Although the Harley-Davidson intra-family differences may sometimes seem insignificant from afar, once astride the bikes, the distinctions are enormous. Some H-Ds excite me, while others leave me ambivalent—even when they’re similar models. One that moves me is the FLSTN Softail Deluxe.
Now, that’s not to say the Deluxe moves me very quickly. To the contrary, what I like so much about the bike is the level of satisfaction it provides when I’m simply cruising along, enjoying the scenery, be it urban or rural.
If I ride a sport bike the length of Mulholland Highway—between Calabasas and Pacific Coast Highway—about the only thing I pay attention to is the center line. And, of course, there’s that nagging sensation of flashing red lights and a friendly officer asking for my autograph (for which I pay, rather than get paid). (Click image to enlarge)
Things are different on the Deluxe. On a fine spring morning, I took this epic 30-mile ride and discovered a few things. Most importantly, I had a fantastic, relaxing time. I wasn’t concerned with how long it was taking or how fast I was going. I didn’t worry about anyone else on the road (there’s not much traffic on weekdays). I noticed all sorts of details along the highway that had previously eluded my attention. And, every time I looked down at the speedometer, I was traveling at a velocity below the speed limit—try that on a Ducati 848!
Everything about the Deluxe is designed to transport the rider back to a simpler time, and I think that’s what I like most about Harleys. While it can be argued that all H-Ds have retro styling, the Deluxe is more nostalgic than most. That pays off in urban settings, where both motorcyclists and non-bikers feel compelled to send a nod, wave or thumbs up my way. Some people might get a Harley-Davidson for the “bad guy” appeal, but rather than being threatening, the Deluxe is inviting, right down to the fat white-walled tires.
Speaking of those wide tires, the handling on the Deluxe suits me fine. It’s steady in the turns, but don’t push it, of course. On the freeway, the front end doesn’t wander, even in rain grooves (though the rear suspension suffers from hydraulic lock on potholes). The seating position is both relaxing and effective, as the bars come back to you and the floorboards aren’t too distant. And, of course, you’ve got the wonderfully torquey 96 cu in pushrod motor and a 6-speed tranny to ensure that you’re traveling in exactly the right rev range. Acceleration is good, up to about 80 mph; if you want to go faster than that, consider a different motorcycle. The Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe isn’t about how soon you arrive; it’s about not wanting the ride to end. (Click image to enlarge)
2nd OPINION: The Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe is one of the better-built stock Harleys that Milwaukee has put out. This bike had the best clutch and braking on a stock H-D I have ever ridden, and the bike practically drives itself.
The fuel injection is a great addition and, although it does add a bit of racket to the front of the bike, it is an added improvement worth the noise. With the stock pipes, it still feels that the overall performance of the bike is throttled back, just like every stock bike H-D makes, and the pipes would be the first thing to go if the bike were to be added to my collection. The 6-speed transmission is an absolute necessity on this bike, but due to the aforementioned pipes, it just didn’t have the power you would expect to pull from a bike this size.
This bike is a great choice if your riding consists of daily commutes, long distance runs, and canyon carving at 35 mph or slower. If your passenger would rather be at the controls, and is looking for an alternative to a Sportster, this is a good choice. For a more laid back ride, the bars and seat will have to go to the same stockpile as the pipes. The Deluxe is an excellent entry level or commuter bike, though definitely not worth adding as a collector piece for the more advanced two-wheeled enthusiast. By Mickey Bale