Harley Softail vs Hardtail

Choosing between a softail and hardtail Harley can be hard for motorcycle enthusiasts because both offer unique features and benefits.

In this article, I’ll take a closer look at the main differences between softail and hardtail Harleys and help you determine which is right for you.

What’s a softail | Popular softail harleys | What’s a hardtail | Popular hardtail harleys | Softail vs hardtail

What’s a Softail Bike?

heritage softail logo on white harley motorcycle

A softail bike is a motorcycle manufactured by Harley-Davidson with a hidden rear suspension system.

Pros and Cons of Softail Bikes


Comfortable Ride

Softails provide a smooth ride due to their hidden rear suspension system, which absorbs bumps and vibrations on the road.

Classic Styling

Softails have a classic, retro look that many Harley enthusiasts find appealing. They often feature vintage-style fenders and a traditional teardrop-shaped fuel tank.

Customization Options

They’re highly customizable, with many aftermarket parts and accessories available to help riders achieve a unique look and feel for their bike.


Higher Price

Softails cost more than other motorcycles due to their advanced suspension system and high-quality materials.

Heavier Weight

Softails can be heavier than other bikes, making them difficult to maneuver at lower speeds or tight spaces.

Limited Suspension Travel

Softail suspension systems have limited travel, making them less suitable for off-road or rough terrain riding.

Softail bikes make a great choice for riders who value comfort and classic style and don’t mind paying a high price for a high-quality motorcycle. However, their weight and suspension limitations may not be ideal for all riding conditions.

Harley-Davidson has a Softail line of motorcycles featuring hidden rear suspension systems and classic styling. Here’s a list of the most popular Softail Harley-Davidson models:

Heritage Classic

Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail
Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail

The Heritage Classic is a classic-style Softail designed for touring and cruising. It has a large windshield, saddlebags, a studded seat, and a powerful long-distance-ride engine.

Fat Boy

The Fat Boy is one of the most iconic Softail models, with a large front wheel, wide handlebars, and a distinctive look. It’s a popular choice for riders who want a powerful, high-performance Softail with a unique look.

Softail Slim

The Softail Slim is a stripped-down, minimalist Softail designed for a more agile, sporty ride. It features a narrow front wheel, classic styling, and a lower seat height for better maneuverability.


The Deluxe is a Softail with a retro look, whitewall tires, a large headlight, and a classic teardrop-shaped fuel tank. It’s a popular choice for riders who want a classic Softail with modern features and a comfortable ride.


The Breakout is a Softail designed for high-performance riding, with a powerful engine, a large front wheel, and modern styling. It’s popular for riders who want a powerful, fast Softail that can handle various riding conditions.

What’s a Hardtail Bike?

harley davidson 1200 sportster

A hardtail bike is a motorcycle with no rear suspension system, meaning the rear wheel is mounted directly to the frame.

Pros and Cons of Hardtail Bikes



Hardtail bikes have a simpler design than bikes with rear suspension systems. So, they’re easier to maintain and repair, as there aren’t many parts.


Hardtail bikes don’t weigh as much as their rear suspension counterparts, so they’re more agile and maneuverable on the road.

Less Maintenance

Fewer parts can wear out or break without rear suspension. Therefore, hardtail bikes require less maintenance.



A hardtail bike doesn’t have a rear suspension. So, the ride can be less comfortable, especially on bumpy roads. The lack of suspension means that the rider absorbs more of the shock and vibration from the road.


Hardtail bikes can be more difficult on rough roads or in turns. The bike can be more prone to bouncing or skidding without rear suspension.

Limited applications

Hardtail bikes work for cruising or street riding. They’re unsuitable for off-road or rough terrain riding, where the lack of suspension can make for an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous ride.

harley davidson forty-eight
Harley davidson forty-eight

Harley-Davidson has produced several popular hardtail models over the years. Here’s a list of the most popular hardtail Harleys:

Harley-Davidson Ironhead Sportster

This model was produced from 1957 to 1985 and is a classic example of a hardtail bike. The Ironhead engine was known for its durability and reliability, and the bike’s stripped-down design has made it a favorite of customizers.

Harley-Davidson FX Shovelhead

This model was produced from 1970 to 1984 and is another classic example of a hardtail bike. The Shovelhead engine was known for its power and torque, and the bike’s rigid frame and classic styling made it a popular choice among riders.

Harley-Davidson Softail Springer

While the Softail Springer is not a proper hardtail bike, it has a similar look. This model was produced from 1988 to 2009 and featured a hidden rear suspension that gives it a stern look.

The Softail Springer’s classic styling and smooth ride have made it a popular choice among Harley-Davidson enthusiasts.

Harley-Davidson Sportster Forty-Eight

This model is a modern interpretation of the classic hardtail design. It features a low-slung profile and a rigid rear suspension, giving it a distinctive look and feel.

The Sportster Forty-Eight’s combination of classic styling and modern features has made it a popular choice among younger riders.

These are just a few examples of the popular hardtail Harley-Davidson models. Each bike has its unique look and feel, but they all share the classic styling and rugged durability that Harley-Davidson is known for.

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Harley: Softail vs. Hardtail: Key Differences

Regarding Harley-Davidson motorcycles, one of the key differences between models is whether they have a softail or hardtail frame.

Here’s a breakdown of the crucial differences between these two types of bikes:

Frame Design

The rear suspension is the main difference between a softail and a hardtail frame. Softail frames have a hidden rear suspension system that gives the bike a smoother ride, while hardtail frames have no rear suspension and a rigid frame.

Ride Quality

Softail frames provide a smoother ride because they have rear suspension that absorbs bumps and road imperfections. Hardtail frames have no suspension and can give a rougher ride, especially on bumpy or uneven roads.


custom harley davidson motorcycle

Customizers often prefer hardtail frames because they provide a blank canvas for modifications. Softail frames, while still customizable, have more limitations due to the rear suspension system.


Softail frames are often associated with classic Harley-Davidson styling, while hardtail frames are more commonly associated with chopper-style bikes.

Choosing between a softail or hardtail frame comes from personal preference and riding style.

Softail frames make a great choice for long rides and touring. On the other hand, hardtail frames work for those who prefer a more aggressive riding style and a stripped-down, minimalist look.

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Which Type of Harley is For You? Softail or Hardtail?

Deciding between a softail or hardtail Harley depends on personal preference and riding style.

Softail frames provide a smoother ride and are better suited for touring, while hardtail frames offer a more aggressive riding style and are popular among customizers.

Think about the riding you plan to do and the bike you prefer before deciding.


A Harley is perfect for you whether you prefer the smooth ride of a softail or the classic style of a hardtail.

By understanding the differences between these two types of bikes, you can make an informed decision and find the motorcycle best suited to your needs and riding style.

So, whether you’re a seasoned rider or just getting started, take some time to explore the world of Harley-Davidson motorcycles and find the perfect one.