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Custom: Softail Slim Stylings

custom softail slim static shot from side

Going Full Chopper

We agreed to meet and set a time for doing so. I brought my camera gear and a bad haircut. Duncan Rourke brought the custom Softail Slim and a groovy leather jacket. We were all set then.

“Whoa, better air it out first,” said Duncan just as I readied to shoot. “Gotta go full chopper for this.”

Ah, yes, the magic of the Legend Air Ride rear shocks. Change stance with the flick of a switch: higher and tighter for the road, longer and lower for profiling. True enough, it did look better. Duncan was right. In the 11 years I’ve known him, I’ve noticed that Duncan is often right. 

I figured that out way back in 2006 when we worked together on a custom Sportster project called the Barnes Stormer, which started life as a base 883R but through the custom process centered around a Steve Storz XR1200 kit blossomed  into a stunning homage to the mighty XR750/1000.

The Barnes Stormer was a collaborative effort between Canadian Biker and Barnes Harley-Davidson in Langley, BC where Duncan was then the parts manager. The idea was that we would work with Barnes H-D staff to design a custom that would subsequently appear in the Summer 2006 issues. 

I forget whose idea that was—maybe it came from Greg Barnes. He seems like a forward thinking kind of guy, who now owns three Harley-Davidson stores in BC, including the one in Langley, another in Kamloops, and the third in Victoria on Vancouver Island, where Duncan migrated when it was still Steve Drane Harley-Davidson. Drane sold his operation to the Barnes family in 2015, when it was rebranded as Barnes Harley-Davidson Victoria, where Duncan still serves as parts sales consultant. Certainly, he’s the right man for the job. 

Mr. Rourke’s knowledge of the various OEM and aftermarket catalogues is encyclopedic. Which is why he took the lead for the custom treatment of the custom Softail Slim seen on these pages. A new base model was rolled from showroom to service bay where it was given the works. Duncan’s vision for the bike was “straight-up old-school chopper,” just as they appeared in the cycle magazines of his youth—long before Discovery Channel made customizers think of themselves as rock stars.

custom softail slim riding shot from sideThe stock Softail Slim became, in effect, a “dealer custom” (as opposed to “factory custom”) and was for sale at the time of this writing: $44,625. The base MSRP for this unit is $18,649, which provides some insight to the amount of work and product that has gone into it.

The custom Softail Slim is in inventory attached to the retailer’s new onsite entity called “Barnes Custom Garage Divison,” which is for all practical purposes an in-house branded design centre that focuses specifically on the needs of customers who want to personalize their bikes. 

To expedite and promote the Barnes Custom Garage concept, certain models are taken from the showroom floor and receive extensive mods that incorporate OEM, aftermarket and contract labour with the work of staff such as Duncan Rourke—who did the designing—and service tech Graydon Peebles who was tasked with all the assembly. As many as four full-blown builds will surface from the Barnes environment this year, with many others receiving significant upgrades—again, not just simple bolt-on shiny bits from the OEM catalogue but styling and performance parts from a variety of sources. 

custom softail slim static of black tank with gold leaf insetsThe dealer-builds clearly indicate green lights all the way to the top of the management structure, indicative of the commitment to establishing the BCGD brand. Creating an in-house custom department—not just a mere parts counter, mind you—is an evolving trend among Bar & Shield retailers, who completely understand their customers and how willing they are to spend large on personalizing their rides. With all due respect, there is simply no other brand that sees its customers spending after the point of sale to the same degree that Harley buyers historically will, for the sole purpose of personalization. 

Many will go straight from their dealer with brand new purchases to pro custom shops and right there is the sound of opportunity knocking. Rather than lose the opportunity to help their customers enhance their new bikes according to their own vision, why not expand the areas of service to include actual in-house custom consultation and installation? After all, with many customers, money is not the main object if their vision can be realized. Their relationship with the dealer is already established so if they can get custom work done there as well—short of any warranty-busting procedures such as frame mods—then so much the better. Everyone loves what’s convenient. And if the dealer can act as a kind of general contractor should the project have to leave the shop for, say, painting or plating, bonus! 

This is where someone like Duncan Rourke comes in handy. The man has great instincts for what works and what doesn’t. Leaning on his familiarity with OEM and aftermarket (and is there any other brand that is so mightily supported by aftermarket?) Duncan drew up a list of components that included H-D covers, controls and rotors, and even stepped outside of the Softail family for a Dyna headlamp. 

custom softail slim static shot from the rearThe forward canted apehangers that lend the custom Softail Slim  a truly definitive chopper presence are 14-inch Strip bars from Todd’s Cycle mounted on stock Harley risers. And the previously mentioned Legend shocks also lend attitude.

Another classic throwback chopper element is the 18-inch Cycle Vision sissy bar that practically begs for an “old lady and a bedroll” on a weekend run to Castaic Lake with the bros. The sissy bar is fitted to a nifty piece of work supported along the fender strut.

This design was in-house, though the work was by A&A Performance Chassis in Victoria. 

Graydon Peebles modified the stock Harley-Davidson rear peg mounts so that the passenger’s legs are drawn upward—again, try to imagine scenes from David Mann paintings with long-legged blondes and free-flowing hair on fast runs up the PCH. That’s what we’re reaching for here.

Fifty-two-spoke DNA Mammoth wheels bite the road while a Le Pera diamond stitch seat cossets the rider as he stretches his feet toward Roland Sands Design forward controls. 

Fitted with Santee/Cycle Kraft Japan high exit exhaust, and breathing through an S&S air cleaner, the big Twin Cam 103 has been treated to a Stage One kit consisting of the air cleaner and exhaust as well as remapped EFI and upgraded ignition.

There are many bits of bling but none so pronounced as the custom paint that was layered on by Les Plant of Victoria, working on “very short notice,” says Duncan, who found a lacy piece of material at a local fabric shop through which gold paint was sprayed to create the look on the tank and tins. 

Completing the visual presentation is a lustrous finish of chrome and powder coating by Victoria Plating. If you’re inspired to hear more, drop by Barnes Harley-Davidson. 


by John Campbell Canadian Biker #329


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