The 2018 Harley-Davidson Fat Bob (Image Credits: Harley-Davidson)

Harley-Davidson has just announced five new Touring bikes and eight new Softail cruisers in a huge revamp of its lineup, along with the demise of the long-running Dyna machines. For those who have been asking how H-D hopes to stay relevant as its core customer base gets too old to ride, here’s its answer.

Casual observers won’t see a massive departure from the brand’s basic aesthetic, but Harley-Davidson is pitching its 2018 lineup as the biggest bump in practical performance it’s made in a long time. I have to admit, I really dig the way some of these things look.

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The big news here is Harley’s Softail cruiser line consuming the Dyna line, which has basically been one of the Milwaukee motorcycle company’s standard-bearers for 25 years. While some fans will undoubtedly mourn the Dyna’s “death,” motorcycle industry commentators seem to be in consensus that the Dyna had been tweaked and torqued and tuned-up as many times as its chassis could take.

As Harley rolls out its newest, most-powerful engines ever, it needed a new frame design to accommodate the extra energy.

“New frame, new chassis, new suspension, new metal. New everything, really,” Harley-Davidson Product Portfolio Manager Paul James told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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And indeed, Harley promises that all eight of the new Milwaukee-Eight 107 and 114-powered Softails in its revitalized cruiser lineup are “faster, lighter and better handling” than any of their Big Twin cruiser predecessors. (The number-names refer to the engines respective displacements in cubic inches.)

As press releases and promotional clips of these machines start coming out, I’m sure you’ll hear a lot of lines about “what makes a Harley a Harley” and “something something soul” but I actually liked what the company’s VP of Styling And Design Brad Richards said on camera: “Form follows function, but both report to emotion.”

I can appreciate machines that archaic for the sake of producing a distinctive experience, but if Harley has managed to preserve the inherent coolness of a burbly cruiser with modern performance, the company could actually have a better chance of retaining relevance than some of us may have thought.

As far as “form” goes, Cycle World calls out the new designs as “clearly linked to the 1936 EL Knucklehead and ’49 Panhead.” Harley has Jeep’s problem of not being able to mess with its look too much without raising hell in the fanbase. But at the same time, H-D really needs to wrangle in new riders. I think the mild design modernizations we’re seeing here are a step in the right direction.

A source who claims to have spent time working within the company recently explained to us that the 107 engine will be standard, with four models getting an S designation that upgrades to the 114. “All of the new bikes get LED lights, are around 30-35 [pounds] lighter than their old versions, and are significantly stiffer. So lighter bike, more powerful engine, stiffer frame... these bikes are going to blow the old ones out of the water,” the source said in an email.

That same person also shared the company’s apparent internal codenames for the bikes in its new Softail lineup, which I’ll share with the headline features of each new Softail model straight from Harley-Davidson’s official release:

Breakout - FXBR/S

  • New smooth-top 3.5-gallon fuel tank
  • Long and wide with low-slung raked out 49-mm front forks
  • Eighteen-inch rear (240 mm tire) and 21-inch front (130 mm tire) Gasser-style gloss-black powder coated cast aluminum wheels
  • Distinctive Daymaker™ Signature LED headlamp
  • Low-profile, riser-mounted digital instrument screen

Fat Boy - FLFB/S - “Institution”

  • Aggressive, steamroller stance and front-end design
  • Modern-day interpretation of the classic headlight nacelle
  • 160 mm front tire, the widest-ever on a Harley-Davidson production model, wrapping the solid Lakester front wheel
  • 31-pound weight reduction to previous model
  • Standard ABS
  • 240-mm rear tire with solid Lakester rear wheel
  • Optional Milwaukee-Eight 114 Engine

Fat Bob - FXFB/S - “Jaws”

  • 2-1-2 upswept performance exhaust with a custom finish
  • Largest aggressively-treaded tires from the Motor Company, 150-mm in the front and 180-mm in the rear
  • Dual-disc front brakes
  • 3.6-gallon fuel tank
  • 33-pound weight reduction to previous model
  • Inverted, 43-mm cartridge-style front forks
  • Optional Milwaukee-Eight 114 Engine

Heritage - FLHC/S

  • Detachable windscreen
  • Rigid, lockable, sealed, water-resistant saddlebags
  • Taller suspension with increased passenger and cargo payload capacity
  • 32-pound weight reduction to previous model
  • Optional: Milwaukee-Eight 114 Engine
  • Standard cruise control and ABS

Street Bob - FXBB - “Johnny Cash”

  • Smooth-top 3.5-gallon fuel tank
  • Black spoke wheels with chopped fenders
  • Low-profile, riser-mounted digital instrument screen
  • 17-pound weight reduction to previous model

Slim - FLSL

  • Dark finishes adorn the laced wheels, Hollywood handlebar, and all-new front-end design
  • Low-slung tuck and roll seatBold and smooth new front nacelle and fork cover styling
  • 35-pound weight reduction to previous model

Deluxe - FLDE

  • Signature all-LED lighting from front to back: headlight, running lights, Tombstone taillight and blade-like turn signals
  • Signature pull-back handlebar
  • 33-pound weight reduction to previous model
  • Standard ABS

Lowrider - FXLR

  • Throwback-style dual tank-mount speedo and tach gauges, headlight visor and fuel tank graphics
  • 19-inch front and 16-inch rear Radiate cast wheels
  • 2-into-2 Shotgun exhaust

More specifically speaking, all these bikes will be built on a shared platform that uses a carbon steel tubular frame with a hidden mono-shock in the rear to maintain the appearance of a rigid-rear bike without the ass-punishing ride quality.

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With the bikes saving about 30 pounds a piece from their predecessors and reportedly putting down more power (I can’t find specific power claims or assessments anywhere yet), Harley’s new Softail lineup should be a lot more engaging to ride.

H-D’s 2018 Street Glide Special

On the Touring side, the evolution for 2018 is not as dramatic. Harley’s huge long-range bikes are getting what the company calls a “reboot” of styling and “some performance enhancements.” The new Street Glide, Road Glide and Limited are benefitting from the same engine upgrades that will give the Softails more acceleration, as well as improved stereo systems and revised body work. And it seems that the Trike, Sportster and Street lineups will carry over for 2018.

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I personally have never actually ridden a Harley-Davidson, so I can’t contribute all that much personal commentary on what this change is going to mean from a rider’s perspective. I will, however, be putting a couple hundred miles on a few machines from the 2018 lineup next week and will report back on how they feel.