MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: 2012/2013 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim

The new lowest of the low

By Michelle Baird, Photos by Andrea Wilson
The Softail Slim, released as a midyear 2012 model, is an all-new bobber-style motorcycle from Harley-Davidson. Its based on the Fat Boy platform, with a similar front end and an extremely low profile. The Slim now shares the title as Harleys lowest motorcycle with the newly released CVO Breakout, both with a seat height of 23.8 inches. Released in February, the Slim caught the eye of Hollywood movie producers and made a brief appearance in the blockbuster movie “The Avengers,” with Captain America riding off on it after defeating the bad guys at the end of the flick.
Michelle test rides the 2012 Softail Slim. She was given the same model that appeared on the red carpet at the movie premiere for “The Avengers” a few days prior. The bike was still “dressed up” for the occasion with a leather side bag and an old-school Harley-Davidson chrome emblem on the tank.
The 2012 and 2013 Slim models sport the traditional bar and shield Harley-Davidson emblem on the tank. The only update for 2013 is an additional color option, Big Blue Pearl, shown here.

At first sight, it makes sense why this bike was selected for Captain America to ride. The superhero character is aveteran ofWorld War II, and the term “bobbers” came about when US troops returned home and “bobbed off” excess parts from leftover Harley WLA military model bikes. The Slim is a polished-up factory version of a bobber, styled like those uncluttered 1940s and 1950s era backyard-mechanic creations.

Starting with the “chopped” (or bobbed) rear fender, the Slim is a minimalist motorcycle with minimal chrome, a trimmed front fender, and a narrow front end meant to mimic the clean lines of a vintage hard tail (a motorcycle without suspension).
What gives the Softail Slim a bigger “claim to fame” than its roll down the red carpet? It has the lowest seat height of all the Harleys, measuring in at 23.8 inches (tying it with the newly released 2013 CVO Breakout). Michelle is 5-foot-5, and her feet are completely planted on the ground and the foot and hand controls are within easy reach.

The Slims comfortable solo seat is finished with detail stitching in a plump, ribbed tuck-and-roll pattern that looks good and keeps the rider firmly seated. The seat tapers to the tank,nestling the rider into the bike (rather than perched up) andmaking it even easier to flat foot the motorcycle. Thanks to theextremely low seat height of 23.8 inches,I had no trouble maneuvering the bike with my legs. Im 5-foot-5, but a seat height this low means riders even shorter than me should be able to get their feet on the ground. The flat handlebars, called Hollywood bars, are not too wide or tall, allowing the rider to sit at a slightly lifted, arms-forward stance.

These Hollywood bars, which have a cross-brace for adding lights or a small roll or “tool” bag, are like a set featured in the Harley accessory catalog for Springer models. Some say the name comes from owners who “went Hollywood” by getting carried away with accessorizing on that cross-brace.
The handlebars easily maneuver the sensible and slight 31-degree raked forks, even in tight U-turns.
Chrome-plated steel footboards cut into a half-moon shape are topped with a grippy rubber surface that cancels out excess road vibrations. The floorboards place the feet slightly forward, almost lined up with the handgrips, but still allow for a comfortable bend at the knees.
A gloss-black louvered nacelle over the big round headlight gives the bike an old-school look.
The old-school look is carried through to the gloss-black cat’s eye shaped tank console with a retro-style speedometer featuring a digital display that you can toggle through with your left thumb.
The Slim is not overdressed in add-ons, but it does have a decently sized list of niceties inside and out, as riders have come to expect from a modern Harley. For example, while the speedometer looks “old school” with its retro face, displays include “new-school” information, such as a clock, a dual trip meter, an RPM/gear indicator, a low-fuel warning light and countdown feature, a low oil-pressure indicator light, an engine diagnostics readout, LED indicator lights, and a six-speed indicator light.

The “guts” of the Slim are far from vintage, with Harley’s refined Twin Cam 103 V-twin, the same engine that powers all the 2012 and 2013 Dyna, Softail and Touring models (except the Dyna Street Bob and Dyna Super Glide Custom, which have the Twin Cam 96). Harley-Davidson actually has two different versions of its Big Twin 1690cc engine, and all the Softails get the “B” version, which means the engine is counterbalanced to smooth out the shake and shimmy from the air-cooled pushrod motor.

The Slim’s motor features black powder-coated cylinders with polished aluminum rocker covers. The air cleaner cover, reminiscent of Harley’s Evolution motor, is powder-coated in gloss black.

The Slim is basically a Fat Boy model with the fat trimmed off. Bobbed fenders cover tiresnarrowerthan those on the Fat Boy, with Dunlop 16-inchers (MT90B16 front and MU85B16 on the back) made with a specially formulated compound for grip in wet or dry conditions.

The Slim has rectangle-shaped combined stop/turn/tail lights all neatly wrapped up on the rear fender. The side-mounted license plate folds up when parked—just remember to unfold it for the road or “the Man” might feel obligated to remind you. The wiring harness is hidden, and the turn signals are self-canceling. Who doesn’t like signals that cancel themselves?

The low seat height and easy maneuverability make the Slim a cinch for even a confident newbie to ride, while the smooth shifting 6-speed “Cruise Drive” transmission provides a healthy andexhilaratingthrottle roll that experienced riders will appreciate.

A chrome over/under shotgun exhaust with slash-cut mufflers provides a satisfying, punchy growl on takeoff that quiets down at highway cruising speeds.

As with all Harley-Davidson models, the little stuff counts. An easy-to-use sidestand means rookies won’t be searching around to find it. Additionally, a formed leather strap runs from the console to the seat and covers the fuel tank seam, protecting the paint from jacket-zipper scratches.

Optional ABS brakes, which are hidden within the wheel hub, are available on the Slim as part of Harley-Davidsons Security Package, costing an additional $1,195. The Security Package also includes the factory-installed H-D Smart Security System, featuring a hands-free fob that automatically arms and disarms the vehicles electronic security functions as you approach and walk away from the bike.
I hadonlyone little problem while riding this bike on a muggy day in Southern California. It was hot, and the heat coming from under the seat had me standing up at almost every red light after just half an hour of rolling around in traffic. I suspect that the Engine Idle Temperature Management Strategy (EITMS) was not turned on. EITMS, also called “Parade Mode,” can be activated by your dealer on any of the new Twin Cam 96, 103 and 110-equipped Harleys. This mode temporarily stops fuel and spark to the rear cylinder but still allows air to flow when there is a high engine temperature, or when the bike is idling or in neutral, resulting in reduced engine heat.
Because the Slims seat height is so low, its easy to scrape the floorboards—riders should remember to take the corners with caution.

I test rode theSlim inVivid Black, which along with the Blackline is the most affordableSoftailin the 2012 lineup, with a price tag of $15,499 for the 2012 model. Add $385 for the color options of Black Denim or Ember Red Sunglo. Add on the Security Package and the price jumps to $17,079. (California residents should add another $200 for CARB emissions laws.) Model year 2013 pricing has the Vivid Black Softail Slim starting at $15,699.

Michelle rides the Softail Slim in Vivid Black. This color, along with Black Denim and Ember Red Sunglo, return for the 2013 model, while the blue color shown above is new for 2013.

Riding the Slim is downright fun! It is a Big Twin with a tough look, but the low seat and quick steering are extremely confidence inspiring. It grabs attention with its understated looks and can put out a grin-inducing growl. While the Slim is not ideally suited for touring due to the lack of bags, overnight trips are not out of the question, as it can comfortably handle long highway runs with ease.

The city is where this bike shines in its minimalist garb.

Accessories like a luggage rack and windshield are available in the extensive Harley-Davidson catalog—but remember, this bike is supposed to be minimalist. So please, add a side bag or grab your backpack and avoid cluttering up this beauty. Just bask in its simplicity.

Specs At A Glance: 2012 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim
Displacement: 103 cubic inches (1688cc)
Seat Height: 23.8 inches
Weight: 700 pounds
Price: 2012 starts at $15,499 (Vivid Black); 2013 starts at $15,699
Colors: 2012: Vivid Black, Black Denim, Ember Red Sunglo; 2013 add Big Blue Pearl
WRN Recommendation
The Softail Slims super-low seat height and easy maneuverability matched with its classic looks and plenty of power make this bike suitable for all types of riders. However, despite the Slims extremely low center of gravity, we recommend beginners have some miles under their belt and be comfortable handling the size of a “larger” motorcycle before considering this bike. The price tag is excellent as a starting point into the Softail family. If day rides and short overnighters are in your future, the Slim is ideal.

28 thoughts on MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: 2012/2013 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim

  1. My 50th year was closing in fast so I decided to do something just for me, something I had wanted to do since I was barely legal. I bought a Harley. After sitting on a dozen different bikes, I sat on the Softail Slim and I knew it was “the one.” I was always a passenger on my husband’s bike up until now. I cannot believe I waited this long to get my own! I think the Softtail Slim is the perfect bike for women because of its lower center of gravity and ease of maneuvering. As a new rider, I feel confident on my bike and so totally free!

  2. Always being behind my hubby on his bikes for years, I promised my brother, before his passing, that I would learn to ride myself and try riding just once. After putting myself through the Rider’s Edge course as promised, I kind of liked it. I played around with a 250 Suzuki for a few months. That Christmas my hubby surprised me with a brand new 2014 Slim. Being such a new rider I was very nervous. It’s a lot of bike for a squid that’s only 5 feet 2 inches and 106 pounds but I love it. It is easier to handle and maneuver than that lil Suzuki I tooled around on two summers ago. I wished I could say I take it everywhere but I am still a bit nervous to take it out without my hubby leading the way in front with his bike but I’ll get there. My only complaint is even with the EIMTS on, it still gets very warm on my legs but loving the freedom of my new adventures every day.

  3. I have 22,000 miles on my Slim. I live in Arizona and just started to have overheating problems with it. I love this bike, but if I can’t resolve this issue I will be forced to get something that won’t overheat in the summer time. I’m going on a cross country ride in about three weeks and kinda worried about it. I really love this bike except for the overheating. The bike is serviced on schedule.

    1. Be sure to check with your dealer before heading out. These bikes run hot as it is and with the Arizona heat, the heat from the bike might be just more than you’re used to. Once you get on the highway, away from the excessive temperature heat, the bike’s heat might dissipate.

  4. I purchased my 2013 Slim four months after I got my license (two years ago). To say I love it is an understatement. Being short at 5 feet 2 inches it is a perfect fit. The bike is so well-balanced and easy to ride. I have ridden several thousand miles on it and the only thing I changed on the bike is I put a Mustang seat on it with backrest.

  5. I bought my Slim last December of 2014 and I must say it’s the best of all my bikes I ever had. And I’ve been riding for more than 40 years and owed many Harleys. I can’t tell you how happy I am that I went into the showroom for 2006 Deluxe and sat on that Slim and made the decision right there and then.

  6. I thought the authors contention that a “confident newbie” could handle this bike was a little optimistic. I mean it weighs nearly 700 pounds I thought that right up until the time I finally rode one. She’s right. This bike handles better than my 750. It feels light and quick, it takes turns like it knows where you’re going and is extremely stable on the straightaways. My test ride ended up taking me to the next town and up onto the interstate. They had to pry me off of it. Of course now I have to have one. Thanks for the review. P.S. I love this site.

  7. I’ve had my 2014 Slim for about three weeks now and I love it! I upgraded from my 2007 Sportster (a hand-me-down) and for the first time, I feel like I’m in control of the bike because of how the bike is balanced. It’s just so much fun to ride! And in Candy Orange, I get a lot of looks when I’m riding. What’s fun now is that Motherwell sells a solo luggage rack, so you can actually put a big bag on it now without ruining the minimalist look. I really don’t want to put bags on it, so this solves my work commute issues. (I change clothes when I get to work). The only problem with the bike is that heat! I live in Florida, so my ride home from work is incredibly hot and no one seems to be able to tell me about the EITMS. I’m hoping to get that resolved at my first service, which is right around the corner since I’ve been riding it so much. This is a great review of the bike, hitting on all the best parts (and the warning about the heat) of why the Slim is awesome.

    1. EITMS stands for Engine Idle Temperature Management System. Here is a good video that explains it:

  8. My husband got me the 2014 Slim. My prior motorcycle was a 2006 883 Sportster and it was lowered to fit me a little better. I still stood on my tip toes with my 5-foot 2-inch stature. I never thought I could find a Big Twin that would fit me. I also thought switching to the Big Twin from my Sporty was going to be a difficult experience. I was wrong on both counts. The 2014 Slim is perfect. It was a great ride home and cannot wait to take another ride. The only addition I would make if you are doing highway miles is a windshield.

  9. I’m getting a motorcycle this summer. If I go the Harley route, I’ve narrowed it down between the Softail Slim and the Fat Boy. I’m kind of hesitant on the Slim now because I’ve noticed all the ladies getting the bike. I’m 5 feet 10 inches 170 pounds…which bike to get? This will be my first motorcycle.

  10. I ordered this bike through US military sales while stationed overseas. This is my very first bike ever and I love it. The first time I sat on the bike was the day of my bike blessing by the CMA (Christian Motorcyclist Association) and the delivery. I am 5 feet 3 inches and needed no adjustments. However, the head from the engine right below the seat was very hot. I went to Harley and a fellow customer told me about the “coolers” I could find online. They are like dog ears and easy to install. The bike is quiet and I (as a new rider) had a difficult time riding with others as their motorcycles’ sound overshadowed my bike. After chocking out on hills because I could not “hear” my bike, I ordered slip-ons. I love this bike. It looks big for my small frame. It also commands respect from others. I think this is a great choice. I’ve had the bike since March and loving the ride! Now, I am looking for pink accessories!

  11. I love this bike! Just went from a 2002 883 Hugger to this very sweet, but tough bike. It feels like I went from sitting on a stool to sitting in a comfy chair, and steering is a breeze. At my 5 foot height I have been waiting awhile for a bike that fit me like this one! Now I would love HD to add some different feminizing parts and features to add on to our bikes.

  12. I just bought the Slim last week and I love it. I was looking for a very low, easy-to-manage bike with lots of power. This has it all. I’m 5 feet 4 inches and it fits like a glove. I’ve been riding for many, many years and have had all sorts of bikes, my last being the Triumph Thunderbird, which I turned over to my husband because it was just too heavy. The Slim is definitely a keeper.

  13. Impressive bike. I bought it as a gift for myself, well deserved. I got the 2013 Big Blue Pearl color and it looks fantastic. I’m 5 feet 1 inch and the clearance to the ground is better with riding boots but I can still ride it with tennis shoes. It took me almost a month to get used to the dual shift linkage, and when I did, it was much easier to shift down all the times intend of up/down. The engine has a nice torque, yes the bike is fast. It’s way better and stable than the Sportster I had. This bike fits perfect for female riders.

  14. Just took delivery of a 2013 Slim. I read this article before I bought it. The bike seemed perfect. I am almost 5 feet 5 inches, inseam 30 inches. I have not been able to ride it. The forward controls are out of an easy reach for me.I am not a new rider. I have a 97 Dyna Low Rider. Though it is easy for my feet to touch the ground, these forward controls are too dangerous. I cannot shift and brake without stretching.I am changing the seat to a Corbin and the seat is being modified. Will go from there to make the bike fit.Does anyone have any suggestions or modifications I can make to this bike? This article does not address the “stretch” factor.

    1. Did you not sit on the motorcycle and put your feet on the controls before buying it? We highly recommend you sit on a motorcycle you plan to buy for exactly the reason that is happening to you. If you can test ride it at a demo ride event, even better. Everyone’s height and inseam combination is a little different no matter what our reviewer says.That said, these days there are many easy modifications to make this motorcycle fit you. The seat is one that you are doing. You can switch out the foot controls to bring them closer to you. Visit your Harley-Davidson dealer and talk with an associate in the parts department. They should go over to your motorcycle and analyze what kind of a reduction in reach you need and then recommend parts that would work. Changing out the handlebars is another way to reduce your reach to the hand controls. Again, your Harley-Davidson dealer should help you find bars that angle closer to the rider’s seat. If your dealer is not amenable to helping, plenty of them are. Go somewhere else. The Softail Slim is a very low motorcycle that a lot of women love; a few adjustments to the controls and the other items I listed should make you feel more confident and comfortable.

  15. The Softail Slim is a nice ride! It is an around town – overnight ride type of bike. Well balanced for the ladies. In 2011 I bought a 2006 Sportster XL1200C. My SportyLadybird. I looked hard at the Softail Slim at its mid-year release but found that the Slim wasn’t the perfect fit for what I wanted – comfortable long rides across the country to be a touring bike. I am hoping that Harley will design and release a “ladies touring model” in the future.

  16. I took the motorcycle course through the Harley dealership in Naples. I bought the 2013 Softail Slim about a month later. My first test ride was a bonding experience, I’m only 5 feet tall. I felt a perfect fit. The center of gravity was perfect. True about being careful on turns, I did scrape my footboard once. I love the way it handles. This bike has turned me into a bike riding addict! I never turn down a chance to ride!

  17. Thank you very much. At only 5 feet with a inseam of 25.5 inches, I have never been able to sit or hold up a bike comfortably until this model. I will be a new rider and knowing it’s larger than the average starter bike but, can be easily maneuvered by a new rider, is very important to me.

  18. Very informative. If I have any questions about cycles/scooters, I’ll ask Michelle. She knows.

  19. I like the article about the bike. It gives you many things to think about before buying a bike. I bought my Dyna Street Bob 2011 without having any information about handling and riding around in the city. I went trough all those things you mentioned in the article and survived it.

  20. This machine is conceived well, lines are purified, colors are sober, nothing of excess in fact, a good compromise.

  21. Very interesting info. Now I know Harley-Davidson makes a bike for my size. I had a Road King before and we installed some brackets to lower it down. I am 5 feet 11 inches but have only a 28-inch inseam. So, I’m going to look for this model at my Harley dealer on my next visit.

  22. I love touring motorcycles and this bike would easily make a good one, loaded down with bags and windshield. However, for city use it should easily be stripped back down so it can flex its good looks and muscle for all those who suffer from “motorcycle envy” as it cruises down the boulevard. A bike built for the people I say. Stay loud and proud.

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