From a purely aesthetic point of view, one can say with certainty that the 2020 Harley-Davidson Softail Standard is the business. Almost weapon-protected classic Harley vibes flow from every fin and every chrome piece. I usually don't even tend to helicopters and bobbers, but the standard really blew me away when I saw it roll off the van.
The Softail's only visual concessions to the modern age are now the handlebar controls, the LED headlights and the front disc brake. Everything else is hidden under a layer of nostalgia and americana that is so thick that it is almost impossible to break through. Everything from high handlebars to the tuck-and-roll saddle to the large spoke front wheel was ruthlessly designed by Milwaukee's best to always press the right buttons.
This feeling translates to the sound of the bike with its large, old-fashioned, air-cooled American V-Twin ̵
The transmission is a six-speed unit with a very satisfactory performance. A gear lever with a bad but good feeling that requires a good step between the gears. It's totally inelegant and ends up with such an incredibly pleasing bang when you get there that it's hard not to like it. The clutch is still heavy, if not as heavy as the one on the Street Glidebut that could be a placebo effect on the smaller bike, if I'm honest.
When you astride, you are faced with the build quality few companies can do better than Harley's American-made motorcycles. The paint on the tank is beautiful, the chrome is perfect and there is almost no plastic on the bike, apart from the control capsules on the handlebars. It's a heavy bike for its size – not nearly as heavy as the Street Glide, but still not a featherweight – and that weight reinforces the feeling of opportunity you get when you first experience the Softail.
The instrument cluster is one of my favorite functions in the standard. It is a small LCD screen hidden in the handlebar clamp and on which there is an even smaller warning light. The display is relatively easy to read in direct sunlight and contains a lot of information: Harley has managed to pack a gas display, a gear indicator, a speedometer, dual trip computer, an odometer and a distance estimate. It's pretty cool and I would love to see this very custom function on other factory bikes.
Another outstanding area in the Softail Standard is the chassis. Now it's not nearly "plush", but I'm a tough guy and there were no issues with freeway expansion joints and the crappy pothole-ridden streets in LA. It has never bottomed out, and that is an achievement for a bike that is as low as it is. I would attribute this to the very modern cartridge fork, which looks like something from a classic bike, and also the rear mono shock. Harley-Davidson spent money here, and it shows.
Although the suspension is excellent, I would consider the Softail brakes to be only adequate. The standard isn't a light bike, and although the motor isn't particularly powerful, it's still not a problem and can get the bike moving fairly quickly. The single front disc of the standard may look retro and cool, but despite a decent initial bite and a super solid feel on the lever, I don't know how many big stops I would expect without fading.
Another major blow to the Softail is the fact that Harley wants to charge an additional $ 800 for anti-lock brakes. This is not a cheap bike and we live in 2020. Cut the crap, Milwaukee – make ABS the standard.
It's rare that I only love a motorcycle the way it looks, but the Softail standard fits this category perfectly. I was a fan before I even threw a leg over it, but unfortunately the driving experience did not meet my expectations.
I want to make it clear that this is not Harley's fault, or even that of the motorcycle, because it was clearly designed for someone with a completely different body type than me. In particular, I'm just too big to familiarize myself with the thing, which in turn affects all other aspects of the ride.
What does that mean exactly? Well, the short seat height and short range to the forward-mounted footswitches made my legs bend in an uncomfortable way, which made shifting uncomfortable and made using the rear brake a kind of chore. While that sucks for me, for a smaller driver, I can see that the standard is comfortable all day without feeling like you're too stretched out.
The high handlebar looks damn cool, but my right wrist was in town after about 30 sore minutes of driving because of the angle I had to hold it to both reach the bars and operate the throttle. A slight turn back of the handlebars towards the driver or a complete change of handlebars to a lower and wider area would probably have helped.
The last negative I have to say was also a problem with Street Glide, and that is the fact that even in Kevlar jeans I managed to stop my right leg every time I tried bring to boil the hell out of my right inner thigh on the engine rocker cover. It's a minor problem, but the seat-to-tank area could be a little wider and help make this less problematic.
Most people will probably only deal with it or only use their left leg to support the bike at the traffic lights, but due to the continued crazinessmy left knee sometimes gives in when under a lot of weight. It is therefore important for me to either put both feet down or to switch between left and right.
Apart from ergonomic things, how does the Softail drive? Well, it's a competent motorcycle, especially for the class. The bike is ready to lean slightly and follow a line through a curve, and thanks to the excellent suspension, I never get too nervous or out of shape on bumpy roads.
The engine's torque is spectacular and makes gripping a handful of gas in sixth gear on the freeway to overtake a real joy. The standard simply works without complaints and without delay. Without the roar of the engine through Tom Waits on a Magic Fingers bed, it would feel almost electric. It is one of those things that you intentionally do over and over again.
Perhaps the best part of the Softail standard for California residents is the fact that it is an absolute monster of lane division. Thanks to the slim figure of the motorcycle and its loud, stormy and attention-grabbing exhaust, I can effortlessly split the lanes from the beach in Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles and get there in a fraction of the time. Take a car (or something Chonky like the Street Glide).
So is this Harley more my speed in the end? Absolutely, but it's absolutely not my size either, which is a lot of crap. This is the type of bike that I could love as a machine in the city if it were 20% bigger. Do I think others will enjoy it in this capacity? Total. It's a damn good machine, beautifully built and brilliantly designed, and at $ 13,500, it's a pretty compelling deal in itself.