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Harley-Davidson Slim: Old-School Bobber Sheds Fat

By Arv Voss, September 8th, 2012

Lately, the Motor Company hasn't come up with any radical or total new innovations from the mechanical department -- or the design studio. Rather, the practice at Harley-Davidson has been to draw on the past and to offer new takes on nostalgic ideas.

The 2012 Harley-Davidson FLS Softail Slim represents a case on point with its clean, stripped-down old-school approach to design. With minimal chrome, narrowed look and retrospective detail application, the Softail Slim is definitively a back-to-basics, no fooling around motorcycle. Categorize it how you like -- stripped down, old school, retro or lean and mean, the resulting bike displays an elemental Softail profile in a traditional Harley-Davidson style that harkens back to classic custom bobbers from the 1950s era.

Casey Ketterhagen, Harley-Davidson's senior designer points out, "It's time to make the engine the focal point of the motorcycle, so we put a Softail on a diet to get the proportions back in check. We scaled down the rear with a narrow tire and chopped fender, making the heart of the bike, the motor, the focus once again. We left a gap between the nose of the seat and tank so the rider can see the top of the motor. I like to be able to look down and see what's moving me."

In keeping the rear of the motorcycle simple and clean, the Slim serves up combination stop/turn/tail lights and a side-mounted license plate. A thin formed-leather strap covers the 5-gallon Fat Bob's fuel tank seam and the powertrain is finished with polished covers instead of chrome with the black cylinders left unhighlighted.

The Hollywood bar, identified by its wide bend and cross brace, was originally an accessory for Harley-Davidson models with a Springer fork. The name may have been coined because owners of that era who used the cross-brace to mount lights and bags had "gone Hollywood" with excessive accessorizing. For the Slim, the cross-braced bar and louvered headlight nacelle are finished in gloss black. Other period styling cues include a gloss black "cat's eye" tank console with a retro speedometer face, half-moon rider footboards, a round air cleaner cover, and gloss black laced steel wheel rims and hubs.

A counter-balanced Twin Cam 103B engine is rigid-mounted within the frame, creating a solid connection between rider and the machine. The Softail chassis mimics the clean lines of a vintage hardtail frame, but utilizes rear suspension control provided by coil-over shock absorbers mounted horizontally and out of sight within the frame rails.

The motor, rated at 98.7 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,000 rpm is a 1690 cc (103 air-cooled Twin Cam 103B pushrod operated, 4-valve OHV unit with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters and electronic sequential port fuel injection. The exhaust exits via dual right side over/under shotgun with slash-cut staggered mufflers. Motive force reaches the rear wheel through a six-speed Cruise Drive sequential manual gearbox, primary chain drive and final belt drive.

The Softail Slim rides on Dunlop 16-inch (MT90B16) front and rear (MU85B16) tires mounted on steel lace-spoke wheels. Suspension consists of 41.3 mm telescopic forks with "beer can" covers and 5.1 inches of travel up front and rear swingarm with hidden, horizontal-mounted, coil-over shocks and 4.3inches of travel.

My test Harley-Davidson FLS Softail Slim was finished in Black Denim and came with a base sticker of $15,499. The Softail Slim tips the scale at a manageable and well-balanced 671 pound dry weight. The Slim is a really nice bike off the showroom floor, with little left to do in the area of customizing for a satisfying look and image.

The riding position is more akin to sitting down in, rather than riding on. Riders who are long of leg might find the fixed floorboard and stock forward bars a little wearisome after a hard day's ride. This could be overcome by adding "crash bars" and highway pegs, but doing so would interfere with the bike's clean look. The cross bar on the handlebars provides a great spot for mounting electronic connectivity devices, but again, that would add clutter to the minimalist nature of the bike.

The Slim is no sport bike mind you, but it does lend itself to riding somewhat aggressively. Just don't plan on any knee-dragging, because that's not its purpose. It's most comfortable up to roughly 75 or 80 mph; over that, well the drill presents more of a challenge and considerably less comfort. Bottom line, it seems an ideal way to affordably acquire a manageable Big-Twin bike from the Motor Company.

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