Until recently, my experience with the Harley-Davidson Fatboy was mostly informed by its appearance in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
So when Harley-Davidson sent us a Fatboy S (technically the FLSTFBS, in MoCo lingo) to ride around Toronto for a week, I started thinking of jumping the bike off the Gardiner Expressway to recreate a T2 scene that didn’t involve someone butting out a cigar on my chest. Unfortunately, there was a very specific “No Jumping Bikes Off The Friggin’ Gardiner” clause in HD’s waiver so, instead, we rode the big cruiser both in and out of town to see how it works as an everyday bike.
Since its debut at Daytona Bike Week nearly thirty years ago, the Fatboy has undergone only subtle aesthetic changes—while the chassis and engine have been continuously updated, the fundamental design of the bike remains the same. What that translates to is a very iconic bike that delivers on the feelings that marketers of cruiser bikes promise. And the Fatboy is far and away the cruiserest of cruisers.
On a sunny weekday, I took the bike for a 400 km ride—a mix of divided highways and two-lane country roads south of Hamilton towards Port Dover and along the Lake Erie shore. On the smaller secondary highways, the bike really shines. The 80-100 km/hr country cruise is the Fatboy’s wheelhouse and the monster Screamin’ Eagle 110ci engine lumbers along effortlessly through these backroads and packs more than enough punch to easily blast past the dump trucks and delivery vans that populate them throughout the week.
I’m pretty familiar with the 110 engine from riding the Dyna Low Rider S last year so I knew to anticipate the incredible heat the big mill throws up at its rider. I was pleasantly surprised, though, by how little fuel the Fatboy used during my countryside cruise—after around 250 km (of “spirited” riding and still far from empty) I put less than 12 litres in the tank. Less pleasant was the stock seat. I’m much more partial to mid controls than forwards, and floorboards are always a bit weird to me for the first while, but after a couple of hours in the saddle my tailbone was begging for a break. Perhaps the Fatboy is designed for riders with a more-ample backyard than my own, I am rather boney, so if I owned a Fatboy a new seat would be my priority.
Back in the city, commuting to work across town started out a little sketchy. The combination of the big, heavy bike and the floorboards that seemed to scrape the pavement around every corner took some getting used to. However, once I sorted out how to get the most out of the Fatboy—steering a little more and leaning a little less—it’s a very satisfying bike to whip through traffic. I decided to commute like I always do—zipping between backed up traffic and parked cars and around streetcars whenever possible to maximize the benefit of having a motorbike instead of a car in traffic. The Fatboy is anything but “zippy” but its low seat height and the seemingly infinite torque of the Screamin’ Eagle engine makes for a much more maneuverable and punchy bike than I had first assumed.
So how does the Fatboy fare as an everyday bike in a bustling metropolis? It’s pretty damn fun, actually. It’s heavy and hot but it feels like a big, badass Terminator bike and dragging floorboards gets more attention in traffic than any high-viz vest ever will. By design, the Fatboy is the archetypal cruiser bike—it’s an 1800 cc lawn chair—a laid back, Sunday afternoon kind of ride made for country roads and no set schedule. However, like most bikes, it’s best at what it was designed for but it can also be a hell of good time when you push it outside of its comfort zone a little bit. Ripping through downtown rush hour traffic on a blacked out, 750 lb Fatboy? Hasta la vista, baby.
Words by Ryan Johansen