Harley-Davidson FLSTF Fat Boy

So who says Harleys all handle like pigs? Tim Luckhurst learns to lean - and love - the latest Fat Boy

Engine: 1,584cc air-cooled V-twin
Maximum power: Not given
Maximum torque: 120Nm @ 3,300rpm
Brakes: 292mm discs at front and rear
Transmission: six-speed gearbox, belt final drive
Dry weight: 313kg
Seat height: 645mm
Tank capacity: 18.9 litres
Price: from £13,295

Urban myth alleges that the best-selling Harley-Davidson FLSTF Fat Boy was named after the atom bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. It's a combination of "Fat Man" and "Little Boy" - the devices that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Conspiracy theorists believe the Milwaukee company chose the tag as a kind of symbolic revenge against the Japanese bike manufacturers, whose superior technology dominated their markets in the 1970s and 1980s.

That's all nonsense. A glance at the motorcycle reveals that its name is purely descriptive. Viewed head on, it is simply the widest thing on two wheels; a road-going Billy Bunter.

Until recently, I loathed it. Acres of chrome, disc wheels and the profile of a pregnant brontosaurus are poetry to some people, but my problem was that most such folk I met referred to Elvis Presley as "the King," called their wives "honey" and had dead-end jobs in local government. Their motorcycles were foundations for escapist fantasies, not vehicles to be ridden and enjoyed.

I was guilty of extreme prejudice, and it got more intense every time I saw a Harley owners group sailing past in fingerless gloves, open-faced helmets and tasselled leather.

The Fat Boy was launched in 1990, and for 16 years I resisted riding it. I was right. It would not be unfair to say that the Fat Boy was a lumbering throwback fit only for stately procession up broad straight highways. I understand that its 1,455cc V-twin could propel it to illegal speeds and, provided the plans were submitted well in advance, it could negotiate corners as well. But it was a bike you bought for looks alone, not for travel. The 2007 version fulfils both purposes and - I confess - it brought a big smile to my nasty, cynical face.

True, the new Fat Boy is even porkier. The front tyre has been enlarged and the rear is now 200mm wide. Low-profile risers deliberately accentuate the breadth of the internally wired handlebars. Those disc wheels are slabs of solid-cast aluminium perforated with .50 calibre bullet-sized holes. Tank graphics emphasise the machine's girth. But now it looks subtle rather than naff.

The mechanical components have been upgraded. The Fat Boy is now powered by Harley-Davidson's new-generation Twin Cam 96B 1,584cc unit. Linked to six-speed transmission, this provides all the thrust the bike's vast bulk requires. The first time I let slip the butter-smooth and butterfly-light clutch, this corpulent mound of metal actually felt coltish, not sluggish.

There could be few more incongruous locations in which to ride this all-American behemoth than Stapleford Park. The converted 14th-century stately home has played host to the delicate and refined. But, as fellow guests smiled at the huge Harley's appearance and tantalising roar, I began to see my mount as others see it - as an aristocrat among motorcycles, not a fool.

It remains a style statement, but the Fat Boy has entered the modern world. It has a thrilling blend of power and torque. The transmission is flexible, crisp and silent in a way its predecessor wasn't.

If you have always liked covered fork-legs, wide footboards, chrome airboxes and sculptured metal, the old Fat Boy was already desirable. But if it has ever crossed your mind to ride one quickly along bendy roads and enjoy the riding as well as the image, the new version is a revelation. Of course, any 600cc sports bike will leave you for dead. Harley-Davidson does not make performance motorcycles, but it does now make machines that combine iconic looks with impressive functionality.

Is it expensive? You could buy two basic family cars for the price of a Fat Boy and still have enough left over to take the children to Florida. But it will hold its value and, as I discovered, this is what many people want a big twin to look and sound like. At least, I think that is why the Stapleford Park gardeners were giving me the thumbs-up. Or maybe I'd just run over their boss. On a Fat Boy, you could do that without noticing.

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