As the decade of elegance and glamour, the 1930s had ridden in on the coat tails of the decadent 1920s jazz age, a period when women had cut their hair and dressed like boys. Attitude is everything, alongside style and influence, and the backlash was unleashed. Women then looked towards Hollywood, became feminine once again and abandoned trousers suits, turned into dizzy blondes and took to wearing silk, velvet and fur. The Second World War put paid to that, leaving little money to frizzle away on clothes and recycling old material came into its own.
In order to read the market, one needs to research, analyse and gain insight before trends can take hold. As the jazz age had taken a hold, so too in the 1920s did a new trend in the world of motorbikes, one that would continue well into the 1990s, thanks to ‘bob-job’, the original name of the bobber custom motorcycle. Stripped of excess bodywork, with the front fender gone, the rear fender shortened (bobbed), and any other superfluous parts discarded to save weight. Stripped and ready for action.
The release of Harley-Davidson’s ‘J’ Series V-Twin saw creativity take a hold as home builders took their stock bikes and went down the modification route with a lowered bike with small diameter wheels, a cut-down frame and shorter rear section, all directed towards a solo rider. The distinctive shape identified by the sweeping diagonal line between the steering head and rear axle could not be mistaken. Bob-job was born. Other bikers quickly took note and the ‘California Cut-Down’ phase began. Come the 1930s, and both H-D and Indian were producing–D and Indian were producing bikes that followed the ‘Cut-Down’ trend. Even racers determined to increase performance began discarding the front fender and creating a ‘bob-tail’ rear fender. Bob-job was born.
I was recently watching a television documentary on movie icon Marlon Brando, famed for his role in ‘The Wild One’. Whilst Brando chose to ride his own Triumph Thunderbird in the film, his nemesis in the film, Lee Marvin, sat astride a bobber-style Harley Panhead.
Manufacturer modifications continued as more and more accessories appeared on the shelves to further enhance the bob-job look, with Harley, Indian and Triumph taking advantage of the ongoing trend. Bikers, too, were not cutting corners, although they were going to extremes with their chopped frames, increasing wheelbases and the length of their forks. Choppers were just around the corner, and come 1969 and the release of Easy Rider, bobbers, which had been around for 30 years, had to resort to the pillion for a while (yes, I know there isn’t one!).
Whilst many back shed bike builders turned their attention to the growing trend in cafe racers, bobbers were by no means dead in the water. Come the new millennium, and the custom scene was re-emerging. In Britain, Triumph brought back the ever-popular Bonneville, yet another platform ripe for customisation, and in today’s family line-up, introduced in 2021, the Triumph Bobber is one of the marque’s best-selling bikes. A simple mod by adding a small pillion seat and you also have the fast-selling Speedmaster.
And so to Harley, whose Street Bob has undergone several transitions since its debut in the Dyna series in 2006 through to 2016, when a change was made from the Twin Cam 96 to the Twin Cam 103 in 2014. Three years later, the Street Bob became a Softail and acquired the Milwaukee-Eight 107 powerplant. The latest, 2021 iteration remains the lightest Softail model yet to use the Milwaukee-Eight 114 engine. With 90 horses and 119lb-ft of torque, you can expect its bark to be backed up with plenty of bite.
Aside from the popular new Street Bob, to my mind of the current cache of bikes on the market, Harley’s revamped Fat Bob remains the most striking of the bunch, so named after its blend of broad gas tank and cut-down bobber style… yes, that word ‘style’ again, as opposed to a type of motorcycle. The Fat Bob certainly benefitted from emerging from the Dyna into the Softail line-up in 2018, enhanced by a different frame, swing arm, suspension and rubbed-mounted engine.
When I drew up at a local café it was immediately surrounded by bikers, some from the local Chapter. For some it was the first time they had seen one, and proved to be a start in its own right, with its cool, yet muscular, street-style expressionism, fat tyres, understated paint scheme, and stubby appearance. Harley has been very clever here, because the Fat Bob oozes presence; it draws you in to take a closer look, tempting you to crawl on to its back.
That squatness soon disappears as you straddle the 28-inch high seat, take hold of the drag bars and lift the 675lb bike off its side stand. I rode out ahead of a friend on his Honda CBR600. After a pleasant ride along some long straights and sweeping country roads, he commented that he had never seen anyone carve so easily on a Harley. Let me assure you that that was not me, but the bike offering such an amazingly confidence-inspiring ride. I was pleasantly surprised at how easily it flicked into corners for a machine of its size, and not once did I feel unstable, the brakes offering excellent bite when needed. It was almost as if this bike had been specially engineered for Britain’s bends, with enough traction to spare to appease even the twitchiest of riders.
If it’s muscle and masculinity you are seeking, then the Fat Bob should flex your wallet. Even in urban sprawl it’s a doddle to ride, versatility being one of its key strengths. Talking about strength, bear in mind that if you go for this latest iteration, it only comes available with the stonking Milwaukee-Eight 114 powerplant. And what about humps and bumps. Nah. Harley have taken care of that, too, with a 43mm inverted fork offering over five inches of travel, and the rear offering 4.4 inches nicely taming the Tarmac.
I guess what is most striking about the Fat Bob is those upswept dual exhaust cans and the exhaust cover with its neat copper patina beautifully set against the blacked-out engine, topped off with fat tyres. This being of the bobber style, the pillion seat is small, tiny even, although the foot pegs are positioned such that the rider can make use of them for a change, offering a completely different, almost sporty, riding stance.
So, without doubt this is a showpiece bike, one that can hustle with the best of them, but one devoid of modern gizmos, so don’t expect bundles of rider modes. You do get ABS, and you can change the trip counter, but that’s about it, although you do get an analogue tachometer with digital speedometer, gear indicator (always useful), odometer, fuel level, clock, trip and range indication.
But then this bike is not about gimmicks, it’s a rider’s bike, as all Harleys are. It’s extremely comfortable, and, if modestly understated, it’s breaking new ground. And whilst it stands naked against some of the marque’s other big bruisers, it still takes some manoeuvring in tight spots. Well, it is a Harley, after all, and a bloody good one at that.
Images | Courtesy Harley-Davidson
HARLEY FAT BOB 114
- Price: £16,995 (Vivid Black), add £350 for Vivid Red or Deadwood Green Denim
- Engine: Milwaukee-Eight 114 V-twin
- Maximum torque: 155Nm/118ft-lb @ 3500 rpm
- Horsepower: 93hp/69Kw @ 5020rpm
- Suspension: (F) Non-adjustable 43mm inverted cartridge fork w/ triple-rate springs; 5.1 inches (R) Spring-preload adjustable shock; 4.4 inches
- Wheels: (F) and (R) Denim black, cast Aluminium with laser etched graphics
- Tyres: (F) 150/80 x 16 (R) 180/70 x 16
- Brakes: Calliper type, 4-piston fixed front and 2-piston floating rear
- Seat height: 28 inches
- Fuel capacity: 3.6 gallons
- Estimated fuel consumption: 47mpg
- Curb weight: 676lb