First Ride: Harley-Davidson Softail Slim

Slim Boy Fat

Posted: 9 February 2012
by mark forsyth

Anyone who's been unfortunate enough to have been reading my scribblings for the past quarter of a century will know that I’ve got a bit of a penchant for fast bikes, track time and well, hooning around like an eejit. I make no excuses. It’s a fair cop, Guv’.

But never let it be said that I’m a narrow minded, one-track biking bigot. Biking, for me, isn’t all about sports bikes. I get just as much enjoyment from riding, say, a 1966 drum-braked Bonneville as I do from a CR500, a slim style Lambretta or snail-pace competition trials bikes. The formula is simple. Engine + wheels (as long as they’re round) = a good craic. Two wheels and engines are an unbeatable combo.

I’ve just got back from Spain where we rode Harley-Davidson’s latest two models – the Sportster 72 and the Slim around some of the best roads (ever?) in the mountains above Malaga and, you know what? It was one of the most pleasant days of riding I’ve had for some time.

The Slim was my favourite. It uses Harley's big pre-unit 103 cubic inch (a smidgeon under 1.7 litres in new money) motor mated to a six-speed box via an enclosed chain primary drive. Just the bore and stroke dimensions tell you how this engine needs to be ridden. Rather than being over square like any current high revving motor designed to make peak power near peak revs, the 103 has pretty alien cylinder architecture. Try a 98.4mm bore and a 111.1mm stroke for size…

Obviously, it’s all about torque. Massive torque. A maximum 132NM of twisting force is delivered at just 3,250rpm. If you’ve never ridden a big cc Harley you need to think about that figure. Even in a high gear, when you open the throttle, the forward shove is immense but strangely disproportionate to what you’re hearing and feeling. There’s a lazy sort of shuddering vibration from the engine and the lowly revs seem to be at odds with the rate of forward go. The noise is addictive (even if modern standard pipes are far too strangled).

You’ve got to tune in before you can chill out and experience the sensation for what it is. Faced with twenty miles of perfectly surfaced, up-hill, sweeping A-road bends as we made our way up the mountains, you’ve got to recalibrate your riding instincts. There’s very little cornering clearance (those footboards are low and wide) so corner entry needs to be smooth and coaxing. With thirty one degrees of head angle, 147mm of trail (!) and a 1635mm wheelbase it's very, very stable and planted. Forget the brakes (shutting the throttle is like chucking an anchor out of the back, anyway) and roll on and off the power sorry, torque, smoothly and progressively. Once you get the hang of it, it’s surprising how swiftly you’re travelling. Try and ride it like a GSX-R600 and not only do you look a twunt but it just will not reward you with what’s possible. Bit like a boxer BM in that respect.

If you’ve ever been skiing, this riding style is a bit like those ancient old leathery octogenarians (usually Alpine locals) you see carving down a hill with minimal fuss and movement. The people who make skiing look effortlessly easy. There’s a similar fluidity required, a certain grace, to ride a Harley how it wants to be ridden and a certain kick to be derived when it all comes together. Even nervous pillions would love it.

The euphemistically named Slim is still a bat fastard – well, by modern terms, at least. Without being over simplistic, the Slim is a Fat Boy that’s lost a bit of cake and picked up some 1950s Bobber styling cues along the way. I loved the wide, swept back, ‘Hollywood’ handlebars with their cross brace and the big, dominant tank mounted speedo and Cyclops headlight. It’s a great view ahead. In it’s own wide-spread-stance kinda way, it’s supremely comfy, if a little alien at first.

Thirty or so miles into our ride two things dawned on me. One: I was admiring the stunning view (a first) and Two: this was probably the lowest risk, most pleasant launch I’d ever been on. Normally, on sports bike launches, every corner is a tooth clencher as you chase grip and battle a cat and mouse game with local police and differing, alien road surfaces. Most sports bike launches involve at least one ‘off’ and many euros spent on speeding fines. This Harley experience couldn’t have been more different.

My lottery win garage will definitely have a big inch Harley in it – possibly a Slim with a pillion pad and rear footrests - for when the mood takes me, when I don’t want to ride like my trousers on fire, when I just want to chill and give my pillion as pleasant-a-time as I experienced in Spain the other day. A motorbike as a relaxing way to travel?

Surely some mistake?

The Slim starts at £14,695 in flat black and the foot-thick Candy metalflake paint adds another three hundred sheets.

All pics by

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Discuss this story

If all you're interested in is tracks and hooning, why didn't you send someone to review a custom who understands customs?

Posted: 09/02/2012 at 20:34

I trust that you do know that the lead picture is of a Fat Boy?

Posted: 10/02/2012 at 14:38

Well spotted, Hornsby. Just seeing if you were paying attention at the back. Cough.

Posted: 10/02/2012 at 15:08

rockingmole - you want a review by someone who understands customs?

1. Take one bike journo
2. Surgically remove any previous bike experience or knowledge of any other bike genre
3. Deprive of attention during childhood
4. Over-expose with vacuous american culture
5. Teach them the YMCA dance
6. etc.

Posted: 10/02/2012 at 16:30

As oposed to the sportsbike routine of..
3. remove penis
4. ensure they restore belief in their masculinty through strict adhereance to bhp figures and lean angles as measurements of your worth
5. etc etc

Posted: 10/02/2012 at 17:06

Gentleman, settle yourselves. That was the whole point of my piece - that prejudice and bigotry are pointless. Move on nothing to see here, etc

Posted: 10/02/2012 at 17:35

hey andy. have they changed the lead piccy or is this AmericanV subscriber needing to pay better attention?

Posted: 10/02/2012 at 21:28

Yep, give Mark his due, he was damn quick to resolve that.

Good-looking Fat Boy Special, it was.

Took me a second to spot it, but then I was gobsmacked that I'd managed to miss out on another Harley launch! Not a problem, as long as Harley don't get sniffy about the amount of coverage Victory are getting. I know they're keen to attract converts to the bar and shield, but they're increasingly complacent about keeping their core market in the face of viable competition from home, and that's going to get more noticeable when Indian return, if Polaris get that right.

Still, we've got both bikes coming for a week from Thursday, and the Seventy-Two will make the cover of the first monthly AmV if it stops snowing for long enough to be able to ride them: thirty miles in the Spanish sun or a week on British roads in February ... on deadline ... hmmm, let me think.

I'd best get some indoor photo-locations lined up :-)

Posted: 10/02/2012 at 23:57

Bloody Hell Mark, what shoe size are you? I'm off out to get you some nice furry slippers.

Posted: 14/02/2012 at 19:58

Blimey, think someone needs to take a chill pill instead of the usual bitter pill...

Posted: 15/02/2012 at 16:55

Jim, I'm a 43. It's my birthday on May 11th... sheepskin would be nice

Posted: 16/02/2012 at 06:59

Hey I'm 43 - its not old!

Ok it is old. I hate noisy pubs, I like real ale, I like to sit down and have a chat, I like to get there early for a few pints then bugger off early before the idiots (noisy good-looking young people) arrive.

I've got nothing against customs I just don't think they warrant the kind of in depth review that for example the panigale requires.

Posted: 16/02/2012 at 10:19

Ripsaw - you don't want one therefore there shouldn't be a review. Thanks almighty one, please tell us what else we're alowed to read about without wasting your time.

Posted: 18/02/2012 at 19:02

I didn't say that. Review em by all means but what is there to say? Customs don't move the game on much whereas new sports bikes do.

The obvious exception is that ducati diavel.  It obviously deserves more column inches than anything HD are mugging people with.

Posted: 20/02/2012 at 16:43

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