Many have claimed that rock is dead, and if recent trends are anything to go by, they may be right. As the Black Keys’ screed against Nickelback last January showed, rock is struggling to reconnect with a generation that has turned to auto-tuned, plastic pop stars for entertainment instead of the thrum of electric guitars. But the main reason why people have turned away from rock has gone unsaid. Rock was always about rebellion, but lost people when the image of rebellion overtook the message. Like rock, motorcycles are a symbol of rebellion in culture gone soft. Also, like rock, they are struggling to reinvent themselves for a new generation after marketing rebellion instead of living it. However, as Harley-Davidson’s Softail Slim shows, rebellion is not dead in the motorcycle marketplace. And if this bike is anything to go by for both rock and motorcycles, the way to reconnect with younger kids may be going back to what made you so popular in the first place.
The Softail Slim is one of two new Dark Custom motorcycles that harkens back to the days of the choppers and bobbers from the 1950s. In the ‘50s, choppers weren’t just something you could buy; they were built with bare hands and bad attitudes as a serious style statement. To bring the Slim in line with this attitude, the bike is finished with a few time-appropriate design cues. But it’s not enough to just make the bike look old and then market it as something badass; the product should actually act out the marketing message. What Harley has done to the Slim to capture that old chopper mindset is to follow up its vintage look with a really raw riding experience.
This first step in bringing the bike in line with its historical inspirations is to get the look right. First, the overall stance is slimmed down to give the bike a more custom look. The fenders are bobbed, turn signals and accessories are slimmed down or removed, a thin solo seat is placed on the bike, and skinnier tires with thick sidewalls are added. Then, a few period correct cues are put on, like the Hollywood handlebars on the bike. Characterized by the crossbeam on the top, and the gentle sweep to bring the bars closer to your hands, the Hollywood bars were originally a Harley-Davidson accessory back in the ‘50s that have been taken out of retirement to give this bike a more vintage feel.
However, like the lead guitar in a band, the center of attention on a Harley has always been the engine. In the Slim, the motor is a 103 cubic inch V-Twin that has had an extra dose of attitude added with a healthy coat of black paint. To highlight the vintage feel, a round air cleaner has been added. Internally, nothing is changed over other Softail models. What this means is that you get the same 79hp and 90lb feet of torque that is on other Softails, such as the Blackline we reviewed last year. But more importantly, this is where that vintage feel starts to shine through. The motor responds to inputs nicely, but along the way it vibrates, shimmies and shakes. It feels natural where other motors feel too refined and clinical. It’s more time machine than engine in that it really brings you back to how older bikes feel.