Photographs by Suresh Narayanan
It’s easy to get carried away in this new wave of ultra sophisticated motorcycles that are becoming increasingly easier to ride. The new breed of motorcycles are obviously toeing the line that once separated the boys from the men, the actual hardcore motorcyclists from the Wikipedia-infused compulsive talkers. Long, lonesome hours with just you, your motorcycle and the open road, are almost become a thing of the past. It’s reached a point where you can take a break from swilling your dainty little coffee (that has more syllables than coffee beans), swing a leg over almost any new age motorcycle, pin the throttle, hit every apex in sight, slam on the brakes, and still be alive with completely unsoiled pants. Of course you’d still have something to complain about, while simultaneously thinking you are the new God of motorcycling. Gone are the days when motorcycles were the ones revered as Gods. But, notice how I slipped ‘almost’ in there so very discreetly? That’s because once in a while, there comes along a proper hellion that will bend you to its will, or kick you squarely in the face.
Once you’ve gotten past my slight over dramatising of the whole motorcycle-motorcyclist synchronisation syndrome, I’ll give you a little insight into what inspired me to do so. I speak of course about the new Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. It’s an honest reminder of what real, raw motorcycling is about in all its unfiltered glory. This is a motorcycle that does things the old way, the way a motorcycle should. You’ve got to spend time with it, study it, respect it, and only then will you slowly understand how to really ride it. And I don’t mean be one of those leather clad, bandana wearing pseudo-bikers that are slowly drowning in badges, accessories and the sound of their own voices (proclaiming how much those accessories cost, of course). You’ll probably fly past them on the highway as they sit pretty at 80kph and wait for any passing soul to give them a sideward glance, and that’s if they haven’t already stopped for the first hundred-thousand selfies. No. I mean be the actual badass that the legendary motorcyclists of yesteryear were; some still are. Endless hours in the saddle, muscles bulging from the twisting of wrenches and bare metal. And consequently, wrestling these behemoths into manoeuvres that would make their mothers request the intervention of God himself.
Lo and behold, the Fat Boy is a legend in its own right. Spawned in 1990 and immortalised by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Hollywood movie ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’, the Fat Boy has a bit of a clandestine theory behind its naming. Harley-Davidson claims the bike just looks ‘fat’. But there were two very historically controversial pieces of cargo carried by two Boeing B-29 Superfortress aircraft, namely Fat Man and Little Boy. Those were the names of the cargo pieces, of course. The aircraft had your more everyday names, Bockscar and Enola Gay to be precise. Now while you ponder over the ingenuity of American nomenclature, it appears that the Fat Boy does have one design element that’s quite similar to the B-29 aircraft. Those solid-disc Lakester wheels give the bike a real wholesome look. It looks like it’d probably go right through a wall, or two.
If you lived through the 90s, you will still think this bike is the epitome of cool. Once you actually get a glimpse of it in all its satin chrome glory, you will definitely want more. More of just sitting back and admiring the legacy that has sculpted this beast into what it is. The solid looking headlight and fork covers look like they’re sculpted from a single block of metal. And the new circular LED layout simply draws you with almost a robotic sort of hypnosis. The Fat Boy sits with an air of authority that only magnifies once you get into the saddle. It’s no wonder why overcompensating, middle-aged men are drawn towards it like flies to manure. Even as I settled into that low-slung, relaxed arms seating posture, I myself was drawn into a realm where for a moment, I actually imagined what it would be like to be the Terminator himself. Then I looked in the mirror and remembered my name, and realised that I bore a closer resemblance to the guy from the ‘American Pie’ movie series, whose name has an unfortunate combination of the earlier character’s name and my own.
As you thumb the starter, there is this sort of shudder that climbs vertically from the core of the motorcycle. It travels through your spine, takes a slight pit stop in your shoulders and chest, before it travels through your arms. It culminates in a tingling sensation at your finger-tips. As if to remind you to look alive, there’s no slacking off from this point on; use your tools carefully. The 1745cc Miluwakee-Eight engine gives you a welcome reminder of the thousands of controlled explosions that are taking place in the two big-bore cylinders, nestled impatiently between your legs, waiting to be unleashed. This engine is a testament to decades of engineering that has strived to keep the feel of a big twin alive.
As you shift it into first-gear, there’s a proper, wholesome thud to remind you of the large chunks of metal that are working in perfect unison to propel you forward. The bike lunges with tenacity, and makes you question its intentions as a cruiser. Gone is the low-end grunt of the older engines; the Miluwakee-Eight sings a more boisterous melody. It wants you to work the gearbox. Crawling around in higher gears will draw out sputters of protest; city riding is too pedestrian for this monster. Its propensity to be most content in the mid and high range will constantly egg you on to push it a little harder. The watered down vocals could also be more reason for you to shove higher volumes of air through those exhaust pipes.
As you settle into a healthy highway pace, the Fat Boy simply absorbs you. Throwing it into the first corner that turns up seems like a herculean task. You will question how this almost planetary like mass will do anything but go in an absolutely straight line. The 160-section front and 240-section rear tyre give you the impression they could hold you in an almost infinite orbit. And then, in a rather innocuous manner, it dips into the corner like it’s on rails. The low center of gravity means switching direction is also a rather fuss free affair. The new suspension setup will ensure you glide over most surfaces with grace and poise. It all feels like a single fluidic motion, devoid of any of the drama you were expecting. But the guys at Harley knew this would happen. Hidden quietly under the floorboards are peg-scrapers. Of course, since cornering on this bike is so addictive and confidence inspiring, don’t expect them to have a significant lifespan. Eventually it will boil down to spark inducing friction from the floorboards scraping the road surface.
While all of this may make it sound like the Fat Boy rides like a feather, let me assure you, it does not. No, it makes you work; it makes you think. It makes you focus your mind and your muscles into planning everything you do before hand, including braking. While the bike will stop when you need it to, squeeze on only the front brake and you will feel the 320kg heft protest this interruption of inertia through a spongy feeling in the lever. But the chunk of mass over the rear tyre does mean you can distribute a significant amount of anchoring duty to the rear brake.
The Fat Boy isn’t just a motorcycle. Sure, if you bought it only so you can boast about it with your Harley support group, then it will be just that. Give it the respect and attention that it deserves and it will become so much more. I’ve never really been a big fan of Harleys. But the more I rode the Fat Boy, the more convinced I was that my bucket list would be a poorer place without this on it. Now all we can do is pray that the next generation of motorcyclists still have that inexplicable thirst to experience motorcycling in its raw, unadulterated form. It’s the only way this legacy will continue to survive. If not, well you can still use the Fat Boy to scare the living daylights out of them.