous, two-piece Fat Bob tank, split across the mid-line, with a speedometer set in the centre. Wheels are wire-spoked, 21in (533mm) front and 16in (406mm) rear, carrying a single hydraulic disc apiece. Unlike contemporary Glides, the 80-inch engine is solidly mounted, although rubber-insulated handlebars and footrests compensate to some extent. Softails may be stylish, but smooth they are not.
The low saddle and forward-mounted "highway" pegs impose an appropriately laid-back riding position. As for handling: well, the Softail doesn't — it just sort of rumbles from A to B and all the better if that doesn't include too many fast corners. The suspension at both ends is woefully under-damped, the front forks are characteristically soft and woolly, and the rear is, frankly, harsh. Nonetheless, the expansive wheelbase and conservative steering geometry keep things more or less in line. Besides, this is a bike for cruising.
It's a measure of the overall rightness of the concept that, superficially at least, Softails appear little changed to this day. This disguises the vast improvements Harley-Davidson has made in build quality and detailing since the time of the FXST's launch.
Above all, there's the inescapable fact that this inspired piece of post-modern design was a huge and instant success.
Although not the most practical model that Harley-Davidson has ever built, it certainly can be said that Softails are the most eye-catching and, above all, the most prized.
Engine: air-cooled ohv V-twin
Capacity: 81.6cu in (l,338cc)
Transmission: 4- (later 5-) speed
Weight: 6041bs (274kg)
Wheelbase: 66.3in (1,685mm)
Top speed: 106 mph (170kph)
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