2012 Harley Softail Slim | Review

Harley Softail Slim Seat Height

Harley Softail Slim Review

I don’t have the longest legs in the world, but with a 31-inch inseam, I quickly assume I’d look like an ape while riding Harley’s new Softail Slim.

The reason? With a 23.8-inch seat height, the bare-boned Softail Slim arrives with the lowest saddle of any production Harley-Davidson. And as expected, once I saw myself planted on the solo seat with its vintage tuck-and-roll vinyl cover in various reflections downtown, I look a bit awkward, a bit overgrown.

But appearance aside, awkward is far from the way this new Softail feels. Besides having manageable comfort – for shorter boulevard cruising rides, anyway – the Slim has loads of snot due to the powerful 103B (balanced) engine, which is stuffed inside a relatively slim chassis. The weight? A bit slim for a Harley – around 700 lbs. with fluids.

Along with Harley’s newest powerplant that replaced the 96 in all 2012 models except the Dyna Street Bob and Dyna Super Glide Custom, the Slim features typical smooth Softail handling and reliable ABS as an option.

And not many would complain about the styling, considering the Slim features all the classical elements of a 1950s custom bobber. Think of this bike as Harley’s latest “restomod,” the Motor Company simply pairing styling of a bygone era with the technology of today, a trend Harley has been following for years.

It all begins with the looks, though. The Slim perfects a chord of classic styling, from the 5.0-gallon Fat Boy gas tank, trimmed front FL fender, skinny rear design, minimal chrome, dual 16-inch rims with a fat 130mm tire up front and 140mm out back, solo seat, and gloss black “cat’s eye” tank console with a retro speedometer face.

This classic styling turns unique, though, with the use of California bars, named due to their wide bend and cross brace, the handlebars originally an accessory for Harley’s offered with a Springer Fork. Further uniqueness arrives from the combined brake, turn and tail lights assembly, and the foldable-if-hit side-mounted license plate, which received about a 50/50 love/hate response from passersby.

Also, knowing many riders love the visual effects of viewing the engine, the designers placed a visual gap between the nose of the seat and the gas tank, allowing the rider to see what’s creating all that power. And in Harley’s standard, the Slim has mucho power, the counter-balanced Twin Cam 103B creating 98.7 ft. lbs. of torque at 3000 rpm.

Although the bike features a 9.6:1 compression ration, when thumbing the starter, the 103B’s Automatic Compression Release (ACR) allows the engine to easily awake, the Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection providing optimal fuel mixture. And though close to 100 ft. lbs. of torque would provide much noise, the Softail Slim’s rumble is a bit quiet due to over/under shotgun exhaust with slash-cut mufflers.

Typical of a rigid-mounted V-Twin, vibrations are felt at idle, but they are slight. And once the lightweight clutch engages and the Slim is cruising along, these vibrations subside. Even at highway speeds over 3000 rpm the engine provides smooth response, with minimal vibrations felt at the handlebars and the half-moon floorboards. And as for the transmission, Harley’s Six Speed Cruise Drive shifts smoothly, although finding neutral can sometimes be a pain. And that clank into first gear remains…

The California handlebars provided for comfortable ergonomics, though a bit wide at first. As for the floorboards, not much room existed for moving the feet around, especially on the shifter side, my 12-inch boot fitting perfectly between the heel-and-toe shifter. I quickly fixed this awkward feeling by removing the heel shifter, which allowed my foot more freedom on longer rides.

And expect these floorboards to be scraping while out on the twisties, considering the bike’s minimal 4.5 inches of ground clearance. While testing, I put about 1000 miles on the Slim, with about 600 of those in the mountains, constantly scraping the floorboards evenly at slow or high speeds.

But once the floorboards were put on a strict diet of scraping, clearances opened a bit, offering more fun while riding with much spirit through the mountainsides. But the bike was much happier at low speeds in downtown situations, though in hotter temps the motor can become extremely hot while idling, normal mannerisms of most Harley-Davidsons.

The Slim has the typical Softail coil-over shock absorbers mounted horizontally and out of sight within the frame rails. Up front, the Slim features non-tunable 41.3 mm telescopic forks featuring “beer can” covers. The suspension provides enough response to the rider for most quick runs through the canyons, but was a bit soft, especially when hard on the brakes. And with only 4.3-inches of rear-wheel travel, the backend can harshly bottom out on potholes, bridge expansions and other rough surfaces.

Slowing things down are a single 292mm rotor with a 4-piston caliper up front, and a 292mm rotor with a 2-piston out back. It takes some effort to squeeze the front brakes, but they provide plenty of stopping power. The same can be said for the rear.

And the bike tested had the optional Security Option Package, featuring Harley-Davidson Smart Security System with proximity-based, hands-free security fob and the element every rider should seek – Anti-lock Braking System (ABS).

This ABS works impressively well, even while slamming on both brakes at 105 mph (on a closed course) in both dry and wet conditions. That’s much trust to put into brakes, but Harley-Davidson’s latest ABS opened its technological arms to me, providing a sense of security. Although detectable, the ABS slowed the Slim without much chassis upset, keeping the bike in a straight line even on wet pavement.

Of course, this extra security package featuring Harley’s ABS arrives at a price…a $1000 over the standard MSRP. And with the standard MSRP being $15,499 for vivid black, or $15,884 for Black Denim or Ember Red Sunglo (shown above), the price can quickly climb to around $17,000 for a stripped-down Softail.

If you can justify spending near $17,000 (with ABS) for looks with no touring abilities whatsoever, or long-distance comfort, the Harley Slim will satisfy. But for that kind of money, there are also other models such as Harley’s Switchback, which provides much more comfort, some touring abilities, and some custom looks, though not nearly as custom as the Slim.

But the Slim has one major mission – to cater those who seek old school nostalgia combined with the technical workings of modern machinery. The Slim captures this idea with style like no other, regardless of the lack of comfort, touring amenities or price.

2012 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim Specs:


  • Engine: Air-cooled, Twin Cam 103B
  • Valves: Pushrod-operated, overhead valves with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters; two valves per cylinder
  • Bore x Stroke: 3.875 in. x 4.38 in. (98.4 mm x 111.1 mm)
  • Displacement: 103 cu. in. (1690 cc)
  • Compression Ratio: 9.6:1
  • Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
  • Lubrication System: Pressurized, dry-sump
  • Transmission: Six-Speed Cruise Drive


  • Frame: Mild steel tubular frame; rectangular section backbone; stamped, cast, and forged junctions; forged fender supports; MIG welded
  • Swingarm: Mild steel, round tube sections, forged junctions; MIG welded
  • Front Forks: 41.3 mm telescopic, “beer can” covers
  • Rear Shocks: Hidden, horizontal-mounted, coil-over Black
  • Wheel Front: Steel Laced 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)
  • Wheel Rear: 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)
  • Brakes: 292mm rotor, 4-piston caliper; front; 292mm rotor, 2-piston rear
  • Front Wheel Travel: 5.1 in. (130 mm)
  • Rear Wheel Travel: 4.3 in. (109 mm)


  • Length: 94.3 in. (2395 mm)
  • Overall Width: 39.0 in. (990 mm)
  • Overall Height: 43.3 in. (1100 mm)
  • Seat Height: 23.8 in. (605 mm)
  • Ground Clearance: 4.5 in. (114 mm)
  • Rake (Steering Head) 31°
  • Fork Angle: 31°
  • Trail: 5.8 in. (147 mm)
  • Wheelbase: 64.4 in. (1636 mm)
  • Weight: 671 lbs. Dry; 700 lbs. Wet
  • Fuel Capacity: 5 gallons

2012 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim Color Options/MSRP:

  • Vivid Black / $15,499
  • Black Denim / $15,884
  • Ember Red Sunglo / $15,884

Riding Style:

  • Helmet: Bell Custom 500
  • Jacket: Roland Sands Design Ronin
  • Gloves: Weise Daytona
  • Boots: Icon Super Duty 4 Boot
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One of the few moto journalists based on the East Coast, Ron Lieback joined the motorcycle industry as a freelancer in 2007 and is currently Editor at Large at Ultimate Motorcycling. He is also the author of 365 to Vision: Modern Writer's Guide (How to Produce More Quality Writing in Less Time).