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MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: 2012/2013 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim

The new lowest of the low

By Michelle Baird, Photos by Andrea Wilson
10/2/2012


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The Softail Slim, released as a midyear 2012 model, is an all-new bobber-style motorcycle from Harley-Davidson. It's based on the Fat Boy platform, with a similar front end and an extremely low profile. The Slim now shares the title as Harley's lowest motorcycle with the newly released CVO Breakout, both with a seat height of 23.8 inches. Released in February, the Slim caught the eye of Hollywood movie producers and made a brief appearance in the blockbuster movie "The Avengers," with Captain America riding off on it after defeating the bad guys at the end of the flick.  
  
Michelle test rides the 2012 Softail Slim. She was given the same model that appeared on the red carpet at the movie premiere for "The Avengers" a few days prior. The bike was still “dressed up” for the occasion with a leather side bag and an old-school Harley-Davidson chrome emblem on the tank.
Michelle test rides the 2012 Softail Slim. She was given the same model that appeared on the red carpet at the movie premiere for "The Avengers" a few days prior. The bike was still “dressed up” for the occasion with a leather side bag and an old-school Harley-Davidson chrome emblem on the tank.

The 2012 and 2013 Slim models sport the traditional bar and shield Harley-Davidson emblem on the tank. The only update for 2013 is an additional color option, Big Blue Pearl, shown here.
The 2012 and 2013 Slim models sport the traditional bar and shield Harley-Davidson emblem on the tank. The only update for 2013 is an additional color option, Big Blue Pearl, shown here.

At first sight, it makes sense why this bike was selected for Captain America to ride. The superhero character is a veteran of World War II, and the term "bobbers" came about when US troops returned home and “bobbed off" excess parts from leftover Harley WLA military model bikes. The Slim is a polished-up factory version of a bobber, styled like those uncluttered 1940s and 1950s era backyard-mechanic creations.

Starting with the “chopped” (or bobbed) rear fender, the Slim is a minimalist motorcycle with minimal chrome, a trimmed front fender, and a narrow front end meant to mimic the clean lines of a vintage hard tail (a motorcycle without suspension).
Starting with the “chopped” (or bobbed) rear fender, the Slim is a minimalist motorcycle with minimal chrome, a trimmed front fender, and a narrow front end meant to mimic the clean lines of a vintage hard tail (a motorcycle without suspension).

What gives the Softail Slim a bigger "claim to fame" than its roll down the red carpet? It has the lowest seat height of all the Harleys, measuring in at 23.8 inches (tying it with the newly released 2013 CVO Breakout). Michelle is 5-foot-5, and her feet are completely planted on the ground and the foot and hand controls are within easy reach.
What gives the Softail Slim a bigger "claim to fame" than its roll down the red carpet? It has the lowest seat height of all the Harleys, measuring in at 23.8 inches (tying it with the newly released 2013 CVO Breakout). Michelle is 5-foot-5, and her feet are completely planted on the ground and the foot and hand controls are within easy reach.

The Slim's comfortable solo seat is finished with detail stitching in a plump, ribbed tuck-and-roll pattern that looks good and keeps the rider firmly seated. The seat tapers to the tank, nestling the rider into the bike (rather than perched up) and making it even easier to flat foot the motorcycle. Thanks to the extremely low seat height of 23.8 inches, I had no trouble maneuvering the bike with my legs. I'm 5-foot-5, but a seat height this low means riders even shorter than me should be able to get their feet on the ground. The flat handlebars, called Hollywood bars, are not too wide or tall, allowing the rider to sit at a slightly lifted, arms-forward stance.  

These Hollywood bars, which have a cross-brace for adding lights or a small roll or "tool" bag, are like a set featured in the Harley accessory catalog for Springer models. Some say the name comes from owners who "went Hollywood" by getting carried away with accessorizing on that cross-brace.
These Hollywood bars, which have a cross-brace for adding lights or a small roll or "tool" bag, are like a set featured in the Harley accessory catalog for Springer models. Some say the name comes from owners who "went Hollywood" by getting carried away with accessorizing on that cross-brace.

The handlebars easily maneuver the sensible and slight 31-degree raked forks, even in tight U-turns.
The handlebars easily maneuver the sensible and slight 31-degree raked forks, even in tight U-turns.

Chrome-plated steel footboards cut into a half-moon shape are topped with a grippy rubber surface that cancels out excess road vibrations. The floorboards place the feet slightly forward, almost lined up with the handgrips, but still allow for a comfortable bend at the knees.
Chrome-plated steel footboards cut into a half-moon shape are topped with a grippy rubber surface that cancels out excess road vibrations. The floorboards place the feet slightly forward, almost lined up with the handgrips, but still allow for a comfortable bend at the knees.

A gloss-black louvered nacelle over the big round headlight gives the bike an old-school look.
A gloss-black louvered nacelle over the big round headlight gives the bike an old-school look.

The old-school look is carried through to the gloss-black cat’s eye shaped tank console with a retro-style speedometer featuring a digital display that you can toggle through with your left thumb.
The old-school look is carried through to the gloss-black cat’s eye shaped tank console with a retro-style speedometer featuring a digital display that you can toggle through with your left thumb.

The Slim is not overdressed in add-ons, but it does have a decently sized list of niceties inside and out, as riders have come to expect from a modern Harley. For example, while the speedometer looks "old school" with its retro face, displays include “new-school” information, such as a clock, a dual trip meter, an RPM/gear indicator, a low-fuel warning light and countdown feature, a low oil-pressure indicator light, an engine diagnostics readout, LED indicator lights, and a six-speed indicator light.

The "guts" of the Slim are far from vintage, with Harley’s refined Twin Cam 103 V-twin, the same engine that powers all the 2012 and 2013 Dyna, Softail and Touring models (except the Dyna Street Bob and Dyna Super Glide Custom, which have the Twin Cam 96). Harley-Davidson actually has two different versions of its Big Twin 1690cc engine, and all the Softails get the “B” version, which means the engine is counterbalanced to smooth out the shake and shimmy from the air-cooled pushrod motor.

The Slim’s motor features black powder-coated cylinders with polished aluminum rocker covers. The air cleaner cover, reminiscent of Harley’s Evolution motor, is powder-coated in gloss black.
The Slim’s motor features black powder-coated cylinders with polished aluminum rocker covers. The air cleaner cover, reminiscent of Harley’s Evolution motor, is powder-coated in gloss black.

The Slim is basically a Fat Boy model with the fat trimmed off. Bobbed fenders cover tires narrower than those on the Fat Boy, with Dunlop 16-inchers (MT90B16 front and MU85B16 on the back) made with a specially formulated compound for grip in wet or dry conditions. 

The Slim has rectangle-shaped combined stop/turn/tail lights all neatly wrapped up on the rear fender. The side-mounted license plate folds up when parked—just remember to unfold it for the road or "the Man" might feel obligated to remind you. The wiring harness is hidden, and the turn signals are self-canceling. Who doesn’t like signals that cancel themselves?
The Slim has rectangle-shaped combined stop/turn/tail lights all neatly wrapped up on the rear fender. The side-mounted license plate folds up when parked—just remember to unfold it for the road or "the Man" might feel obligated to remind you. The wiring harness is hidden, and the turn signals are self-canceling. Who doesn’t like signals that cancel themselves?

The low seat height and easy maneuverability make the Slim a cinch for even a confident newbie to ride, while the smooth shifting 6-speed "Cruise Drive" transmission provides a healthy and exhilarating throttle roll that experienced riders will appreciate. 

A chrome over/under shotgun exhaust with slash-cut mufflers provides a satisfying, punchy growl on takeoff that quiets down at highway cruising speeds.
A chrome over/under shotgun exhaust with slash-cut mufflers provides a satisfying, punchy growl on takeoff that quiets down at highway cruising speeds.

As with all Harley-Davidson models, the little stuff counts. An easy-to-use sidestand means rookies won’t be searching around to find it. Additionally, a formed leather strap runs from the console to the seat and covers the fuel tank seam, protecting the paint from jacket-zipper scratches.

Optional ABS brakes, which are hidden within the wheel hub, are available on the Slim as part of Harley-Davidson's Security Package, costing an additional $1,195. The Security Package also includes the factory-installed H-D Smart Security System, featuring a hands-free fob that automatically arms and disarms the vehicle's electronic security functions as you approach and walk away from the bike. 

I had only one little problem while riding this bike on a muggy day in Southern California. It was hot, and the heat coming from under the seat had me standing up at almost every red light after just half an hour of rolling around in traffic. I suspect that the Engine Idle Temperature Management Strategy (EITMS) was not turned on. EITMS, also called “Parade Mode,” can be activated by your dealer on any of the new Twin Cam 96, 103 and 110-equipped Harleys. This mode temporarily stops fuel and spark to the rear cylinder but still allows air to flow when there is a high engine temperature, or when the bike is idling or in neutral, resulting in reduced engine heat. 

Because the Slim's seat height is so low, it's easy to scrape the floorboards—riders should remember to take the corners with caution.
Because the Slim's seat height is so low, it's easy to scrape the floorboards—riders should remember to take the corners with caution.

I test rode the Slim in Vivid Black, which along with the Blackline is the most affordable Softail in the 2012 lineup, with a price tag of $15,499 for the 2012 model. Add $385 for the color options of Black Denim or Ember Red Sunglo. Add on the Security Package and the price jumps to $17,079. (California residents should add another $200 for CARB emissions laws.) Model year 2013 pricing has the Vivid Black Softail Slim starting at $15,699.

Michelle rides the Softail Slim in Vivid Black. This color, along with Black Denim and Ember Red Sunglo, return for the 2013 model, while the blue color shown above is new for 2013.
Michelle rides the Softail Slim in Vivid Black. This color, along with Black Denim and Ember Red Sunglo, return for the 2013 model, while the blue color shown above is new for 2013.

Riding the Slim is downright fun! It is a Big Twin with a tough look, but the low seat and quick steering are extremely confidence inspiring. It grabs attention with its understated looks and can put out a grin-inducing growl. While the Slim is not ideally suited for touring due to the lack of bags, overnight trips are not out of the question, as it can comfortably handle long highway runs with ease. 
  
The city is where this bike shines in its minimalist garb.
The city is where this bike shines in its minimalist garb.

Accessories like a luggage rack and windshield are available in the extensive Harley-Davidson catalog—but remember, this bike is supposed to be minimalist. So please, add a side bag or grab your backpack and avoid cluttering up this beauty. Just bask in its simplicity. 

Specs At A Glance: 2012 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim
Displacement: 103 cubic inches (1688cc)
Seat Height: 23.8 inches 
Weight: 700 pounds 
Price: 2012 starts at $15,499 (Vivid Black); 2013 starts at $15,699
Colors: 2012: Vivid Black, Black Denim, Ember Red Sunglo; 2013 add Big Blue Pearl 

WRN Recommendation
The Softail Slim's super-low seat height and easy maneuverability matched with its classic looks and plenty of power make this bike suitable for all types of riders. However, despite the Slim's extremely low center of gravity, we recommend beginners have some miles under their belt and be comfortable handling the size of a “larger” motorcycle before considering this bike. The price tag is excellent as a starting point into the Softail family. If day rides and short overnighters are in your future, the Slim is ideal. 
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Reader Comments


I thought the authors contention that a "confident newbie" could handle this bike was a little optimistic. I mean it weighs nearly 700 pounds I thought that right up until the time I finally rode one. She's right. This bike handles better than my 750. It feels light and quick, it takes turns like it knows where you're going and is extremely stable on the straightaways. My test ride ended up taking me to the next town and up onto the interstate. They had to pry me off of it. Of course now I have to have one. Thanks for the review.
P.S. I love this site.


Donna Shinaut
Lincoln, NE
Friday, June 27, 2014
I've had my 2014 Slim for about three weeks now and I love it! I upgraded from my 2007 Sportster (a hand-me-down) and for the first time, I feel like I'm in control of the bike because of how the bike is balanced. It's just so much fun to ride! And in Candy Orange, I get a lot of looks when I'm riding. What's fun now is that Motherwell sells a solo luggage rack, so you can actually put a big bag on it now without ruining the minimalist look. I really don't want to put bags on it, so this solves my work commute issues. (I change clothes when I get to work).

The only problem with the bike is that heat! I live in Florida, so my ride home from work is incredibly hot and no one seems to be able to tell me about the EITMS. I'm hoping to get that resolved at my first service, which is right around the corner since I've been riding it so much. This is a great review of the bike, hitting on all the best parts (and the warning about the heat) of why the Slim is awesome.

Bonnie
Newberry, FL
Friday, June 06, 2014
Editor Response
EITMS stands for Engine Idle Temperature Management System. Here is a good video that explains it:


Genevieve Schmitt, Editor
My husband got me the 2014 Slim. My prior motorcycle was a 2006 883 Sportster and it was lowered to fit me a little better. I still stood on my tip toes with my 5-foot 2-inch stature. I never thought I could find a Big Twin that would fit me. I also thought switching to the Big Twin from my Sporty was going to be a difficult experience. I was wrong on both counts. The 2014 Slim is perfect. It was a great ride home and cannot wait to take another ride. The only addition I would make if you are doing highway miles is a windshield.

Wanda
Fredericksburg, VA
Tuesday, June 03, 2014
I love this article. It is very informative.

Stephanie L Wright
Ruston, LA
Friday, February 28, 2014
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