35 Years of the Harley-Davidson Softail family


The Softail® family: the timeless look of a classic ‘hardtail’ combine with hidden technology to deliver a full-throttle ride that has been constantly improved over 35 years


In fact, however, the Softail family has a history stretching back long before that attention-grabbing movie moment; indeed, it is arguably the most iconic of Harley-Davidson® motorcycles, in recent decades at least.

Classic styling cues drawing on more than a century of Harley-Davidson design – the ‘hardtail’ look, horseshoe oil tank and clean styling – have made the Softail an undisputed design classic. Yet as 2020 approaches, constant development and technological advances have kept the range as relevant and contemporary as when it was first introduced 35 years ago.


Early beginnings

The Softail was first born in the early 1980s, when Harley-Davidson experimented with hidden rear shock absorbers on a big twin frame. The design was perfected with the 1984 FXST Softail, which offered the ‘hardtail’ look of the classic chopper, but with the comfort and handling of full rear suspension using gas-charged shock absorbers beneath the frame tubes.

The next step in the Softail progression was the Heritage – launched in 1986 and still in the line today – which resurrected the classic look of the 1950s with a ‘Hydra-Glide’ style front end and referenced the style of ’30s Knuckleheads with the classic horseshoe oil tank, still a Softail design element today. In 1988 the retro styling was dialled up even further in the FXSTS Springer Softail, complete with ‘springer’ front end – exposed springs, gleaming in chrome and perfectly complementing the clean Softail look.

Film star

Then in the 1990 model year, a true icon was born – the Fat Boy®, designed by Willie G. Davidson after listening to the feedback of riders at Daytona Bike Week. A vintage look and feel with a minimalist theme was the intent, and the Fat Boy delivered in spades. The first year model had a striking monotone silver paint scheme, disc wheels and a wide or ‘fat’ look, and would become famous for its appearance in the 1991 film Terminator 2: Judgment Day, inspiring a whole new generation of Harley® riders.

By now the Softail family was an established cornerstone of the Harley-Davidson model range. The Heritage Springer, launched in the 1997 model year, took the retro look even further with springer forks, classic saddlebags, white sidewall tyres and ‘tombstone’ tail-light. More radical models quickly followed – in 2000 the Softail Deuce, a radical factory custom with a stretched gas tank, sleek chrome front forks and the new Twin Cam 88B engine; the innovative Rocker models of the 2008 model year, with the rear fender attached to the swingarm for a slammed custom appearance; and in the same year, the Cross Bones® – denim paint, pinstriping, springer front fork and a blacked-out look harking back to post-war ‘bobber’ motorcycles. A retrofitted Cross Bones featured in the 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger. By 2012 the retro-styled Softail Slim joined the family.

Radical reinvention

The biggest change in the Softail family since its initial creation came in 2017. A completely redesigned Softail frame was launched, featuring a single upgraded rear shock absorber mounted below the seat and a new swingarm construction, making the new Softails significantly lighter and stiffer than the previous generation.

The following year, the Twin Cam motor was replaced by the new Milwaukee-Eight® motor in 107 and 114 cubic inch variants for significantly increased power. Finally the Softail platform had the whole package – the raw power of the Milwaukee-Eight engine in the radical new Softail chassis – all with the unique style that had been part of the Softail DNA since its birth in 1984.

Now, 35 years after its introduction, the Softail has become one of the most successful platforms ever to be introduced by the Motor Company – and one that continues to define the ‘look and feel’ of the Harley-Davidson brand to a new generation of riders. Today, the Softail family offers models in a range of configurations, from retro to ultra-contemporary, and suits every type of riding, from long distance touring, to canyon carving, to fast boulevard cruising – and everything in between.

2020 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim



Heritage Classic® 114

A dark classic with a modern edge, dripping with gangster-era style and vintage details; yet the detachable screen and leather bags give it a practical edge, too. The frame retains the classic Softail lines but its lightweight design and stiffness translate to a super-responsive ride powered by the mighty Milwaukee-Eight® 114 engine


Low Rider® S

The Low Rider® S is an all-new blacked-out performance-cruiser with a style that’s as aggressive as its ride. Powered by the Milwaukee-Eight 114 engine and with inverted front forks and a frame rake reduced to 28 degrees, the Low Rider S has the handling to match its performance.


Softail Slim®

A stripped-down, souped-up bobber with a post WWII-era look. You get the power and soul-satisfying sound of the Milwaukee-Eight 107 V-Twin, the classic look of spoked wheels, chopped fenders and Hollywood handlebars, and a low-slung saddle that sets you ‘in’ the bike, so you ride like you are part of it.


Breakout® 114

The Breakout® 114 is a muscular modern chopper with pure ‘stop you in your tracks’ attitude – and performance to back it up. A 240mm rear tyre sits in the back, the embodiment of classic drag bike heritage while the front features high performance cartridge fork suspension technology, all powered by the 114 engine in the new Softail chassis.


A bright, nostalgic boulevard cruiser that turns heads and rumbles with modern know-how and attitude. Chrome laced wheels and whitewall tyres are a nod to the ’50s boulevard look without sacrificing handling or performance, while pullback handlebars and a comfortable solo seat will keep you sitting pretty as you eat up the miles.

Fat Boy®

The original fat custom icon, now lighter than the previous generation Fat Boy, and slinging torque from a Milwaukee-Eight 107 or 114. The Fat Boy has an unmistakable muscular look thanks to solid disc Lakester wheels wrapped in the widest front tyre ever to come from the factory – 160mm – with an equally massive rear tyre at 240mm.

Low Rider®

With styling reminiscent of the original in the ’70s, the tradition of individualism carries on in the powerful Low Rider® motorcycle. It’s chromed-out from headlight visor to exhaust, with throwback style in the form of cast wheels, dual tank mount gauges, headlight visor and ‘70s-inspired tank graphics.

Fat Bob®

The Fat Bob® features aggressive, unapologetic styling, mind-blowing performance and handling, premium finishes, and the massive torque of the Milwaukee-Eight engine. Inverted front forks deliver precise handling, while dual disc front brakes keep the power in check when you need it. The style comes from cast wheels with fat tyres and a performance-inspired 2:1:2 exhaust system.


FXDR 114

The FXDR 114 is a feast for the eyes with performance and attitude in spades. Unapologetically styled as a street dragster, the FXDR has the high quality components, minimal weight and maximum performance to match its dramatic style. Fast on the straights and agile in the corners, it is designed to blow away the senses.

Sport Glide

Devour endless miles of highway and lean hard through twisting roads – the Sport Glide is designed for adventure. The quick-detach front mini-fairing and bags allow for a change from practical to stylish at a moment’s notice, while modern features include keyless ignition, USB port and LED forward-lighting.

Street Bob®

The Street Bob® motorcycle gives you the two-fists-in-the-wind riding experience stripped down to its bare essence. Mini-ape handlebars, spoked wheels and chopped fenders bring on the raw style, countered by minimalist modern technology including fully digital instrumentation.

About Michael Le Pard 10228 Articles
"Mr. Totalmotorcycle". Owner and Founder of Total Motorcycle, the World’s Largest Motorcycle Site with over 425 million readers since 1999. Total Motorcycle is my pride and joy and being able to reach 425 million people has been incredible and I could not have done it without the support of my visitors, readers and members...thank you so much! We are all making a difference to millions of riders worldwide.