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Harley Davidson FLSTC 1340 Heritage Softail Classic
Only Harley-Davidson could get away with this. The Heritage Classic says that nothing's really ever new, a concept of particular appeal to those companies counting their days since the dawn of motorcycling. According to Milwaukee, we are in Harley-Davidson's 82nd year, the year of our Lord 1986, about 35 years from the first hardtail Hydra-Glide, the bike which introduced Harley riders to the telescopic hydraulic front fork.
Ah, the Hydra-Glide. A chrome headlamp sat like a shining crown atop a polished alloy altar, the chrome pillars of which covered the telescopic legs. In the days of springer forks with friction dampers, headlamps sat high and awkWardly above the exposed springs. The front-end assembly had the exposed mechanical busyness of a coal-burning locomotive. The Hydra-Glide was ultracontemporary by comparison, as sleek and curvaceous as the seamless shell of a diesel-electric streamliner.
Any resemblance to Santa Fe's finest came to an abrupt end right behind the Hydra-Glide's steering neck, where the bike showed the orchestration of an oil refinery—brutal, direct, industrial, and intricate in a way that mechanical contrivances become when much of their insides are on the outside.
Time across 35 years has pulled out of a linear plane, bending toward full circle. The Heritage Softail echoes the first Hydra-Glide, but in this case the echo is vastly superior to the original voice. First, the look: the Softail, with its hidden rear suspension, was the natural base the Hydra-Glide was a hardtail (no rear suspension whatsoever). For a long time the increasing complexity (some would argue clutter) of the FL Big Twin series has obscured the powerfully simple forms of the motorcycles, a full chord of shapes played by the tank, wheels, fenders, nacelles and silhouettes. Fairings and bags and travel trunks, and all the accessories and gadgets that buyers bought buried the basic bike. By taking the base FL forms off the "Rubber Glides," and adding a Hydra-Glide-style front end, Milwaukee re-created on the Softail platform a machine of arresting simplicity. The FLST is the most elegant Harley-Davidson of its generation.
You might figure Harley designers rushed out to the warehouse, tossed bins of Softail and FL parts into the air, and assembled a bike from the fallout. Not quite. While the basic Softail frame remains unchanged, the FL-style front end, with its 16-inch wheel, required altering the triple-clamps, essentially pulling in the fork. In length, the fork falls halfway between those of the standard Softail and the basic FL, about an inch and a half longer than the FL and about that much shorter than the Softail Custom. Were some inventive fellow to graft the standard 16-inch FL rolling-stock to the basic Softail with its clamps and fork, he might later scab himself for his trouble. His project bike would likely have an unacceptable level of weave decay; translated from engineer speak, that means his backyard parts-bin special might be a real wobbler.
Maybe the tank and fenders and the hardtail look will fool you into thinking this is 1949, but the split-level saddle has 1980s written all over it. Indeed, it shares the same seat pan as the regular Softail, but the seat's architecture is special to the Heritage, placing the rider back farther away from the handlebar than on the FL-series bikes. The bar is a 40s/80s blend: it looks like a postwar tiller, but the '86 seat makes for a long reach, and the generous pullback in the bar gets the grips in the right place.
A '49 Hydra didn't have footpegs either—at least not for the rider. Neither does the FLST: its boards allow the pilot to shuffle his feet around, and this, together with the bar/seat/floorboard relationships, makes the Heritage a more ergonomically sound machine than the standard FXST and FXSTC.
Milwaukee's current 80-cubic-inch engine is the centerpiece of the Heritage Softail. While this engine has what designers call a lot of surface development, the new-80 avoids the oil-refinery look of the 1949 74 V-twin. The Heritage is clean enough for the eye to read in a single sweep, but retains enough surface development to remain interesting and mechanical.
In a fundamental way, Cycle editors can't test the machine's appearance; it's not quantifiable like performance data. We can tell you about three things that make the Heritage remarkable. First, the basic Harley mechanicals are familiar; the interesting story lies in the bike's appearance. Second, the Heritage is an adaptation and amplification of a Fifties streamlined theme on the original V-twin pattern by the original V-twin patternmaker. Third, the Heritage represents an extraordinary metamorphosis: here's a motorcycle rooted mechanically in the way-far-out, custom-end of the Harley spectrum—yet this adaptation of parts and themes has created a wonderfully clean, pure standard Big Twin. Think about it—from "Custom" back to "Standard." It's as if Honda Magnas, in an effort to be at the cutting edge of style, turned back into Sabres.
Don't forget, though, where the 1980s have led us—the Heritage frame and suspension are miles away from the cutting edge. The FLST is a serious, straight-up motorcycle limited by its floorboards. They scrape alarmingly when the motorcycle banks at what seems like two degrees from vertical. The rear suspension works acceptably on the freeway, but severe bumps on secondary roads can jolt the rider out of the saddle. Likewise, the front end can top and bottom on bumpy roads at elevated speeds.
The curb-feeler floorboards and limited suspension tie logically to the Softail frame and its solid engine mounts. How so? At elevated power-plant speeds, the engine shakes the motorcycle sternly enough to discourage any high-speed prancing, the likes of which would underline the Softail's suspension shortcomings and reduce the floorboards to jagged metal and smoking rubber. In fact, the engine vibration, isolated in Harley-Davidson's Rubber-Glide series, makes the full range of the 80-cubic-inch engine far less usable in the Softail than it is in the FXR. Isolated, the big V-twin feels eager and willing; mounted solid, the same unit feels eager only to its vibrating point.
Tales of someone's old wife say that vintage Harley-Davidsons were really smooth-running—for the Fifties; during break-in, vibration would gradually dissolve into a murmur, and a certain stillness would settle over the bike. Most motorcycle editors are too young to have many old wives, but the Heritage Softail serves as an introduction to this concept. In the case of the 1986 Softail, madam knew whereof she spoke. The falloff in vibration between 200 miles and 500 miles was remarkable; between 500 and 900 the falloff was dramatic.
Since no engine in a production series is exactly like any other, units vary in smoothness. Because most motorcycle engines are basically smooth multis, or counterbalanced twins or fours, and/or rubber-mounted, most contemporary motorcycle riders have forgotten that motorcycle engines are very much individuals. Our test Softail proved, we think, quite smooth given our experience with past Harley twins bolted directly in their frames. Specifically, the Softail we sampled in May 1984 was a grim shaker next to the'86 Heritage Softail. Granted, the present model has belt drive whereas the '84 was chain-driven, and this might explain some small variance, as might the difference in front-end specification or any other changes in spec. Still, the major differences in the '84/86 shake-levels lie in the engine, perhaps less in the design, which is essentially unchanged, than in quality control and production consistency in manufacturing.
As the engine ran in, speeds at which vibration diminished to a low rumble broadened. First, 55 to 58 miles per hour in fifth defined the calm spot. Later, the spot stretched to become a band, 55 to 70 mph. The bar and seat, interestingly, are better isolated from vibration in The Band than are the rubber-mounted floorboards.
The bike's hardware puts the rider in a comfortably upright position and provides for shift-around movement. The Heritage has its basic foot controls better located, more to the rear and lower, than the normal Softails, though the basic FXR has its pegs and foot controls in an even more-aft location than does the Heritage. In short, the Heritage controls fall about where you'll find them on FL twins. The rider must reach, a bit awkWardly, for the rear brake with his right foot; consequently, our staff used the rear brake very little. Likewise, to use the toe lever to downshift involves a slight lift-and-reach motion; upshifts, done with a more natural lift-and-de-press heel motion, come easier. Incidentally, our Heritage had its two-piece toe-and-heel levers switched from their standard positions on the shift shaft so that the toe lever was outboard of the heel lever. This arrangement, we think, is a bit more comfortable.
Riding the Softail back to back with the FXR leaves no doubt which motorcycle is the more contemporary piece: the Rubber-Glide FXR in every area save one. Only the Softail's front brake outperforms the FXR's, taking less hand pressure to make a stop. No functional argument can explain a preference for the Softail, which costs about $1600 more than the FXR. In its sweet zone, 55 to 70 mph on a smooth straight road, the Softail Heritage is roughly comparable to the FXR. Clearly, since the Softail is the premium-priced bike, something else is going on here.
In the mid-1980s motorcycling has entered an era of novelty. Since nine out of ten buyers of new motorcycles already own or have owned a motorcycle and have long experience with the machine, they tend to be drawn toward novelty. Motorcycling, in turn, has more expressions of novelty than ever before. Even the latest high-tech street bikes—motorcycles like Suzuki's GSX-R750—show a willingness to dally with dysfunction for the street: witness the racetrack rider position. Harley-David-son develops novelty elsewhere, creating a regenerate, 1950s-looking motorcycle on an engineering platform that's less functional overall than Milwaukee's mainliners. The most powerful elements of the Heritage Softail are the novelty of the thing and its elegant, handsome lines. The novelty would be diminished were Harley to make Heritage editions by the thousands—production is limited to about 1700. We suspect, however, that those numbers do not even begin to match the size of the real clientele for the Heritage Softail.
The Heritage looks, we think, might fit well on the basic FXR chassis. That would unite the clean, classic Heritage shape with contemporary Harley engineering. As much as we like the way the Heritage Softail looks, we still consider vibration a nuisance rather than a novelty.
Source Cycle 1986