With its big, chunky tires, solid wheels, drag-style handlebars and slab-shaped gas tank, the 2014 Harley-Davidson FXDF Fat Bob is the epitome of the all-American cruiser. But, underneath all of that sparkly paintwork, shiny chrome and in-your-face attitude is there a decent motorcycle fighting to get out?
Back in August, Harley-Davidson made a host of announcements under the banner of “Project Rushmore.” Most of this development program’s focus was on the changes to its 2014 touring line-up, as reported by RideApart. But, lost among all the new liquid-cooled motors and touchscreen infotainment systems, there were also some modifications to some of the other bikes, including one of its staple cruisers, the Fat Bob.
That’s the thing about Harley-Davidson. Most people, even those who have little knowledge about motorcycles in general, have heard of the Sportster as it’s been around since the dawn of time. And the same goes for the big H-D touring bikes. Despite the complexity of the confusing touring model codes and names, most people recognize them and identify them when thinking of a big American-built motorcycle.
The ginger haired stepchild that’s kept locked away in the H-D attic has always been the Dyna range. It sits squarely between the Sportsters and the big tourers and includes some pretty decent, if somewhat heavy, motorcycles. There’s the Street Bob, Super Glide Custom, Wide Glide, Switchback and the Fat Bob. All based on the same frame. All use the same 103ci V-twin engine but, with some clever styling cues, each somehow looks different from the other.
The Dyna tag may not actually mean they are dynamic, but owners like them for the fact you have the big engine, a seat, handlebars and not a lot else. The rest is down to you as to how far you want to personalize and customize your Dyna. There is a whole movement out there that does exactly that with some terrific results.
The Fat Bob has been around in the Dyna lineup since 2008 and it got its name apparently because… er... it looks kind of fat and it’s supposed to have a sort of resemblance to the proper bobbers of the early 1950s.
Since its introduction, the Fat Bob has seen a number of cosmetic changes to keep it looking fresh and, of course, fat. But, the biggest development came in 2012 when the 96ci (1,584cc) engine was increased to 103ci (1,690cc).
There wasn’t a huge change in performance (there’s 99 lb.-ft. of torque in the 103ci and around 70 hp, versus 92 lb.-ft. and 65 hp with the 96ci) and some owners were disappointed that they couldn’t really notice any difference in the engine upgrade. But, now that the 96ci has gone away, everything in the H-D range, bar the Sportster and V-Rod, has a 103ci engine or 110ci for the CVO models.
For 2014 the Fat Bob retains the six-speed transmission, a great seat height of 26.7 inches, 49mm front forks and twin coil rear shocks, and optional ABS-assisted four caliper, 320mm twin front disc brakes and a 290mm single disc on the rear. As you’d expect for a Fat Bob, it tips the scales with a stout running weight of 706lbs.
Essentially, for this new model year, the Fat Bob has again been given the H-D cosmetic treatment. However, the ‘bug-eye’ twin headlights, chunky 16-inch Dunlop tires (180mm rear and 130mm front) and that big 5.0-gallon slab tank all remain.
There’s also a new color choice – “Amber Whiskey” (sparkly orange for the layman) and “Sand Cammo Denim” (think of military Humvees) and the usual staple H-D shiny black or matte black.
Instead of badges, there’s now just a Harley-Davidson logo stripe that runs diagonally across the tank in contrasting colors depending on your choice of bike color. The 103ci engine stays unchanged but has been given the H-D blacked-out treatment, as have the triple clamps, rear shock covers and battery box.
The solid wheels are all-black too, but aluminum, and laser-engraved with the Harley-Davidson name in big, bold capital letters (four on each wheel) should you forget which type of motorcycle you’re riding.
However, it’s at the rear where the H-D designers have really gone to town on the Fat Bob. We quite liked the back end of previous version of this bike. Admittedly it was a bit clunky but, overall, it worked well with the lines of the bike.
For 2014, the Fat Bob has now got a slash-cut rear fender. It looks exactly as it sounds. It’s as if someone has taken a saw to the rear end and cut off the fender. Gone is the big red stop light and, in its place, are a pair of large, recessed, twin-ring LED tail lights that bear an uncanny resemblance to Pixar’s Wall-E peering out at you. Kind of weird but if you’re riding the bike the chances are you’re never going to be looking at them.
There’s a 2-1-2 chrome exhaust system called the “Tommy Gun,” which looks great, but maybe the blacked-out treatment that’s prevalent on the rest of the Fat Bob could have been extended onto this too. From a rider’s perspective you get a lower-profile seat, which is really comfortable, with a great backrest. And, just a small squab seat for your passenger, who is not going to be that happy or comfortable, perched up there, it’s way too small.
On the tank, there is now an integral chromed ignition switch (like you find on the H-D tourers) a five-inch speedometer and what H-D calls a ‘multi-function’ LCD display. This looks like a small calculator screen-mounted in the speedo and, at a press of a button on the bars, you can track your mileage, have a gear indicator and watch your revs. But, it’s pretty hard to read and when in gear/tacho mode is a constant blur of changing numbers. A smaller, conventional tachometer with a needle mounted in the speedometer would have been our choice.
Let’s be clear from the start. This is a motorcycle that has absolutely no sporting prowess. If you’re looking for a hard charging, canyon carving sportbike then the Fat Bob is definitely not for you.
It’s got a big engine; it’s heavy and prefers ambling along rather than being bounced off the rev limiter. You sit in the Fat Bob with your legs outstretched in proper cruiser mode. The gearshift is a bit clunky, but the low down torque of the engine means you’re never struggling to get away at an intersection. It’s silky smooth low down and you can roll on and off the throttle with absolutely no complaint. However, thanks to all of the constricting EPA regulations, the exhaust note is whisper quiet and you’d be hard pressed to know it’s a V-twin until you start to make the engine work hard. It’s only when you get above 3000rpm that you get the signature H-D exhaust note.
It does, though, get a bit unsettled towards the top end of the rev range when the rubber-mounted V-twin engine, that’s so smooth low down, starts to transfer a lot of vibration through the frame and ultimately into the pegs and the rider’s feet. That’s not a deal breaker. It’s just the way the Fat Bob is. It likes to take a more leisurely approach to life and doesn’t like to be hurried.
Essentially if you’re into cruisers and the way they ride you’ll get the Fat Bob. It’s less about speed and more about just enjoying the ride. The new seat is terrific. Really comfortable and you get a lot of feel for what’s going on despite the fat rear tire.
The drag-style handlebars are well thought through, too, and bring everything within easy reach of the rider. They turn down a little at the end so were not that comfortable for this rider, but they look good and, despite that big tire up front, you still get a lot of feedback. For all of its bulk, the Fat Bob is actually an easy motorcycle to just get on and ride.
The Fat Bob certainly has not got the most advanced suspension system, but for a swingarm coil spring set up, H-D has done a decent job in getting the best out of the way the it rides. You can change the rear spring damping to get the set-up that suits you, but it’s still fairly unsophisticated and you won’t notice a huge difference in any of the settings.
The optional ABS-assisted brakes are spot on and a real highlight on the Fat Bob. They work really well and bring this heavy bike to a stop quickly, smoothly and with no drama. We recognized just how good this ABS is when compared to the non-assisted brakes on our regular Dyna ride.
The Fat Bob really is the all-American cruiser. It’ll take you where you want to go at a reasonable, smooth and compliant pace on two-lane roads and because of its unhurried approach to riding it’s actually a whole lot of fun.
Coupled to that you have a big 5.0-gallon fuel tank, which we estimate will take you around 200 plus miles before you need to fill-up.
However, we wouldn’t want to take it for hundreds miles on the freeway. For one thing you’re pretty exposed and anything over 60 mph will see you start to become a sail. There are a couple of options you can do to improve this such as fitting a windshield, or just steering clear of the freeway. But the Fat Bob is in all honesty not really designed for long distance cross-country travel. It’s happiest on side roads and if you’re in the seat, you will be too.