Using a single engine design, the TC96B, and one basic frame, Harley-Davidson produces seven different Softail models. Possibly the most distinctive of these is the 2010 FLSTSB Cross Bones. With its unique Springer front suspension, ape-like handlebars, and sprung, tractor-style seat, the Cross Bones has, in the minds of some, an almost cartoonish look to it. To others, it is the epitome of what was all right with early Harley designs. Introduced in the 2008 model year, the Cross Bones has never been a model that really grabbed my attention. In fact, I’ll cop to the fact that it had been around for more than a year before I opted to ride one. It was only a short jaunt, but I remember coming away thinking that it was one of the most comfortable motorcycles that I’ve ridden. That brief memory was what caused me to recently snag a ‘Bones for a more in-depth evaluation.
Living in Northern California puts me about 400 miles from the Harley-Davidson press fleet in Southern Cal. This can often be a bit of a logistics pain in the saddle area, but it also guarantees that my time aboard a borrowed Harley will cover at least 800 miles… you’ll get no quickie tests from me. I’ve several options when it comes to route. The quickest, and most numbingly boring, is Interstate 5. With the flow of traffic most always above 75 mph, the motorcycle of choice had better be equipped with a decent windshield or fairing; certainly not the place for the bare bones Cross Bones. At the other end of my highway spectrum is Highway 1. In particular, the stretch between San Luis Obispo and Monterey. This is more than 100 miles of world-famous road and vistas. Traveling it at anything but a lazy pace requires your undivided attention, as some of the drop-offs are such that you’ll have more than enough time to review the follies of your life before spoiling the pristine rocky shore with your splattered self. It is also my route of choice when the time permits, and this was one of those times.
The seating position on the Bones is very upright as the bars rise to just below shoulder height. There are two big advantages to this. First, you get a good view of traffic ahead and, second, it offers an ideal mounting position for the mirrors; probably the best rear view you’ll get with any Harley model. Both of these assets were welcome as I threaded my way through L.A.’s infamous traffic heading towards SLO town.
There are also a couple of downsides to these bars, particularly when you’re out on the highway. Obviously, one of these is the lack of wind protection. Sitting upright as a billboard, headwinds become a continuous exercise of just holding on… very tiring. Fortunately, help is at hand with any number of Harley and aftermarket windshields being available, though they all detract from the look of these machines. Secondly, if you’re not used to riding with your arms in this elevated position you’ll find this to also be tiring. Tie these two together and you’ll find the Cross Bones is not necessarily at its best on the super slabs.
A dive off Highway 101 at San Luis Obispo connects you with Highway 1. Morro Bay is 12 miles distant and signals the start of the fun and beauty of the California coast. As summer had passed, and it was a weekday, I had the road mostly to myself. The Cross Bones is a cruiser with a meager lean angle of only a skosh over 27 degrees, four less than with, for example, the Road King. This means that it takes little effort for the floorboards to sing out, “Hi, we’re here and you’re abusing us!” The fun with this motorcycle is not in tossing it about but, rather, getting into a smooth rhythm that works the asphalt as if it were a ribbon unreeling before your front wheel. With motorcycles like this on roads like Highway 1, I set a pace that mostly keeps me off the brakes, making me work the throttle and the riding line carefully. The TC96B puts out a healthy 93 ft./lbs. of torque making the exit from turns the most fun part. As the speeds were relatively low ?and the weather beautiful? the lack of wind protection wasn’t a factor. The high bars were a hindrance, though, if I got too aggressive in the turns. By the way, if you’re new to HarleySpeak, “TC96B” translates to Twin Cam 96-cubic inches, balanced. That “B” is important because the motor is solidly mounted in the chassis, rather than being rubber-mounted as with the non-Softail models. The inherent imbalance vibrations of the V-Twin are successfully quelled by an internal counter-rotating balance shaft system.
The Cross Bone’s unique Springer front end is a contradiction of sorts. On one hand it serves its intended purpose of giving a very retro look to the motorcycle. Yet, it handles its suspension duties to a modern standard. It tracks through a turn nicely, holding a line, and mostly succeeds at handling the cracks, ridges, rough spots that characterize our highways. However, the combination of a Softail rear suspension (designed for style, not necessarily bump absorption), the Springer front end, and the high handlebars, does not produce the same overall ride quality as found on the other Softails. Every motorcycle, regardless of brand or model, has a “sweet spot” on the speedometer. That’s the range of speed that the bike feels most comfortable, where everything works harmoniously. On the Cross Bones that speed was generally 55 mph to 65 mph. Anything much above that speed and the ride quality was adversely affected. The vibration level increased, and it seemed as though every imperfection in the road was channeled directly to my hands. By comparison, the Heritage Softail still feels comfortable a good 10 to 20 mph faster than that.
So, just what is the Cross Bones best suited for? Before I answer that, let me insert my standard caveat; the Cross Bones, as it is with every motorcycle, can be successfully used for just about anything reasonable you have in mind. However, there are certain uses at which it excels. In particular, the Bones is an excellent around town, short-trip motorcycle. It is highly maneuverable and very easy to ride. My initial impression re it being very comfortable still holds, but I’ll qualify it by adding that this is only true with those short jaunts. Longer, higher-speed trips are tiring, as noted above. The sprung saddle is a design, while more than 80 years old, that still has a valid place on motorcycles, though Harley is the only company currently using it. This is particularly so with motorcycles such as the Softail as the rear end bump compliance is not as effective as with conventional shock absorbers. The two large coil springs soak up the highway’s irregularities that overwhelm the Softail’s shocks. Most Softail riders that I talk with are unaware that Harley also offers this seat as an option on Softail models other than the Cross Bones. If you’re not happy with your ride, this is something you might look into.
Gas mileage was a bit of a disappointment as I was only able to eke out a high of 40 mpg from the Bone’s 5-gallon tank. One higher-speed freeway trip netted me a low of 32 mpg. This is understandable as the design has the aerodynamics of a brick in a box. The real downside to this is that motorcycles, in general, are losing one of their strong selling points (as when you’re trying to convince the spouse that you need one) with gas mileage numbers that are less than many of the new cars on the road.
Passenger accommodations are absent on the Bones; no seat, no footpegs. Again, you’ll have to go to the P&A catalog for these items. Because of the solo saddle, passenger seat options are limited. You’ll get no plush lounge-like seat, just a decently sized pillion. Various backrest are available, though.
Almost without fail, when I’d park the Cross Bones around a crowd, someone would comment on the skull and cross bones. Non Harley buffs figured it was something I’d added. It also led to some of the “cartoonish” comments I heard, along with any number of pirate references. While it is a bit on the whimsical side, it doesn’t detract from the motorcycle’s very appealing look (assuming you appreciate retro). If you fancy yourself among the badass biker contingent, you may want to remove the emblem as whimsy may not be part of your biker persona. The 2010 FLSTSB Cross Bones (MSRP $16,999) may not excite you, but if you’re looking for a casual-use Harley that won’t get lost in a sea of look-alikes, don’t dismiss Captain Jack Sparrow’s ride without taking a test ride first.