Harley-Davidson FLSTF Fat Boy

Launched in 1990, fat is still where it's at. Come and chew some...


After a quarter of a century, it's still one of the most desirable bikes in the Harley-Davidson range. Big, bold, and even a little brutal, the austere livery has long since given way to a range of colours. But how do they ride? Read our buyers guide and find out...

Fat Boy launch

Softail frame

Riding the 1990 Fat Boy


Fat Boy suspension

Instruments and switches


2014 Fat Boy

The great Fat Boy atom bomb "urban myth"



1990 FLSTF Fat Boy specifications


Engine: Air cooled, four stroke, 45-degreee
V-Twin, OHV, 2 valves per cylinder.
Bore x stroke: 88.8mm x 108mm
Capacity: 80-cubic inches (1,338cc)
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Carburettor: 40mm Keihin carburettor
Max power: n/a
Max Torque: 98.7 ft-lbs

Top speed: 92mph
Gearbox: 5-speed, manual
Primary transmission: Chain
Final drive: Belt
Frame: Duplex cradle, steel
Front fork: Telescopic, 5.1 inch wheel travel
Rear suspension: Single shock with linkage, Swinging arm: Softail frame, twin shock, 4.1 inch wheel travel
Front brake: Disc
Rear brake: Disc
Front tyre: 130/90 R16
Rear tyre: 130/90 R16
Dry weight: 655lbs (298kg)
Fuel capacity: 16 litres
Starting: Electric
Wheels: 16-inch front and rear, solid, cast
Wheelbase: 62.5-inches (1588 mm)




2014 Fat Boy Lo specifications

Engine: Air-cooled, Twin Cam 103B™
Bore x stroke: 98.4mm x 111.1 mm
Capacity: 1690cc (103.1 cu in)
Compression ratio: 9.6:1
Fuel system: Electronic sequential port fuel injection (ESPFI)
Max power: N/A
Max torque: 97.4 ft-lbs (132 Nm) @ 3000rpm
Top speed: 92mph
Gearbox: 6-speed, (Six-Speed Cruise Drive® transmission)
Primary transmission: Chain
Final drive: Belt
Frame: Duplex cradle, steel
Front fork: Telescopic
Rear suspension:  Softail, twin shocks,
Brakes Front & Rear: 4-piston front

and 2-piston rear, ABS
Front tyre: 140/75R17 67V
Rear tyre: 200/55R17 78V
Weight Dry/Wet: 313 kg / 330 kg
Fuel capacity:18.9 litres
Oil capacity: 3.3 litre
Fuel Economy (Combined City/Hwy): 5.6 l / 100 km
Wheels front & back: 17-inches, mirror polished chrome, bullet-hole disc-cast aluminium.
Length: 2396 mm
Wheelbase: 64.2-inches (1635mm)
Ground Clearance: 130mm
Seat height: 24.25-inches
Exhaust: Chrome, over/under shotguns with dual mufflers

RRP: £15,995



Fat Boy timeline


1984. Evolution all-aluminium engine launched. 80 cubic inch (1340cc). 40mm Keihin carburettor. Hydraulic lifters. Two valves per cylinder. 5-speed gearbox.


1984. Harley-Davidson Softail launched. Softail frame. FL type fat fork.


1990. Fat Boy launched. Solid mounted 80 cubic inch (1340cc) engine. 5-speed gearbox. Softail frame. Grey livery with yellow flashes.


2000. 88-cubic inch Fat Boy



  2003. 100th Anniversary Fatster.




  2006. 6-speed gearbox/transmission introduced. The image shows Harley's Screamin' Eagle 6-speed gear-set. It's not really needed, but upgrading your Hog goes with the territory.




  2007. 100th Anniversary Fatster. Electronic Fuel Injection, once optional on some models, is standardised across the range.




  2010. Fat Boy Lo introduced. One-and-a-quarter inch lower saddle. Narrowed 'bars. Denim (matt) finished frame. Bullet Hole wheels.





  2012. Twin Cam 103B-engine introduced




  The Fat Boy for 2014. Twin cam 103B engine. 103 cubic inches (1690cc). 140mm front tyre. 200mm rear tyre. 17-inch wheels front and rear. And anti-lock brakes. Basically, it offers the same-old-same-old fat experience for some, but offers subtle and welcome upgrade for others.





Harley-Davidson Riders Club of GB www.hdrcgb.org.uk


Warr's Harley-Davidson

611 Kings Road London SW6 2EL

Telephone: 0207 736 2934



Warr's Harley-Davidson

16-20 Mottingham Road, London SE9 4QW Tel: 0208 857 9198



Black Bear Harley-Davidson

(Newmarket, Suffolk).

Telephone: 01638 66 44 55









There's a story about President Richard Nixon talking to Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (image below) and light-heartedly (or light-headedly) offering to swap any three top US generals for Moshe Dayan. Golda Meir, in a reciprocal spirit of fun, allegedly replied, "Okay, I'll take General Motors, General Electric and General Dynamics".

Well, the fortunes of firms, both in the US and elsewhere, wax and wane. And General Motors has since certainly fallen on its face; so much so that in 2009 it required Chapter 11 Protection to enable it to stay in business never mind make a profit.

 But right now, in mid-2014, it's Harley-Davidson's star that's in the ascendancy. On and off, the firm has been on a roll since the 1981 management buy-out led by Vaughn Beals and chums, a shrewd corporate move that brought the axe down on the controversial AMF-era bikes and gave the "eagle" license to "soar alone" once more.




The Milwaukee-based company, founded in 1903, is currently fielding a devastatingly desirable range of muscle bikes having squarely broken out of its traditional air-cooled V-twin straightjacket (albeit a very comfortable straightjacket) with the near-legendary V-Rod and is now even flirting with electric technology.

But back in 1990, things were rockier. The newly reformed company was still finding its wheels. And a recession has just kicked in, a recession that would deliver a body blow to numerous US giants, not least Sears, Roebuck and Co which would be seriously wounded by the likes of K-Mart and Walmart and whose profits would be steadily eroded by an army of US discount stores.

. Harley-Davidson, however, saw its profits rise that year to $864.6 million, up from $790.6. And that was the year the Fat Boy was launched.

But "Fat Boy"?

What the hell kind of name is that for a motorcycle?

You can understand the name "Indian Scout". That sounds pretty cool (even though the word "Indian" isn't exactly politically correct when referring to Native Americans). And "The Flying Merkel" has a distinct ring to it. And no one is going to blush whilst piloting a "Super Glide".

But "Fat Boy"?

Then again, the Yanks have never been afraid of talking it up and taking it big, and coming back for more. That's because over in the States, being possessed of a (ahem) large personality isn't anything to get embarrassed about. There's no great social shame to weighing in at twenty stone (or so). There's no automatic stigma in needing two seats on a bus or an aircraft. And being hoisted off the sofa each night by two or three members of the family is not an uncommon Yankee ceremony.

Instead, there's a quiet acceptance that you are what you are (and what you eat). And when that acceptance has been firmly established, you can even have a little fun with it.

Hence the one-time huge appeal of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (one of the most popular US silent movie stars of the era). Or Oliver Hardy, the more corpulent antidote to Stan Laurel. Or "The Fatman" in the Maltese Falcon (as played by the illustrious Sidney Greenstreet). Or even William "Fatman" Conrad of the US TV series "Cannon". Being a lard-ass didn't do any of them any harm, and so it's been for Harley-Davidson.



And definitely fat.

And that's exactly what we love about the most famous motorcycle marque in the world; the sheer audacity and John Goodmanesque self-possession of Milwaukee's finest son, a one-man carnival of unabashed self-indulgence.

It is what it is, so get on it and/or get over it.





The original 80 cubic inch 1990 Fat Boy. Austere, by Harley standards. But this one spawned a generation of even fatter boys.



Fat Boy launch


original-fat-boy-engineThe Harley-Davidson FLSTF Fat Boy was introduced in 1990. That was the same year that McDonalds (spiritual home of world fatness) opened its first restaurant in Russia (in Moscow actually). The same year that Nelson Mandela got his walking papers. The same year that Germany was re-unified. The same year that the great Leonard Bernstein died of a heart attack.

Willie G Davidson himself is said to have been the driving force behind the 80-cubic inch behemoth, and it wasn't the first time that Willie (one-time Vice President of Styling) had dusted off a draughting pen (check out the FX Superglide and XLCR Cafe Racer).

With its gunmetal grey livery and 16-inch solid (disc) wheels, the Fat Boy looked like a two-wheeled battleship.

That livery, as some of you might recall, was reminiscent of a certain Harley chopper referred to as "Mystery Sled"; a bike that appeared in Easyriders magazine a decade or so earlier (and one that Willie G would have been familiar with). But there was less of a mystery attached to the Fat Boy, and it was definitely no chopper. This, instead, was a Fat Mobile easily capable of hauling the lardiest from burger bar to diner to ice cream parlour to the nearest drive-in cardiac arrest centre.

But such was Harley's munificence that thin people, like us. could enjoy 'em too.




1990 80-cubic inch Fat Boy primary side. Even when Harley-Davidson is showing restraint, it's showing off. Check out that gearshift mechanism. Now is that one tradition too many? We're not sure.



The engine, which began as an 80 cubic inch (1340cc) single cam Evolution unit introduced in 1984, progressed to 88-cubic inch in 2000, and picked up an extra cam in 2007 when the capacity was hiked to 96 cubes.

The current (2014) bikes are now a whopping 103 cubic inches.




The Fat Boy for 2000 now with an 88-cubic inch V-twin lump. But otherwise, much the same package.




There's never been rubber mounting for the engines. These, after all, are Softail frames (more of that later), and rubber mounting simply won't work with this design. There was no engine counter balancing either, and most Harley purists were happy to soak up the vibes that were considerably less than those that came with the old Shovelhead engine (1966 - 1985).

The gearbox/transmission of the "Gray Ghost", as the Fat Boy is sometimes called, started as a  5-speeder and became a 6-speeder in 2006; the extra gear being designed as an overdrive to further cut the almost non-existent revs. But you won't want to use 6th anywhere except on a long open road.



Softail frame


The frame was taken from Harley's 1984 Softail; a clever (if overweight) piece of engineering that, from the side, emulated a rigid chassis but carried hidden springs beneath the motor. The concept dates back to the mid-1970s when US engineer Bill Davis began experimenting with the idea using his own FX Super Glide.

Soon after, Davis's frames were available for sale via the regular American motorcycle magazines, notably Easyriders and Iron Horse. The story is that the design was in fact offered to Harley-Davidson, which at first declined. Subsequently, however, they bought the rights and redesigned it in-house, and the rest is history.

Since then, the usual Japanese clones have (unsurprisingly) incorporated the idea into their own custom cruisers.



Riding the 1990 Fat Boy


It feels big, which is perhaps pretty obvious. All the big Hogs feel big. Wrench it up off the sidestand, and you'll feel most of the x-hundred pounds of lard. You'll remind yourself that this is a bike that demands hot dry asphalt rather than gravel beds and muddy country lanes. And you'll be aware that if you plough broadside into a van, you'll leave it a Harley-shaped hole clean through it.

Then you thumb the starter and the engine coughs reluctantly into life, often with a distinct pause as the starter engages, and then another pause before the first plug fires. Seconds later, you've got that famous potato-potato throb between your legs

The gearbox is agricultural. They always were, and maybe always will be. It's a kind of tradition; a good clonk into first, the driving dogs making sure that you know exactly what you've done.

Then you're rolling.

They take a little getting used to. The first one we rode felt clumsy for the first dozen miles. They dive at the first pinch of the brake. They wallow into bends. And they swerve through traffic with all the grace of a supertanker.

Then you stop trying to fight them, and things start to make sense. This is Harley country, so you can put away your twee English sensibilities, sit back and just cruise.

The handlebars suited us fine. A little wide perhaps, but they fell to hand neatly (pun intended). You have a fair amount of wrenching to do in slow traffic as you try to squeeze into gaps that you might normally go for. And again, you remind yourself that this is a horse of a very different colour and temperament.

Then the road opens up and you gun it. Now you're moving, powering along with oodles of torque and an unspecified (or, at least, uncertain) amount of V-twin power.

The footboards are odd at first. In fact, the idea of shifting your feet around on the move is odd. So you try placing your feet here. And you try placing them there. And then you nearly plough into the car ahead because you were experimenting with your stupid footboards instead of watching the traffic. Soon enough you let your feet work it out for themselves. They usually do, after all.




The rear brake pedal is another oddity, and one that Harley-Davidson has, over the years, made a feature of. You have to lift your foot up off the footboard and place it on the brake (as opposed to dabbing it with your toes). Then you put some weight on it, and with the same kind of reluctance you witnessed during start-up, the anchors look for something to grab.

It does stop, note. We're not talking G-forces here, but we are still talking friction. The front brake, meanwhile, does a creditable job of warming up the caliper. But you're never going to melt one. Luckily, you've also got a man-sized front brake lever to crush into your man-sized palm.

That helps a lot.

Yes, you could get into trouble with emergency braking on a Fatster. In theory, that is. But in practice, you quickly learn to adjust and increase your distances. And you've also got a lot of engine braking power to help haul you down.

The bike is very comfortable, and Harley is one of the few manufacturers who can credibly claim to fit saddles, as opposed to perches. Pillions generally get a good view over you shoulder if not your head. And the bike is gracious enough not to worry too much about them. There's sufficient counterbalancing keel weight south of the wheel spindle to keep you vertical regardless of what the road can throw at you.

Economy is fair. Not good, and not great. Just fair. But if you want to do 150 miles to the gallon, buy a little Honda. You can eke out the fuel from around 40mpg to maybe 50. But there's not a lot of fun in that kind of riding. That said, we once heard about a Harley Sturgis (belt primary and belt secondary 80-cuber) which, under test, allegedly returned around 102 mpg. But we don't remember if that was US gallons or larger UK gallons.

In any case, fuel economy won't be your biggest problem. Instead, looking cool is the real challenge, or, rather, looking cooler than your contemporaries. And that is part of the Harley appeal, if not necessarily the primary reason for buying one.

A major advantage, related to coolness, is the fact that you get a lot of road respect. Drivers tend to keep a more realistic distance. Also, they can hear you coming, and from the boom and bark of the dual Shotgun exhaust, they generally know when they're getting too close.



Fat Boy suspension


The suspension soaks up the bumps like ... well, like a car; a big, blowsy, luxury car. And whether motionless or on the move, you'll be conscious of the fact that this is one heavyweight bruiser built to go the distance and take more punishment than you can stand. Some will definitely call it soft. But fortunately, more progressive suspension mods are available (including fork cartridge kits), but you might spend a fair amount of time, money and effort getting it just right. Our advice, however, is to not rush into it. Most riders reach a private concord with Harleys, and the bikes have a curious way of accommodating your sensibilities, and vice versa.

Will they ground out? Yes. You can shave metal off them easily enough, and we did exactly that on our last test ride. So if you're a more enthusiastic rider, expect to shed a few pounds, or at least ounces, further down the road.

The turning circle is lousy. But then, you probably suspected that. There's not a lot you can do about it, so you have to watch it when negotiating any space in which you might need to perform a U-turn. And you'll soon acquire the dubious skill of Fred-Flintstoning yourself in reverse.

Tip: get some boots with extra grippy soles.

Generally however, it's a solid and predictable ride. And if you're a Harley man at heart, you'll know within the first thirty or forty miles whether you're going to get along. The bad news is that it doesn't get much better than that. But the good news is that it doesn't get much worse either.




1990 Fat Boy. Not the world's most dashing dash, and that look-down-and-squint speedo forces your eyes off the road. Fine for 1940 and long empty highways, maybe. But not so fine in the modern world.



Instruments and switches


The switchgear, meanwhile, is also big and beefy with clear functions and positive indents. Nice. The lighting, however, is merely adequate. The horn is a blast. And the indicators/turn signals are bright and effective and, for many riders, surplus to requirements.

The big speedo in the dash is, however, uninspiring and you have to look down and take your eyes off the road for a second or two to bring it into focus, Not good. You might wonder how the hell you make a speedo more attractive, but Harley used to do exactly that. Their speedometers of yesteryear, for instance, were minor works of art, whilst the Fat Boy clock looks more like an afterthought, as if the factory didn't really want to fit one but realised they were legally required to. The best we can say about it is that it records your speed.

And we don't much like the big on/off switch in the dash, by the way. It both looks and feels a little cheap But once again, it works, and it's something of a Harley tradition.




If you can get your hands on a good condition first-of-type (1990) Fatty at a reasonable price, snap it up. These are in demand and will only rise in value. Plenty were bought and modified (it's the Harley disease, albeit not such a bad affliction), so factory-fresh examples are rare. And there are plenty of owners out there now regretting hacking their Fat Hogs about.

What makes them especially desirable isn't just the fact that there's a wonderful urban myth attached to them (see below), but the fact that they came along at just the right time and caught many by surprise.

Including us.

One minute there was the world before the Fat Boy, and then there was the world after. And talk to most Harley riders and fans and they'll tell you exactly where they were when they saw their first example.



2014 Fat Boy




▲ The 103 cubic inch twin-cam engine powering the current (2014)
Fat Boy. This is American muscle doing what it does best, and that's flexing it for all the world to see.




▲ Those Fat Bob tanks are still built the Harley way; in two parts with a clock and/or dashboard in between. Average fuel consumption for these big Harleys is pretty fair at around 40-45mpg for the carburettor version, and maybe a few yards more for fuel injection. And that's UK gallons. Not US.



The great Fat Boy atom bomb "urban myth"





If you haven't heard this one, sit back and enjoy it. Rumour has it that the original Fat Boy's gunmetal paintwork was a coded reference to the polished aluminium superstructure of Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that nuked Hiroshima.


The yellow splashes and markings on the bike are (it's said) references to the markings and/or colour on casing of the Fat Man bomb. And the Fat Boy petrol tank decal does indeed share a resemblance to the USAAF markings, which is part of the mystique.


And there's yet another connection. Some time before the FLSTF Fat Boy appeared in the market, Harley-Davidson ran an advert in one or more US motorcycle magazines; an ad that read something like: Okay, Japan, your next custom prototype is ready. It was an ad that suggested that either H-D was flattered by the new wave of Hog clones which were then being imported en masse from the land of the rising sun, or that (more likely)  H-D was thoroughly miffed about having to share its custom cruiser territory with its erstwhile enemy, an enemy that had repeatedly ripped off Harley technology and even produced an unashamed Harley clone.

We don't believe the story about the bomb. It sounds too good to be true. But we want to believe it, so maybe that's more telling.

Check out the image below.




Harley-Davidson, perhaps unsurprisingly, denies that there's any connection between the Fat Boy and the A bomb. But that doesn't mean that Willie G wasn't indeed pulling someone's pecker, which seems plausible enough (and the advert above, by the way, is just something we cooked up in Photoshop. So if you have a copy of the real thing, send it across in the usual way, if you will).



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