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Laid-back looks with bucket loads of chrome are a thing of the past, says the 2018 Fat Bob as it flips the pages to a new, unique chapter in Harley-Davidson’s design story

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Change is a constant. Change is a good thing. But I’m not too convinced a lot of people understand why so exactly. Well, to me, that’s mostly because change has the potential to break the chain of monotony and in turn, disinterest. Change is, difference. But being different doesn’t always mean it’s for the better. Confused much? Let me simplify things, it’s kind of like the recent slew of Marvel and DC movies. Think of what would happen if the guys behind DC’s Justice League flicks asked their directors, scriptwriters, and cinematographers to replicate Marvel’s Avengers series of movies. It would just be a question of seeing the same plot and storylines where everything starts off being goofy-calm, followed by some explosion of evil, then the good guys figure out a solution, get a sound thrashing while watching their plan fall apart and finally figure some other way to overcome the evil before the movie ends. This would make superhero movies super boring, because the heroes would be robbed of their core character strengths. A change was necessary. While Marvel chose to make their movies more fun-oriented, DC flicks are seen in a more serious light. Change is the modern way.

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In the same light, Harley-Davidson felt that a change was long overdue. Its long-standing Dyna range has now merged with the Softails. Now, they’re just one joint family of four Softail model variations. And though this may appear to be a mere simplification of its product line-up, Harley has stirred in a bit more to the mix. As the pictures of the Fat Bob indicate, this motorcycle’s outright design won’t appeal to a significant number of Harley purists. Why? Because it isn’t exactly brimming with what has come to be expected from a large-capacity Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The new Fat Bob is slimmer than before, more aggressively styled, brandishes very-futuristic looking LED lamp units with barley any flashy chrome bits. To that particular bunch of individuals, this wouldn’t be the ideal motorcycle to attract ‘oohs and aahs’ as it rolls into some congested McDonalds outlet. But fact of the matter is, it still does – not for its heft and flashiness but for being stealthy and mean. Yeah, we didn’t think we’d use those terms in a sentence with Harley-Davidson any time either. But it’s true. This new design is what the US company sees as a step in the right direction – forward if you will. It’s a motorcycle not meant to appeal to the Atari generation. It’s meant to attract those waiting to get their hands on the next-gen VR headset.

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Like the entire 2018 Softail range, the Fat Bob is the proud recipient of Harley’s third new, large-capacity V-twin motor in the last 80 years – the Milwaukee Eight. While the dual counter-balancer motor is available in two capacities – 114 (1868cc) and 107 (1745cc), here in India, we only get the latter. Usually one would assume the new engine to be the main talking point of the model change, but in the Fat Bob’s case, there’s more to it than just that. With 145Nm of twist at 3250rpm, the new engine does more than just offer added tractable power over the older V-twin. You get the soul-satisfying rumble of the motor minus the vibrations and violent engine knocks at low rpms. The new Fat Bob is meant to be the sportiest of the new joint family and this is all there to be felt and experienced from the moment you get to grips with the flat handlebar, thumb the starter and hear the sweet low-pitched idle thumping resonate from the stubby 2-1-2 exhaust. A 43mm cartridge fork up front and double discs on the front wheel strengthen the sporty intentions of the new bike.

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The bar, the 28-degree rake angle and forward-set pegs keep you in a stretched yet neutral riding position that complements the bike’s new lease on life. The new bike has also lost 15kg over the older model which is very much there to be felt not only as soon as you wring the throttle, but also when you show the bike some tight bends. You won’t feel like you’re creating cosmic ripples in the space-time continuum astride the Fat Bob, but whether you’re making your way through traffic or letting it rip down some mountain roads, this 2018 model feels a whole lot livelier than ever before. It’s like the older bike was a hefty Chris Pratt in Jurassic World, while this new 2018 model is the toned version of the actor playing the lively Star-Lord in the Guardians of the Galaxy. Overall, a huge leap forward compared to the older Fat Bob.

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Another point worth a mention is that it’s not just in the acceleration and braking (ABS standard) aspects where this motorcycle will surprisingly exceed expectations. The level of comfort this bike offers is really good too. The sculpted seat offers comfortable accommodation and even a bit of lumbar support which is always a welcome feature on long rides. There’s some heavy roadwork going on in and around Mumbai at this time, and I anticipated things to get rather uncomfortable over a short ride. But thankfully, the new Fat Bob made nothing of it. It isn’t overly plush but the suspension will absorb sharp bumps without much ado. What also comes as a big surprise is having the preload adjuster for the hidden monoshock at the rear.

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Now, I’ve been behind the bars of the previous Fat Bob, and I can vouch for that bike’s handling on some twisties to be the equivalent of trying to coax somebody like Aquaman to sprout wings and take to the sky. But there’s much improvement to be seen with regard to this new 2018 model. No, Aquaman still can’t fly, just that this new bike’s more comfortable being leaned over. The front tends to dive a little too easily on braking and there’s a bit of countersteer through corners, but that’s a given taking into account that huge 150-section tyre up front with a chunkier 180 following up the rear. Sure, the chunky tyres feel like they limit the motorcycle’s potential, but that doesn’t mean that this motorcycle is short of being fun to ride. A little more physically demanding than the average roadster, but fun nonetheless. Once you get into the mood, it won’t be long before you hear the footpegs grind around long, sweeping bends. One of the bike’s shortcomings is that it always managed to scrape its belly over a breaker when I had a pillion on board. Always. Another, is that Harley has shrunk the old tank down to a 14.1-litre reservoir on the new bike so as to allow the V-twin more room to shine. We just about managed a range of 200km on a full tank of fuel.

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To sum it up, the 2018 Harley-Davidson Fat Bob is just like the first Justice league film – even if you’re not a fan, you’ll find much to appreciate. Harley-Davidsons always lacked any form of aggression. This motorcycle breaks the mould in that sense. But at the end of the day, we all know that the Justice League isn’t expected to steal the super team crown from the Avengers any time soon. What I’m getting at is, the Fat Bob is not the best option you could have parked in your garage that boasts a price tag of Rs 13.99 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). But if anything, this bike certainly is a bold statement.

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