Forty Years Of Harley-Davidson Softail

The original Harley-Davidson Softail, the FXST from 1984. PHOTO CREDIT: Harley-Davidson

If you want a bike that looks like it’s a hardtail, but comes with a functional rear suspension system, Harley-Davidson builds what you want—a Softail. And this year, the Softail series celebrates 40 years in production.

The original Softail chassis was designed by engineer Bill Davis, who came up with the design as a custom modification for his old-school Super Glide with dual rear shocks. Harley-Davidson acquired the rights to Davis’ design and released the first Softail model in 1984, the FXST. Yes, the Motor Company has been into confusing acronyms for a very long time. But we can forgive them for not taking the time to think of something more snappy back then, because there was a lot going on in ’84—the AMF era came to an end, as a group of investors bought the company out (including the legendary Willie G. Davidson). It was also the end of the Ironhead era, as the Evolution motor came to the Big Twin and Sportster lineups. The FXST was one of the first EVO-powered bikes.

Now, four decades later, the Softail lineup is still going strong. While these bikes have generally put styling first, performance second, some of Harley-Davidson’s zippiest models are Softails—specifically, the Fat Bob 114 with its inverted fork and hot-rod 114ci Milwaukee Eight motor, and the Low Rider ST, with its thug bike styling, Milwaukee Eight 117ci engine and USD fork.

The Softail lineup also has the Softail Standard cruiser, the Street Bob bobber, the Low Rider S club-style bike, the Pro Street-styled Breakout, the retro Heritage Classic 114 and Fat Boy 114 models and the Sport Glide tourer. We’ve had the chance to test-ride several of these models over the years (see here, here, here) and look forward to riding whatever Harley-Davidson comes out with next—because you know they won’t let an anniversary like this go past without some sort of commemorative model! Maybe we can expect a tie-in with the new Bikeriders movie?

For a good look at H-D’s current Softail bikes, check out their website here.


Join the conversation!