Some words only appear in print; you seldom hear people speak them. “Brandish” is one. Nobody ever says, “Is that a banana you’re brandishing?” or, “Don’t brandish that thing at me!” Another one is “harken.” I’ve only heard the word a couple of times, once at a Renaissance Fair and once at lunch with Hoyer, but Harley reviews are fairly littered with harken. Nothing harkens like a Harley. The original H-D Softail appeared in 1984, when the FXST harkened back to the old hardtails by looking like them but not feeling like them, thanks to a pair of lay-down shocks cleverly hidden beneath the gearbox to provide actual suspension movement. Just like now. The Softail (®) was a great idea then and it still is 29 years later.
Another word currently in vogue is iconic. Many things are lately said to be iconic, but a thing that really is, is Harley’s Fat Bob gas tank—whose halves are still squeezed out all these millennia later by the same huge machine in York, Pennsylvania. Then there’s that V-Twin engine, which is also iconic enough to have spawned a whole slew of imitators over the last 30 years or so. The latest counterbalanced Twin Cam 103B is a highly evolved unit, but it nearly takes a Harley enthusiast to immediately differentiate it from the Evolution engine that preceded it (and ran from 1984 to 2000). The similarity is no accident. That tank fits that engine like a U.S. Army helmet fits Gen. Patton smoking a cigar, like Marilyn Monroe’s legs fit a skirt blown up by a subway vent. Instant Americana.
The problem with all that harkening and iconicism, of course, is that you’re really not at liberty to change any of it. The mostly open-minded Ducati crowd still wants to flay Pierre Terblanche for designing a Ducati superbike (999) that didn’t look just like the 916. Try to imagine the uproar if Harley built a bike with a new fuel tank. They might as well include a free Communist Party membership with purchase and an Obama Birth Certificate. (To its credit, H-D did build the V-Rod, which many H-D people still refuse to acknowledge.)
With fuel tank, engine and frame, then, pretty much set in stone, what’s left for the H-D stylist to style? Plenty! The Softail Slim gets a “new” handlebar (brought back from H-D’s past) called “Hollywood” because it has a curved, dirtbike-style crossbrace you can hang lights and kewpie dolls and things on (actually a great place for your iPhone or GPS mount today). Just below that and atop the tank, the Slim gets a “cat’s eye” tank console with a big speedometer and retro-design dial.
Speaking of retro, there’s a small, Pulsar watch-looking LCD rectangle set in the bottom of the face that serves as odometer, tripmeter, tachometer and gear selector as your left thumb sees fit. It would’ve been high-tech in ’84, which furthers the retro theme unless you think of 1984 as the recent past.
Moving downward, your dogs rest on “Half-Moon footboards,” whose rubber pads float on rubber donuts. Moving rearward, you can peek through the intentional gap left between the tuck-and-roll solo seat and gas tank to make sure the solid-mount engine’s still there. Yup. (A cool option your dealer can activate is Engine Idle Temperature Management Strategy, which cuts fuel and spark to the rear cylinder at idle to keep your crotch cooler.) And no, your passenger didn’t fall off, she was never there: You’ll have to add your own passenger carrying parts from the ample Parts & Accessories catalog.
Code name for the project was “Slimfast,” the “Slim” portion of the name coming mostly from the narrow, bobbed steel fenders, snugly fitted over chunky 16-inch Dunlop D402 biasply tires. The rear carries minimalist combo’d stop/turn/taillights and a sidemount license-plate bracket for a clean rear fender. (The Slim probably looks more stripped-down and minimalist in Black Denim. But with the contrast of the nice red paint on our test Hog, it sort of looks to me like somebody stole the trim off the back of your bike.)