Johannesburg - With a history dating back to 1903, Harley-Davidson has become a fixture in the motorcycle world. Not only are Harleys a common sight at bike rallies; they have also served as the mounts of a host of movie characters – Rocky Balboa, Ghostrider and Captain America are only a few of the many characters who ride Harleys.
It is probably safe to say that many people conjure up a picture of a Hog when you say “motorcycle”.
And that, in a somewhat roundabout way, brings us to the subject of this review: the 2016 Softail Slim S.
'Harkens back to hardtail hogs'
Deceptively old-fashioned looks hide its modern technology – keyless ignition, a state-of-the-art anti-theft system, cruise control and ABS – under the classic cruiser look. High-profile tyres, a simple round headlamp, twin filler caps, tank-mounted speedo and rear suspension tucked away out of sight give the bike its signature appearance that harkens back to the hardtail Hogs of the 1960s and 1970s.
But take a closer look and you will soon realise that all is not what it seems: the left-hand “filler cap” is actually a fuel gauge, and the apparently simple speedo contains a tiny LCD panel with selectable functions, including such modern features as a range-to-empty indicator.
Seating position is typical cruiser with your posterior lodged firmly in a bucket seat and your legs positioned significantly forward with your feet on the footboards. This left me with the problem I always encounter on cruisers – my body being forced into an awkward C-shape. While it works OK at urban speeds, the drag becomes decidedly uncomfortable when you go fast. Of course, the counter-argument is that cruisers aren’t sport bikes and you’re not meant to go off in search of the sound barrier astride a Harley.
Interestingly enough, H-D have chosen to outfit the the Slim S with their Screamin’ Eagle Twin-cam 110B motor, the first non-CVO (H-D’s premium Custom Vehicle Operations) bike to this engine. With 148 Nm of torque on tap at at only 3 500 rpm, the Slim S is no slouch. With that kind of punch you sometimes forget that you are on a cruiser that doesn’t weigh as little as its name might suggest.
Solid, premium feel
Although a heavy bike, the low centre of gravity hides its weight when the Slim S is on the roll. And the upside of the hefty weight is that the bike has a solid, premium feel – it is well-made, and it constantly reminds you of that fact. This is perhaps nowhere more obvious than in gear changes – on other bikes I would have called the gearshift “clunky”, but on the Slim S I will term it “solid”.
Shifting gears calls for some effort, but once it slips into the next gear you are left with no doubt that the cogs have meshed properly. Although the brakes are more than up to the task, the long front shocks absorb a lot of the initial brake force, which is a tad disconcerting if you have to slow down rapidly. Added to that is the low-set footboards which touch the ground at the least provocation, which remind you that the king of the freeway is by no means a canyon carver.
A compelling package
Obviously Harley-Davidson to offer an array of accessories to tailor the Slim S to your taste and create a ma-chine that is as good at making a statement as it is at being a mode of transport. And perhaps making a state-ment is much of what owning a Harley is about – they are a lifestyle as much as they are practical transport. If that’s what you look for in a bike, the Softail Slim S with its hugely powerful motor and stylish traditional “bobber” looks makes for a compelling package.
Model: Softail Slim S
Displacement: 1 801 cm³
Maximum Power: Unspecified
Maximum Torque: 148 Nm @ 3 500 rpm
Fuel supply system: Electronic sequential port fuel injection
Fuel type: Premium Unleaded 95 Octane RON
Fuel consumption: 6.25 L/100 km (claimed)
Type: 6-speed sequential
Final drive: Belt
Kerb weight: 321 kg
Fuel tank: 19L
Front: 300 mm stainless steel disc, 4-piston caliper, ABS
Rear: 292 mm stainless steel fixed disc, 2-piston caliper, ABS
Front: 41.3 mm telescopic
Rear: Horizontal-mounted, coil-over dual shocks
WHEELS & TYRES
Tyre, front: MT90B16 72H
Tyre, rear: MU85B16 77H
PRICE: R264 000