Test Ride: 2012 Harley-Davidson FLS Softail Slim

?Harley-Davidson FLS Softail Slim delivers bare essentials?

Old-school Bobber styling sheds? excess

2012 Harley-Davidson FLSLately, the Motor Company hasn?t come up with any radical or totally new innovations from the mechanical department or the design studio. The practice has been rather to draw on the past and to offer new takes on nostalgic ideas. The 2012 Harley-Davidson FLS Softail Slim represents a case on point, with its clean, stripped-down old-school approach to design, with minimal chrome, narrowed look and retrospective detail application, starting up front with a trimmed front fender and progressing to its narrow rear end, the Softail Slim is definitively a, back-to-basics, no fooling around motorcycle. Categorize however you like -? stripped down, old school, retro or lean and mean, the resulting bike displays an elemental Softail profile in a traditional Harley-Davidson? style that harkens back to classic custom bobbers from the 1950s era.

Casey Ketterhagen, Harley-Davidson?s Senior Designer points out that “It’s time to make the engine the focal point of the motorcycle, so we put a Softail on a diet to get the proportions back in check. We scaled down the rear with a narrow tire and chopped fender, making the heart of the bike, the motor, the focus once again. We left a gap between the nose of the seat and tank so the rider can see the top of the motor. I like to be able to look down and see what’s moving me.”

2012 Harley-Davidson FLSIn keeping the rear of the motorcycle simple and clean, the Slim serves up combination stop/turn/tail lights and a side-mounted license plate. The rear fender struts are uncovered, and expose the forged steel and fasteners. A thin formed-leather strap covers the 5-gallon Fat Bob?s fuel tank seam, and the powertrain is finished with polished covers instead of chrome, with the black cylinders left unhighlighted.

“I’d personally like to strip the bike down even further,” says Ketterhagen, “but this is as far as we can go on a production model. The Slim is intended to be a direct interpretation of home-built customs of the 1940s and early 50s, and we used a number of components that evoke that era, beginning with a Hollywood-sty; handlebar.”

The Hollywood bar, identified by its wide bend and cross brace, was originally an accessory for Harley-Davidson? models with a Springer fork. The name may have been coined because owners of that era who used the cross-brace to?mount lights and bags had “gone Hollywood” with excessive accessorization. For the Slim, the cross-braced bar and louvered headlight nacelle are finished in gloss black. Other period styling cues include a gloss black “cat’s eye” tank console with a retro speedometer face, half-moon rider footboards, a round air cleaner cover, and gloss black laced steel wheel rims and hubs. The cover of the solo seat is stitched in a tuck-and-roll pattern.

2012-Harley Davidson FLS - Controls

A counter-balanced Twin Cam 103B? engine is rigid-mounted within the frame, creating a solid connection between rider and the machine. The Softail? chassis mimics the clean lines of a vintage hardtail frame, but utilizes rear suspension control provided by coil-over shock absorbers mounted horizontally and out of sight within the frame rails. With the combination of a 23.8-inch seat height and rider footboards, the Slim comfortably fits a wide range of riders and offers light side-stand lift-off. A pull-back riser from Harley-Davidson? Genuine Motor Accessories can be installed to move the handlebar back two inches without changing control cables and lines.

The motor, rated at 98.7 pound feet of torque at 3,000 rpm is a 1690 cc (103 cu.in.) air-cooled Twin Cam 103B pushrod operated, 4-valve OHV unit with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters and electronic sequential port fuel injection. The exhaust exits via dual right side over/under shotgun with slash-cut staggered mufflers. Motive force reaches the rear wheel through a six-speed Cruise Drive sequential manual gearbox, primary chain drive and final belt drive. The motor is finished in Black powdercoat with polished covers.

The Softail Slim rides on Dunlop? 16-inch (MT90B16) front and rear (MU85B16) tires mounted on steel lace-spoke wheels. Suspension consists of 41.3 mm telescopic forks with ?beer can? covers and 5.1-inches of travel up front and rear swingarm with hidden, horizontal-mounted, coil-over shocks and 4.3-inches of travel.? Whoa power is courtesy of a Hydraulic 4-piston front single rotor and a 2-piston single rotor in the rear with optionally available ABS.

My test Harley-Davidson FLS Softail Slim was provided by Iron Steed Harley-Davidson of Vacaville, CA and was finished in Black Denim (flat) and came with a base sticker of $15,499. Add anywhere from $450 to $900 for varying dealer prep and handling.

SUMMARY: The Softail Slim tips the scale at a manageable and well-balanced 671 pound dry weight. Its wheelbase measures 64.4-inches, and the overall length is 94.3-inches. Color choices other than my Black Denim bike, include Vivid (gloss) Black and Ember Red Sunglo – the latter costing $385 extra.

2012 Harley-Davidson FLS - TopThe Slim is a really nice bike off the showroom floor, with little left to do in the area of customizing for a satisfying look and image. Essentially, it?s a stripped down Fat Boy. The Gloss Black finish on the Handlebars, headlamp (with chrome trim ring), louvered nacelle, forged rear fender supports and ?horseshoe? oil tank offered a nice appearance, contrasting nicely to the Black Denim of my test bike. Add the factory-installed Security Package with proximity-based, hands free security fob and opt for the Ember Red SunGlo finish and the ABS brake option, and the Slim can approach $17,500.

The riding position is more akin to sitting down in, rather than riding on. Riders who are long of leg might find the fixed floorboard and stock forward bars a little wearisome after a hard day?s ride. This could be overcome by adding ?crash bars? and highway pegs, but doing so would interfere with the bike?s clean look. The cross bar on the handlbars provides a great spot for mounting electronic connectivity devices, but again, that would add clutter to the minimalist nature of the bike.

The Slim is no sport bike mind you, but it does lend itself to riding somewhat aggressively. Just don?t plan on any knee-dragging, because that?s not its purpose, nor is it so designed for such maneuvers. Its most comfortable up to roughly 75 or 80 mph – above that and the drill presents more of a challenge and considerably less comfort. The Softail Slim nicely fills the void between Harley?s Sportster lineup and their Big Twin Touring models. Bottom line, it seems an ideal way to affordably acquire a manageable Big-Twin bike from the Motor Company.

SPECIFICATIONS:?Harley-Davidson FLS Softail Slim-?12

Base Price: $15,499. Vivid Black / $15,884. Color
Price as Tested: $Add $450- $900 for dealer prep and handling
Engine Type and Size: 1690 cc (103 cu.in.) air-cooled, Twin Cam 103B pushrod operated, OHV (4-valve) with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters and electronic sequential port fuel injection. Dual right side staggered exhaust
Torque (ft./ lbs.): 98.7 @ 3,000 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed Cruise Drive? sequential manual
Drive Train: Final drive – belt / primary drive- chain
Suspension: Front – 41.3 mm telescopic forks with ?beer can? covers and 5.1-inches of travel.

Rear – Swingarm, hidden, horizontal-mounted, coil- over shocks, with 4.3-inches of travel

Brakes: Hydraulic 4-piston front single rotor / 2-piston rear single rotor with available ABS
Tires: Dunlop Harley-Davidson series – 402F MT90B16 72H front / 402 MU85B16 77H rear mounted on 16X3? Black steel laced wheels front and rear
Wheelbase: 64.4 inches
Length Overall: 94.3 inches
Curb Weight dry: 671 lbs. (dry)
Fuel Capacity: 5.0 gallons – warning light at approx 1 gallon
Seat Height: 25.9 inches – unladen
0 – 60 mph: Not tested

More from Our Auto Expert