Motorcycles represent a lot of things: freedom, power, fearlessness. With Harley-Davidson’s new Softail Slim, unveiled Wednesday, "exposure" would also be appropriate. The Milwaukee manufacturer has stripped its classic Softail to its skivvies with a retro bobber that highlights the brute force of the machine.
Starting at $15,499, the new-for-2012 Softail Slim represents a sort of Harley-style spring cleaning, for which every bit of bling was removed to showcase the bike’s essentials.
The chassis, in a sense, is merely a black-and-chrome accessory to the star of the show: the engine, which is the same guttural and counterbalanced 103 cubic inch V-twin Harley rolled out for the 2012 model year and is standard equipment on all Softail and Touring models.
Designer Casey Ketterhagen intentionally left a peekaboo gap between the tip of the seat and the tail of the tank, so riders can see from the saddle the mule that’s making them move. And he left the fender struts uncovered to expose the steel and fasteners underneath and more distinctly draw the line between this modern-day production custom and its post-World War II inspiration.
The Softail Slim marks the return of Harley’s so-called Hollywood handlebar -- a cross-braced accessory to Springer-fork Harleys that used the extra slab of metal to mount lights and bags. The "cat’s eye" console on top of the five-gallon tank is also a nod to the past, though its vintage-looking face is given away by its modern electronic speedo.
The Slim is, of course, a modern motorcycle, hard as it tries to look retro with its bobbed front and rear fenders and lack of overt glitz. In terms of suspension, that’s a distinct positive.
Although the Slim’s suspension is designed to mimic the look of a vintage hardtail, and the engine is rigid-mounted within the frame; the coil-over-shock absorbers are invisible to the rider because they’re mounted within the frame rails.
Another aspect of the bike that will make riders feel as though they’re riding in, instead of on, this Softail is the saddle. At 23.8 inches up from the pavement, the Slim’s saddle is among Harley’s lowest.
In keeping with the Softail Slim’s back-to-basics vibe, the rear is less Kim Kardashian, more Jillian Michaels, with a toned back tire that’s been trimmed to a scant 85-millimeter tread, and tail light and turn signals combined in a single unit. A side-mounted license plate also helps to keep the back 40 uncluttered and retro.
Like the Seventy-Two Harley-Davidson also introduced Wednesday, the Softail Slim is going for more shimmer than Harley’s embraced in recent years. The powertrain is finished in a black powder coat, but the engine covers are polished, and the air cleaner cover, headlamp and oil tank are all gloss black.
Though the chrome on the dual slash-cut exhaust is likely to experience some unsightly boot melt as riders swing their feet on to the half-moon floorboards, that’s all part of the old-school experience with Harley’s newest.
The 2012 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim will be available Thursday.
2012 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim
Base price: $15,499
Powertrain: Fuel-injected, rigid-mounted, air-cooled, Twin Cam 103B, counterbalanced V-twin with automatic compression release, 6 speed cruise drive
Displacement: 1,690 cc
Maximum torque: 98.7 lb.-ft. @ 3,000 rpm
Overall length: 94 inches
Wheelbase: 64.4 inches
Seat height (laden): 23.8 inches
Shipping weight: 671 pounds
Estimated MPG: 42 combined