Revisited: Why the Harley-Davidson Softail Street Bob is the Raddest Softail

Photo Credit: Wesley Reyneke

With nine models to choose from, there’s something for everyone in Harley-Davidson’s new Softail line-up. From classic cruisers like the Heritage and the iconic Low Rider, to the raked-out Breakout and muscular Fat Bob, they’ve covered all the bases.

So where does the Street Bob fit in? Its minimalist, blacked-out styling, solo seat and mini-ape bars, give it an strong bobber vibe. But it’s not just aesthetics that set the Street Bob apart. Starting at R189 500 (for the black version), it’s also the cheapest Softail in the range-and the only one priced under the magical R200k mark.

Note: ‘Revisited’ is a series of reviews where we get our most hipster test rider, Wes, to spend some time on a motorcycle that we’ve already reviewed. It’s a fresh perspective, and might not cover all the points you’d typically find in a motorcycle review. We originally reviewed the Street Bob here:

First Rides: 2018 Harley-Davidson Softails

When you consider the price, and the fact that most buyers will upgrade parts like the mid-mounted foot pegs and the single seat straight out the gate, it’s easy to pigeonhole the Street Bob as an ‘entry level’ Softail. Which isn’t entirely fair-because the Street Bob is far radder than you think.

Full disclosure: I haven’t ridden every single one of the new Softails. But of the five I’ve covered miles on, the Street Bob is hands-down my favourite.

It’s quite a looker for starters (and if anyone tells you they don’t care about their bike’s looks, they’re a liar). I’m a fan of the new generation Softail frame and the Milwaukee Eight engine, visually, and the Street Bob wears both well, thanks to its stripped-down aesthetic. It’s also got a great stance, with spoked wheels measuring 19″ up front and 16″ out back.

Photo Credit: Wesley Reyneke

The fuel tank’s surprisingly compact for a big cruiser (it holds 13,2 l), and the bobbed seat’s pleated upholstery gives it a hint of custom style. The cockpit’s super-sano too. Everything but the brake and clutch cables has been routed inside the handlebars, but it’s the digital speedo that really sets things off. H-D have designed a refreshingly compact unit that sits in the top handlebar clamp, and still packs in all the info you need.

Photo Credit: Wesley Reyneke

Then there are subtler details, like the small LED headlight, fork boots and clean rear fender (the rear indicators double up as tail lights). You’ve got a choice of five colour schemes, with ‘Vivid Black’ being the cheapest. The test unit I’ve been riding’s finished in ‘Industrial Gray Denim / Black Denim’. It’s a top-notch matte finish, with most of the hard parts done in black with a handful of chromed and polished accents.

Ergonomically, the Street Bob is just plain kooky. The combination of a low seat and mid pegs mean that you sit with your knees up and your arms stuck out straight forward, like a spider monkey on a mini-bike. It shouldn’t work-and on longer rides it’s actually pretty uncomfortable-but I actually really dig it.

Your hands and feet are in the right spots for manhandling the big V-twin, plus you feel like a bit of a hooligan riding it. The riding position (and lack of wind protection) does limit your top speed though-go fast enough, and your arms and legs will hate you for it.

Photo Credit: Wesley Reyneke

The Street Bob only comes with the 107 ci Milwaukee Eight power plant option, unlike some of its siblings that can be had in a 114 ci too. But that’s OK; at 297 kg wet, it’s the lightest of the new Softails. So the 145 Nm of torque from the 107 goes a long way, practically launching the Street Bob off the mark or out of corners.

I’ve praised the Milwaukee Eight motor before, and my sentiment hasn’t changed. It’s punchy and smooth, but still grunty enough to keep the Harley feeling just a little rough around the edges. The new clutch design is way lighter than before, the six speed box shifts positively, and the ride-by-wire throttle is responsive. There’s ABS, but no traction control-which is great for the occasional rear wheel skiddy on pull away.

Photo Credit: Wesley Reyneke

Out on the road, the Street Bob is surprisingly nimble for a 107 ci cruiser. Harley-Davidson have claimed improved stiffness with their new chassis design, and it shows; the new Softails track way better than the old Softails or Dynas ever could.

I can throw the Street Bob through corners even easier than any of the other Softails I’ve ridden-mostly thanks to its more svelte proportions. The narrower front wheel turns in easier too, and there’s more than enough leverage from the bars to move it around. Thanks to their length, the bars do have a tiny bit of flex in them, but I noticed it once and then forgot about it.

Ground clearance is decent enough too, but you’ll eventually start scraping pegs as you pick up the pace (and whoever rode this unit before me even got the exhaust to touch down). Whether you’re tucking your head down, blasting into the wind and hanging on for dear life, or hustling through your favourite mountain pass, the Street Bob is massive bags of fun.

Photo Credit: Wesley Reyneke

It’s also a blank canvas for anyone that likes throwing more money at their Harley-Davidson. I’d probably swap the exhaust for something with a more appropriate soundtrack, tweak the angle of the bars and call it a day. But there’s a lot more that could be done-whether you’re shopping from the H-D catalogue, sourcing third part parts or fabricating your own. (Just imagine it with no rear fender or struts, and a floating saddle.)

Sure, the Fat Bob has a more radical design, and the Heritage has a windshield, bags and tons more comfort-but the Street Bob is still my favourite. It’s lighter, cheaper, nimbler and-best of all-doesn’t take itself too seriously. What more could you want?

Images by Wesley Reyneke