Harley-Davidson Softail Standard: High Standards
Words: Jeff Ware Photography: Heather Ware
I gelled with the SS immediately. From the low, laid back seat to the mini ape ‘bars, mid mount footpegs and narrow tank. At 187cm it fitted me like a glove but not all riders would agree, there are plenty of reviews out there with complaints about the rider triangle but for this lanky bloke, it all just felt right…
The very first thing I noticed about the Softail Standard was how sweet that M8 107 engine is. The overall final ratio and the gearbox/primary matched with the power delivery of the 100 x 111mm bore x stroke 1746cc motor all work so sweetly as a package, making the engine faster accelerating than the bigger siblings. It is also smooth and has great throttle response. I prefer it to the big engines, it is more fun. Sure, it won’t light the rear up like the 114 but it is super engaging and made me happy.
The cable actuated clutch action is smooth on take-up, just around 15mm off the grip (enough to leave your end two fingers on the grip while disengaging the clutch at lights or on downshifts), and although the clutch action is heavy compared to most bikes on the market, it’s no heavier than any other HD models really. Gearbox action is smooth, particularly considering the linkage system, and up and down shifting is always accurate. You rarely need first gear, only for taking off and for super tight roundabouts or carparks.
The 107 will easily pull from near zero in second gear and the clutch doesn’t get much of a workout, unlike on some of the bigger bikes where gearing is taller and the engine more aggressive and lumpy, meaning you are constantly slipping the clutch to keep things smooth and balanced. The smoothness and finesse of the SS at low rpm and low speeds, thanks mainly to the gearing and the mapping of the engine, really makes light work of the ride – a good thing with near 300kg wet weight.
The power characteristics of the engine are what could be described in HD terms as lively, smooth yet revvy for a big twin. You would not think there were two massive pistons firing up and down the barrels. There are very few vibes, the motor isn’t lumpy and fuelling is smooth from initial openings at low speed, getting back on the throttle off turns, in the wet or in the higher revs. It’s just a nice motor.
There is nothing else much to say about the powertrain. No fancy electronics here. On the Softail Standard you get back to basics. Clutch, throttle, brakes, gears. What else do you need to have fun? No engine maps, traction control or cruise control but you do get ABS of course and it’s good. The rest?
One thing that I love about the SS is that it is a proper basic bike. After testing the latest bikes for 20-odd years now, the current amount of tech is mind boggling and sometimes it is more fun and more refreshing to get back to basics. It is one reason I would choose the Softail Standard (or Street Bob 114) over any other Harley cruiser model right now.
The Softail Standard loves corners and is capable through the twisties. The combo of the leverage of the mini ape handlebars, which are also fantastic on the Street Bob 114 and Forty-Eight Special, the steering geometry, mid-mount footpegs and narrow tyres all work to ensure the Softail Standard is on point through the turns.
I had an absolute blast on the Softail Standard up on my local hills, catching and passing the odd unsuspecting sportsbike and nakedbike riders, who had no idea there was an A grade racer on their tale. It is very satisfying showing what a bike can do and the Softail Standard can do plenty in the corners in cruiser terms. Its strong point is initial turn in and getting through a corner using less lean angle than some other bikes would need to do the same job, then putting the power down quickly.
Back when I owned and edited Rapid Bikes mag, we used a lot of datalogging for our comparo shootouts and it was always amazing that certain bikes would need less lean angle to get through the same apex at the same speed as another. Geometry numbers can do these things and thus it can be possible to punt a bike with lesser footpeg clearance as hard as a bike that is cranked right over. But not all Harleys are like this one… Some, like the Breakout 114, require more effort to corner…
On the more open, faster roads the bike is super stable and just as fun to punt along, although, of course, you are copping a fair bit of wind blast, which can affect the handling somewhat mainly through your own body movements. But it’s not a sportsbike anyway. Suspension action is a mixed bag. The forks are great. They offer a good overall setup compromise between braking support, cornering and bump absorption and work over the smooth, rough and town situations.
The rear, although better than say the similar travel but heavier Road Glide Special, does get overwhelmed on the bumps, particularly if there is a series of them. The shock won’t recover and settle in time for the next hit, and so forth, and then it tends to pack down. That is when your tailbone lets you know about it… It isn’t a deal breaker but I personally would invest in a shock upgrade if I bought this.
Around town, the Softail Standard is just so easy. It has a good turning circle and U-turns are no drama. It has that smooth clutch and fuelling and a super low centre of gravity so is a breeze to tool around in traffic or town. Parking is easy and if only the rear brake was better, the bike would be spot on at low speeds. There is no pillion seat, which didn’t impress my pillion in a million, but you can fit one if you like, there are genuine options here by Harley among a lot of other accessories for the SS.
Fit and finish is good, there is enough chrome to keep you busy after every rain ride and the price is bang on. It is a lot of bike for the money and if you are after a big Harley or cruiser as a step up from a smaller one, or looking for a value for money cruiser with real street credibility and style, I suggest you include the Softail Standard on your short list and go and test one for yourself.
2021 Harley-Davidson Softail Standard Specifications
Price: From $21,495 Ride-Away
Warranty: two-years unlimited km
Colours: Vivid Black
Claimed Power: N/A
Claimed Torque: 145Nm[107ft-lbs]@3000rpm
Wet Weight: 297kg
Fuel capacity: 13.2L
Service: First 1600km every 8000km thereafter
Engine: Milwauke-Eight 107 V-Twin, 1746cc, 100 x 111mm bore x stroke, 10.0:1 compression ratio, ESPFI, 2-into-2 shotgun; catalyst in muffler
Gearbox: Six-speed, Chain Primary 34/46, Final belt drive 32/66
Fuel Consumption: 5.5L/100km
Chassis: Mild steeltubular frame, rectangular section backbone, stamped – cast and forged junctions, MiG welded, alloy fender supports.
Rake: 30° Trail: 157mm
Suspension: Non-adjustable Showa Dual Bending 49mm Valve fork, 130mm travel, Spring-preload adjustable shock 43mm stroke, 86mm travel.
Brakes: Four-piston fixed front 300mm disc and two-piston floating 292mm rear disc
Wheels & Tyres: Chrome Steel Laced, Dunlop D401, 100/90 – 19, 150/80 – 16
Seat height: 680mm
Ground clearance: 125mm
Overall Length: 2320mm
Overall Width: 865mm
Overall Height: 1160mm
Lean angle: 28.5º
Instruments: 2.14in viewable area LCD display with speedometer, gear, odometer, fuel level, clock, trip, range and tachometer indication.