I GOT out of bed early to walk the dog. Dawn had not even begun to creep into the sky; the air was sharp and fresh; most of Sydney was still asleep. Walking through the city before dawn feels like you have the whole world to yourself. A new day. A fresh start. Today was going to be a good day because I was going to spend it riding someone else’s motorcycle. Not one of those rides when I have to go somewhere for some reason, but a ride just for the sake of a ride. A ride for no reason. I suppose, if you want to be pedantic, there was a reason. I was reviewing Harley-Davidson’s new Fat Bob 114 for Ozbike magazine.
The big roller door creaked and grumbled as it slowly opened. I flicked on the harsh fluorescent lights and was confronted by a big red monster. The new Harley-Davidson motorcycle sat there all brooding menace and purposeful lines. Harley-Davidson has done a cracking job with the styling of its Fat Bob 114. I know looks are a subjective thing but you cannot deny it has some serious presence. It has a reassuring solid look and feel probably helped by the amount of metal used to make it. By Harley-Davidson standards, it is not really that heavy — 306 kg fueled up and ready to roll.
The demo bike Harley-Davidson leant me came in ‘Redline Red’ which adds $365 to the ride-away price of $32,995. The Fat Bob’s standard colour is black; grey and red are the only two factory options.
One of the motorcycle’s most controversial parts seems to be the rectangular headlight. Let us just say it has a few haters. I am not one of them; I like the way it balances out the spartan front-end, nestling between the upper and lower triple clamps. Whether you like the look of the headlight or not, you are going to love the way it works when you are trying to get home on a dark night.
Harley-Davidson has seen fit to give the Fat Bob a 13.2 litre fuel tank which may seem a little mean on a 1868 cc motorcycle. It does look good though and balances the upswept seat and tail. I could go on and on but I am sure you get the picture. I really do like the look of the new Fat Bob 114.
I had already spent a week riding the Fat Bob around Sydney and I guess no-one is going to be surprised by the fact that it is not the best commuter motorcycle on the planet. Also a top box is really going to spoil the look. Its weight, turning circle and very wide bars at perfect car-mirror height all go against it as a city commuter. All that being said, it is hilarious fun to commute on. Harley-Davidson has been perfecting building large v-twin engines for a very long time now. The Milwaukee-Eight in the Fat Bob is testament to that. It’s smooth, powerful and packed with personality — 155 Nm at 3500 rpm. How could you not have fun? Lashings of low down shove combined with a wheelbase of 615 mm. Good feel at the clutch lever and no traction control are a recipe for seriously silly behaviour. On a more sensible note, the seat height of 710 mm pretty much allows everyone to reverse park the Fat Bob (or paddle back as you fluff up a u-turn — it does not have the tightest of turning circles).
The Fat Bob has a rear mono shock with 56 mm of stroke and a handy hydraulic preload adjuster. This can be adjusted on the move as it sits within easy reach between the seat and the exhaust. The suspension does a great job of isolating the rider from the worst of Sydney’s crappy road surfaces and keeping those fat tyres in contact with the road. Those fat tyres are a 150/80 on the front and a 180/70 on the rear. The tyres do take a little getting used to particularly the initial turn in, but once you trust them, it is surprising how agile a 300 kg bike can be.
It was a beautiful crisp morning as I headed south out of Sydney. The sun came up as I skirted around the broad expanse of Botany Bay. I took the Pacific Highway and thought about riding through the Royal National Park but it was the Sunday of a long weekend complete with double demerits. Even though it was still early, I decided to give the Royal National Park a miss and to stay on the highway till Helensburgh. I cut down to the coast at Stanwell Park. Coming down off the escarpment on Lawrence Hargrave Drive was a delight on the Fat Bob. The dual front discs have four piston callipers, the rear a two piston floating calliper. Using all of them together scrubs off speed very quickly. Despite being equipped with ABS both front and rear brakes have a great feel at the lever.
Through the burbs and towns the placement of the speedo was starting to annoy me — Harley-Davidson has mounted the speedo on the tank. I assume it keeps the bars clear which does look great. They have also internally routed the electrical cables through the handlebars. All of which adds to the Fat Bob’s minimalist look. However, it means you have to look down to see the speedo. Taking your eyes off the road — annoying and probably a little bit dangerous. This is where the electronic cruise control comes in really handy. It is very easy to set and makes highway riding a little bit more bearable.
While we are on the highway, I should mention that at 100 kph the Fat Bob is sitting on 2000 rpm right in the chunky part of its torque curve. I should also mention that despite having a wide handlebar, forward controls and a reasonably upright riding position, the Fat Bob is a surprisingly comfortable place to be as the highway kilometres slip by. Oh, and that wondrous engine makes overtaking other road users very easy indeed. No need to use the gearbox.
Even though the Fat Bob performed so well on the highway I stayed off it as much as possible. I left it for good just south of Nowra taking the aptly named Albatross Road to HMAS Albatross airfield which houses the Fleet Air Arm Museum. At the airbase I took the Braidwood road, which strangely becomes the Nerriga Road at Wiluna, and then if you stay on it, you eventually end up in Braidwood. However, while it is still the Braidwood road, it passes through the charmingly named Hell Hole and then winds its way through the Jerrawangala National Park. After Sassafras, the road runs over the Budawangs before you reach Nerriga. This is a very quiet road through some beautiful open country. Like a lot of our sealed back roads, the surface is pretty bad in places and downright shocking in others. It is a road the Fat Bob was made for. Despite the at-times-horrendous surface and the brisk pace, the Fat Bob tracked straight and true. Maybe it was the 43 mm inverted cartridge forks. Maybe it was the rear mono shocks 56 mm of travel. Maybe it was the 28 degrees of rake. Maybe the 132 mm of trail. Maybe Harley-Davidson just knows how to make a bike that handles real roads…
At Corang, I took the Oallen Road; then west to Tarago and Lake Bathurst which, incidentally, is nowhere near Bathurst; north through Inveralochy and up to Goulburn where I stopped for a feed at the Southern Railway Hotel.
After a very tasty pie and a refreshing ale, I took the Hume back to Sydney. I set the cruise control and just enjoyed watching the world slip by. I am not a big fan of highway riding but, yet again, the Fat Bob made even that interesting. It is not that often that a motorcycle can be such silly fun in town, brilliant and engaging on back roads, and just a relaxing joy on the highway. To me that is the Fat Bob, a fantastic all-round bike. It is such a versatile motorcycle despite its bad boy looks. The standout feature for me is that lovely smooth torque laden motor. I reckon it also looks seriously cool, and judging by all the feedback, so do a lot of other people.
If you think you might like to take one for a test ride, you will not be disappointed — Paul Angus.