Product: Low Rider S
Powertrain: 114-cubic-inch V-twin, six-speed belt drive transmission; 119 pound-feet of torque
There’s no denying Harley-Davidson’s importance to the world of motorcycling. Despite faltering sales of late, they still command the lion’s share of the North American market, and every move they make draws attention and scrutiny. With their recent foray into battery power (the LiveWire) and a stated commitment to exploring turf not currently populated by Bar-and-Shield logos, Harley-Davidson is clearly aiming to maintain its prominence by reaching new demographics.
But what about the riders already bleeding orange and black? Do these moves mean Harley-Davidson is willing to sacrifice the faithful audience that’s built their current empire? Not a chance. In fact, Harley’s getting better at what they already do best. Case in point: the 2020 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S.
What We Like
There’s a reason why H-D’s official name is The Harley-Davidson Motor Company. The 45-degree, 114 cubic-inch, Milwaukee-Eight V-Twin engine powering the Low Rider S is a monstrous lump of noise and torque. Throttle response is smooth and intuitive; with barely a half-rotation of the grip, there’s more than enough grunt to surge away from damn near anything.
Displacing nearly two liters (1,869cc) of space, there’s 119 pound-feet of twist available from a mere 3,000 rpm. That not only turns on-ramps into drag strips, but makes powering through the canyons an absolute blast. With such a grunty mill, you rarely need worry about downshifting to set up a corner or pop out to pass slower-moving vehicles. Vibrations can get a bit heavy when you crest 5,500 rpm, but an upshift cures that.
And then, of course, there’s the sound. I don’t worship at the church of “loud pipes save lives”, but there’s really nothing else like the rumble of a Harley V-Twin. At idle, sure, it’s a loping potato-potato affair, but between 3,200 and 4,500 rpm, the Low Rider S bellows gruff Americana. Combine that with the silhouette the Low Rider S throws, and it makes a strong argument for the “live to ride, ride to live” mindset.
Much of the credit for the Low Rider’s greatness goes to its Softail architecture. The hard-bits beneath are both stiffer and lighter than the outgoing Dyna frame, so handling is more communicative on the 2020 Low Rider S (which shall heretofore be referred to as the LRS).
The suspension has been upgraded, too. Up front, the LRS rides on a set of inverted 43mm Showa internal-cartridge forks; in the rear, there’s a preload-adjustable coilover shock. Running through the kinks that pervade the Laguna Mountains outside of San Diego, the LRS felt planted, stable and hungry for more. It doesn’t take long to hit the 30.1-degree lean angle limits; thankfully the pegs aren’t rigid-mounted. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this bike flickable, but a reduction in rake geometry (from 30 degrees to 28), certainly makes tossing all 680 pounds of bike to-and-fro an easy affair at speed.
The brakes don’t feel affected by that weight, either. A twin set of four-piston Nissin calipers hug discs at either side of the 19-inch bronze mag in the front end, and two-fingers of pull are often enough to reign things in. The back brake is but a single-unit, two-piston affair, but I applaud Harley’s engineers for their pedal placement. Often on cruisers, that actuator sits too high, so you either need to contort your right leg to get things right or you end up applying more whoa! than needed (or you just ignore the back brake altogether). That just isn’t the case at all here, which comes in handy (pun intended) during spirited riding. And if you do happen to get a little overanxious, know that ABS is standard at both ends.
From the 26.5-inch-high saddle, there’s definitely a reach to the wide, elevated bars. It’s part of the look for the LRS, and if you’re unfamiliar with that riding posture, it can feel a bit unnerving at first. It’ll also wear on even the most seasoned Bar-and-Shield veterans after a while. My lower back and tailbone started to complain after about an hour’s worth of riding; that said, the seat itself is plush, supportive and well-shaped to keep you from shooting off the back when you crack the throttle.
Watch Out For
From the riding position, the speedo is barely perceptible, while the tach may as well have been left in Milwaukee. For aesthetic reasons, the gauge cluster is housed in a center-stack mounted on the fuel tank, well out of sight. You need to take your eyes off the road to search for information –a form-over function design decision that seems especially dumb when you spot the slab of empty black plastic above the four-inch risers, behind the nacelle.
Also, Harley-Davidson has recently developed a suite of electronic rider aids. The system, which they’ve dubbed RDRS (Reflex Defensive Rider Systems), features a Bosch inertial measurement unit (IMU) that regulates both the traction control, linked braking and ABS in cornering situations; there’s also a baked-in Drag Torque Slip Control feature that acts like an advanced slipper-clutch to smooth downshifts. This is the technology critics of the brand have been asking for for years, yet RDRS doesn’t come on the Low Rider S — or any of H-D’s cruisers.
Most of the competition for the Low Rider S comes from the same dealer floor. The Fat Bob 114 ($18,849+) and FXDR 114 ($21,349+) both offer the same incredible engine in a performance-minded package. If you wanted something a little more in tune with boulevard cruising, the standard Low Rider does that for $3,100 less than the S.
That being said, there are other performance cruisers out there. Interested parties should check out the Indian Chief Dark Horse ($18,499.00+), Suzuki Boulevard M109R B.O.S.S. ($15,199+) and Ducati Diavel 1260S ($20,395+).
With the new Low Rider S, Harley-Davidson has created a better-handling, more powerful take on one of their most iconic bikes from the now-defunct Dyna era. It has more than enough style and substance to keep the dyed-in-the-wool faithful foaming at the mouth, but should also be on the radar for cruiser riders looking for a bike that rewards hard use.
The Low Rider S is a cruiser to be sure — but boulevards be damned, it was designed with these canyon roads in mind. The Dyna is dead. Long live the Low Rider S.
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