Home / Hardtail vs. Softail Motorcycles: What’s the Difference?

When researching Harley-Davidson motorcycles, many customers inevitably become curious about the distinction between hardtail vs. softail frames. Harley-Davidson motorcycles have been in production for many years, and it should come as no surprise that they have achieved significant progress in the motorcycle industry as a whole. One particular area of improvement that Harley-Davidson has gifted the world is the softail frame.

The hardtail vs softtail difference is rather subtle but becomes apparent while on the road.

What Is the Difference Between a Hardtail and a Softail?

The difference between a softail frame and a hardtail frame is so intentionally subtle that it can barely be detected through aesthetic differences alone. The difference, however, becomes readily apparent when you’re out on the road. 

The softail body was designed, in essence, to maintain the brand’s signature aesthetic while adjusting the bike’s specs to appeal to modern riders looking for a smoother ride.

Softail Bodies Mean Rear Suspension

While a classic hardtail body includes both rear and front suspension systems in the same frame, the innovative softail body contains a separate mini frame for the rear suspension. This innovation allows for a much smoother ride overall. The softail body was introduced by Harley-Davidson in 1984 and has since become the most popular type of motorcycle body from the manufacturer.

Since the introduction of the softail body from Harley-Davidson in 1984, softail and hardtail bikes have stood as the two most popular body types amongst motorcycle buyers and manufacturers. Softail bodies are made from two separate pieces, while hardtail bodies are made from one single piece. Because of their more intricate design, softail bodies are slightly more expensive for manufacturers to produce. But this offset in costs doesn’t seem to be affecting customer interest, with softail motorcycles certainly proving to be the most popular of the two body types.

The rear suspension system in softtail Harley Davidson bikes offers a smooth ride.

A Rear Suspension System Equates to a Smoother Ride

The reason softails are so popular in comparison to the more rigid hardtail frames is for their rear suspension system, which allows for a much smoother ride. On a traditional hardbody, the effect of road debris and other bumps could be so extreme that it caused riders to crash; with a softail, this impact is significantly reduced.

Why Have Softails Become More Popular Than Hardtails?

Softail frames have become more popular than their hardtail counterparts since Harley-Davidson introduced them in 1984. And this increased popularity has never been unwarranted even though hardtail bodies are much cheaper to produce than softails. The most common body type you’ll find on a modern Harley is the softail, and they remain the most practical and certainly the most popular kind of Harley for a beginner. Hardtail bikes have also grown to elicit a nostalgic appeal amongst Harley-Davidson collectors, which means that hardtail bodies are becoming more and more difficult to find over time. 

Softail frames have succeeded over the original hardtail model because they offer riders increased comfort and stability. The added suspension allowed by the separate rear wheel mechanism means that you’re greatly reducing the chance of external forces affecting your ride. And because of this, the softail feels much smoother and much easier to control.

The most popular softtail models currently available from Harley-Davidson are the 2021 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim and the 2021 Harley-Davidson Softtail Standard

What Are the Most Popular Softail Models?

The most popular softail models currently available from Harley-Davidson are the 2021 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim and the 2021 Harley-Davidson Softail Standard. These two builds are incredibly similar in performance but feature slightly different lengths and seat heights for riders of different sizes. Depending on your body size, either of these softail models could be an exquisite purchase for the beginning rider.

Hardtail vs Softail

The pros of a softail frame are numerous and have essentially eradicated the Harley-Davidson’s hardtail motorcycles from the market. However, hardtail Harley-Davidsons can still be a popular choice amongst buyers interested in their unique aspects and their historical value. Although newer softail frames offer a much smoother ride and a greater degree of control, hardtail bodies are often coveted for the unique way that they feel. The turbulence generated by the lack of a rear suspension means that hardtail bodies certainly feel different than their competitors.

Find both softtail and hardtail models at Harley-Davidson of The Woodlands

Cruise on Down to Harley-Davidson of The Woodlands

Softail bodies have dominated the market over their hardtail competitors, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t available for purchase. Our new showroom is packed with the latest models Harley sends us, and our classic room is filled to the brim with exciting finds of every sort. Whether you’re shopping for a 2021 softail, classic hardtail, or anything in between, Harley-Davidson of The Woodlands has what you’re looking for. But if you ask us where we stand on the hardtail vs. softail debate, we’ll just say Team Harley-Davidson.


Harley Davidson of The Woodlands blog author
Harley Davidson of The Woodlands

Harley-Davidson of The Woodlands has been serving Southeast Texas for more than 20 years. We provide the Greater Houston area with new and pre-owned motorcycles, riding apparel, parts, maintenance service, and more at our state-of-the-art dealership. Whether you’re a new rider or a seasoned Harley vet, our friendly team of Harley-Davidson experts is ready to help you find the perfect bike today. Stop by and visit the Harley-Davidson of The Woodlands Showroom off of I-45 North in The Woodlands, TX.