By Bryan Harley
Twisting the throttle on the 2016 Softail Slim S I feel I should be wearing a red, white and blue jumpsuit and carrying a star-spangled shield. Maybe it’s the big U.S. Army-style star emblazoned on the side of the tank that makes me want to channel my best Steve Rogers. Perhaps it’s the Olive Gold Denim paint that stirs up visions of World War II WLA’s. For sure it’s the way the Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110B pulls like a mule that makes me feel like a superhero every time I crack the throttle because my biceps have been getting a workout gripping the handlebars tight when the bike surges off idle.
The 2016 Softail Slim S is the first regular production Harley to receive the Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110. Previously, Harley loyalists could only get one if they invested in a top-shelf CVO model, and those were generally big baggers or tourers. To have one spooned inside the frame rails of a Softail is an exciting prospect. Add a Screamin’ Eagle Stage 1 high-flow intake and jet-black over/under dual shotgun mufflers to the package and you’ve got a golden carrot to dangle in front of consumers.
Because the air-cooled, counterbalanced 1802cc V-Twin is definitely the star of the Softail Slim S. With its big four-inch pistons and long 4.37-inch stroke, the TC110 is a torque-generating machine, churning out a peak 96.79 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm. At 2100 rpm it’s already delivering almost 89 lb-ft of the good stuff, and from 2300 to 4700 rpm it’s dishing out more than 90 lb-ft of torque. You can let it lug low in the rpms and it will still pick up, no problem. Roll-on is generous, as the engine is all about low-end and midrange. One area we see room for improvement, however, is over-rev because at redline the 110 signs off abruptly.
On the horsepower side, the Twin Cam 110B is good for 81.74 hp @ 5000 rpm and hovers above 80 hp from 4700 rpm to 5400 rpm. With an old cruiser guy at the controls on a city street, it took the Softail Slim S 258 feet and 4.96 seconds to go from 0 – 60 mph. Throw somebody like MotoUSA’s speedy Road Test Editor Adam Waheed behind the handlebars in a controlled environment and we’re sure a few tenths could easily be shaved off that time. While clutch pull is taut and requires a firm squeeze, throttle reaction is quick and snappy, a boon when launching the 710-pound motorcycle off the line.
In the past, we’ve been critical of the harsh, clunky engagement of Harley transmissions. The six-speed cruise drive transmission of the Softail Slim S proves The Motor Company has come a long way. Most times engagement is solid and deliberate, shifts made reliably without slipping, but every now and again we nick an upshift in the middle gears so smoothly it’s barely noticeable. Bump it into sixth gear on the freeway and the cruise drive transmission drops engine speed to a comfortable 2380 rpm at 65 mph.
To counter that power, the 2016 Softail Slim S comes standard with ABS, the system integrated into the motorcycle’s design clean and virtually unnoticeable. The Slim S runs a 300mm rotor on the front teamed to a 4-piston fixed caliper with both 32mm and 34mm pistons, opposed to the rear’s 2-piston arrangement. As a result, the front brake is the more powerful of the two. The initial bite translates to positive feel at the lever as it clamps tight, applying steady, even pressure. Give the rear pedal a good push and it feels soft in comparison, lacking that solid initial bite. What riders will feel is the clack-clack-clack from the ABS pumping. Used in conjunction the braking package effectively strikes a happy balance, but used solo the back feels vague and lacks power.
Over the course of our 1600-mile stint in the saddle of the Softail Slim S, we’ve used Harley’s low-slung cruiser as a daily rider, commuter and long-hauler. We’ve run it hard from the Oregon Cascades up to Crater Lake to the twisty roads leading to the Pacific. We’re sold on the vibration-isolation the foot boards provide and have felt the buzz that creeps into the bars at 75 mph and above. We’ve enjoyed its steadiness while finding our rhythm in big sweepers and experienced its shortcomings in tight stuff, mainly its lack of clearance and heavy transitioning. Because though its ground-hugging stance provides a rough-and-tumble disposition, it also severely limits lean angles and positions much of the motorcycle’s weight so low transitions are a slow roll.
Suspension is also a mixed bag. The burly fork and meaty front tire provide plenty of stability with its combination of just the right amount of travel and springs that rebound quickly. The rear suspension though could use a little more “soft” in its Softail. This was most evident in the chewed-up road around Crater Lake’s rim which is in a constant state of repaving due to the heavy snows that bury it each year. With a rider my size at 225 pounds it doesn’t take much to tax the rear suspension to its limits. Square a pothole and it slams off the bottom with a jarring blow felt in a rider’s lower back. We love the rigid look provided by mounting the horizontal rear shocks out of sight, but we’d like a less rigid ride. Granted, the arrangement is fine for the majority of highway miles as it smooths out the small stuff, but we believe more suspension travel would benefit overall ride quality.
A feature that does bolster the appeal of the Softail Slim S is standard cruiser control. The unit hangs beneath the left control housing and is easy to activate with a push of the thumb. Roll-on the throttle or squeeze the brakes and it deactivates. Being able to rest our throttle hand on all-day rides is appreciated. The left control housing also features a button for toggling through digital options in the small display of the speedo, from trip meters to a clock to the one we used most frequently, the rpm/gear indicator. It also displays fuel levels, including a helpful countdown to empty. A green “gas pump” light comes on in the face of the speedo as it begins its countdown of reserve miles, the earliest indication we noticed coming at 41 miles to empty. The 2016 Softail Slim S got an average of 38.95 mpg for us. The one time we let the miles-to-empty indicator drop below 10, we pumped in 4.64 gallons and had traveled 198 miles, pretty much in line with our mpg projections for a five-gallon tank.
Even though the digital display window is located on the bottom of the speedo face, the speedometer itself is mounted up high enough on the “cat-eye” console and the rider sits so low in the bike that it’s at the bottom of a rider’s line of sight and is easy enough to see. And the bike does sit low, a laden 23.8-inches off the ground. The fact that a wide variety of riders can easily place two feet squarely on the ground broadens its band of targeted buyers. And while it is definitely suited for smaller statured riders, the forward-mounted foot controls and bar placement left us comfortably situated as well. The saddle, while fine for around town, is not so great for long hauls as the padding wears thin at the slope of the seat and pressure points in the glutes set in. There’s also a gap between the seat and the tank, a conscious styling decision that lends to the look of the bike but also leaves the corner of the rear cylinder head exposed which can scorch your inner thigh when the engine heats up.
And while leaving a gap between the seat and tank is a questionable cue, we have no questions about the rest of its styling. We love the sweep and look of the “Hollywood” handlebars and the tidiness of the internal wiring. The tank is broad and bold, the fork thick and burly, its Dunlops chunky. The gloss black of the high flow air cleaner, cylinder heads and horseshoe oil tank accentuate the machining of the cooling fins. Broad up front, the motorcycle tapers down to its slim back end. While the 2016 Softail Slim S projects a retro vibe with its vintage “Hollywood” bars, WLA-inspired paint, and the hardtail look of the rear, crack the throttle and you’re quickly reminded this is a mean, modern, tire-shredding machine.