40 YEARS OF HARLEY-DAVIDSON SOFTAIL AND EVOLUTION
40 YEARS OF HARLEY-DAVIDSON SOFTAIL AND EVOLUTION
Harley-Davidson Aachen Biker Ranch

THE SOFTAIL AND ITS CUSTOM STYLING CELEBRATE ANNIVERSARY

40 years ago the first Harley-Davidson Softail and the HD Evolution V2 debuted

FRANKFURT (May 23, 2024) - It was apparently the ideal combination of form and function when Harley-Davidson introduced the new Softail in 1984. Hidden shock absorbers and a clever swingarm design gave the frame of the FXST Softail the clear silhouette of a classic bike without rear suspension, a so-called hardtail. The Softail chassis proved extremely successful and formed the basis for an entire family of Harley-Davidson factory custom bikes.

In 2024, the Motor Company the anniversary of the original FXST Softail . The Softail design, which has evolved over the course of 40 years, still follows the same classic hardtail lines that once contributed to the success of the FXST.

a motorcycle parked in the clouds - Harley-Davidson FXST Softail 1984
Harley-Davidson FXST Softail 1984

A cruiser family

The nine models in the 2024 Harley-Davidson Cruiser series are based on the current Softail platform introduced in 2018. Their frame is stiff and light, making the bikes as agile as they are powerful.

The heart of the current Softail chassis is a monoshock under the seat, which ensures remarkable comfort and first-class handling. Thanks to the cleverly designed triangular swingarm, the characteristic hardtail silhouette of the Softail chassis is of course still retained. All current cruisers are powered by the Milwaukee-Eight V-Twin , which features two balancer shafts that increase comfort for the driver and passenger and allow rigid engine mounting in the frame. This additionally stiffens the chassis and connects the driver even more directly to the drive train.

a man riding a motorcycle on a road - 2024 HD models Street Bob (l) and Low Rider S (r)
2024 HD models Street Bob (l) and Low Rider S (r)

In the 2024 model year, Harley-Davidson offers a wide portfolio of cruisers - from sleek chopper style to stylish touring design.

Jekill & Hyde Harley Davidson

The current model family includes the following types:

  • Softail Standard: a machine reduced to the essentials that still has everything you need to enjoy your ride. In addition, the bike forms the ideal basis for customizing.
  • Street Bob 114: from the mini ape handlebars to the trimmed rear fender, a classic chopper for riders who value style, power and easy handling. Harley-Davidson combines this style with modern technology such as the digital display instrument and the characteristic LED headlight.
  • Low Rider S: Right from the factory, this motorcycle is a successful synthesis of West Coast style and amazing power. It has numerous features that were previously only available with significant investments in appropriate accessories.
  • Low Rider ST: Removable hard-shell cases and a streamlined fairing make this powerful machine in West Coast style the ideal vehicle for small and large escapes.
  • Breakout: With its long and slim chopper styling and the particularly powerful Milwaukee-Eight 117, the Breakout is an extremely casual motorcycle. And its sweeping bobtail fender reveals the 240 tire at the rear.
  • Heritage Classic 114: the epitome of the American cruiser in pure rock 'n' roll style and with eye-catching vintage features. Their nostalgic aura is inspired by Harley-Davidson models of the 1950s.
  • Fat Boy 114: With its massive appearance and features such as the Lakester cast light alloy wheels and the striking headlight fairing, the Fat Boy lives up to its name.
  • Fat Bob 114: She scores with strength and agility. The harmonious features include the two brake discs at the front, the upside-down fork reminiscent of racing, and the 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust in custom style.
  • Sport Glide: an extremely versatile bike: Removable cases and a removable fairing turn the travel-ready Sport Glide into a stylish cruiser in no time.
a man standing in front of several machines - Willie G. Davidson 1984 with Shovelhead and Evolution engines
Willie G. Davidson in 1984 with Shovelhead and Evolution engines

The history of the Softail

In the early 1980s, Harley-Davidson acquired a concept bike from customizer Bill Davis , who had devised hidden rear suspension for Big Twins. Motor Company engineers perfected the technical design and used the idea for the FXST Softail, introduced in 1984. Its frame offered the clean styling and classic hardtail silhouette so popular with custom bike fans - a straight line from the steering head to the rear wheel axle - without sacrificing the comfort of a suspended rear. The placement of the spring struts, which were hidden horizontally under the gearbox, also allowed for a very low seating position.

The 1984 FXST Softail also introduced the then new Evolution V-Twin , which replaced the Shovelhead engine and over time was used in all Big Twins. The Evolution and the Softail helped Harley-Davidson return to its former glory in a financially challenging situation.

“When I think back to the introduction of the FXST Softail and Evo and the impact on the market - we had just come out of the buyout - I realize how important this new engine and frame were to our survival.” wrote former Chief Styling Officer Willie G. Davidson in his book 100 Years of Harley-Davidson . “The Softails became bestsellers and are loved by fans.”

Numerous other new models were created based on the Softail platform, covering a wide range of styles. Historical highlights include:

  • 1986 - Heritage Softail: The FL fork, wide front fender, wire wheels and distinctive headlight reflect styling cues from the 1949 FL Hydra-Glide. This classic look is a symbol of Harley-Davidson even among non-bikers.
  • 1988 - Springer Softail: The visual rebirth of the Springer fork, the production of which Harley-Davidson stopped in the 1950s in favor of telescopic forks, was a bold step in terms of styling.
  • 1990 - Fat Boy: Undoubtedly one of Harley-Davidson's style icons, its massive presence is emphasized by solid disc wheels. Even today, the Fat Boy – always modernized and adapted to the requirements of the time – enriches the cruiser portfolio.
  • 2000 – Softail Deuce: The Deuce is perhaps the most radical of the Softail Factory custom bikes. It featured a new stretch tank, slim chrome fork fairing, new rear fender and the then new Twin Cam 88B.
  • 2008 - Cross Bones: pure vintage bobber styling with a springer fork carrying a wide tire, spoked wheels with black rims, a suspended solo seat and stylish half-moon running boards. The Cross Bones also introduced the flat denim finish.

Text & image credit: Harley-Davidson


Harley Factory Group 2022

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