Our favorite Dyna in Harley’s stable

It doesn’t take much to recognize that the 2012 Harley-Davidson Fat Bob is a Dyna with attitude. Its drag bars are perched on high risers, leaving riders' arms up and out while forward-mounted controls stretch the legs. A chunky 130mm front tire wrapped in Michelin Scorchers with aggressive treads leads the way while a 180mm wide patch of rubber anchors the rear. Dual headlamps peer out just below the triple trees while a five-gallon tank widens the bike’s stance and is fitting for a motorcycle called Fat Bob.

Crack the throttle on the Bob and you’re treated to the model’s biggest upgrade for 2012: the power boost provided by the Twin Cam 103 engine, which replaces last year’s TC96. It’s geared for instant gratification and has enough torque at a light twist of the throttle to pull up stumps. The pull of the clutch lever is moderate and easy to regulate. Though it is admittedly down on power to the Judge’s Freedom 106, the disparity is barely noticeable off the line because of the pull the Fat Bob has. In fact, down low it feels livelier than the Judge at the throttle because almost all of its torque is immediately available. Riding up the San Bernardino Mountains' 7,000-foot climb to Big Bear Lake, the Fat Bob impresses with how it can pick back up from extremely low rpm, once again because most of its get-up-and-go is so low in the powerband. We also discovered that if you drop it down a gear there’s a load of engine braking, too.

That is a good thing because the performance of the brakes on the Bob isn’t overly confidence inspiring. The dual front discs have decent power and provide even, progressive stopping power, but there’s not much feel at the lever. One of the first comments from fellow bike tester Frankie Garcia was the lack of bite and feel on the rear, especially after coming off the Judge with its ultra-touchy units. One thing to Harley’s credit though is the Fat Bob is available with optional ABS, something Victory doesn’t offer with the Judge.

Riding up the wonderfully curvy CA-330N to Big Bear Lake, the Harley Fat Bob tracked stably when leaned over, and its Michelin Scorchers hugged the road well. Its relatively compact wheelbase and tight rake for a cruiser mean it steers without much effort. Granted, its meatier 180mm wide backside, a higher center of gravity and almost 700-pound curb weight keep it from transitioning as easily as the Judge, but the Fat Bob is rock solid when tilted into a turn and has more ground clearance than the Victory. It also feels more stable at high speeds on rough surfaces like the 405 freeway because its wider rear doesn’t communicate as many of the lines and grooves in the road to the rider like the Judge’s skinny 140mm-wide backside does.

On the suspension side, the package on the Fat Bob provides a fairly smooth ride. We found the wide-set 49mm fork particularly useful in sorting out the ride, as the front end always feels planted while the twin rear coil-over shocks only compressed fully during direct hits on big potholes. The rear is adjustable for preload with a spanner wrench, but we rode it on stock settings. Other factors in the ride quality equation include engine vibrations in higher rpm, which can be a bit buzzy in the bars and foot pegs. As far as the big padded seat goes, it was cushy around town but wasn’t as comfy over the long haul. The stretch to the front pegs makes for different pressure points in the glutes than the Judge, and after about an hour and a half, we found ourselves shifting in the saddle quite a bit.

True to Harley’s nature, the 2012 Fat Bob has a high level of fit-and-finish quality, with its Tommy Gun pipes streaking low off its right side and its slotted disc wheels offering clean contrast between the thick swaths of Michelin rubber. The Fat Bob’s componentry is in aesthetic harmony, with just enough chrome and details like machined cooling fin tips to highlight black powder-coated bits like the heads and cylinders. Its internally wired bars keep the front end tidy, and the hand-finished five-gallon tank not only gives riders a range of almost 200 miles, but also catches lots of sunlight in its high-polish finish.

With arm-stretching torque that’s immediately available, a well-sorted chassis and grippy tires that are stable when contact patches get thin in sharp turns, the 2012 Fat Bob is one of our favorite bikes in Harley’s Dyna stable. We appreciate that Harley offers optional upgrades like ABS and the Smart Security System, two factors that will only increase a rider’s peace of mind. It has the power to match its hot rod styling and climbed the mountains like a billy goat eating Popeye’s spinach. Bold and brawny, the Fat Bob and the Victory Judge battled for 15 rounds with the winner being declared by split decision.