The emotional lure of a Harley has never been stronger, and the 2016 Softail Slim S has torque to back up its squawk
A funny thing happens to your mind when you ride the 2016 Softail Slim S. Maybe it’s the rumble from the stacked, slash-cut pipes. Maybe it’s the punch of the 110ci Screamin’ Eagle. Whatever it is, one minute you’re trying to sensibly examine the bike’s pros and cons. The next minute you’re in a daze, wondering if Cash Converters will give you 14 $2000 loans.
The problem is, when you’re on the Slim S, your head and heart are inseparably confused. So it’s hard to look at the bike scientifically. What appears to be its rational appeal – an 1800cc engine, utilitarian function and loads of road presence – is also part of its “emotional appeal”, something Harley has been building since it trademarked the Softail name with its FXST in 1984.
Back then the idea behind the Softie was to make a bike inspired by the rigid frames of the past, albeit with modern comfort. These days the philosophy seems to be about the same: take what’s good and add a little more. The result for the Slim S is a bike that’s got purpose yet heart. But let’s try to be rational…
The big crowd-puller for the Slim S is the air-cooled V-twin 110B. Previously Harley loyalists had to fork out a lot more for a CVO model to get the bigger donk. Now here it is in a bobber-style factory version. As Harley puts it, “Nothing gets more respect on the street than power”. You have to hand it to them – they know their market.
The counter-balanced engine is good for 148Nm at 3500rpm. To put that into perspective, that’s 18Nm more than you get with Harley’s popular Breakout, which costs about $1000 more. It’s also 13Nm more than you get with the standard 103ci Softail Slim. For Harley fans, this makes the Slim S an attractive buy at $28,995 rideaway.
Something else new is the option of a WLA-inspired green tank – Olive Gold Denim, in Harley-speak. If you opt for this, instead of the Vivid Black bike tested here, the tank also gets an Allied Forces star. Unfortunately, you don’t get the rifle holder that came with the original WLA bike. So if you want to take your rifle somewhere, you’ll just have to take the bus.
The other major addition is cruise control. It’s pretty intuitive to use, too – just press the little knob under the left switchblock to activate it then tilt it down when you’re at your chosen speed. Rest your right hand for later.
Don’t be fooled by the Softail name. There’s not much soft about this bike.
After a full weekend perched on the low-slung saddle, you’ll appreciate standing for a while. The two horizontal rear shocks hidden in the guts don’t provide much comfort over longer distances, though the bike is fairly comfortable on shorter trips.
The Hollywood bars are stylish yet sensible and the seat height is 650mm, meaning the Slim S should be a popular choice for shorter men and women. For those of us who are six-foot-plus, the riding position is a little cramped, though.
How about a windshield? Nah, that’d ruin the vibe of the thing. If you want one of those, the Heritage Softail Classic might be the go. It has a shield, saddlebags and a pillion seat. It’s also dearer, though, at $32,250 and you don’t get the 110.
Fuel-wise, the Slim S has a decent-size 18.9-litre tank, and a claimed usage of 5.6L/100km. But you might be tempted to double the first half of that figure with the Screamin’ Eagle at your command.
NUTS AND BOLTS
On the tank’s top right there’s an unlockable fuel cap, and on the left a mock fuel cap contains the fuel gauge. Also on the tank is the speedometer, which is easy to see along with the odometer, clock, dual tripmeter, rpm display, low-fuel warning light, distance-to-empty readout, low oil pressure warning light, and engine diagnostics readout.
A little ‘6’ that lights up to remind you you’re in sixth gear is handy, too, when you forget how to count. For security, the Slim S has a keyfob that arms and disarms the security system as you approach or leave the bike, and the ignition knob and steering can be key locked.
As far as transmission goes, you can expect solid shifts from the Slim’s six-speeder, with first gear granting plenty of low-down torque and sixth loping the engine along at 100km/h at a bit over 2000rpm. There’s also a heel shifter for those inclined, and the rear brake pedal is about the same size and shape as a car one. So you won’t miss it. If you do hit it a little late at speed, the ABS will help and so will the twin-piston caliper at the rear and the four-piston unit up front.
Impressive at low speeds is the bike’s balance thanks to its low centre of gravity, and its turning circle, which is tighter than you’d expect. Something the Slim S doesn’t have, though, is a sidestand kill switch. So you’ll have to remember to put the stand up before you ride away or you might find yourself picking up 321kg of bike (running weight).
When it comes to cornering, the Slim S isn’t the worst Harley, but it’s not the best either. A lot of that comes down to the modest lean angles of the bike. You’ve got 24 degrees to work with on the right and 25 degrees on the left. That’s more than the 23 degrees the Breakout offers either side, but slightly less than the Wide Glide’s 28 on the right and 32 on the left.
The Slim S’s rear tyre size of 140/90 is also lean compared to the 240/40 rear of Breakout, which also has a more raked front end. But the Slim S’s limited lean is noticeable because the half-moon footboards don’t move much when they scrape. Unlike standard footpegs, these retro chrome-plated boards with vibration isolation aren’t cheap to replace, either.
On the plus side, once the initial shock of sparking up on bitumen wears off, the footboards become like a third set of brakes through fast corners. Not really, though. We wouldn’t recommend you use them like this.
Where the Slim S’s handling really comes into its own, however, is on long sweeping bends.
It’s hard to explain rationally, but when that Screamin’ Eagle spreads its wings through a curve, you almost forget how angry your missus will be if you bring one home.
SHORT, DARK AND HANDSOME
Style is where it all comes together for the Softie – and the Slim S doesn’t disappoint. As the company’s marketers put it: “This isn’t some weepy-eyed exercise in nostalgia”. It’s “uncluttered” and “honest”. Only Harley-Davidson could make such a commitment to image sound tough.
The Vivid Black model, as the name suggests, is pretty much completely black, while the only contrasting colour in the military version is its green tank and white star. Following in the tracks of ‘dark’ models like the Iron 883, the Slim S has blacked-out componentry, including its triple clamp and riser, headlamp ring, fork slider covers, lower forks, brake levers, mirrors and exhaust. The result is a modern take on a traditional utilitarian look.
Like most new Harleys, however, the Slim S lends itself to customisation. Probably the first things you’ll upgrade are the jet-black pipes, which actually have a decent sound for stock. But you can always go louder and give the 110 even more kick.
EMOTIONAL BLACK TAIL
The Slim S has charm, especially for anyone with a soft spot for the early days of custom motorcycles – and if you’re looking at buying a Harley, you could do worse.
It’s a great alternative to the Breakout, and it’s got a fair whack more torque than the standard Softail Slim, and for not much more money.
It’s also a solid canvas for customisation, not that there’s a lot missing from the stock product. In fact, what’s clever about it is it has just enough extra benefits to allow you to rationalise spending a few extra bucks. So when they ask you why you took out a loan for the Slim S, you won’t have to say the bike’s got “soul” or it “feels right”. You can just point at the 110, and say, “It’s got the Screamin’ Eagle, mate”.
TYPE: Screamin’ Eagle air-cooled pushrod V-twin
BORE X STROKE: 102 x 111.1 mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 9.6:1
FUEL SYSTEM: EFI
TYPE: Six-speed, cruise drive
FINAL DRIVE: Belt
CHASSIS & RUNNING GEAR:
FRAME TYPE: Twin-loop mild steel
FRONT SUSPENSION: Conventional, 130mm travel
REAR SUSPENSION: Hidden horizontal shocks, 109mm travel
FRONT BRAKE: Single 300mm disc with four-piston caliper, ABS
REAR BRAKE: Single 300mm disc with twin-piston caliper, ABS
DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES:
WEIGHT: 308kg (321kg wet)
SEAT HEIGHT: 650mm
FUEL CAPACITY: 18.9L
WHEELS & TYRES:
WHEELS: 16-inch wire-spoke with black rims
TYRES: 130/90 B16 (f), 140/90 B16 77H (r), Dunlop D402
POWER: Not given
TORQUE: 148Nm at 3500rpm
FUEL USE: 5.6L/100km
PRICE: $28,995 ride-away
COLOURS: Olive Gold Denim, Vivid Black
WARRANTY: 24 months
TEST BIKE SUPPLIED BY: Harley-Davison Australia
– Plough-pulling torque
– No-nonsense style
– Has a soul
– Limited lean angles
– Hard seat
Story by Deputy Editor, Sean Muir. Photography by Ben Galli