Harley-Davidson Celebrates 30 Years Of An Iconic Motorcycle

Every few years a manufacturer (motorcycle, car or otherwise) will select a certain model of a vehicle to pay homage through some sort of limited edition design. The idea is to showcase the model’s history and integrity within the brand while potentially opening up a new audience to the model. This being the 30th anniversary of the iconic Fat Boy® model, Harley-Davidson decided to do just that – with stellar results.

Taking its design cues from the 1949 Harley Hydra Glide post war model as well as a custom built “Lowboy” discovered in a Montreal, Canada Dealership by HD product man Jerry Wilke, the Fat Boy® was designed then tested at Daytona Bike Week. Willie G Davidson along with Louie Netz and their team finalized the design, launching the first Fat Boy®  in 1990.

Any iconic design goes through various stages of notoriety which often leads to mass cultural exposure. This is exactly what happened when the Fat Boy® was cast under the original “Terminator,” Arnold Schwarzenegger, in 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Exposure from Hollywood can be a good thing, as was the case for the Fat Boy®. The epic chase scene with the “Terminator” astride this massive muscular machine was a memory that brought newfound exposure to the model globally.

Just last year The Lego Group introduced a kit which details the iconic engineering of the Fat Boy® motorcycle. Harley developed the kit in partnership with “LEGO” and includes the Milwaukee-Eight® engine, moving pistons, dual exhaust pipes, handlebar steering, moveable gear shift, brake levers and a kickstand. I might have to pick up one of those. For the grandson, of course.

Power for Weight

When you label a bike “Fat” you better deliver on horsepower and through the years Harley has again met the market need in the powerplant area. The original rigid-mounted Evolution V-Twin had been updated over time going through the counterbalanced Twin Cam 88B, fuel injection, the Twin Cam 103 and eventually celebrating 30 years with the new Milwaukee-Eight® 114. This motor produces plenty of horsepower for this soft tail frame.

Fat Not Fluff

Early frame and suspension design included little rear travel but a forward thinking inverted front fork to complement the overall muscular look of the bike. Oversized tires on the solid aluminum disk rims provided additional comfort on long rides until the new Softail design with adjustable rear shock was incorporated into the Fat Boy® frame in 2018. The 30th Anniversary model includes the new rear shock adjustability along with a 240/40R18,79V, BW rear tire and a 160/60R18,70V, BW on the front.

It’s Your Birthday

This brings us to our time on the serialized 30th Anniversary model. We were provided iteration number 1983 out of a total of 2500 units of this limited model manufactured.  There is a serial number badge mounted on the gas tank below the speedometer and instrument cluster. For this edition the H-D design team went with a more modern blacked out model adding accent colors on the Twin Cam heads that match the vintage winged tank logo. In our opinion the Harley design team did a great job in elevating the industrial look of the bike with a modern take on color scheme and features.

Having first eyed the bike at this year’s Daytona Bike Week at the Harley-Davidson pavilion at the Speedway, I was ready to run this fully blacked out beast of a motorcycle through the gears.

Tall & Fat

I’ve ridden and reviewed several bikes this year (fuel powered and electric), some of which I fit better on and some not so much (at 6’2” I’ve been the “gorilla on a mini bike” more than once). My current 2014 Street Glide Special has been modified with a Tall Boy seat, 12” KST Bars and highway pegs so I can stretch, so I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the stock Fat Boy®  felt to my lanky frame. Unbeknownst to the missus, I had been eyeing a second bike for my stable as I felt it would be great to have a local “Bar Hopper” for buzzing around town. I was curious if the Fat Boy could be that machine.

Riding vs Wrestling

At launch you can sense the Milwaukee-Eight® engine pleading for more throttle. This powerplant wants to run – fast! The power band is quick on the top end and gets you off the line with a quick blip. The transmission is smooth through the gears although this model delivers a “squeak” from the tranny when downshifting. I’m assuming this will go away after the break-in period. At stops the engine doesn’t rock the bike like the 103 on my Street Glide. In around-town traffic I found it rare to even suggest I would snap the shifter into 6th gear. The engine in 5th doesn’t exhibit even a hint of high rev concern and remains comfortable in the deep 60’s.

Like most, I enjoy curves on a bike and apparently, I enjoy them more than the Fat Boy®. The 240 rear tire and 160 on the front do indeed require a bit more force on the bars and a touch of “body english” to get this beast carving through consecutive twisties. I do have to say that once you understand what this machine is asking for she returns the favor with joyful turns and enough speed to get your heart revving nicely.

Coming of Age

This Fat Boy® model, being the first one I’ve ridden, would be difficult for me to compare to previous generations of the design. I did describe it to a colleague as a “Tractor with a Jet Engine.” When probed to define that, I was at a loss but could only say that it feels massive when tracking and turning but the engine responds in kind when the situation calls for more speed, be it straight line or on a twisty road.

Suffice it to say that this model’s blacked out design coupled with the killer wheels and new Milwaukee-Eight® 114 have brought this icon into a new era and into my stable.  Well done Harley-Davidson! Time to go Bar Hopping!

Phil G.

For more on the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy 30th Anniversary, click HERE.

*Photos by Phil Gauthier, Rob Brooks, and Harley-Davidson