Auto Market: Take a ride on the dark side
“What bike are you picking up today?” my wife Mary’s voice came out of the kitchen.
“Uh, a Harley,” I answered.
“What kind of Harley?” she asked.
Oh, here we go, I thought.
“Umm, well, it’s a, uh, Fat Boy.”
Cue the giggling.
Personally, I don’t think the model choice reflects on me at all.
And, sheesh, I already went through this two years ago with a Fat Bob test.
But, at that point, all you can do is suck your belly in a bit more and stalk off with as much dignity as you can muster.
The Fat Boy is a member of the Softail family and its wide and chunky lines have become synonymous with a kind of elemental cruising ethos, a macho style best emphasized when it was chosen as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ride in Terminator 2.
Tested here is an evolution of that original — the Fat Boy Lo, a lowered and customized derivation that was first introduced a couple of years ago.
Now, I may protest that I’m not an actual “fat boy” but, at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds (or thereabouts), I am a big boy, so, this bike might not seem a natural fit at first.
The dropped suspension lowers the seat height 690 millimetres (27.2”) to 670 millimetnres (26.3”), squatting down to barely two feet off the ground when I’m planted in the saddle.
That’s the lowest seat height of any stock Harley-Davidson model.
But, while it’s a good fit for smaller riders, bigger boys and girls should find enough room in the ergonomic triangle between the seat, grips and foot-forward pegs.
The Fat Boy Lo brings a lot of other model-specific traits to the party, features that are not available in the regular Fat Boy — namely, a darker, slammed appearance complemented by a fat, leather-strapped tank, black bullet-hole wheels with wide tires, a denim-black frame and blacked-out engine bits with satin-chrome highlights instead of polished chrome.
The Fat Boy Lo’s standard glossy vivid black choice is augmented with optional colours that include big blue pearl and brilliant silver pearl, but this tester came dipped in black denim, a head-turning, matte-black finish that suits the bike’s chunky muscularity to a tee.
Retro-style, winged satin-chrome H-D side badges make for a nice touch on the tank.
Other darkened style cues include flat-black exhaust shields over the satin-chrome shotgun exhaust pipes, gloss black half-moon footboards. Even the mirrors and headlamp are blacked-out.
Wide, beach-style bars have become synonymous with the Fat Boy style and a new set of low-profile, 1.25-inch internally-wired handlebars were introduced for 2012 with a reduced reach for more comfort and control.
Also new for 2012 was an upgrade to the bigger, air-cooled Twin Cam 103 Harley-Davidson engine, a motor that delivers more torque, crisp fuel-injected response and a lovely note singing through the pipes.
This engine, mated to the six-speed cruise drive transmission, is the perfect next step up the power ladder.
As the Harley literature says: “Evolved, yet carrying on the legacy of the Flathead, Knucklehead, Panhead, Shovelhead, Evolution, Twin Cam 88 and Twin Cam 96 engines that came before.”
One innovation worth noting is an engine idle temperature management strategy (EITMS) feature that automatically cuts “fuel and fire” from the rear cylinder when idling, which helps reduce engine heat felt by rider and passenger.
It’s an optional feature can be turned on by your dealer.
The spec sheet claims a combined fuel-economy rating of 5.6L/100km. My real-world results were in the same ballpark, giving the bike a potential range of nearly 340 kilometres from a full 18.9-litre tank of gas.
Riding the Fat Boy Lo is a pleasure.
We can argue about Harley’s individual signal switches but every other manufacturer in the world needs to attend a Harley-Davidson seminar on how to build a self-cancelling system that actually works.
The six-speed tranny shifts smoothly through the gears with a standard heel-and-toe shifter.
The bike is not exactly a lightweight, but its maneuverability belies its bulk.
It tracks well through the corners and the combined efforts of the Softail suspension and fat-donut tires help smooth country bumps and long highway stretches.
Anti-lock brakes have been added to a security package that includes the H-D smarsecurity system option with keyless ignition.
The factory-installed next-generation security system comes with a hands-free fob that automatically arms and disarms the vehicle electronic-security functions as you approach and
walk away from the bike.
The rider’s view forward takes in the wide handlebars, the big bowl headlamp and a simple,
yet beautifully ergonomic tank-mounted electronic speedometer.
Although there’s no classic tach, the rider can read r.p.m.s and gear selection on a digital display that can also scroll through settings showing odometer, dual tripmeters and clock.
There’s a handy six-speed indicator that lights up with a little green “6” when you’re in top gear, along with a fuel gauge with low-fuel warning light and countdown feature, low oil-pressure indicator light, engine-diagnostics readout and other LED indicators.
This 2012 Fat Boy Lo was tested just before newer models arrived, but the 2013 models carry over relatively unchanged, except for a price bump of a couple of hundred bucks and a few new colours.
Although, personally, I still think the black denim model is the pick of the litter.
Having said that, though, the 2013 Fat Boy Lo does offer an interesting, new two-tone anniversary version done in Vintage bronze and black.
It’s an intriguing colour combination that, hmm, might require further testing.