Harley-Davidson unveils its largest-ever product development project

Harley-Davidson Inc. has unveiled its largest product development project ever: eight redesigned cruiser motorcycles for 2018, including bikes that have been a mainstay of the Milwaukee-based company for decades.

Harley says the new Softail models, available this fall, come with the most powerful engine ever offered on its cruisers.

The new bikes, aimed at Harley’s 115th anniversary year, are being rolled out as manufacturers of cruiser and touring motorcycles have seen a decline in U.S. sales.

Harley has a 10-year goal of attracting several million more customers, which is important as baby boomers age out of riding.

The company says a massive amount of research and testing went into the makeover of some of its best-known motorcycles, including the Heritage Classic.

“The new Softail models are the result of the most extensive research and development program in the company’s history,” said Paul James, product portfolio manager.

Harley’s Softail and Dyna product lines, as riders have known them, are gone.

“It’s now one platform for them all,” James said.

There’s a “new frame, new chassis, new suspension, new metal. New everything, really,” he said.

As part of the research, Harley-Davidson says it interviewed more than 3,000 riders for their views on cruisers — a versatile style of bike with a relaxed riding position, suitable for long-distance riding but more nimble than a big touring motorcycle.

“We were literally in people’s homes and garages, talking with them about their motorcycles,” James said.

The eight new bikes — Fat Boy, Heritage Classic, Low Rider, Softail Slim, Deluxe, Breakout, Fat Bob and Street Bob — have an all-new chassis and suspension system that Harley says delivers a much better ride.