2013 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic Test
With Harley-Davidson proudly commemorating its 110th anniversary this year, it is only fitting to revisit one of The Motor Company’s most enduring models, a bike that is quietly celebrating its 25th year of production. One of the first of the FLs in the Softail family, the Heritage Softail Classic connects the dots between the 1940s, the 1980s, and the 2010s.
Outfitted with a mid-height windshield, floorboards, and leather bags festooned with conchos, it is easy to peg the Heritage Softail Classic as strictly a touring mount. However, the bike lives outside of Harley’s Touring classification, as it utilizes a Softail chassis and a Twin Cam 103B motor; Harley’s Touring motorcycles have their own chassis and a rubber-mounted Twin Cam 103 motor, sans counterbalancing.
Although the bags are permanently mounted to the Softail chassis, the windshield is a quick-release design. This allows the rider to convert the tourer to a stylishly practical urban gunship with the convenience of bags and the aggressive profile provided by mini-ape bars.
Undeniably, the Heritage Softail Classic works well in town. The constantly pulsating not-quite-balanced Twin Cam 103B motor will massage your hands, feet, and posterior as you work your way through traffic. Depending on the height of the four-wheeled obstacles in your vicinity, the tall bars are either a help or a hindrance, though the small-but-effective mirrors aid in maneuvering through tight quarters.
As a touring motorcycle, the Heritage Softail Classic is an interesting proposition. Harley uses rubber mounting on its Touring line for a reason – it makes the bikes butter-smooth out on the open road, even if the engines do the Watusi at stoplights.
The balancing of the Twin Cam 103B is a relative term. This is nothing like a Japanese cruiser, where all the harsh vibes are completely eliminated, leaving you with a well-damped purr. The Heritage vibrates for real. You feel it whenever you’re on the bike, even cruising at a leisurely rate on the highway with the six-speed tranny in overdrive (a green “6” appears on the speedo).
For many, this will be a desirable attribute rather than something to shy away from. Harley-Davidson positions the Classic as a 1940s-style tourer, true to its FL roots, and that means few creature comforts.
Yes, it has fuel injection and Harley’s traditionally clumsy ABS (optional on the non-Anniversary edition), but it’s bare bones from there. No stereo. No GPS. No electronic gimmickry. This is a motorcycle for those who want as little as possible between the rider and the road.
That is not to say the suspension on the Heritage Classic isn’t modern. While there are no adjustments, it works pretty well off the showroom floor. Tackling some uneven mountain backroads wasn’t a punishing experience, and the suspension travel – five-plus in the front, over four inches in the rear – is generous. Helping the ride out, certainly, are the high profile 16-inch Harley-Davidson-branded Dunlop tires on steel-laced rims.
Floorboards limit the cornering capability of the Classic to some extent, particularly on the dual-muffler side, though the clearance is better than you might think and touching the boards down isn’t a common occurrence. Within the range that they can work, the Dunlops are flawless. The fat front tire provides complete confidence when turning, and doesn’t hunt on rain-grooved roads.
With 31 degrees of rake, the Heritage is more relaxed than any of the Touring models, and the same as a Fat Boy. You might expect maneuverability on backroads to suffer, yet that is not the case. The tall wide bars have serious leverage, so that helps the rider muscle the Heritage around to some extent. Straight-line stability is respectable, though not up to Touring class standards.
While the tire grip provided during braking is quite good, the brakes themselves are less impressive. The single 11.5-inch rotor and four-piston caliper isn’t up to the mass of a bike with a 1160-pound gross vehicle rating intended for touring speeds. Most of the stopping power is in the same size rear disc, much of that thanks to the large brake pedal and 150mm rear tire, so you have to use both in concert if you are the least bit serious about scrubbing velocity.
We can’t say enough good things about the power of the latest Twin Cam motor. The bump from 96 to 103 makes a huge difference. Putting out 95.5 ft/lbs of torque at 3000 rpm, the motor is serious about grunt.
Overdrive is much more usable and downshifts to pass are optional. When two-up or in hilly terrain, the extra displacement is indispensable. Owners of 96s are warned – don’t ride a 103 until you are ready to trade up, because it will be tough to go back.
Despite being classified as a “custom-touring” bike by Harley, the ergonomics favor frequent stops. In addition to the constant vibration of the motor, the mid-size windshield is prone to buffeting the rider and shaking the bars, so the Heritage is not meant for draining the five-gallon tank without a break.
The seat, which sits a comfortable 27 inches above the pavement, is happy to sponsor an all-day ride. It’s a pleasurable perch for your rear, and the step-up separate passenger seat gives some fatigue-reducing lower-back support.
Unfortunately, the removable boxy passenger seat is not nearly as ergonomically friendly as the driver’s seat. Footpegs are employed rather than floorboards in the rear, but the full backrest is standard.
Testing the 110th Anniversary Edition, we were impressed with the rich appearance of this version of the Heritage Softail Classic. The Anniversary Vintage Bronze/Anniversary Vintage Black paint job is beautiful, though what really stands out are the solid bronze 110th Anniversary tank medallions.
These are works of art, and are nicely complemented by the rest of the bronze package, which includes the sissy bar medallion, air cleaner cover trim ring, derby cover ring, plus the seat and saddlebag conchos. Retro whitewall tires are also standard on the Anniversary Edition, as is a numbered badge on the handlebar clamp (our test bike was #0004 of 1900).
More classy than flashy, despite ever-present chrome, the 110th Anniversary Edition gains instant respect anywhere you take it. The bike received various compliments at parking lots and gas stations, and even sportbike riders gave thumbs up at a red light. In many ways, from the no-frills of the design to the attention to detail in appearance, the Heritage Softail Classic embodies everything great about Harley-Davidson.
This is not a touring bike for someone who wants to hop on the Interstate and grind out hundreds of miles without anything more than a pause for refueling. The Heritage Softail Classic insists that you ride at a sensible pace on roads that are about the view, not the speed. Frequent changes in throttle position are a relief to your extremities, extending the length of time you can ride between stops.
With a full range of Touring models in its line-up, the 2013 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic is a welcome alternative. This year, you can save a few thousand by sticking with the standard version, but we would resist that temptation.
The choice of bronze by the Harley paint design department was inspired, and it makes good sense to take advantage of the 110th Anniversary treatment – it is difficult to imagine ever regretting the decision. Ride in style.
Photography by Don Williams