2012 Softail Slim

Article By: Rob Keller

Photos By: Riles & Nelson

Originally Published In The June 2012 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

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As the years go by, I never thought that we would get to relive the past. There were some really cool cars, trucks and motorcycles that have rolled off the assembly lines that had a unique style about them. Most of these vehicles were only manufactured for one or two model years and then they would never be produced again. In my opinion, muscle cars like the 1968 Camaro, a 1970 Dodge Challenger or the 1969 Mustang were some of the best looking automobiles that were ever manufactured. They were here today and gone tomorrow with not many of them staying out of the scrap yards. If you were lucky enough to have purchased one of these relics, you probably wish that you would have held on to it because they are worth a pile of cash now! I know I wish that I would never have sold my 1970 Oldsmobile 442 convertible that I had when I graduated high school. Year after year, the auto industry has been reaching out to come up with fresh ideas and chasing innovative designs that will appeal to the masses. Now there are so many new cars on the market that it is hard to distinguish one model from another. That‘s why I think it is so cool that the big three have all been producing retro versions of our favorite muscle cars from years gone by.

The motorcycle industry has also been trying to find that right combination that will appeal to new customers. The Asian bikes have always had their unique tin, engine designs and sound that gave them their own identity. They also try to cover the American ideas by using their versions of the V-Twin engine. This is a great marketing idea that has proven to be very profitable for them but if they were to bring back a KZ 1000 or a Honda CB750 Four, they may find that retro is where it’s at. On the other hand, Harley-Davidson has been doing a great job preserving their history by redesigning the old school bikes and offering them to their customers on a regular basis. The Softail design has made so much out of this fad, possibly because of the traditional look of an old hard tail frame while giving some cushion to the rear suspension as well. Each time Harley releases a retro looking bike, I have my own ideas on how I could make it even more like the original. I love the old bikes and I think that they have a place in time but I also really like the fact that Harley is keeping in touch with their heritage by offering some nostalgia as part of their product line. The new FLS Slim is the latest model released by the Motor Company that carries on the traditions of the early Hydro Glide Big Twins. From the Hollywood handlebars to the pan style seat, this bike has its own personality. They gave it a bobber look by cutting the fenders short, and using an MT 90b 16” front tire and an MU 85b 16” rear mounted on a pair of spoke wheels. This bike is marketed with “old style attitude.” It is only available in 3 color choices: Gloss Black, Denim Black and Ember Red Sunglo.

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If you close your eyes when you first straddle the Slim, it feels much like the early FLs except for the fact that the suspension collapses from 25.9 inches to 23.8 inches. The old hard tails with a rigid mounted seat didn’t move. This is the lowest seat height available from the factory. The handlebars also have that old beach bar feel that places your arms in a wide position while twisting your wrists a little bit, facing them front to back. Again, this is the same feel as the early bikes. This motorcycle sits low to the ground which makes it a good fit for shorter riders and also makes it an easy bike to get up off of the kickstand. Out on the street, the Slim is easy to maneuver with excellent balance. The air-cooled Twin Cam 103B engine with 98.7 ft-lbs of torque at 3,000 R.P.M. puts plenty of power to the rear wheel and pulls hard while shifting through the gears with minimal vibration throughout the chassis. This is a standard characteristic of the hard mounted Twin Cam B engines that are installed on all of the Softail motorcycles. The balanced engine runs so smooth that the mirrors don’t even vibrate while idling. On the other hand, rubber mounted engines that are installed on all other Harley models do vibrate while idling but smooth out as soon as they begin moving.

While you take on the corners riding the Slim, you do give up some lean angle because of the low seat height. The factory lean angle is only 24 degrees when you lean to the right and 24.9 degrees when you lean to the left. If you compare this angle to other Harleys that have 30 degrees or more, you can clearly understand the difference in handling. This is not a problem unless you push the issue. You will be dragging the floorboards before other stock Harleys so you should practice taking corners and learn the Slim’s limitations. When you lean too far and drag the floorboards, you take the preload from the rear wheel and then you may lift the rear tire from its contact patch with the ground and the bike will shoot out from under you. This is known as a wash out. If you turn the handlebars into the curves, you will take away some of the lean angle and still be able to negotiate the corners. The Slim is right at home out on the highway. It’s a good cruiser with the stable and predictable ride that we have come to expect from the Motor Company. The front suspension works well with the lower stance. The seat has very little padding by design, so if you plan on a long ride, you may want to look at he Harley accessory book where there are many available options to choose from so you can build this bike to match your personality. Overall, the Slim is an easy bike to ride and is a good addition to the Softail family. While riding around the streets of Daytona during Bike Week, the Slim was well received by many. This will give you a good excuse to head out to your local dealership and take one for a ride. We would like to thank the good people at Harley-Davidson for giving us the chance to test ride this new model. It means a lot to us to be offered this opportunity. Check us out next month when we test another new model: the Seventy-Two XL1200V

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