Test rides

2018 Harley-Davidson Breakout – First Ride

Drag-inspired cruiser is a disappointment compared to other Softail models

It would be easy to look at the nine-model-strong Harley-Davidson Softail line-up and assume that because they all share the same engine, same frame, and same basic components they are, you know, all the same. But, of course, that’s wrong.

OTHER 2018 SOFTAILS WE’VE REVIEWED:
Sport Glide
Street Bob
Heritage Classic
Fat Bob

Harley overhauled its Softail line late last year, doing away with the Dyna line in the process. It was a move that upset a few old dudes, but one that ultimately made sense. I’ve had a chance to ride five of the new Softails now, with the Sport Glide being my hands-down favorite and the Breakout being… uhm… well… not very close to my favorite.

BO-1
Awkward riding position is awkward.

Not at all close, to be honest. With its somewhat outdated styling, awkward steering, and non-existent lean angle, the Breakout is – to me – a bike whose primary purpose is to illustrate how much better the rest of the Softail line-up is. It’s as if Harley made this bike to show just how easy it would have been to screw up all the other bikes.

My problems with this particular model start before you even get on the thing: I am not a fan of the look. The “drag-inspired” Breakout was first introduced back in 2013. It was unapologetically targeted at Harley’s core customers, who, it seems, were still watching “American Chopper” reruns from the decade before. The chassis and engine and tech have changed for 2018, but by and large the look is still firmly lodged somewhere in Paul Teutul Sr’s heyday.

Beauty, though, is in the eye of the beholder. I accept that. And it should be noted the Breakout shares a number of styling cues with the Sport Glide – a bike I would be happy to own. So, I suppose function can affect my opinion of form.

Model Year 2018 New Model Photography
I am not a fan of the “fat rear tire” look

Engine and Transmission

When it comes to function, the Breakout certainly starts out well enough. Driven by the same Milwaukee Eight V-Twin powerplant found in all of Harley’s big twins these days, the Breakout is available in two engine sizes: 107 cubic inches and 114 ci. For those not living in the 1950s, that’s 1753 cc and 1868 cc. Getting the larger-displacement engine will, of course, cost you more (Starting price of £18,395 vs £17,245).

RELATED: Ask TMO: Is a Harley-Davidson Breakout a Good First Bike?

I test rode the 114 ci version, but Harley’s team quietly acknowledges that the difference between the two displacements is nominal. Certainly that was my own feeling in riding the 107-only Sport Glide and Street Bob, comparing them to the 114-equipped Breakout, Fat Bob, and Heritage Classic.

Whatever your flavor, you get smooth but authoritative power delivery and addictive levels of torque from an engine platform that is lightyears beyond the rattling Twin Cam of old. There is enough rumble at a stop light to remind you that you’re sitting on a Harley, by Gawd, but not so much you’ll feel anything toward it but love. The six-speed transmission, meanwhile, is about as slick as you’ll find on a big twin. It is reliable even when pushed hard.

MY18 Key Features. FXBRS.
The Milwaukee Eight V-twin is a fantastic powerplant.

Ride Quality and Brakes

The problems with the Breakout really begin when you look at the factors that aren’t present on other Softails. That 34-degree steering rake, for example. The fat rear tire. The drag handlebar. Certainly the first two aspects contribute to an awkward steering experience.

Drag racing bikes are designed to go really fast in one direction. In seeking to emulate that look, Harley has given the Breakout a similar (in)ability to handle curves. At the press event I attended, a Harley engineer even joked that the Breakout “has all the cornering ability you need for going in a straight line.”

That creates issues when you’re out in the real world. Nevermind sweeping mountain roads; you’ll scrape pegs turning right on 1st and Main. Harley claims a lean angle of 26.8 degrees on either side, but seemingly every time I tipped this bike just the tiniest bit in either direction I was hearing the “SCHRRRRKKKKHHHH” of pegs shredding.

BO-2

Meanwhile, that long rake, thin front tire, and fat rear tire combine to make a bike that is notoriously difficult to steer. So, you feel less in control of the scrape. On a Street Bob, for example, you might choose to scrape a peg just for japes – that’s the sort of behavior that suits the lunacy of the Street Bob – but that bike is nimble enough you can easily bring it upright should you lose your nerve. Not so on the Breakout. Peg scraping is more often than not unintentional, and that’s no fun.

RELATED: Let’s Tell Harley-Davidson What to Do

Harley has gone to a lot of trouble to improve the suspensions of its new Softails, and on the Breakout you get an easy-access hand adjuster with which you can increase or decrease rear preload even on the move. Unfortunately, stiffening things up to their max still did very little to improve my situation.

The seating position is equally unpleasant. I’m 6 feet 1 inch tall, but even for me the long reach to the ‘bars coupled with the deep stretch for the pegs makes for an awkward ride. It’s certainly not the sort of thing you’d want to do over long stretches. You’re stuck in that weird kicked-in-the-tummy pose and there’s no way to move around or get comfortable. After an hour on the Breakout there was a tiny part of me that thought about crashing it on purpose, just so I wouldn’t have to sit on it anymore.

MY18 Key Features. FXBRS.
A relatively comfy seat is negated by an uncomfortable riding position.

The Breakout’s go is tempered by the whoa of a single disc up front and single rear. Although this set-up works with other Softails (eg, Sport Glide) it didn’t feel like enough on the Breakout. I would have preferred two discs up front – if for no other reason than the fact it better suits the dragstrip nature of the bike. Hurtling into corners, I wasn’t happy with how the set-up curbed the momentum of the Breakout’s not inconsiderable 305kg (672 lbs) wet weight. I suppose the bike’s inadequate cornering ability is partially to blame for that feeling; I didn’t feel confident carrying speed into the curve.

Features

The Breakout is a pretty barebones machine when it comes to bells and whistles. There’s the aforementioned preload adjuster, and ABS, but beyond that there aren’t any rider aids. No traction control or riding modes, no hill start or launch control. It’s just you and your right hand. But for many riders that will be a positive.

As with the Street Bob, the Breakout’s dash is integrated into a tiny readout in the clamp. In fairness, this system is better than I would have imagined – all the information you need is available by clicking through a menu using a button on the left grip – but I don’t really see the point of the thing. It’s a bit like those blacked out tailpipes. Squint and it’s almost like they’re not there, dude. Yes, but they are there and they are accepted features of every motorcycle. So, why faux hide them like this?

Model Year 2018 New Model Photography

Nonetheless, the 2.4-inch LCD display is easy enough to see on the go, offering up info on speed, gear, mileage, fuel level, tank range, and RPM. Cruise control and heated grips are among the items available from Harley’s engine-block-sized accessories catalog.

Verdict

I really don’t like the Breakout. You may have picked that up. To me, it represents a direction opposite to the one I hope for Harley-Davidson. This is not a bike made for European audiences; it is not a bike for people who want to ride far. This is a motorcycle made for dudes – tall dudes, at that – living in the US Central Time Zone who want to be seen rolling up and down Main Street.

READ MORE: Check Out All of TMO’s Bike Reviews

If I’m being fair, I should acknowledge that there are quite a lot of those kinds of dudes out there, and there’s nothing wrong with people enjoying motorcycles in a manner different to me. But when I compare this with so many of Harley’s other models I find it difficult to understand why someone would choose it.

BO-3

You can pose on a Fat Bob if you’re so inclined, but it can also tear around and be fun as hell. You can pose on a Street Glide but it can also get you across the country. But with a Breakout, pretty much the only thing you can do is pose. This seems like a waste of a good engine.

My advice: buy a Sport Glide instead.

The Three Questions

1 – Does the Harley-Davidson Breakout fit my current lifestyle?
Nah, bro. I mean, yeah, I like listen’ to Bullet for My Valentine as much as the next dude, but this bike just isn’t suitable for a person who relies on his motorcycle to go everywhere year-round. When I decide to live on an air strip in Arizona I’ll reconsider.

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2 – Does the Harley-Davidson Breakout put a grin on my face?
In straight lines, when I could open up and simply enjoy the torque-tacular pull of the Milwaukee Eight V-twin, sure, I was grinning. In most other situations I was wearing something more akin to a grimace. I think the thing that irks me the most is the idea that there will be someone for whom the Breakout is their only Harley experience. They will test ride it and hate it, with good reason, and that will forever in their eyes tarnish a brand that has made huge improvements in recent years.

3 – Is the Harley-Davidson Breakout better than my current bike, a 2017 Triumph Tiger Explorer XRx?
No. At present, I am running on a pair of worn out Metzeler Tourance Next tires that have squared off with nearly 9,000 miles on them, and my bike is still less sketchy around corners than the Breakout.

Rider Stats

Rider: Chris Cope
Height: 6 feet 1 inch
Build: Lanky; I run and swim a lot

Helmet: Schuberth C3 Pro
Jacket: Harley-Davidson Sully 3-in-1
Gloves: Aerostich Competition Elkskin Ropers
Jeans: Pando Moto Boss 105 Reg
Baseball cap: Buc-ee’s
Boots: Indian Motorcycle Spirit Lake

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