Harley-Davidson Softail Slim first ride

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Considering the turmoil Harley-Davidson has been through the last couple of years, what with plummeting US sales, the MV and Buell shockers and the little matter of having to restructure fundamentally its main production facillity, it’s more than a little encouraging that the American legend has any new models at all for 2012.

And while the word ‘new’, in typical Harley fashion, may be pushing the definition a little, there’s enough fresh thinking here to encourage looking forward to a positive future.

The two bikes, as revealed in MCN last week, are the Softail Slim and Sportster 1200 ‘72’ both of which we got to ride around Malaga and are in UK dealers from this week.

The Softail Slim, being an addition to Harley’s mainstream ‘Big Twin’ family, is the obvious headline bike and is decent enough. But it’s also another classic example for me of what’s both great – and enfuritaing – about contemporary Harley-Davidson.

Essentially it’s a standard Softail (ie a big twin with hidden rear shocks for that ‘hardtail’ look) but given (as seems to be repeatedly fashionable with cruisers from all manufacturers at the moment) the minimalist, ‘50s ‘bobber’/hot rod look – and I’m sorry if I sound a little jaded and cynical but haven’t we heard this particular retro theme too many times already?

The difference here, though, is the ‘Slim’ bit. Harley’s view was that its existing Softails had become ever bigger and plusher, the result being that the engine ended up looking smaller and smaller.

With the Slim, the idea is to reverse that trend by making the bike slimmer at the rear so the engine looks larger in the frame, thus achieving more of a hot rod style. “We wanted to rewind to when bikes were smaller and the engine looked bigger,” said Casey Ketterhagen, Harley’s lead stylist.

It works, too, as was strikingly evident when following a Slim alongside a Fat Boy along the fabulous, switchbacking Ronda road in the mountains above Marbella during our the test and noting starkly how clunky, fat and, yes, crude, the long favourite Fat Boy (it’s been one of Harley’s best sellers for years) seemed by comparison. (And that Fat Boy reference is useful in understanding exactly what the Slim is – but it also hints at what’s enfuriating, to me at least, about current Harley.)

To read the full test, along with Phil’s thoughts on the new Harley-Davidson XL1200 Seventy-Two, pick up a copy of the February 15 issue of MCN.