You can say whatever you like about Harley-Davidson, but one thing is undeniable: they know how to spot a trend…..and, sometimes, how to start one. For example, when the (thankfully) short-lived chopper craze hit a few years back, they brought out the Rocker, which, it’s probably safe to say, did not meet expectations. Before that, it was the Crossbones, before that, the Street Bob, before that, the Springer, and so on.
And one of the most popular platforms the company utilizes to revamp its line-up is the Softail. From its inception, back in – what? – 1984, the Softail has been the starting point for innumerable variations and mutants.
One of the latest is the Slim, or FLS, which actually debuted last year. As is often the case with Harley Davidson, the Slim is essentially a custom treatment of an existing model, with, this time around, an eye on the current (and somewhat mystifying) retro/bobber/nostalgia/rat bike trend that’s everywhere you look these days. In a nutshell, the whole idea seems to be, less is more, with wild expensive paint jobs supplanted by hard-core attitude, and the emphasis being placed on presence and innovation rather than how much money you’ve spent.
Not that the Slim can be described as a rat-bike by any stretch. This is a thoughtfully styled, nicely crafted, and evocative cruiser that takes you back to the 1940s. Leather saddlebags, cross-braced handlebars, footboards, beefy front end, bobbed fenders, traditional round air cleaner, cut-down windscreen, and oversize tires front and back convey an image of solidity and nostalgia in one hard to ignore package. I think Lee Marvin was riding one of these when Marlon Brando kicked the crap out of him in “The Wild One”, and if Betty Page were around, she’d look right at home on this one.
Power, as ever, is provided by a fuel-injected, air-cooled V-twin that, in this configuration, displaces 1690 cc and is mated to a six-speed gearbox, with belt final drive and chain primary. This engine still has pushrods, although it’s now equipped with twin camshafts, and torque output is set at about 99 foot-pounds at 3000 rpm, which, according to my calculations, translates into around 56 horsepower. Not much by today’s standards, but very much in keeping with this type of motorcycle. By way of comparison, Kawasaki’s Vaquero develops 108 foot-pounds, and the Yamaha Roadliner is good for 123 ft. lb. This market is all about grunt, as opposed to high-rev, screaming horsepower. Probably not the quickest bike in this market, the 305-kilogram Slim will still take care of business and has buckets of reserve power.
That said, this is not an all-day cruiser. Yes, there is a windscreen, but the seat has zero back / lumbar support and is about as small as you can get away with. After an hour or two, starts to feel like dental floss. This one ain’t built for comfort or speed. I also have mixed feelings about the low “Hollywood” style handlebars. They look ‘way cool, but tend to spread you out so you catch the wind at any speed over 50 km/h.
But for short hauls and boulevard cruising, the Slim fits the bill. The “half-moon” footboards are a nice touch, and the gear shifter has a traditional heel-toe configuration. Pull in that meaty-feeling clutch, prod the forward lever and the transmission bangs into gear with a reassuring “ka-chung”. High-tech types who insist on cutting edge engineering and whisper-silent drivetrains would likely be aghast at the crudity of Harley’s shift mechanism, but I love it. When I change gears, I want the shifter to bang it in there….up or down. Call me a Luddite.
Speaking of short, those riders that are inseam-challenged will feel right at home here. Saddle height is a tiny 615 millimetres, making this one of the lowest-slung bikes on the market….your butt will be closer to the ground than with any of Harley’s other models, and that includes the Sportster and Fat Boy Lo.
It also adds to this bikes visual appeal, in my opinion. I think this is one of the sharpest looking models in Harley’s stable right now….especially in black denim, although three other colours are offered: ember red sunglo, big blue pearl, and vivid black (where do they get these names?).
And here’s something I kind of like. With all its throwback ambience and…..er…traditional technology, the Slim is still pretty good on gas. It delivers a combined fuel economy rating of 5.6 L / 100 km, which is in Toyota Prius territory. Trust me, the Slim is a lot more fun. For a bike of this size and character to be so easy on gas is pretty remarkable.
Prices for the Slim start at $17,829 and you can get an anti-theft security package for another $1360, which I would recommend.