Harley-Davidson FLSTSB Cross Bones
by Paul Berglund
When I first saw the 2008 Harley-Davidson FLSTSB Softail® Cross Bones™ I said, “Cool bike. What’s with the handlebars?” The Cross Bones comes pre-styled from the factory and looks cool, but at a cost. All cruisers compromise function for fashion. While the Softail platform is proven, bobbing one into a Cross Bones had mixed results for me. The springer front end with its fat, 16-inch wheel and tire make this bike a rolling fashion show. The front end works, and so does the adjustable, sprung seat. They both look cool, and they both function just fine. The mini ape-hanger handlebar in combination with the forward-mounted floorboards make too much of a sacrifice to fashion.
Riding the Cross Bones at 45 miles-per-hour or less is very satisfying. You’re having fun and the world can get a good look at the bike. It’s like recess in the 6th grade and you’re the cool kid. Speed up and things change. By the time you hit 65 mph, the riding position and the windblast force you into a continuous pull-up and sit-up.
It’s become a bad day in 7th grade gym class. I didn’t like that. Putting on the optional detachable windshield would help. Bolting on a bucket seat from a 1969 Mustang would fix the problem. Either way, you diminish or ruin the reason this bike exists; the cool factor. What we have here is a Bart Simpson kind of bike. It’s a lovable under-achiever that comes off as very cool.
Riding around the urban landscape, the majority of motorcycles I see are made in Japan. I picked up the Cross Bones from Donahue Harley-Davidson / Buell in Baxter, Minnesota. I rode it around the Brainerd Lakes area, and then swung over to Lake Mille Lacs. I followed the shoreline south towards the Cities. I saw a lot of motorcycles while riding in out-state Minnesota and the vast majority of those were Harley-Davidsons. Most of those bikes had forward-mounted floorboards and a lot of them had ape-hanger handlebars. So lots of Minnesotans have voted with their money; ape-hangers are in. I truly don’t get that, so I’ll drop that point and move on with the review.
The heart of the Cross Bones is the Twin Cam 96B motor. That’s 96 cubic-inches of displacement (1,584cc in Canadian, just in case a copy of MMM should blow over the border and one of our Metric friends to the north should pick it up.) We won’t look too closely at Bart’s report card, but some of the statistics are good. He’s making 87.9 foot-pounds of torque at 2,700 RPM.
Some aren’t so good. Bart’s a little heavy at 737 pounds. The fuel tank holds 5 gallons and it uses fuel injection to go 37 miles on a gallon when I was riding. The bike was brand new when I picked it up, so I would expect fuel mileage to increase as it’s rated for 54-mpg highway and 35-mpg city. It has a clunky six-speed transmission, with the tall 6th gear being an overdrive. This is great for loping down the freeway (for as long as you can hang on to those handle bars.) Final drive is by belt. The wheels are spoked and the tires are satisfyingly fat with a 200/55R-17 in the rear.
Pulling away from Donahue Harley-Davidson, I found the front brake to be somewhat wooden. By the time I had a hundred miles on the bike it felt much better. Being a cruiser, you can use the back brake for much more of your braking. The Cross Bones has the standard Softail, forward-mounted floorboards. It has a heel-toe shifter on the left, and a brake pedal off of your grandpa’s pickup truck on the right. The seat is reminiscent of the one on grandpa’s tractor, but it’s very comfortable. It’s has a lip on the back that gives you good leverage to push that brake pedal. Just remember to hang on for dear life when operating any of the controls at speed. The seating position has you splayed out like your butt is stuck in grandpa’s outhouse and four of your friends are pulling you out by your arms and legs. Other than that, it’s fine.
A retro-styled speedometer dominates the tank-mounted dash. An LCD window in its face gives you your odometer reading. A button on the side of the dash lets you cycle through the odometer, two trip meters and miles-until-empty functions. When you are getting low on gas, the display automatically switches over to this setting and counts down the miles you have till the tank is dry. Below the speedometer are the usual indicator lights for turn signals, neutral, etc. One feature I really like is a green numeral 6 lights up when you shift into sixth gear. You’ll never have to up-shift again to see if you’re in top gear. The bike politely reminds you of this. You will have to look down to see any of this because it all takes place below your field of vision when you are riding.
Harley does things their own way. The button for the left turn signal is in the conventional spot, below the left handgrip. The right side turn signal button is on the right where the starter button is on most every other motorcycle. The turn signals self-cancel after you make a turn. If you signal a lane change (could we all start doing that, please?) you have to push the same button to cancel it. To check to see if you have successfully canceled your turn signal you can either look down at the dash or at the reflection in the back of the headlight housing. You can see a fish-eye view of yourself and the handlebars you are gripping with grim determination. The turn signals are plainly visible in the reflection. You get used to the buttons after a while. You also refine your starting procedure over time, too. At first, it’s Step one: ignition on. Step two: make sure you are in neutral. Step three: turn on right turn signal. Step four: look at the right hand control to locate errant starter button. Step five: start bike. Step six: cancel right turn signal.
This Cross Bones came with the optional Factory Security System for $345. You get a key fob that enables the bike’s ignition system. If you have the fob with you and are in close proximity to the bike, the ignition system will work. There is no need to use the key; just turn the ignition switch to ON and start the bike. When you switch the bike off, the system disables the ignition switch and automatically activates the alarm when you and the fob walk away from the bike. No more fumbling with keys. You can leave the fob tucked away in a pocket and the bike will respond only to you. This system works and is very cool.
The Cross Bones lists for $16,795 for the basic bike. Harley-Davidson, of course, offers a huge selection of accessories. You can customize this bike any number of ways before it even leaves the dealer. This is a lot of money, but you probably know that Harleys hold their value like no other bike out there. If you decide you don’t have the Popeye forearms or the washboard abs it takes to ride this cruiser, you can sell the bike without taking too much of a financial hit.
Having second thoughts while riding the Cross Bones? Just pull into any gas station. Each time I did, people came up to me and commented about the bike or asked me if I was going to Sturgis®. I was in the brotherhood, but I was just a poser. If I had actually bought the bike, I’d have instant street-cred. For just shy of $18,000 plus tax you can own your own Cross Bones and be that cool kid at recess.
by Molly Gilbert
Hey Molly,” editor Sev says to me, “We have a Cross Bones for you to review”. “A what?” I ask. “A Cross Bones,” he says. I figure he’s joking. Must be a Harley. “Right” he says. “It’s sort of a custom H-D.” “Cool man. I’m in. What kind of Harley?” “A Cross Bones!” he says. “I know, I know,” I say, “but what’s the real name of it?’” “A Cross Bones!” That’s really the name? Where’s my skull t-shirt?
I get one of my gal-pals to drive me to pick up the bike, and she just about squeals when she sees it: “I LOVE this kind of bike!” she says. While she proudly rides a Suzuki SV-650, she is still a sucker for the bad boys (aren’t we all? Sigh…) Since I am expecting something along the lines of Captain America, I am pleasantly surprised.
First off, I have to say this is my first-ever time riding my own Harley – meaning not being on the back. The last time I was on a Harley, I was on a date with some guy who had a very cool, super-low, custom rig. It was so low to the ground, that when I stood up at a stoplight to get something out of my pocket, the next thing I knew I was standing in the middle of the intersection and the bike was a half block away from me. It made for good laughs all around.
So, based solely on this experience, I figured the Cross Bones would be lower to the ground than either my Triumph or Ducati, and wouldn’t have a forward-leaning position. Indeed – it is more of a sit back, relax and put up your feet kind of ride. While very different, the riding position is amazingly easy to get used to.
The only thing that consistently threw me off was having to remind myself to position my feet forward on the floorboards. I kept expecting the foot position to be directly underneath me. The Cross Bones is somewhat similar to my 1964 BMW R-60/2, in that the Cross Bones comes with a solo “farmers seat” that I really enjoy. It is well-padded and very comfortable. With just the solo seat, there will be no passengers. I love it. Get your own bike, Brutha…
The Cross Bones is all black; there isn’t a ton of chrome, which is refreshingly different. No one does incredible paint and finishes like Harley Davidson, and this is no exception. The beautiful, gloss-black paint job with orange and yellow pinstripes makes for a really pretty bike. It comes with some sort of stitched-up leather corset-looking thing that lies on the lower part of the tank that is supposed to be a tank protector. While clever and artistic, it is definitely a “Righteous Bro” kind of deal. Thankfully, there wasn’t fringe hanging from it.
I passed a lot of Harleys on the road, and I have to say this one really stood out. The Cross Bones was much more my style in that it was “nekked.” Just nicely stripped down to the handlebars, tank, seat and fenders.
About those handlebars: first off, my hands started to go numb after about five minutes of riding. Due to the long and upward swoop of the handlebars, my hands were at about shoulder height while riding. Handlebar positioning is an intensely personal thing, so I am not complaining. I am comforted to know that I wouldn’t be the only one on the road shaking out my hands. Anyone riding this bad boy will need to get the blood flowing back to his or her hands after a few minutes, too. I also found myself adopting a bit of a ‘bad-ass stance’ – one hand up and on the throttle, the other resting on the underside of the tank or across my knee. Yeah, now we were starting to see some attitude come through…
With the power attached to this machine, it was easy to go into “Kid Rock” mode; throttle hard and fast and move it on down the line like a bad girl. It was hard to remain polite on this thing. When you take off, you (apparently) want people to remember your name; and these were the factory exhaust pipes. This is the perfect bike for someone with perfect abdominal muscles to show off, too.
Enough about the style part of this machine, you say! When I would get off it at a stop, I would see guys in particular turn their heads to look (and no, it wasn’t me, it was the bike), and then they’d give me this all-American chin-up/head-nod thing that I just don’t seem to get on my Ducati. So funny, by buying a particular brand, I suddenly “belonged.” Yawn.
There wasn’t anything on the bike that indicated what size engine this was (all I got with it were the keys) so I called a buddy of mine who works at a Harley dealership in town to ask him exactly what size engine this thing was. “It’s 1,584cc, but its known in our world as a 96 inch Twin Cam. It’s also known as an FLSTSB.” Thanks, man. 1584cc! What in the hell do I need THAT much power for. Pulling a truck?
OK, back to the function. I was quite impressed with the security/ignition fob that came with this bike. With the fob in your pocket, you never need to put the key into the bike. Simply turn the ignition to ON and press the start button! Nice. No keys to scratch the bike when it’s dark out.
Starting is as smooth as ice. Seriously. No choke button to pull, no double or triple starts. This baby fires right away with no need for power throttling (as I see so many ‘loud-pipers’ do – they must need attention.) Even when the motor was cold as can be from sitting overnight, just press the button and, whammo! One click and she was on her way. Very nice.
Neutral was elusive for me. Things improved after the second day, but neutral was always hit-or-miss. I really dug the heel-toe shifter: you can upshift conventionally using the toe of your boot OR you can stomp your heel. I thought that was very cool and used it both ways.
I really liked this bike at full speed; not so much at slower speeds. I found it to be choppy and harder to handle at slower speeds. Once underway, it was just wonderful. I had it on the freeway and never actually made it to the sixth gear, as it just wasn’t necessary. On the freeway, your body is turned into a sail, but I never felt as if I were unsafe or unsteady. The springer front end took some getting used to. It is bouncier than a telescopic fork, but other than that, quite comfortable. That springer front end is definitely a focal point on the bike. The headlight and blinkers are mounted to, and move up and down with, the sprung front end. The controls are at your fingertips, and a convenient fuel gauge is positioned at the top left of your tank. What looks like a tach is actually the speedometer. When it’s at what I would’ve read as 4,000 rpm, it’s actually indicating 40 mph. The turn signal buttons are conveniently at your right and left thumb, depending on which way you want to turn; and are self-canceling. The horn is nice and loud – I know this, as I hit it once or twice instead of the turn signal. The ability to throw your brights is right there as well.
Because the Cross Bones is a dark bike, I found others not seeing me as well during the daylight hours. Two separate times cars pulled out in front of me. I can only attribute that to (besides their own ignorance and lack of paying attention – the #1 scourge of motorcyclists) the fact that the bike is very dark.
Let’s break it down for the ladies out there. Although this is an obscenely large engine (I mean what in the hell do I need more than 1,200ccs for, anyways?) I did not feel as if it was too much bike for me. With its low center of gravity the Cross Bones was easy to maneuver, though it was still too heavy for me to heave backwards if there was a slight incline. Parking lot maneuvers may be a bit of a challenge for some of the gals. While riding the Cross Bones, you feel light as a feather on it. It handles really nicely at speed – sweepers are awesome on it. Again, I liked the lack of fairing and other extraneous materials. It makes for a lighter bike. I would put different handlebars on it, but I like the pseudo-older styling of this machine. So, nothing to botch that up too much.
With its 30” seat height, I can see where this bike would be really nice for someone with a shorter inseam. But I can’t help it: I felt older and slower on this machine, like I was turning into a lawyer or something. “Help! The bike is steering me towards a golf course!” KIDDING! Oh, come on – why so serious??
I did notice that the inside seam of my jeans got warmer and warmer. Yes, it was a 90º day, but the exhaust pipes under my right leg roasted me pretty good. God forbid some idiot comes along and decides to ride in shorts and flip-flops. Both sides of the bike get hot, even on shorter rides, so that is something to be aware of.
Here are my three rules I came up with during my time with the H-D Cross Bones: 1) Never, ever wear lip-gloss while wearing a half-helmet on this thing. 2) Wear earplugs. 3) Do not smile.
Most of the above is due to bugs and road grit, and I seriously have NO idea how ya’ll handle it without a face shield. I was pelted by just about everything imaginable from the road. Now I get why people ride with bandanas around their mouths like bandits. Makes total sense. Admittedly, I am used to a full-faced helmet so the issue of earplugs isn’t so great normally. But yowsa, the wind noise! And, well, I dunno, but it seems a little unseemly to go around smiling on a Cross Bones. Still, inwardly, I was definitely smiling.
SEV’S WIFE FIRST REACTION “It makes me think of Elvira.”