Are you it's somebody?
WORDS Chris Nelson IMAGES Kevin Wing
The 2018 Harley-Davidson FXDR 114 is built for a specific someone who isn’t me, which is why I struggled to wrap my head around its Milwaukee funk. It’s a dramatically styled “power cruiser” that pulls hard from a stoplight and feels as planted on the open road as it does through a chicane, meant to tantalize people who think Harley-Davidson is too traditional, too hoary and aged.
Earlier this summer I traveled to Ojai, California—an affluent mountainside town 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles—to ride the all-new 2018 Harley-Davidson FXDR 114, the final model debuting in the recently launched Softtail line. It’s similar in style to the Breakout, with a showy silhouette reminiscent of the V-Rod that Harley-Davidson took offline last year. It is another all-new Harley in what seems like an endless stream of all-new Harleys, soon to be joined by the all-electric Livewire, Pan America adventure bike, and an entry-level streetfighter. I knew nothing about the FXDR 114 before arriving in Ojai, but engineer Mark Strong, stylist Frank Savage, and product planner Dave Latz were there to properly introduce and inform me.
Harley-Davidson hopes to inspire two million Americans to start riding, so the brand needs to attract new people ... people who are aware of the Harley-Davidson brand, like it, but don’t want to buy any of its current offerings. A “bold, sophisticated” individual who likes to “look fast and go fast,” and wants a bike with “aggressive styling and modern design.” Latz says the FXDR 114 is the Harley-Davidson those people saw themselves on: an edgy power cruiser with drag racing–inspired design.
"Keep that front end a little more spindly, make it feel lighter up there, and keep some of that visual mass into the rear and make it solid there,” said Frank Savage, a manager of industrial design at the Willie G. Davidson Product Development Center, where he’s worked for the past 22 years. Frank and his team designed the FXDR 114, first sketched by senior industrial designer Dais “Dice” Nagao. “You get the [34-degree] rake cleanly, cascading, and then the hood of the visor creates a line that follows the tank right down to the seat,” said Savage, understandably satisfied that he and his team managed to balance a disproportionate motorcycle. Not to say the design didn’t cause issues throughout the three-year project.
The fuel tank needed to be longer—for aesthetics—and no existing fuel tank fit right, requiring an all-new tank unique to the FXDR. Then there’s the stance. Savage says, “We didn't want the tail to be completely up in the air, like a sport bike, so we needed a new shock placement to get us something between drag or digger and too much sport.” Mark Strong, technical lead on the FXDR project, and his fellow engineers moved the Softtail monoshock up half an inch, bumping the rear end and lifting the whole frame an inch off the pavement. “We erred on the side of being more firm and more in control,” said Strong in regards to suspension tuning.
The bike’s ergonomics aren’t as tortured as its shape suggests, but the riding position definitely felt unfamiliar—ass out, shoulders tucked, wide and brawny.
The engineering department made a one-piece cast aluminum swingarm that is ten pounds lighter than the steel Softail swingarm and sheds a significant amount of unsprung weight. The subframe is aluminum, too, surrounded by a sharp, composite tail section that sits above an awesomely thin rear fender, wrapped around a 240-series Michelin Scorcher. Since the 668-lb FXDR looks to be about “straight-line performance,” there is a long, tunnel intake inspired by Vance & Hines pro stock dragsters; neither it nor the two-into-one exhaust add claimable power to the 1,868cc Milwaukee Eight 114 engine, producing 119 lb-ft of torque. A lightweight, 19-inch front wheel with thin spokes reduces steering effort, and the forks—same as the Fat Bob, but with more travel—have tuned internals.
I walked around the Harley-Davidson FXDR 114, trying to imagine it in its future home. I’d see it in Sturgis, beneath a leathery, chapped woman in studs and tassels. At Daytona Beach, parked between stretched Hayabusas. I’d picture it at Great Lakes Dragway in Wisconsin, on a Tuesday night, fresh from the showroom. But none of it helped me better understand the bike, so I threw a leg over a matte brown FXDR 114 and set off into the canyons with a small group, including Latz, Savage, and Strong. The bike’s ergonomics aren’t as tortured as its shape suggests, but the riding position definitely felt unfamiliar—ass out, shoulders tucked, wide and brawny.
I took my time getting to know the FXDR 114, riding north along Highway 33 into Los Padres National Forest. The pack ahead pulled away, and I sashayed through the long-corner canyons, exploring the FXDR’s lean. With 32.8 degrees on the left and 32.6 degrees on the right, there’s plenty to explore. (For reference, a Fat Bob has 32.0 and 31.0 degrees, respectively.) In my mirror, I saw Savage earning his name, hanging far off the side a Fat Bob; the harder he chased, the faster I went. I wrung out the engine, trusted more in the twin-disc front brakes, and slowly but surely started enjoying the FXDR 114. A hog in ballet slippers, unexpectedly light-footed and assured in turns; the dynamics team dialed in the FXDR’s chassis at Blackhawk Farms Raceway, and it shows. Savage passed me before our first stop, where I made friends with a stray cat. Our second stop: Ojai Valley Gun Club, where I shot (10 of 25) clay pigeons with a 12-gauge shotgun.
I looked at the pencil-thin strips of unused rubber on the outside edges of the FXDR’s wide rear tire. It felt like I was muscling around a lot of bike, but those strips told me the FXDR had more to offer than I could or would coax out. I felt unsure of the FXDR, which kept me from pushing it too hard, not knowing if it would play or bite. Those who know it best, though, clearly had a great time. “It's just my type of bike,” said Strong. “I mean your steering is right where the action is happening. That’s what I appreciate ... that I can feel in command of this bike.” With time I’d surely find my rhythm on the FXDR, but honestly what would help me most is meeting “the someone” this bike is built for.
While I can tell you the Harley-Davidson FXDR 114 rides smoothly, feels solidly built, has addictive torque, and hauls ass into and through corners, I can’t tell you I understand it or its intentions, and ipso facto whether it accomplishes what it set out to accomplish. The FXDR isn’t for me, which makes sense since I prefer more traditional Harley-Davidsons, like the Street Bob. If the FXDR appeals to you, tell me why, then schedule a test ride. Schedule one even if it doesn’t appeal to you, because the 2018 Harley-Davidson FXDR 114 is a funky bike worth riding.