We review the 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S and Fat Boy Slim S. Harley's fastest Softails ever!

When I was a kid I wanted a Fat Boy. Maybe it was Terminator 2, watching that all-American movie hero Arnold Schwarzenegger (well his stunt double) jump a Fat Boy off a concrete embankment. I also wanted two beef patties and bacon on my cheeseburgers. I wanted acres of land. I wanted a Cadillac. I wanted my own slice of Americana and the Fat Boy was that all-American motorcycle. The quintessential Harley—not too small, but not too big. Since I’ve grown, my tastes have changed and I’ve yet to own a Fat Boy.

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2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S

Harley’s Fastest Softails Ever - We Ride the 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S

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New for 2016, H-D introduced the Fat Boy S and the Softail Slim S, limited edition models that feature some special paint and most importantly, a Screamin' Eagle Performance 110ci (1801cc) Twin Cam. This is the first time the Scream’ Eagle 110ci has been available in a bike that wasn’t a CVO—Harley’s high end brand.

The Softail Slim S along with the Fat Boy S, also bring into the Softail line cruise control, standard on S models and a first for Softails, along with a security system and ABS standard. Scroll down to the "Pricing" section for an explanation of the features.

Disclosure: RideApart has yet to review the latest Softail platform, so this review is to showcase the differences between the Fat Boy S and the Softail Slim S, along with a general review which can apply to a base model Softtail. Minus about six pounds, some amenities, price and most importantly the engine, these two bikes are identical to their base model counterparts. If you’re looking for info on ONLY the S models, skip ahead to the Pricing, The Rest of the Ride - The Engine and Competition subheads below. 

CORRECTION: This is the 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S. The Black/Grey I'm riding in the above photo is a standard Slim. While I rode both, I was only photographed on the standard Slim.

CORRECTION: This is the 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S. The Black/Grey I'm riding in the above photo is a standard Slim. While I rode both, I was only photographed on the standard Slim.

The Ride

As our morning ride in Portland began I found myself drawn to the Fat Boy instantly. The other new model, the Softail Slim S, seemed jumbled, bulky and ugly. It had that type of bobber look where parts were seemingly stuck on there without a general idea of what to do when it was finished. I hated the cut fenders and wide bars, and I especially hated the played out matte-green WWII graphics known as Olive Gold Denim, but if that’s your bag I won’t hate.

Harley’s Fastest Softails Ever - We Ride the 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S

But throughout the day, the Slim started to grow on me. I was never big into the fat tire craze—despite the fact that I had a 200mm on my first bike. The standard 140mm tire on the Slim started looking more appealing as I followed the group of other bikes and saw it from behind. I stumbled across the gloss black/matte grey paint scheme by mind morning (seen in the riding pictures), changed my mind completely by lunch and never went back after riding the Slim S by late afternoon.

Harley’s Fastest Softails Ever - We Ride the 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S

Fat Boy S Vs. Slim S

The names themselves say a lot about the differences. Simply put, the Fat Boy is just too fat. Well, it feels too fat. Many journalists complained about the weight, but yet the literal weight difference is minimal. It all boils down to the girth of the rear tire. The ready-to-ride weight of the Fat Boy S is 739 pounds, while the Softail Slim S hits the scales at 712 pounds (the 110 engine adds only six pounds over either of the the standard versions). According to Harley, that 27 pound difference is in the cast (Fat Boy) vs. spoke wheels (Slim) and the rear wheel being much bigger on the Fat Boy.

The weight is low and to the back—meaning, despite many opinions, it’s not actually the weight you’re feeling in the corner. It’s the fatter rear tire on the Fat Boy that’s immediately noticeable when first entering any corner, no matter the speed. You have to wrestle the bike to plant it where you want it.

This was a huge let down until I rode the Slim, which fell into every corner with ease. The general seating position helped to provide a more fun ride than the Fat Boy, being more up and at attention.

The differences, except for the wheels and tires, includes the seat, fenders, and bars. The handlebars look like they put the riders hands in the same spot, but that's not the case. The Slims are just slightly skinnier and position your hands a little lower than the Fat Boy.

Harley’s Fastest Softails Ever - We Ride the 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S

Slim

Never before have I ridden a motorcycle that felt more like a vintage version of itself—in a good way. Not like a Yamaha SR400, which is simply a 1980s model built in 2015 with very little updated or changed. The Slim does feature new tech—well new for Harley that is. It’s still an air-cooled push rod engine, but the ride and feel resembles of that a Knucklehead or Panhead Harley. Low-mounted floor boards and low slung bars put the rider up on top of the bike, rather than down into it like a Dyna. The upright seating position and wide bars gave you even more leverage on the bike, making for an enjoyable, easily manageable ride.

The seat resembles that of a tractor with the large bevel around the rear edge and feels very much like an original pogo seat from early model Harleys. Although, the seat on the Fat Boy was much more comfortable, the lesser padding in the Slim seat brought you down into the bike more. The bars are wide, but luckily not beach-bar status.

Harley’s Fastest Softails Ever - We Ride the 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S

The gas tanks are identical, but the Slim has a large gap between the seat and tank. This occasionally opened up my right thigh to the rear rocker box for a nice burn at a stop light, adding to that vintage feel.

The combination of these elements zapped us back to a simpler time of riding: imagine taking this bike off dirt jumps and racing friends in an open field. Harley smothers their products in vintage graphics and livery, but this was one of the first bikes that actually pulls in that fun, yesteryear type of feel.

Competition and Horespower

It’s difficult to find a true apples to apples model from a competitor, even Victory doesn’t have a confident Fat Boy comparison. Maybe the Gunner or High-Ball, which we’d say compares more to the Dyna platform and most notably the Fat Bob. They retail for $12,999 and $13,349 respectively. The Hammer S from Victory would be the best bike to compare the Fat Boy to as it’s Victory’s muscle bike, which features an inverted fork front suspension and 250mm rear tire (the Fat Boy has a 200mm) and retails for $15,499.

Edit Note: We completely forgot about the Indian Chief Classic ($17,999) and most notably the Indian Chief Dark Horse ($16,999), which would both be great comparisons for the Fat Boy and Fat Boy S respectively. Although the Indian is slightly more expensive than the H-D, both bikes have similar power, price point and size. The Indians feature a 111ci v-twin and make a claimed 119 ft/lbs of torque. Both Chiefs hit the scales at 785 pounds.

CONTINUE READING FOR THE GOOD VS. BAD AND THE REST OF THE RIDE

The 110ci Scream Eagle Twin Cam is said to make around 95 hp and 115 ft/lbs of torque (horsepower is dependent on the conditions, as H-D only lists its torque numbers.), while the Victory’s 106ci powerplant makes about the same as a H-D 103ci, around 85 hp, but Indian's 111ci makes 119 ft/lbs. See Harley's go to 10, but Indians go to 11. 

Honda’s V-twin cruiser platform like the Stateline, Fury, or Sabre all retail for $9,999. There’s also the Suzuki Boulevard M109R BOSS with a 108ci V-twin and a $14,999 MSRP.

Both the Honda and Victory make less power than the 110ci in the S model, so the H-Ds we tested are surprisingly more competitively priced than we initially expected. The overall base Softail (which retails for $16,699 for the Fat Boy and the Softail Slim for $14,899) platform could stand to drop at least $1,000 in price point to be more competitive. Harley always wants a younger audience, but it’s difficult to entice new buyers with bikes close to $20,000. Although, these S models are far from beginner-bike status.

Harley’s Fastest Softails Ever - We Ride the 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S

The Rest of the Ride - The Engine

Well, back to our ride. What about the suspension and bang-for-the-buck performance? Hands down the engine does everything you want it to do, like pull stumps out of your front yard or tow a steam boat.

The engine, expected to make around 95 hp and 115 ft/lbs of torque (H-D only publishes torque figures), pulls hard all the way through the rev range. It hits redline a little earlier than you’d expect. Thanks to no tach and the fact that it never seemed to stop pulling, we often hit the rev limiter (H-D won't publish redline numbers.)

With a bigger engine, typically comes bigger problems. We didn’t have any type of rough or thumping idle in our short time in Portland. The throttle control was always smooth. Also don't forget the warranty.

Only after looking back at the spec sheet did I remember the bike featured a hydraulic clutch. It felt like a very comfortable cable clutch, with the heavy Harley pull, but smooth application and modulation. This made it easy to maneuver in all cases, just so long as your wrist doesn’t get tired.

The rear shock will only see 3.4 inches of travel, resulting in the typical lackluster rear suspension as to Harley, but for our riding it was acceptable. Stopping power came from 4-piston calipers on 300mm discs and worked great.

I’d call for a longer term review for a better understanding of how well the suspension worked. The immediate problem would have to be dragging floor boards. All the H-Ds we’d ridden while on the launch drug floorboards constantly, but that’s because of the low seat height of 23.8 inches on the Slim S—only a 1/2 inch taller for the Fat Boy S.

Harley! Come on guys, you have to do something about those dragging floorboards. On a Softail like this you become limited in your range of shock sizes in the rear, so raising it up an inch may be all you can get from the frame. We were able to overcome some of the dragging from our knee-out and body lean, but it's still a problem.

For a H-D the front suspension always had good contact with the road. I’ve complained about the Road Glide losing it’s feel to the road with the front forks, but the large tire and wide bars made the Slim and Fat Boy feel planted in the mountains and highway.

Harley’s Fastest Softails Ever - We Ride the 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S

Good Vs. Bad

Simply put, the Fat Boy only wins in looks, right? Well, that’s totally up to you. I grew to love the Slim more than the Fat Boy, even with the played out green WWII paint. To me, that’s just simply dorky—but again, it's a personal preference. The bigger rear tire and dresser fenders are not worth the extra dough ($1,200), but maybe the seat is worth changing out.

If I owned one—I would consider it if I only had the means—I’d easily buy the black/matte grey Slim S and install a Fat Boy two-up seat before leaving the dealership. After that, maybe exhaust, but the fit and finish of the bike needs very little to be happy in the average rider’s garage.

Harley’s Fastest Softails Ever - We Ride the 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S

The Bad

 

  • The air-cooled 110ci still ran hot a couple times throughout our ride, occasionally straining the clutch and some spark knocking at photo stops.

 

 

  • The clutch on the Slim needed serious adjusting and took a full hand to engage. That simply could have been a press bike problem but worth noting.

 

 

  • The Slim’s hard seat will hurt after 40 miles.

 

 

  • The upright/on-top of the bike riding position grows tiresome after about 60 miles, unless you're riding through the mountains or around town.

 

 

  • Still, why not a Dyna? It’s cheaper and more fun with better handling characteristics and more comfortable after tons of miles. Maybe that’s just me. Dyna S maybe? 

 

 

  • Lack of features - neither bike featured a tachometer, but rather a single low-mounted speedo with little in the way of amenities and displays.

 

Harley’s Fastest Softails Ever - We Ride the 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S

The Good

 

 

  • The engine.

 

 

  • The engine.

 

 

  • The engine.

 

 

  • Despite the occasional spark knock during our photoshoot where we were constantly turning the bikes on and off again, the stump-pulling torque made the bike a blast.

 

 

  • Easy to find the right gear - rarely needed to shift for more power.

 

 

  • More upgrades are standard - security, ABS and cruise are standard on both models.

 

 

  • 6th speed is way up there - very comfortable on the highway and can easily handle high speeds—65mph resulted in very low rpms, but no tach so no specifics.

 

 

  • Highway comfortable. While the Fat Boy was less fun in the mountains, both bikes were comfortable on a highway—low rpms, planted front ends, and little floating around within your lane.

 

 

  • The price, while it’s high, I expected H-D to ask for more.

 

Harley’s Fastest Softails Ever - We Ride the 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S

Price

Here’s a section we assumed would be a big negative. While for Harley the pricing on these models is fair to good—H-D typically likes to milk special edition models for more than they’re worth. The Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S have MSRPs of $18,499 and $19,699 respectively.

"For Harley-Davidson, delivering this much power with cutting-edge style, we believe the price to be a tremendous value. The new S Series takes the pulse of what's happening in custom motorcycle culture and mixes it with our own rich heritage with a factory production and warranty," said a Harley rep. So let's break it down and see.

Harley’s Fastest Softails Ever - We Ride the 2016 Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S

If you wanted the Screamin' Eagle 110ci in anything other than a CVO, after the factory (notice we don't say aftermarket, as Screamin' Eagle is an H-D brand) was your only option—until now of course. According to Los Angeles Harley-Davidson, a Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle kit with forged pistons, heads and cylinders along with all the goodies is $1,998. If you have a dealer do the install, you’re looking at $1,250 along with $225 to let the bike’s EFI computer know it’s a bigger engine. Before tax...that’s right around $3,500.

The S model includes ABS ($795), security ($395) and cruise control (previously unavailable on a Softail), totaling $1,190 (without cruise control).

With all the options, that’s more than $4,690 over MSRP, totaling $19,589. The Softail Slim S retail is $18,499. So you’re getting about $1,000 more in goodies by buying this special edition than the former options. The only upgrade available is paint, at $400 for the military Olive Gold Denim with a white star on the tank. The listed MSRPs are for black only.

The base Fat Boy has an MSRP of $16,699 and the Fat Boy Lo $17,499 (the S is based on the Lo). Add that after-factory options of $4,690, you’re looking at $22,189. The actual Fat Boy S MSRP is $19,699, making the bikes a better deal in the H-D world. 

 

What are THOSE!!??!!??

What are THOSE!!??!!??

S Series

According to Harley, "The Fat Boy and Slim S are limited edition models, but customers can expect to see S Series bikes in the future." Maybe a Sportster S? Hehe…

Photos courtesy of Brian J. Nelson and Harley-Davidson