Road test: 2007 Harley Davidson FXSTC Custom Softail
Harley’s fascination with the ’60s continues unabated. Last year saw the introduction of the company’s Street Bob, a Dyna Glide with a semi-ape-hanger handlebar and a shorty seat.
This year sees an even more authentic retro-classic with styling based on the famous Captain America chopper that Peter Fonda rode in Easy Rider. The FXSTC Custom is essentially a Softail groomed in classic chopper garb. The front fork is raked to a substantial 21 degrees, the front spoked wheel is a skinny 21-inch affair and the seat is a modern version of the “King and Queen” on which Jack Nicholson so majestically perched.
Of course, there’s much modernism to the Softail custom as well. The rear wheel wears a huge 200/55R17 tire in deference to the current style.
The motor is Harley’s latest fuel-injected Twin Cam 96 — a model of decorum and performance. And though the FXSTC may look as if it has the rigid “hard tail” that all choppers of the Easy Rider era sported, like all Softails there are twin shock absorbers hidden underneath the engine to offer some degree of suspension compliance.
In fact, the new Softail rides comparatively well. Normally, the two stunted dampers underneath the frame offer only a mediocre ride, but the Custom is actually measurably more comfortable than the last Softail I rode. Perhaps the larger rear tire offers some additional compliance.
Ditto the front fork, which, despite its gangly appearance, does a great job of tracking over bumps.
The components, however, can’t mask the custom’s deliberately odd steering geometry. Any chopper with a raked and extended front end tends to fall into low-speed corners. Factor in the FXSTC’s wide rear tire combined with the skinny front tire and low-speed steering can be awkward.
Above 50 kilometres an hour, the sensation disappears, but be forewarned that U-turns take some practice.
That same steering geometry makes the custom extraordinarily stable at cruising speeds, however. Snick the new six-speed cruise-drive transmission into its overdrive top cog and this Softail comes into its element, especially since the new transmission has the engine spinning so smoothly.
Softails are the only Harley Big Twins still rigidly mounting the engine into the frame rather than rubber-mounting to prevent vibration. Original Softails vibrated like a dentist’s drill at any speed above 100 km/h. With the new taller gearing reducing engine revs, however, the Custom’s sweet spot has been extended to about 125 km/h and, even beyond that speed, the new engine’s lighter pistons reduce the vibration reaching the rider through the pegs and handlebars.
Those handlebars will also limit the Softail Custom’s cruising speed to that same 125 klicks or so.
More comfortable than they appear at legal highway speeds, the bars have your hands so high in the air that they turn your body into a sail when speeding along. Better to enjoy the countryside at your leisure than to rip your arms from their shoulder sockets trying to resist the immutable laws of aerodynamics.
Even more than before, Harley is extending its lead in the design of retro customs. Like the Street Bob, Fat Boy, Super Glide and numerous other recent efforts, the Softail Custom should be a hit right out of the box. That it also now has a more powerful and sophisticated engine, not to mention a (finally) modern transmission, is simply icing on the cake.
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