2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S - First Ride Review

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

CVO power in a production chassis

Harley-Davidson has utilized the CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) line as a way to fly the corporate flag of what is possible with a production Harley and the Motor Company’s Parts and Accessories department. So, except for the CVO-exclusive paint schemes and the new technology that is often debuted in the high-end line, owners have been able to build for themselves the bulk of a CVO with their own bikes.

Still, that didn’t prevent riders from letting Milwaukee know that they wanted to be able to buy a 110 cu. in. factory-built engine with their new bike without the formidable expense of a CVO. Well, if we’ve learned anything since the advent of Project Rushmore, Harley’s designers are listening – and following through. So, for 2016 the Fat Boy S and the Softail Slim S will feature the Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110B engine so owners won’t have to build their own engine and negate their warranty to get the extra grunt they crave.

Harley Davidson 2016 Models Announced Via Worldwide Live-Stream Event

What sets the Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110B apart aside from the cool badge displayed just above the cooling fins? For starters, a displacement bump to 110 cu. in. (1801cc for the metric-focused) from 103 cu. in. (1690cc). Along with the increased capacity, intake flow comes via a less-restrictive Screamin’ Eagle Stage I high-flow air cleaner. Sexy satin black CVO Softail Deluxe slash-cut mufflers cap off the over/under dual shotgun exhaust. The extra breathing capacity allows the 101.6mm x 111.1mm V-Twin to access more of the Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI) system’s charge, making for impressive bottom-end oomf that cruiser riders salivate over. In the past, we’ve been favorably impressed by the 110B, and this time is no different.

The blacked out look and the optional Olive Gold Denim paint cut a striking profile.

Regular MO readers know that I’m pretty persnickety over smooth throttle application. Unfortunately, engines modified with aftermarket components oftentimes suffer from abrupt throttle ills unless the owner takes the proper amount of time and expense to get the gremlins exorcised. Over the recent model years, seamless power delivery over the on-off-on again throttle inputs that characterize real-world riding, the Twin Cam’s ESPFI has excelled and become one of my cruiser favorite V-Twins. The Slim S continues this trend.

2012 Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two And Softail Slim Preview

Riding in a large group of people and performing multiple U-turns during photo sessions would highlight any wonkiness. There was none. The hydraulic clutch, though the pull is still fairly beefy, is easy to modulate, making low-speed maneuvering and around-town shifts a pleasure – though shifts still elicit the typical cruiser clunk. Once up to speed, the sixth gear is appreciated, keeping the rpm down at higher speeds. The extra grunt of the 110B makes it possible to avoid a downshift when you roll out of the throttle to slow for a bit before cranking it back open and letting the Big Twin chuff back up to speed.

The Slim S has standard cruise control that operates easily from a single button on the left grip. (All Softail and Dyna models – save for the Street Bob – received an engine upgrade to the High Output Twin Cam 103 engine and, thanks to the ride-by-wire throttle, have cruise control available as a factory option or standard on select models in 2016.) For fun, I rode for an extended highway section of the introductory ride using only the cruise control to bump the speed up or down to account for those riding around me. Each press of the button altered the speed by about 1 mph. Also, I’m happy that the ability to disable cruise by rolling the throttle closed is now becoming pretty much standard on the current model motorcycles I’ve ridden recently. Harley is no different.

The Screamin’ Eagle 110 badges on the cylinders announce to the uninitiated the beast lurking within the chassis.

Although the primary feature differentiating the Slim S from its Slim sibling is the 110B engine, other dress-up features will allow the cognizant to identify the S from afar. First, back to the engine for a moment. The powertrain is gloss black on all the components that wear chrome on the standard Slim. Black would be the operative word for the remainder of the parts of the S that were upgraded, including the air cleaner, headlamp trim ring, axle nut covers, fork lowers, mirrors, brake lever and hydraulic clutch assemblies, triple clamp, riser, handlebar clamp, fork slider covers, air cleaner, and mufflers. Phew! The color options are black (duh) and the way cool Olive Gold Denim with military inspired graphics.

A word about the shapely, attractively stitched, low-slung (28.2 in.) solo saddle: ouch. Or maybe, brick. For short rides – the kind for which this bike will undoubtedly spend most of its time – the seat is exceedingly firm but not terribly uncomfortable. Stretch your ride to an hour or more, and you’ll become painfully aware of your glutes. When looking in my mirror during the longest stint of our ride, I was able to immediately spot the other Slim S in the cluster of headlights behind me. It was the one with the rider sitting sidesaddle with his butt completely off the seat – a position I’d been in only moments before.

Easy on the eyes; hard on the hiney.

While the Slim S’ relatively light weight (a claimed 712 lb, ready to ride) combines to make it a hoot to ride quickly, the rest of the bike, for better or worse, is the same Softail fare we’re all familiar with. The ground clearance is the limiting factor when the pavement turns serpentine, though the initial contact of the floorboards is clean. The suspension prefers smooth pavement. Bumpy sections quickly overload the 3.4 in. of travel offered by the hidden dual shocks. On less abusive bumps, the suspension feels slightly better than previous versions, though there was no mention of improvements in the press briefing or documents. The single 4-piston front caliper grips the same 300mm disc as in previous years. ABS is still standard.

One quick note about riding the Slim S and the Fat Boy S back-to-back: Although visually the two bikes, when viewed next to each other, appear to be very similar in their basic body structure, the riding experience is quite different. Although the Fat Boy only weighs a claimed 27 lb more than the Slim, it feels like a much heavier bike under acceleration. This is most likely due to the heavier, cast wheels and the larger 200mm rear tire which need to be accelerated rotationally as well as forward. Also, the lower seat height and center of gravity may contribute to the sensation of the Slim S being lighter.

By bringing CVO power to two production models, Harley has, again, shown that it is listening to its customers. While still paying a premium over the standard production Slim, the $4,000 buys Slim S owners more than just a bigger engine. The Softail Slim S offers plenty of styling exclusivity while not delivering the sticker shock many people encounter when pricing a CVO. The 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S will retail at a MSRP of $18,499 in Vivid Black and $18,899 for Olive Gold Denim. The on-sale date has not been set.

+ Highs

  • Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110B, baby!
  • Standard cruise control
  • Blacked-out look

– Sighs

  • Torturous seat
  • Same old suspension shortcomings
  • Limited cornering clearance

2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S Specifications

MSRP$18,499, $18,899 (premium paint)
Type1801 cc, 90° air-cooled, Twin Cam 110B V-Twin
Fuel SystemElectronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Valve TrainPushrod-operated, overhead valves with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters; two valves per cylinder
ExhaustBlack over/under shotgun exhaust with CVO Softail Deluxe mufflers
Transmission/ Final drive6-speed/ Belt
Front Suspension41.3 mm telescopic, “beer can” covers
Rear SuspensionHidden, horizontal-mounted, coil-over dual shocks
Front Brake300 mm stainless steel disc, 4-piston caliper, ABS
Rear Brake292mm stainless steel fixed disc, 2-piston caliper, ABS
Front TireMT90B16 72H
Rear TireMU85B16 77H
Wheelbase64.4 in.
Rake/trail32.1°/5.8 in.
Seat Height28.2 in.
Claimed Weight (ready to ride)712 lb.
Fuel Capacity5.0 gal.
Available ColorsVivid Black, Olive Gold Denim
Warranty24 months, unlimited mileage
Evans Brasfield
Evans Brasfield

Like most of the best happenings in his life, Evans stumbled into his motojournalism career. While on his way to a planned life in academia, he applied for a job at a motorcycle magazine, thinking he’d get the opportunity to write some freelance articles. Instead, he was offered a full-time job in which he discovered he could actually get paid to ride other people’s motorcycles – and he’s never looked back. Over the 25 years he’s been in the motorcycle industry, Evans has written two books, 101 Sportbike Performance Projects and How to Modify Your Metric Cruiser, and has ridden just about every production motorcycle manufactured. Evans has a deep love of motorcycles and believes they are a force for good in the world.

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3 of 15 comments
  • Schizuki Schizuki on Aug 31, 2015

    Seat comfort is irrelevant. Any self-respecting owner who gets it with the WLA paint will fit it with an aftermarket brown leather seat.

    • Jeff Collins Jeff Collins on Jan 09, 2016

      Agreed. Mine is extremely comfortable.
      I've got this Slim S and a 2014 BMW R1200GS. Both are great bikes.

      The post seat on the Slim is very comfortable and easily good for the 200+ tank range.

      By the way, the stock BMW seat was every bit as uncomfortable as the stock Slim seat.

      The BMW is faster, no question. The HD has far more character. Both can travel long distances, but I had to buy a windshield and make a luggage rack for the HD.

      If you are predispositions to dislike HD, you won't like this one either.

      If you just like bikes, you would likely enjoy riding the Slim S.

      A few points for the other posters, if anyone is still reading this page.
      109lb/ft of torque stock
      100HP stock.
      Not sportbike numbers, but plenty for a big cruiser.

      HD has been making the Slim for several years. The S model just added some features The fenders Have been unchanged since before the new Scout and Bolt even existed. Read a Motorcycle magazine every now and then.

      Also, this write-up didn't mention a few things that set the S series apart from the regular Slim.
      Standard ABS (that works very well.)
      High performance cam's and heads.
      Standard security system.

      With the extras that were mentioned, the Slim S price difference is less than the cost of the upgrades.

      By the way.
      Victories are sinfully ugly and the big Indians look like Shriner bikes. The Scout is cool though.

  • Marshall Miller Marshall Miller on Oct 20, 2015

    If you are thinking of buying this one, try the Indian Dark Horse instead. I've ridden both. The Indian was smoother in every way, and DOES NOT require Harley's typical tax of replacing the seat and grips!!!