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.