First Ride: 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S

Dropping the S Bomb

Some combinations don't sound right but are. Like olive oil and ice cream. (Try it.) But some combos just seem destined to work. Like Harley cruisers and (more) displacement.

Which is exactly what's behind the Harley-Davidson S models just brought into the Softail lineup for 2016. Both the Fat Boy S and the Softail Slim S kick the traditional 103ci air-cooled lump to the curb and grab the gutsy 110-inch engine previously only available in the much more expensive CVO models or via the aftermarket.

This twin-cam, air-cooled beast puts down 109 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm, a gain of almost 8 pound-feet over the 103ci engine, which is a little shy of what this displacement does in the actual CVO models. But that’s just what the specs sheet says. In person, the big engine proves to have a nearly bottomless well of torque that is impressive in the (relatively) light Softail chassis. Grunt everywhere, terrific throttle response, and it’s even pretty smooth thanks to twin counterbalancers, which have been part of the TC-B engine series since 2000. Other updates for the Slim S include a hydraulic clutch and Stage 1 high-flow air cleaner.

In the case of the Softail Slim S, the blacked-out engine is joined by really cool military-style paint scheme that Harley is quick to point out is not a replica of anything. The semi-matte, olive-not-quite-drab scheme called Olive Gold Denim has gold flakes under the surface and looks stunning in open sunshine. Against the blacked-out scheme, the Slim presents a purposeful appearance. Just retro enough.

Dynamically, the Slim S is your basic modern Softail, with low-slung, half-moon-shaped footboards waiting to kiss the ground and a single front disc that’s just good enough, backed by effective ABS. For 2016, cruise control becomes either standard or an option across the Softail line; it’s standard on the Slim S along with a security system and ABS.

Thing is, the Softail is such a relaxed machine, so at home hammering through an urban landscape. It sounds trite but it’s true: The Softail’s sense of balance, low seat, and predictable steering make it a low-effort ride. And then there’s the new power, which delights every time the light turns green.

PRICE $18,899
ENGINE 1801cc, air-cooled 45° V-twin
CLAIMED TORQUE 109 lb.-ft. @ 3500 rpm
FRAME Tubular-steel double-cradle
REAR SUSPENSION H-D shocks adjustable for spring preload
FRONT BRAKE Hayes four-piston caliper, 300mm disc
REAR BRAKE Hayes two-piston caliper, 292mm disc
RAKE/TRAIL 32.1º/5.8 in.
WHEELBASE 64.4 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 28.2 in.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 712 lb. wet