The year 1984 was big for Harley-Davidson. The company introduced the Evolution engine, the culmination of seven years of development. The 1,340 cc engine debuted on five models that year, including the brand new Softail. The Softail was designed to look like the classic motorcycles with rigidly mounted rear wheels. The original Softail did resemble the Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide, introduced in 1948 and produced through 1957.
Design work on the Softail frame began in 1974 in a garage in St. Louis. Bill Davis, an avid motorcycle customizer, not affiliated with Harley-Davidson, preferred the looks of the hardtail models, “But my interest was in long trips, so I couldn’t live with the horrid, uncomfortable ride of the rigid.” Davis customized his 1972 Harley-Davidson Super Glide, adding his own triangular swingarm and a single snowmobile shock absorber, hidden under the seat. He continued to refine his prototype and finally presented it to Harley-Davidson in August 1976. It would be several more years before Davis and the Motor Company finally came to an agreement in 1982. Harley-Davidson introduced Davis’ design as the 1984 Softail.
Introduction of the Softail Custom
Harley-Davidson unveiled two new Softail models in 1986: the FLHTC Heritage Softail and the FXSTC Softail Custom. The “FL” of the Heritage denoted that it had larger front forks and the “FX” of the Custom meant it used the smaller forks inspired by Sportster models. The FXSTC Custom was an upscale version of the standard FXST Softail. The Custom had more chrome, including chrome engine covers and accents on the frame.
Early Softail Custom Enhancements
The Harley-Davidson Softail Custom maintained the Evolution 82 cubic inch or 1340 cc engine through model year 1999. For model year 2000, all Softail models received the Twin Cam 88B 1,450 cc counter-balanced engine. The following year Harley-Davidson added electronic fuel injection to the Custom and the rest of the Softail lines.
More Softail Custom Enhancements
Harley-Davidson upped the engine size for the Softail Custom again for the 2007 model year. In addition to the Twin Cam 96 1,584 cc engine, the Custom and the rest of the Softail line received a new six-speed Cruise Drive transmission, up from the five-speed version that had been in use since 1986. The electronic fuel injection system was also updated for 2007. The Custom underwent some styling upgrades for 2007, including a new one-piece seat with integrated passenger backrest.
The Softail Custom Ride
Bill Davis originally developed the Softail because he liked the look of classic hardtail bikes, but wanted the added comfort of rear suspension on longer rides. But the hidden suspension system of the Softail Custom does have limits. To get the look of the classic rigid-mount motorcycles, the Custom was built to be low to ground, which necessitated limited wheel travel and a harsher ride. And the engine is hard-mounted to the frame, adding to the vibration. The Softail Custom is a distinctive looking motorcycle, but it may not be the best choice for long distance riding.