First Look: 2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster and Softail Slim

Few companies have the benefit of being able to draw upon one full century of history when looking to pay homage to their past. Harley-Davidson ranks among even the fewer, as the Milwaukee-based bike builder hits 110 next year. The storied manufacturer’s latest custom production models, the 2012 Sportster Seventy Two (sic.) and FLS Softail Slim [pictured below and above, respectively], unveiled to North American media during a press event in Chicago two weeks ago, draw inspiration from historic trends created by Harley Davidson’s own customers.

While there have been many variations on the Sportster lineup over the years, particularly with the last decade’s Iron 883, Nightster and Forty-Eight models, there has never been one quite like this incarnation of the littlest entry-level Harley. Granted, the Sportster may be dismissed by bigger-bore riders who have, fair-enough, literally bigger needs; still, to do so is to dismiss an otherwise perfectly fine work of design and engineering. Looking to attract a new generation of riders by utilizing old trends, the new Seventy Two looks back to a time of ’70s funk, moustaches and metal flake paint. It’s a retro chopper that steals (with permission) from Harley’s vast accessory catalogue, notably boasting the air-cooled Evolution 1200cc V-Twin and classic peanut fuel tank. Beyond this, though: Dunlop white walls and chrome-laced rims complement the 10-inch mini-ape handlebar (mounted on a two-inch riser); chopped fenders; side-mounted license plate bracket; staggered, shorty dual exhaust with slash-cut mufflers; and a solo seat with textured vinyl cover. Again, this bike is well worth a look.

The second addition to the 2012 stable targets the ’50s-style custom bobbers. Recalling a time when riders stripped off everything that didn’t enhance a bike’s performance, the Softail Slim is trimmed down to the bare essentials. The fenders and retro floorboards have all been put on a diet and the height of the solo saddle has been reduced. Like the rest of the Softail fleet, the Slim features a Twin Cam 103B powerplant. Other unique traits include the wide-bend Hollywood handlebar with cross-brace, “cat’s eye” console with retro-style face, side-mounted license plate and black steel–laced wheels. The elemental trend continues with compact stop/turn/tail lights, sensibly combined into one unit. Minimal chrome accentuates the motor as the bike’s deserved focus, both fundamentally and visually. This back-to-basics bobber recalls a simpler time when function was its own form altogether.

While Harley-Davidson is a legendary motorcycle manufacturer, that legend encompasses an at-times tumultuous history. Questionable management decisions and dubious quality plagued the company for many years. The smartest marketing step represented by the new-to-market Sportster Seventy Two and FLS Softail Slim is that both bikes allow older riders to reminisce about their youth and younger ones to pay respect to those who blazed the trail. Call it history repeating itself, but with a futurist bent, and definitely written by the victors. What was old is now new again, for Harley at least — except for needing to worry about oil stains in the driveway.

2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster Seventy Two

2012 Harley-Davidson FLS Softail Slim

From April 13 – Oct. 21, the cross-Canada Harley-Davidson “Try a Bike” program makes available free demos of these and other motorcycles. For event listings, visit the minisite.

Image by Dustin A. Woods.

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