There are countless ways to measure the effectiveness of a motorcycle. Whether you value horsepower or torque, low seat height or light weight, safety aids or wind protection, the bike needs to suit your needs first and foremost. It’s no secret that Harley-Davidson cruisers lack top-end power, aggressive lean angles, and all the latest technologies, but if you’re looking for a mile-munching machine, a hog is a great option.
After completing a 1,200-mile road trip on a Sportster in October 2017, it was time for me to move up to a Big Twin. Luckily, Harley rolled out a revamped Softail lineup for the 2018 model year and I knew my next motorcycle would be a Softail Low Rider. With a larger tank, spacious cockpit, long wheelbase, and powerful 107ci Milwaukee-Eight, the FXLR made my wayward travels a little more predictable and a lot more comfortable.
I’m the only RideApart team member that currently owns and rides a Harley. Though many of my colleagues don’t share the same brand affinity as me, I’m equally as critical of the company. As a city-dwelling Millennial, I’m the demographic that the Motor Company is trying so hard (and often failing) to attract, but as a writer, I’m also exposed to Harley’s increasing competition and decreasing market share.
No, the bike’s acceleration doesn’t melt your face but 86 horsepower and 102 ft-lb of torque is more than enough for highway riding. No, she doesn’t boast the latest traction control or hill-hold technology, but a dexterous clutch hand will do. Yes, the hog rumbles too much, but us motorcyclists tend to see those flaws as the bike’s character. While 200+ horsepower superbikes and futuristic rider aids steal all the headlines, the Softail does everything I need and takes me places I’d never go, otherwise.
From camping in Yosemite to riding the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur, the Softail has been a trusty road trip companion. The improved load capacity and cushiony pillion pad also allowed me to share long-distance travels with my partner. She and I have lived off the back of my Harley for innumerable weekend camping trips to the Palm Springs desert and the Santa Barbara coast.
Despite the Softail’s specific strong suits, the motorcycle’s versatility isn’t as limited as one would think. I’ve braved rush hour traffic on the hog and even taken it to track days—sissy bar and all. Since purchasing a 2009 Suzuki DR-Z400SM, I rarely commute on the Harley, but it can still split lanes with the best of them.
When I’m not moto-camping or attending group rides, I’m usually wrenching on the Softail. Everyone knows that Harlistas like to accessorize and I've modified the FXLR from tip to tail. Aside from cosmetics, the big cruiser also taught me a lot about motorcycle maintenance. Hogs are usually stone-simple machines and offer an accessible intro for novice wrench turners.
While the Softail isn’t the fastest, nimblest, and it’s definitely not the lightest bike in the world, it ticks all my boxes for a long-distance workhorse. It has everything I need and nothing I don’t. When I’m measuring the effectiveness of a motorcycle, that’s all that matters.