Harley-Davidson doesn’t ask for much, says U.S. PR Manager Jen Hoyer, only to: “1. Lead in every market. 2. Grow the sport of motorcycling in the U.S., in part by growing the number of core customers and growing U.S. outreach at a faster rate. 3. Grow U.S. retail sales and grow international retail sales at a faster rate. 4. Grow revenue and grow earnings at a faster rate through 2020. 5. Outperform the S&P 500.”
Alrighty then, and with that business out of the way, one of the ways they’re going to accomplish that is with this new Low Rider S, giving the primary market (“young adults seeking an aggressive looking cruiser that delivers on power and performance, packaged in a raw, dark looking motorcycle”) what it wants. That would be a blacked-out hot rod, with more power and premium-riding suspension.
What you get is H-D’s 1801cc air-cooled, Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 engine, said to be good for 115 lb-ft of peak torque at 3500 rpm – mated to a 6-Speed Cruise Drive transmission. That engine’s rubber-mounted in your basic Dyna chassis, and suspended at the rear by a pair of Premium ride emulsion rear shocks “with enhanced compression and rebound damping control” (sourced from Showa), and up front by a “Premium ride” 49mm single cartridge front suspension.
The “S” stands for Sport when we’re talking Harleys, so along with the premium suspenders and heavy breathing motor, you get sporty ergonomics, consisting of a semi-flat handlebar and mid-mount footpegs on a platform that’ll let you heel over up to 30 degrees (give or take half a degree).
I can’t remember any manufacturer staging a press ride up the Angeles Crest Highway, which winds its way high into the mountains from here in our own little SoCal sandbox, but that’s what H-D did with the LRS. It was a nice-enough ride up the back way via Big Tujunga, but we also stopped a few times to shoot photos and schmooze. After lunch at Newcomb’s Ranch, though, when it was time for the non-stop flight to L.A. back down the Crest, it seemed like Paul James, H-D Product Planning Director (and longtime Buell/XR1200R racer) was in a hurry to get back to the hotel?
Granted, 30 degrees of bank angle is not optimal for sport riding, but by the time the footpeg feelers and a little unnecessary undercarriage are ground away, let’s call it 33 degrees: That’s almost enough for public roads if self-preservation is anywhere toward the top of your priority list: The S is an exhilarating ride as long as you think in cruiser terms. Downhill is preferred; 115 lb-ft at 3500 rpm is a lot of torque, but the downside of that is the rev limiter cuts in at 5500 rpm, and when you’re spinning the big V-Twin up in the high end of its range, its fueling is pretty herky-jerky as you attempt to smoothly modulate throttle while keeping the 674-pound Hog between the lines. The abrupt power doesn’t upset the bike though, thanks to pretty dialed suspension and the fact that 2.13 inches of rear wheel travel isn’t really enough to allow much front-to-rear weight joggling.
But leave it in a tall gear and let it roll, and the S is a happy, stable pussycat, even if it feels more like a big old ’80s superbike with its heft, bias-ply tires, and the fact that you need to include ground clearance in every corner calculation (it’s why they invented “hanging off,” children). In spite of that, one kid on a new Ninja (which might be the perfect bike for downhill on the Crest) waved us on by.
Well, that’s not really the kind of riding most Harleys are meant for, but the S comported itself way better than I would’ve expected (and I’ve only ridden that road 1000 times), so big fat MO kudos to Paul James and crew for having the courage to take us there on the Low Rider, and reminding us that it’s not the speed of the bike so much as it is the speed of the road: Where a BMW S1000RR is yawning as you roll down through the Crest’s fast sweepers as quickly as you dare, the Hog is sweating to a vintage Jane Fonda workout tape on the VCR, and that’s in fact a lot of fun, maybe more fun, in a completely different way. It’s that old saying about riding a slow bike fast, except that this Hog’s not that slow it’s just Large.
Meanwhile in the big city below, people seem to get out of your way on this bike. Is that a Son of Anarchy? Look, it’s the whole gang! The seat’s down there low, at 27 inches. My 30-inch legs like the mid-mount footpegs way better than forward-mount ones, but taller guys ride with their knees higher than their hipbones. H-D will be more than happy to fix you up with a different handlebar if you don’t like this one (it could come backward an inch or two for my short-fingered vulgarian taste). Another problem my stubby left leg has that I don’t remember having on other Big Twins, is that my left calf touches the derby cover when I’m stopped. It’s hot even on a cool day.
I actually had to check the spec again, but 2.13 inches is the claimed rear wheel travel: Given that, the “Premium ride emulsion shocks” do an amazing job ironing out the bumps, and no seating complaints from me. With a more pulled-back handlebar, I could go places on this bike as it also has the Magic Button, that’s right, cruise control, right there on the left handlebar – standard equipment on the Low Rider S, along with ABS and H-D’s security system. I’d be going it alone, though, since there’s no place for hangers-on on the LRS.
At the end of the day, maybe you’re just a Harley person or you aren’t. Lately as I mature, it’s a little surprising how some people you’d never suspect become one. A good friend just traded in his KTM Super Duke 990 for a previously owned Low Rider, as a matter of fact. He’s not down to his last resort yet, but is increasingly, annoyingly patriotic in this election year. Dais Nagao, H-D’s Tokyo-born Senior Stylist on this project and a lover of all sorts of classic ’60s objects of speed, worked on the Honda Fury, among many others, before jumping at the chance to come to work for Harley in Milwaukee. The man speaks of Harley in hushed, reverential tones, as if he were summoned to the Vatican by the Pontiff. Love it or hate it, H-D really is as “authentic” as motorcycles get.
Yours truly has to be impartial, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg of motojournalism. I wouldn’t want an LRS for my only bike, simply because it weighs 674 pounds. Not many days go by when I don’t ride my motorcycle, and I don’t want to wrestle a thing that big in and out of the garage every day even though I could use the exercise. But I definitely see the attraction for when the mission involves less business and more social trolling; it’s also a great bike for parking and admiring three or four months at a stretch, for people who live where that’s a requirement.
If the Low Rider S speaks to you and you can scrape up the funds, I find zero reasons why you should not have one.
|2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S|
|+ Highs ||– Sighs |
|2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S Specifications|
|Engine type||Overhead-valve air-cooled 45° V-twin|
|Displacement||1,801 cc (110 cubic inches)|
|Bore/stroke||101.6 x 111.1mm (4.0 x 4.374 in.)|
|Torque||115 ft-lb @ 3500 rpm|
|Starter/battery||Electric starter/12V 19Ah|
|Fuel system||Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection; Rider-Initiated Engine Temperature Management System|
|Primary drive||Chain, 34/46|
|Final drive||Belt, 32/66|
|Frame||Dyna, double-downtube mild steel, rectangular section backbone|
|Front suspension||Premium ride, single cartridge 49mm fork; 5.1 in. travel|
|Rear suspension||2 Premium ride emulsion shocks; 2.13 in. travel|
|Front brake||2 300mm floating discs; four-piston calipers, ABS|
|Rear brake||292mm disc; two-piston caliper, ABS|
|Wheels front/rear||Cast aluminum; 2.50 x 19 in. front, 4.5 x 17 in. rear|
|Tires front/rear||100/90B19 57H / 160/70B17 73V|
|Trail||128mm (5.1 in.)|
|Wheel base||1630mm (64.2 in.)|
|Seat height||27 in. (685mm) unladen|
|Fuel capacity||4.7 gallons (17.8 L)|
|Curb weight (claimed)||674 lb. (305.7 kg)|
|Warranty||24 months, unlimited miles|
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