Hand­some Harley has long her­itage

Low-slung V-twin is a solo ride, says Paul Owen

South Waikato News - - NEWS -

If we Ki­wis ever get tired of the in­ter­val be­tween our fre­quent earth­quakes we can al­ways visit the Harley-David­son fac­tory in York, Penn­syl­va­nia, where a gi­gan­tic stamp­ing ma­chine has been press­ing out the mir­ror-like halves of the brand’s sig­na­ture ‘fat bob’ fuel tanks for 40 years or more. Each vi­o­lent stroke of this three-storey high mon­ster shakes the fill­ings in your teeth and mo­men­tar­ily blurs your vi­sion as it nois­ily folds sheet­metal into a teardrop-shaped reser­voir. The fact that the tool­ing of this ma­chine hasn’t been changed for four decades is ir­refutable proof that the tanks fit­ted to Harley’s long-run­ning Sof­tail range haven’t changed shape over that pe­riod of time.

Like the in­stantly-fa­mil­iar engine and seem­ingly sus­pen­sion­less frame of a Softy, the ‘‘fat bob’’ is some­thing that a de­signer seek­ing to add a new vari­ant to the range can’t change. That doesn’t leave a lot of scope for com­ing up with a com­pletely new look, does it? Yet Harley’s de­sign­ers have been pro­lif­i­cally adding new Sof­tail mod­els over re­cent times. Last year saw the de­but of the new Black­line, for 2012 we have the Sof­tail Slim. Both are min­i­mal­ist in ap­proach, strip­ping back the bling to re­de­fine the 1690cc Big Twin as a more dy­namic ride. There’s plenty of brand man­age­ment go­ing on be­hind the scenes. The ad­vent of the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis saw Harley in­crease the num­ber of smaller-en­gined Sport­ster mod­els in its port­fo­lio. Now more af­ford­able Big Twins like the Black­line and Slim are of­fer­ing ‘‘step­ping stones’’ be­tween the 883cc and 1202cc Sport­sters and the other 1690cc mod­els priced above them. They’re tar­geted as con­grat­u­la­tory pur­chases for the mid­dle man­ager who was made re­dun­dant in 2009, spent 2010 find­ing his/her feet, and even­tu­ally found fi­nan­cial se­cu­rity again in 2011.

Well, that’s the of­fi­cial line any­way. I sus­pect that an­other fac­tor in Harley’s de­sire to make Big Twins more ac­ces­si­ble is the suc­cess of Vic­tory. The mo­tor­cy­cle division of Po­laris has de­vel­oped a sim­ple for­mula for per­suad­ing peo­ple away from pur­chas­ing Harley Big Twins: make even more pow­er­ful Big Amer­i­can Twin and of­fer it at a more af­ford­able price. To me, it is ab­so­lutely no co­in­ci­dence that the $28,995 pric­etag of the Sof­tail Slim is the same amount asked for a Vic­tory Ham­mer.

Rid­ing this Slim, coloured a shady matt back, it’s easy to ad­mire the en­dur­ing emo­tive pull of the Big Twin ex­pe­ri­ence. There’s the patented engine note, thank­fully muf­fled so that ev­ery­one can ap­pre­ci­ate it, a mea­sure of vi­bra­tion that’s been re­fined to the point where it pleases rather than an­noys and soft rid­ing springs that now have the more au­tho­r­a­tive damp­ing re­quired to com­pletely con­trol their con­trac­tions and ex­pan­sions.

The me­chan­ics of the ex­pe­ri­ence are an­cient – the 1690cc long-stroke pushrod V-twin be­ing not a lot dif­fer­ent from the Evo­lu­tion engine that pre­ceded it, and (gasp) a chain­driven sep­a­rate gear­box that then uses a belt to drive the back wheel – yet they’ve been re­fined to a point ap­proach­ing per­fec­tion.

Mean­while don’t worry if you think your pas­sen­ger might have fallen off this bike; they were never there in the first place. For this is a sin­gles-only ride, the lack of pil­lion ac­com­mo­da­tion en­hanc­ing the slim pro­por­tions of the rear end that give this Sof­tail model its name. At a Glance: Engine: 1690cc air-cooled ohv pushrod V-twin, stoked by elec­tronic fuel in­jec­tion to de­velop 50kW (67.4bhp) at 4750rpm and 120Nm at 3150rpm Trans­mis­sion: Six-speed se­quen­tial gear­box, belt fi­nal drive Frame: Steel-tube twin cra­dle frame and steel tube tri­an­gu­lated rear swingarm; 43mm un­ad­justable Showa front forks, Twin un­ad­justable Showa rear shocks mounted un­der gear­box. Price: $28,995 Hot: Looks best in matt black so don’t pay ex­tra for metal­lic red; price point steep­ing stone in Harley’s range be­tween smaller Sport­sters and heav­ier Big Twins. Not: Floor­boards re­strict cor­ner­ing clear­ance fur­ther, brakes re­quire strong in­puts, pil­lions catch taxis.

Sof­tail Slim: For a Harley-David­son, that is.

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