5th July 2022


Harley-Davidson has produced a host of fascinating motorcycles since the Davidson brothers and William S Harley joined forces way back in 1903. The Milwaukee company has told many stories during 122 years of motorcycle production; the latest being the Harley-Davidson Livewire, which showcases a brave electric future for the marque.

However, one motorcycle that must be near the summit of the Harley podium is the Fat Boy which has been a core part of the marque’s line-up since 1990. Now insurable as classics, these ‘90s bruisers proved to be a sales smash hit.

The curiously named cruiser has had a number of variants (sometimes perplexing to follow) but the essential product offering has remained the same: it’s a striking Harley-Davidson factory custom from the Softail family with a big, burbling V-Twin engine and a completely unique, imposing stance.

The Fat Boy is certainly designed to make a bold statement, which is a core part of the bike's appeal. Indeed, its best enjoyed as a cruiser, with a laid-back riding position putting the emphasis on comfort.

Harley-Davidson began the Fat Boy project in the late 1980s, showing early designs at the influential Daytona Bike Week rally and gauging the reaction of customers. This ‘close-to-the-customer’ approach served the brand well, especially considering the Fat Boy’s dramatic rethink of the established, classic Softail look – risking the alienation of a loyal fan club.

The project was in safe hands at least. Harley-Davidson’s chief stylist was Willie G. Davidson, who made a virtue of listening to customers – especially those who wanted a custom look direct from the factory. It also helped that his grandfather was one of the company’s founders, William A. Davidson. The talented designer, who’d previously worked for Ford, was able to deliver a new, far more muscular interpretation of the Softail cruiser.

The Fat Boy went into production in 1990 and early examples were noted for their gorgeous long, shotgun-style exhausts, extremely distinctive cast disc wheels and the seriously beefy, polished metal front forks. The name was the subject of several theories – some positively bizarre – but the actual answer is more prosaic. One of the designers noted that the motorcycle had a wider, heftier profile and his impromptu nickname stuck and made the brochure.

Harley-Davidson got a colossal, early PR boost in 1991 when the Fat Boy featured in Terminator 2 with a certain Mr Schwarzenegger gunning it about. Several bikes were employed during filming, but the Fat Boy ridden by the man himself made a hefty $480,000 at auction in 2018.

Owning any Harley in the UK – especially a bike like the Fat Boy that trades so heavily on its looks – can be challenging. All that bright metal and leather doesn't much like rain, sleet or winter road salt. But for an August afternoon ride-out with no firm plans (and maybe a bit of a desire to turn heads), an early example of the Fat Boy is hard to top. Reach for those wraparound shades and enjoy.

Have you owned a Harley Davidson Fat Boy? Let us know what you love about the motorcycle below.

In 2009 I rode my Kawasaki ZX9R to a friend's house, to look at a Fatboy he was selling. Although not intending to buy it, he convinced me to take it for a test ride. The beaming ear-to-ear smile on my face when I returned said it all ... and I acquired the 1450cc, 2001 carburated twin cam, Fatboy, that I still have today. Being short-legged, the 673 mm seat height allows me to sit on the wide and comfortable seat, with feet flat on the floor, and some knee bend. Also, despite being a hefty 346 kg when fully fuelled, it is relatively easy to manoeuvre, as long as you don't have to push it uphill! The low centre of gravity makes it feel very stable, and 'planted'. The standard riding position is very comfortable. The 63 hp and 78.2 lbs-ft, of power and torque, respectively, are delivered smoothly and, to date, reliability has been 100%. Handling takes a little getting used to, especially after riding sports bikes but, once you understand how well it can corner as well as cruise, it is a joy to ride. The Fatboy will rumble along, effortlessly, for as long as I want it to, and returns around 170ml on a tank of fuel. The overall effect is that I feel the Fatboy has presence, enough power, comfort, and handling capabilities to meet its intended purpose; and makes me feel 'happy' when I ride it.

Scony, 09/07/2022

I had the original grey in 1990, the bike was solid and a pleasure to ride. Now it's 2022 and I found a late Evo with low miles from 1998, I almost have her back to stock now. I have other older Harleys but this one still makes me smile... if you can find an early model don't hesitate.

Gordo, 09/07/2022

Love my Fat Boy! Extremely comfortable and loud. I throw it around like most other bikes I’ve owned. I’ve worn away several sets of floorboards over the years enjoying exactly how much you can get from one fat boy! So, comfy with a pillion-to-grin material when solo… Stage tuning allows for larger grins!

Greg, 09/07/2022