Having never ridden a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, let alone anything in the cruiser class, I was invited by Ultimate MotorCycling to a test ride of the Harley-Davidson FXDF Fat Bob to get my fresh perspective on the genre.My own riding experience has been dirt bikes and my Kawasaki KLR650 dual-sport motorcycle.With the Harley-Davidson Fat Bob, I was expecting to ride a motorcycle that has good eye-appeal, handled heavy with poor-to-mediocre weight distribution, obnoxiously loud, and somewhat comfortable, but not as comfortable as touring bike such as the Honda Gold Wing.As a quick background, Harley-Davidson’s FXDF Fat Bob model is part of the Motor Company’s Dyna class—rides that are ready for more aggressive riding than the usual cruiser style calls for.Visually, the Fat Bob’s appeal is a well-refined low-rider that is sleek and projects a “don’t mess with me” attitude. From the bobbed fenders to the flat, drag-style handlebars, the Harley’s style exudes a casual coolness that belies serious street-riding capabilities.What surprised me the most is that the weight is well distributed even though the bike is listed at a claimed running weight of just over 700 pounds. The well thought-out weight distribution translates to a solid, balanced feel and surprising maneuverability through different riding conditions.I rode the bike through Manhattan Beach, sections of California’s famous Pacific Coast Highway (State Route 1), through the Baldwin Hills on La Cienega Boulevard-a quasi-freeway intended to be part of the never-built Laurel Canyon Freeway-and into urban South Los Angeles. In other words, I was living out many riders’ dreams of cruising along on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle through some of the most famous sections of the LA metropolitan area.The Fat Bob works well for fairly long, continuous rides with its 5-gallon tank, very comfortable saddle seat, and forward footpegs. The bike’s low-slung design, 130mm 16-inch front tire, and smooth acceleration positively impact corner handling. In turn, there is a solid, planted feel that lends confidence to go through turns like most bikes and get on the throttle at the turn’s midpoint.Twisting the throttle results in a response that is powerful and very controlled. Think of a Boeing 777 takeoff versus an F-18 launched from a carrier deck. The 777’s acceleration keeps you mildly pinned to your seat back, yet is incredibly forceful, whereas the F-18 launch snaps your head back.The Harley-Davidson rubber-mounted Twin Cam 103 has no powerband-there is simply plenty of torque available from idle to rev limiter. While the unbalanced motor shakes quite a bit at stops-make a habit of shifting into neutral and taking your hands off the vibrating grips-it smoothes out instantly once underway, especially at high speeds.The Harley-Davidson Fat Bob’s 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission requires deliberate shifting-I obliged and never hit a false neutral. Sixth gear is a true overdrive, reserved for freeways only. The clutch requires a decent pull, and the engagement is predictable and linear.Braking on the Fat Bob is one of its weaker points. The rear brake pedal is difficult to get your full foot on, due to the air filter pushing your right leg out. Also, the rear brake has no feel and not much power. In the front, there are twin 11.8-inch rotors with four-piston calipers. That’s where most of the braking power is, though it’s still mushy. Engine compression braking helps, of course. In an emergency, use both the front and rear brakes to slow things down as quickly as possible.Being used to dirt bikes, I wasn’t expecting much comfort from a bike with 2.13 inches of rear wheel travel and five inches in the forks. The high-profile Dunlop tires and the wide, well-padded seat help the Fat Bob’s suspension quite a bit, and only the nastiest of potholes really got through to me.I liked the Harley-Davidson Fat Bob’s elegant instrumentation, with the speedometer/odometer flush with the gas tank top. A nice feature is a fuel gauge on the gas tank’s left side, which looks like a fuel cap of its own. High-beam indicator and turn indicators are small lights located below the speedometer display.The Fat Bob’s flat drag-style handlebars are well placed on risers and all hand controls, such as the throttle and levers, are easy to reach. The turn indicator switches are separately located on each handlebar side. High-beam switch and horn button are distinctive and well placed to easily operate without having to actually see these switches. However, there is a tendency to twist the throttle when operating the right-turn indicator switch.Overall, the Fat Bob FXDF is a joy to ride for its comfort, smooth and plentiful power, and solid feel on straight roads or through turns. For a first ride on a cruiser, I came away impressed by how easy it was to make the transition from a grubby dirt guy to a stylish street cruiser.2012 Harley-Davidson FXDF Fat Bob Specs:Engine
Motor…Air-cooled, Twin Cam 103
Valves…Pushrod-operated, overhead valves with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters; two valves per cylinder
Bore x Stroke…3.875 in. x 4.38 in. (98.4 mm x 111.3 mm)
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.