Harley Davidson Softail Slim Review

We ride Harley-Davidson’s retro bobber – the Softail Slim FLS.
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Harley-Davidson Softail Slim Review

It was the 1950s and television had become the dominant media after years of radio. Blue jeans were in fashion and pony tailed girls rode in big American cars with boys who sported crew cuts.

James Dean starred in Rebel Without a Cause and drive-in movies were popular. Cars were seen as an indicator of prosperity and coolness whilst the radio broadcast hits from Frank Sinatra and Buddy Holly… although Elvis was King.

In 1953 Harley Davidson celebrated 50 years of operation. Now the sole US motorcycle manufacturer after the demise of the Indian, H-D engines remain the dominant feature in all models. Frames are rigid with narrow rear ends – referred to as hard-tails because of the absence of rear shocks.


The appearance of the bobber – simple, stripped down motorcycles – is thought to have been started by returning WW2 servicemen working on ex-military motorcycles, predominantly Harley Davidson. The bobber was typically built around an unmodified frame. They were homemade and reflected the style and character of the owner.

softail-slim-tankHarley’s new Softail Slim echoes those golden years. The Slim is minimalist, hard-tail styled and reverses the fat rear tyre trend with a narrow backend. With its origins from the bobber, where focus was more on the engine and less on the cosmetics of the bike, this narrow back-end on the Softail Slim gives the illusion of a beefier-looking engine.

For Casey Ketterhagen, the lead Harley-Davidson stylist for the 2012 Softail Slim, the design is all about the proportions and clean, simple look, “Over the years, I think Softails have grown to the point where everything else got big around the motor but the motor stayed the same size.”

“With this bike I’m trying to really look back at historical bikes and try to get that proportion back, dialled into where they were in the ’40s & ’50s and you’ll see retro cues throughout the bike that tie it back to that era.”

Although the Softail Slim is big on its raw, clean look, the bike is not lacking in features. The test bike was fitted with the optional H-D Smart security system with proximity based hands-free security fob and includes the ABS brake package. The ABS wheel parts are nicely hidden inside the hub. The wiring on the Slim is well hidden, and Harleys electronic sequential port fuel injection is standard.
Sitting on the Slim will reveal more than just a comfortable tuck and roll upholstered seat. With a seat height of 605 mm with the rider on-board, the Slim offers Harley’s lowest ride. The solo seat is not only reminiscent of the era but offers a riding position that feels like you sit into the bike rather than on top.

The nearly 19 litre tank is completed with a forged aluminium medallion inset into a leather retaining strap, with the gap between the seat and tank offering a view of the rear cylinder head. The cat’s eye console completes the minimalist theme on the tank.

Swept back “Hollywood” handlebars with cross-brace add to the comfortable riding position. The cross-brace styled bars were originally fitted to 50’s Harleys for the addition of driving lights and other accessories. A trimless FL stubby front guard keeps the look simple and uncomplicated.

Wheels are black, 16 inch spoked units, paired with Dunlop D402 rubber. The fat front tyre is matched to a slim rear, as first seen on the Blackline. While huge width rear tyres may look tough, they can also make tipping into a corner more of a task. They didn’t have 200 series rear tyres in the 50’s..

The Slim is powered by a rigid mounted 103 cubic inch (1690cc), twin cam counter-balanced power train. With a peak of 132 newton metres of  torque at only 3250 rpm, the Slim revs quite low at highway speeds. The six speed transmission was somewhat notchy, however offered firm but reliable shifts. The black powder coated engine, with its polished covers adds to the dark custom theme, complimented with shotgun exhausts and a black retro round air cleaner.


Despite the hefty 300 kg weight, riding the Slim does feel exactly that: the low centre of gravity, the low seat and some clever geometry tweaking make for an easy low speed ride, and stable tracking at high speeds. The fatter front 16″ tyre gave a little more confidence than some of H-D’s skinny 21’s, while the steering was surprisingly light and direct. If you haven’t ridden one, you may be surprised how easy it is to ride this large motorcycle, particularly around town.

As with all Harley reviews, it’s obligatory to mention the running boards will touch down when ridden swiftly and that the feet forward position can make a long high speed ride a little tiring. That’s the nature of the beast, and we don’t consider it a flaw, merely the way things are. Pillion passengers aren’t catered for on the Slim, it’s just you and the road. An accessory seat is no doubt available, as are pipes for the hard of hearing.


My one minor beef was the switch blocks, which are still designed for a big gorilla-type hand. My female hand still struggles with the thumb reach for the indicator, however, the self-cancelling indicators somewhat redeem themselves with the paw size oversight.

If you like your bikes raw and stripped down the Softail Slim is just the ticket. It’s also one of the cheaper tickets in the H-D house, with a suggested ride-away price of $26,995. That is still a fairly expensive motorcycle, but the high resale value does offset that to a large degree.


Paint choices include Vivid Black, Black Denim, and Ember Red Sunglo, otherwise known as Red, Black and Satin Black.

Once again, Harley-Davidson have hit the mark using subtle changes on a proven model. There is no doubting that you buy instant cred with a Harley Davidson, the appeal is unique. The rideability and looks have hit the mark for a retro bobber far better than any 80’s Jap commuter sprayed matt black could ever hope to.

Just ask any of the admirers you’ll frequently come across in your travels on the Softail Slim.


Harley Davidson Softail Slim Specifications

Length 2,395 mm
Weight, As Shipped 304.4 kg
Seat Height, Laden 605 mm
Seat Height, Unladen 658 mm
Ground Clearance 114 mm
Rake (steering head) 31 deg.
Trail 147 mm
Wheelbase 1,636 mm
Tyre, Front Dunlop MT90B16 72H
Tyre, Rear Dunlop MU85B16 77H
Fuel Capacity 18.9 litres
Oil Capacity (w/filter) 3.3 l

Engine Air-cooled, Twin Cam 103B
Bore 98.4 mm
Stroke 111.1 mm
Displacement 1,690 cc (103 cubic inches)
Compression Ratio 9.6:1
Fuel System Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)


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