First Ride: Harley-Davidson Softail Slim

Slim Boy Fat

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.

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