The old adage "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" applies in spades to the Heritage Softail, or FLSTC. You could park the current version beside the original, introduced in 1986, and the physical differences would be minimal. Both are styled after Harley-Davidson’s HydraGlide, which debuted in 1949, and was the first Harley equipped with hydraulic front suspension.
That said, this model has had its share of engineering refinements over the years. It’s now fuel-injected, for example, and features Harley’s latest incarnation of the Twin Cam engine and a six-speed transmission. It also has disc brakes front and back, and received a redesigned chassis a couple of years ago. Harley also upped the engine size of its Softail models, back in 2006 – 2007, and, in this configuration, the air-cooled V-twin displaces some 96 cubic inches, or 1584 cc. Like most motorcycle manufacturers, Harley doesn’t reveal the horsepower output of its bikes, but torque is rated at 92.195 foot-pounds at 3000 rpms. According to my admittedly crude calculations, that works out to about 53 horsepower, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot for a bike of this size. It has a dry weight of 330 kilograms.
Nonetheless, the Heritage Softail has plenty of urge when you need it and, on the highway, there is no shortage of reserve and passing grunt. Don’t look for raw, tire-melting power here, but if you want a decent touring bike that is also one of the definitive boulevard cruisers, you’re in the right place. The Heritage Softail won’t shield you from the wind as efficiently as Harley’s ElectraGlide models, for example, and it lacks all the various accessories and extras, but it’s as stable as an eighteen-wheeler once it gets up to highway speed. A cute little "6" on the headlight nacelle lights up to let you know when you’ve gotten into sixth, which I’ve always found kind of redundant. Put it this way: if you don’t know which gear you’re in, perhaps you should think twice about riding in the first place.
Moving right along, the Heritage has always featured a rigid-mount drivetrain. The engine is bolted directly to the frame, in other words, and there is nothing to isolate its workings from the rider. There are two schools of thought here; some insist on having that cushion of rubber to kill the engine’s vibrations, while others like to feel what’s going on and maintain that a rigid mount is more traditional, and makes the most sense, because the engine stays put and doesn’t bounce around when it’s idling. Isolated drivetrains certainly have the edge when it comes to all-day, dawn til dusk riding, but Harley has civilized this drivetrain to the point where it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes. This current generation of the Twin Cam powerplant is so much more refined than the old Evolution that preceded it, it’s hard to believe they both came from the same manufacturer. Internal engine counter-balancers are partly responsible for the engine’s comparative smoothness, and this generation of the Heritage is arguably the most rider-friendly one the company has ever put forward.
Elsewhere, the Heritage Softail comes with a full-size windscreen, running lights, leather saddlebags, a goodly-sized passenger pillion, heel-and-toe shifter, and a sissy bar. In terms of styling, it has made few concessions to the present and still has the full-size fenders and various running lights that came with the original version. Seat height is a reasonable 64 cm, so the rider sits in the bike as opposed to on it, but the FLSTC is still a big hunk of iron, with a wide girth, and shorter riders may have issues when it comes to getting both feet flat on the ground. Aftermarket lowering kits are available, however, and you can drop this bike down by several centimetres without affecting either its balance or ground clearance.
In fact, the FLSTC’s low centre of gravity make sit one of the more stable low-speed models in Harley’s stable. This bike is about as sure-footed as full-size cruisers come, and if you can remember not to lean it over too much through the corners, it’s a pussycat to ride. Because it has foot-boards, rather than foot-pegs, it will scrape the pavement if you lean it over too much. Said foot-boards are hinged, however, and will fold up, to deal with such contingencies.
These days, a 2010 FLSTC has a base price of just about $20,500 before taxes and extras, which is almost as affordable as this bike has ever been. I can remember when it started in the mid-$20,000 range not that long ago, and the 2011 version – in showrooms now – is even slightly cheaper. Since the differences between these two are purely cosmetic, if you’re in the market for a Heritage Softail, this might be a good time to go shopping, and play one against the other when you talk to the salesman.