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Published on November 16th, 2015 | by Boris
2016 HARLEY-DAVIDSON FATBOY S & SOFTAIL SLIM S – POWER TO THE PEOPLE
My timing, as always, was excellent.
It was late spring. The riding climate was optimal.
Harley-Davidson had just poured its beaut 110-cubic-inch motor into two models from its Softail range, and wanted, quite rightly, to show them off.
I had also just written a piece that likened the Australian motorcycle magazine industry and most of its journo-droogs to a mindless tea chest of fail rolling down a rocky hill. I felt it was an accurate appraisal and you can read it HERE.
And now I was going to spend three days with a portion of this tea chest, bathed in the warmth of the late spring sunshine, embraced by one of Australia’s premier resorts, and riding what Milwaukee is pleased to view as its new two-wheeled hot rod.
Timing. As you can see, I’m all about that.
Two of the editors I write columns for, Neale Brumby (Heavy Duty) and Stuart Woodbury (Australian Motorcyclist), would be at this press launch, but I wasn’t worried about them. They have always known how I roll my bones, and share my immense amusement at the inchoate screeching that usually attends articles I write. Brum and Stu have well-developed senses of humour.
As does Harley-Davidson. Why else would it install my mean old arse in the wondrous Sanctuary Cove resort, ply me with gifts, and invite me to ride its new hot-engined Softail S range through the gorgeous emerald-green, motorcycle race-zone behind the Gold Coast? In company with its Managing Director, Nigel Keough, no less.
On general principles, I love Harley launches. There are always some very cool hitters in attendance whom I know from my outlaw days. And we know things. We remember stuff. We never talk about it. But we don’t have to. It’s a great old vibe.
The launches are also meticulously organised and run. All I really have to do is not heave one of Harley’s bikes off a cliff, be ready to roll when its necessary to do so, and stop drinking at the right time, so as to blow zero when I am breath-tested before the ride the following morning.
Once again, timing is crucial.
And let’s not be weird about the breath-testing.
That’s all about Harley not being guilty of sending degenerate drunks out on its bikes like wide-eyed apes in the grip of booze-fever. Which is smart, actually. Very smart.
I did most of my drinking early in the afternoon the day before the ride and made sure I ate two-and-a-half main courses for dinner, because nothing soaks up free booze like free food.
I slept righteously and even went for a swim in the resort pool at dawn. I was fresher than new underpants come kick-off.
The morning of the ride, we were all given a new Harley-Davidson helmet; made by Bell to Harley’s specifications. Great lids. Like all of Harley’s aftermarket gear, they are top-notch stuff. And almost everyone put theirs on.
I put mine back in my room because I’m not crazy enough to jam a brand-new lid on my head for a day when I have to look cool for the cameras and hot for the ladies. Brum also put his away. He had to wear some kinda kooky visorless full-face that was wired for sound so he could speak to his Heavy Duty TV blokes as he rode. Woodbury, on the other hand, put his on. At the end of the day he was half-blind and drooling with craziness at the pressure headache his new lid gave him.
“You’re some special kind of idiot, aren’t you?” I smiled at him as he lurched around the resort car-park at the end of the day, flushed and gleaming with pain-sweat.
But we were all mostly brand-new and shiny that morning. Just like the S-engined Softails we were to ride through the twisting jungle roads behind the Gold Coast.
There were two S-engined models to sample. The Fatboy and the Softail Slim. There was no Fat Boy Slim, even though some of the red wine I had drunk the night before felt there should have been.
The S-engine is Harley’s 110-cubic inch motor. It is the motor that all the Harleys should have. Even the Sportsters. And one day, they will all have this motor.
Just quietly, I’m hoping that one day soon, Harley will bite the bullet, bang out a 120-cubic-inch earth-smashing mega-donk and have done with this incremental stuff. Go big. Go hard. It’s the righteous path.
But on this day, the Slim and the Fat Boy had the 110.
The difference was immediately obvious. This had to be the first Harley that sounded fat and meaty through stock pipes. Of course, those pipes will be immediately binned by most owners and it will sound even fatter and meatier, but out of the crate, it was pretty good.
“There’s certainly a thump to it,” I muttered to myself as we wended our way inland.
There’s also a noticeable improvement in bang when bang is required – which is usually when you’re just coming off an apex. Gunning a fat-torqued V-twin hard outta corners is one of life’s singular pleasures.
No ifs or buts. Harley’s 110-cube engine is excellent. Responsive, willing and lashed with torque. Belting around the Hinze Dam, and alternating between third and fourth for maximum nasty filled me with grinning.
When I wasn’t exploring the nasty, the engine just hummed along smoothly, wholly filling me with Harley’s unique and almost organic thrum.
Harley-Davidsons vibrate. But they do so in a most pleasing fashion. It’s most noticeable at idle, but it’s always there. It’s never intrusive or tiring. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The vibration is an intrinsic part of the Harley ride and feel. The day Harleys stop their deep bass shudder is the day I stop loving them.
That bright Queensland morning was not that day.
There was nothing but love in my heart for these two new models. And I was going to mind my manners because good manners is a sign of a proper upbringing.
And just so you know, it’s not good manners to pass the lead rider and shower him with bits of brand-new Harley-Davidson that have been super-heated into metallic sparks.
Pro Tip: I have found that if you mind your manners, hang back a bit and let the leader gap you, you can build up a goodly head of steam as you set off in pursuit.
Bob was our lead rider, and like the other attendant Harley staff, he was mounted on one of the bigger touring beasts; which, you’ll understand, all have more ground clearance than either the Fat Boy or the Slim. I didn’t see Bob’s footboard kiss the tarmac once. But my vision was often obscured by bits of Woodbury’s bike’s footboards hitting me in the face, and my ears were filled with the sound of scraping as most of the press corps set to conquering the winding jungle roads with verve, so it may have happened and I just didn’t see it.
I worked with what I had. And it was pretty damn good.
I’m no stranger to the sound of scraping on a cruiser. It doesn’t scare me. But I am closely attuned to the tone of the scraping. When its timbre changes, as it sometimes does when caution has been damned, it pays to back off a touch. Because what you’re dragging along the road through a corner is important, and it all sounds different. The footboards make a certain noise, which becomes a different noise when the footboard mounts begin to grind. That sound is different to the sound the pipes make when you’re linishing them along the bitumen and the noise the primary makes is another melody completely. And one you don’t want to play that often. Of course, old players will tell you the worst possible sound is the graunch you hear when you’ve managed to lean it so far over that the pointy bits of the under-frame are being assaulted, after which comes an exciting lurch as your back wheel leaves the ground, and then…well, you can work it out. It ends in sirens and the laughter of your former friends.
Look, don’t take this the wrong way.
You don’t actually have to grind anything on either bike when you ride it. Most Softail customers will never touch down any part of their bike in the course of a normal day’s riding.
They are not wild-eyed miscreants like the Australian motorcycle press corps. They will not have issues with the suspension or the brakes because they will not ride the bikes outside their design parameters. They will just ride, the sun will shine, the chrome will gleam, and all will be well and all will be well, and all manner of everything will be well – because Harley has long known what is what, and is very successful at giving its customer base exactly what it wants and needs.
Most of the press is not the customer base.
But some of the press actually is. Me, Brumby, Mick Withers from Cruiser & Trike, Pugs from Two Wheels and Loaf from Live To Ride, are all old or current Harley owners. We long ago “got” what the marque was cooking. I very much enjoy the meal it serves. Sure, I am not one-eyed to the point where I won’t tell you that the stock exhaust end-caps and front-wheel bearing traces get surface rust in days. They do. I shrug it off. I have never cared a whit about stock Harley exhausts and there’s maybe three ancient sets full of spiders somewhere in my garage right now.
But I understand that Harley builds bikes that are designed to be changed and altered and added to and enhanced, in what is a never-ending and always pleasing process of customisation. You have to personalise your Harley. It’s in the rules. Some do it from the vast factory catalogue. Others, purists and gimlet-eyed fanatics with steel-capped boots and steel-bristled beards, take to them with grinders and gas-axes.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. There are no two identical, privately owned Harleys anywhere on earth. The showroom floor is the only place where all Harleys are equal.
So is the Slim S equal to the Fat Boy S?
Nope. They are and feel quite different.
Same motor and frame, sure. But there’s other stuff going on.
The Slim is a little lighter, has a shorter wheelbase, a lower seat and different sized wheels.
You will find the specs below if you wish to compare them. Do so. It is instructive.
For mine, I found the Slim actually handled a little sharper than the Fat Boy. This is due to its narrower back tyre, and I gotta say, I really fizzed a bit over the matte Army green paint with the big star on the tank. I also liked the Slim’s spoked wheels. It’s a very cool-looking package and comes in matte black, gloss black and that killer army-themed green.
I didn’t like the Slim’s seat much. It was quilt-stitched, which made me furrow my brow with concern. And it was a bit cruel on the buttocks after an hour or so of fevered jungle riding. The Fat Boy’s saddle was much more luxurious.
And therein lies the fundamental difference between the two bikes.
If most of your riding is going to be around town, dashing between strip-clubs, bourbon bars and outlaw clubhouses, then the Softail Slim is your candy girl.
Want something a little more comfy for those wild rides out west where the buzzards feast, the sun bakes and the beer is cold? Go the Fat Boy.
Either way, that hot-rod S-motor is there to pleasure you, and it’s a wonderful motor.
I am always less than pleased with stock Harley suspension, but the 2016 iteration on the Softails (which are, incidentally, not Harley’s best-handling models) is better than the 2015 set-up. Progress!
The ABS is still a generation behind what the Japanese and Europeans are up to, but it is there and it is welcome.
Stylistically and in terms of overall finish, Harley takes a back seat to no-one. Apart from the aforementioned issues on two components (one of which is disposable), the finish is flawless. Impossibly beautiful paint and stunning chrome is a Milwaukee hallmark. Both the Slim and the Fat Boy have a great profile and stance; mean, purposeful and tougher than most of the people riding them.
These are the original bad-man motorcycles. Outlaws still ride them and outlaws will always ride them. There’s just no getting around that.
It’s just not possible to un-cool a Harley-Davidson.
It actually doesn’t matter if you’re not a bad man. You can be you; meek, mild and with a houseful of cats.
It doesn’t matter.
On a Softail S you’ll understand why bad men grin the way they do.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LOU MARTIN
SOFTAIL SLIM S SPECS
Seat Height: 650mm
Fuel Capacity: 18.9l
Dry Weight: 308kg
Air-cooled, Twin Cam 110B™
Engine Torque: 145Nm/106.9 ft-lb @4000
Transmission: 6-Speed Cruise Drive®
Front: 16”/Dunlop® D402F MT90B16 72H
Rear: 16”/Dunlop® D402 MU85B16 77H
Vivid Black; Olive Gold Denim
SOFTAIL FATBOY S SPECS
Seat Height: 670mm
Fuel Capacity: 18.9l
Dry Weight: 320kg
Air-cooled, Twin Cam 110B™
Engine Torque: 145Nm/106.9 ft-lb @4000
Transmission: 6-Speed Cruise Drive®
Front: 17”/Dunlop® D408F 140
Rear: 17”/Dunlop® D407 200
Vivid Black; Denim Black
The helmet is a Bell.
The jacket is a Segura.
The gloves are Segura.
The jeans are by Harley-Davidson.
The boots are Falco Shiro.