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A Closer Look at the Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail

Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail

Bikers in general, or anyone basically familiar with Harley-Davidson motorcycles, has probably heard of the Heritage Softail model. And most all of us, even those considering themselves to be ignorant of all things ‘bike’, have had the pleasure, be it ever-so-perverse as some may think, of spotting and admiring (with deep-seated envy, probably) a riding enthusiast or two tooling around on a very cool-looking trike (or three-wheeler, to those without bike savvy). Well, there are some interesting facts to be learned about the Heritage Softail manufactured by Harley, and even more profound facts about trikes (as we will refer to them for the sake of saving face among the true biker set). What’s more, we have much to learn about the elusive Heritage Softail trike that may just make your jaw drop, if only a little.

So, let’s delve into this abundance of pending knowledge together. One of my personal mantras of life is ‘One can never know too much about any Harley’, a motto all should personally adopt, rider or not. You may be surprised to discover that what you thought you knew was nothing but smoke and mirrors. Then again, what you do learn could spark a new love for what was once, well, unknown hogwash. Read on…

The Heritage Softail: A Li’l Bit O’ History

The ‘Softail’ itself was originally designed about halfway through the ‘70's by a guy by the name of Bill Davis. Davis technically began working the model up in 1974, which consisted of a swing arm that brought springs and shocks up beneath the seat while basically swiveling at the bottom. It wasn’t until two years later that he got in touch with Willie Davidson and showed the man what he had been working on: A prototype he had built that much like the Super-Glide of 1972 in theory and in physical form, with some exceptions. Together, the men tweaked his design a bit, moving the shocks and springs beneath the actual frame and the swivel point from the swing arm's bottom to its top.

The bike was rethought and rebuilt, being perfected and perfected yet again. At last, when 1982 rolled around, Davis attempted to head out on his own to start a company called Road Worx, which, as most of us know, failed. At that point, he sold his design and the patents he had gained, as well as the prototype itself, to Harley-Davidson. It took the iconic company only one year to release what they considered to be an acceptable version. The FXST Softail was introduced to the public in 1983.

The Softail possesses traits that are exclusive to its model and model name. For instance, to the naked eye, the bike appears to be rigid in frame, looking much like a hard tail. But its rear-end provides a comfortable, rather than hard, bumpy ride thanks to shocks that run along its axis (on model years ’84 through 2017); in ’18 the shocks were re-positioned beneath the seat. The front forks also underwent re-configuration so they would mimic pre-’49 Hydra-Glides. Today, there are several models out there that have been built using the Softail frame, including the Springer Softail, the Softail Slim, and of course, the Heritage Softail, just to name a few.

So, from this information, we know that the Softail is basically a two-wheeler, right? Then what’s all this about trikes? Did Harley manufacture a Softail trike and two and two were simply never put together by anyone other than the highest of aficionados? Well, as we will soon discover, that’s not really how it works…not anymore, mostly.

Harley-Davidson, the Heritage Softail, and the ‘Trike’

So, let’s first look at Harley’s first direct hand with actual ‘three-wheeler’; that will give us a little bit more of a clear picture regarding their true relationship to the trike. Many think that every trike they see rolled off the assembly line as it is, like all the other bikes on the road. Not so at all.

When the Depression hit, Harley got hit like everyone else. They needed to keep their heads above water, and many different undertakings enabled them to do that. One was the design and production of a triple-wheeled vehicle meant for deliver use, which was called the ‘Servi-Car’. That model was produced until 1973, and the company returned more to its roots. But then, in 2009, Harley began to produce the Tri-Glide Classic, a trike that fell under the model designation FLHTCUTG, for those familiar with the model lettering representations. For those who aren’t, to put it simply, it was descended slightly from the Servi-Car, but mostly was an ancestor to the Harley Free wheeler model and the FL line. Mostly it was designed like the ElectraGlide Ultra Classic, which falls under the tour bike category. Most may recall the Tri-Glide leading the procession for President Obama’s inauguration, if that helps with the mental picture a bit.

The second trike actually manufactured by the company was released in 2010, and was named the Street Glide Trike. The bike had less features that came standard than other bikes, and it wasn’t a big hit. It was discontinued eventually. Finally, 2015 saw the final trike they made, the Freewheeler.

The Truth, Though Painful, IS Out There

That brings us to the question of the day: Is every Harley trike we see manufactured and sold by Harley-Davidson? The answer is no, absolutely not. The truth is that the vast, and I mean VAST, majority of trikes we see on the road have been put together with a conversion kit, which is nothing more than a kit that allows for a two-wheel bike to be altered to a bike with three-wheels that is street legal. There are a lot of technicalities involved that we won’t go into here.

What we will go into is the relationship between the Heritage Softail and the production line trikes Harley released. Now, there are, indeed, many similarities, both aesthetically and mechanically. However, the trikes actually produced by the company are each simply related to their predecessors more than any other model. To make it plain, if you see a Heritage Softail, someone probably kit-altered it, regardless of the model Softail it is. Don’t let this break your heart; it’s easy to see a trike and immediately think that was the way it rolled off the line. But more often than not, it didn’t. Sorry for the pain, but facts are facts, folks.

And so…

You have had a yen to own a Heritage Softail trike for years. You’ve kept your eye out and turned green with envy if you saw one. They were so much cooler than the plain old Softail you have. So, turn that Softail into a trike. It can be done, and what you saw proved it. Time and again. That should be a motivator, not a depressant. Don’t feel let down, by any means. If you want an authentic trike by H-D, get one. Just keep in mind it won’t be a Heritage Softail…at least, not from birth. It’s had a bit of…surgery. Well, there it is: The Truth. Good news and bad news all rolled into one package. But a Harley is a Harley, so go for what you want. It’s been made possible for you, so make it possible for yourself. And enjoy the road, no matter how many wheels are under you.

Benjamin Smith

Written by Benjamin Smith

Benjamin Smith is one of the managing editors of Moneyinc. Ben's been focusing on the auto and motorcycle sector since 2005. He's written over 1000 articles in the space and continues to learn about it each day. His favorite car is "any Bugatti" and he's a die hard Harley Davidson fan.

Read more posts by Benjamin Smith

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