2018 Harley-Davidson Low Rider

Editor Score: 78.5%
Engine 16.0/20
Suspension/Handling 10.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 7.5/10
Brakes 8.0/10
Instruments/Controls4.0/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 7.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 8.0/10
Value 8.0/10
Overall Score78.5/100

I’ll go ahead and start with this: I’ve never been a fan of the Low Rider. Clearly that puts me at odds with tons of Harley-Davidson buyers. The Low Rider has been popular with both customizers and riders who prefer a more compact riding position (read shorter). I am neither. With this in mind, I’ll dive into what my time with the 2018 Harley-Davidson Low Rider was like.

Harley-Davidson Introduces All New 2018 Softail Line

As with all of the other former Dynas, the Low Rider is now a member of the Softail line. If you haven’t noticed the howling and gnashing of teeth over this change in some quarters of the Harley market, you haven’t been paying attention. So, take a moment to bring yourself up to speed with my overview of the 2018 Softail line. This review will assume you’ve already read that article, and you’ll have a better understanding of the points raised here if you’re familiar with the information.

2018 Harley-Davidson Low Rider Review – beauty

Even without the dual shocks, this profile clearly belongs to the Low Rider.

When first looking at the 2018 Low Rider, those  familiar with the model will find it instantly recognizable. The profile is the same, the headlight has its signature brow, the stepped seat remains. However, there are also some fairly obvious changes. The dual shocks have vanished for the single underseat unit. The prominent battery box is also missing from the right side and now lives behind one of the side covers below the seat. While the dual instruments are still mounted on the tank, the 2018’s housing is more pronounced. The two-into-one exhaust was replaced with a set of duallies. And the engine isn’t a Twin Cam but rather a Milwaukee-Eight!

Those are the visible differences. The invisible ones are  largely related to the chassis. First, H-D says the redesigned Softail frame is 65% stiffer compared to last year. In the real world, if the stiffness is calculated from contact patch to contact patch, the increase is a functional 35% – after passing the forces through the steering head and the swingarm pivot. Second, the Low Rider’s cornering clearance has increased while keeping the rider triangle essentially unchanged. This is a notable functional improvement in the motorcycle. Although the Low Rider, thanks to its mid-mount pegs, doesn’t gain as much lean angle as some other Softails, the difference is real – and noticeable when ridden back-to-back with the previous generation.

2018 Harley-Davidson Low Rider Review – action

The switch to the Softail chassis means that the Low Rider owner can now comfortably go around corners.

Harley clearly wanted to highlight this improvement in the Low Rider (and the entire Softail line) since almost the entire route of the two day introduction traversed some of the best sport riding pavement in Southern California. No, I’m not saying that the Low Rider is a sportbike, but I am saying that Low Rider owners no longer need to be leery of corners. When hard parts do touch down, the Low Rider drags pegs first giving warning before solidly mounted components begin to grind. The improvements in the chassis go beyond ground clearance, though. The increased chassis stiffness erased the chassis flex most commonly encountered in highway-speed sweepers. Quick left-right transitions are also flex-free. Steering is more responsive than one might expect from a 19-inch front wheel, making mid-corner corrections a minimal-effort affair.

The suspension was changed along with the chassis, and the additional travel – increased to 3.6-inches – takes care of most road irregularities. The dual bending valves in the fork do an admirable job of soaking up bumps, and the solo rear shock’s hydraulic preload adjuster means that riders can easily adapt the Low Rider to varying rider/passenger/cargo loads. While magazine types, like myself, will still be asking for more suspension, Low Rider owners will simply be benefiting from the 2018’s improvements.

2018 Harley-Davidson Low Rider Review – engine

Look to the left, and you’ll notice the absence of the exposed battery of old. The oil tank also gave way to a wet sump and oil storage at the bottom of the Milwaukee-Eight.

Although the change to the chassis was responsible for the shock and awe surrounding the Softail line, the Milwaukee-Eight engine steals the show. To make the engine’s solid mounting to the frame tolerable to riders, a second counterbalancer was included. So, when you’re running from 0–60mph 10% faster (as Harley claims), your mitts won’t feel like they’re attached to a paint shaker. Quite the contrary, the M-E stays comfortably vibration-free through most of the range typically used. Yes, some vibration enters the fray above 3,500 rpm, but realistically, how much time do you spend there? Mostly quick passing maneuvers or the occasional sporty attack of a series of corners. Other than that, the 107 cu. in. engine is in its happy place riding the fat 110 lb-ft (claimed) of the torque curve.

As with all the Milwaukee-Eights I’ve ridden, the EFI-tuning is spot on, delivering smooth throttle transitions no matter how many times I tried to trip it up by rolling it off/on in corners. Shifting is solid and low-effort. The torque-assist clutch is appreciated, but this is a Big Twin. So, expect to use some muscles on the lever.

2018 Harley-Davidson Low Rider Review – instruments

The Low Rider retains its dual clocks, but the housing is more formidable.

The rider accommodations of the Low Rider have always been tight. That, along with the 27.2-inch seat height, has made it popular with shorter-inseamed riders. If anything, the 2018’s rider triangle feels slightly tighter in the handlebar, but that could be easily remedied by rotating it a smidge in its clamp. Still, it’s the cramped position of my legs that has always turned me off to the Low Rider. Look at the photos, my knees are close to being higher than my hips. I know this is a failing on my part, though. One of the other journalists on the press ride is taller, with longer legs than me, and he said the Low Rider was his favorite of the Softails. So, either he’s crazy, or I’m just a pampered moto-journalist who expects to be coddled.

2018 Harley-Davidson Low Rider Review – seat

The Low Rider’s seat stays true to its `70s roots.

For 2018, Harley-Davidson threw us a curve-ball – in a good way. The Low Rider has all of the characteristics that has made it popular since the 1970s. Additionally, it benefits from improved handling and a more powerful, smoother engine. All you have to give up are the dual shocks of the old Dyna model. This seems like a fair trade, since the new suspension has more travel and works better. But, hey, that’s just me.

The 2018 Harley-Davidson Low Rider is available in Vivid Black for $14,999. Wicked Red, Electric Blue, and Bonneville Salt Pearl will set you back $15,399.

2018 Harley-Davidson Low Rider Review – action

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  • TheMarvelous1310

    I just want to know what was wrong with the single pipe. The Low Rider and the Fat Bob should both have a single exhaust pipe. Other than that, there’s nothing to complain about, from any of the new Softails! They’re great cruisers, and I can’t wait for people to start modding and stunting them. Racing, maybe? One can only hope!

  • Goose

    It doesn’t matter how many times you repeat this is a wet sump engine, it is dry sump. Just like all H-D big twins going back (at least) to the Knucklehead. Wet sump engines carry their oil in the crankcase, the Milwaukee-8 carries it’s oil in a remote thank.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Where is the remote oil tank?

      • Ronald Vennell

        It’s in the transmission housing. The transmission is bolted to the back of the engine block,

      • Campisi

        Yeah, I too was confused about this until someone on another site showed me a diagram. There’s a remote oil pan directly beneath the transmission casing that houses the engine oil, so while it’s technically a dry sump engine you’ll service it largely as you would a wet sump.

    • Auphliam

      and it doesn’t matter how many times you type this comment, they’re going to call it what the manufacturer told them.

      • Goose

        When did Harley call the M-8 wet sump?

        • Evans Brasfield

          In both Softail press briefings I attended and in response to direct questions from both me and another journalist.

          • Goose

            That is so sad.

          • Douglas

            What is?

  • Sayyed Bashir

    The dual shocks reduced saddlebag capacity and pushed the exhaust far away from the bike. The Softail configuration solves both problems and the single shock provides easy preload adjustability.

  • Buzz

    Low Rider’s weren’t always low. My 96 was standard height. I really liked it because of the mid mount controls which are better placed for cornering and allow the rider to stand on the pegs if necessary. Mine also had highway pegs which were great for cruising and I learned how to shift with my heel when I wanted to cruise forward control style.

    • Lemmy

      I’m pretty sure the first Low Rider in ’77 had lowered rear shocks. The low seat height is exactly where the name came from…

  • Mark Vizcarra

    Lowerider??? You mean Superglide right. Because this is what a superglide looks like

  • Tom

    Evans, you wrote:

    “As with all the Milwaukee-Eights I’ve ridden, the EFI-tuning is spot on, delivering smooth throttle transitions no matter how many times I tried to trip it up by rolling it off/on in corners. Shifting is solid and low-effort. The torque-assist clutch is appreciated, but this is a Big Twin. So, expect to use some muscles on the lever.”

    How does that translate to rankings of 16/20 on the motor and 7.5/10 for clutch/tranny? Is there a better cruiser engine/transmission combo out there that is better, or is the new Mil 8 that lacking? If HD was in school, it would get a C on its report card.

    It almost feels like those awkward high school years when the good-looking girl pays you several compliments and makes you think you really have a chance, but always has plans on the weekend and never calls you back. Or maybe you don’t really like big twins and maybe I need to stop thinking about my crappy dating life back in the late 80’s.

    • Max Wellian

      Yami 1900s, Honda 1800s, Triumph 1600s, Victory 1740s and so on.
      The riding position on that bike is idiotic. I have a whopping 29″ inseam and my knees are in my chest on it. And those goofy handlebars taken off a tiller just aggravate the situation.
      The engine on the new Harleys are fine, but putting up with the ergos is enough to distract one from enjoying it.
      Thing is, with the bars off the Deluxe and it’s floorboards or even the forward pegs off the Breakout, the LR would be a super nice bike. Harley just wants you to drop another couple grand to make it so. No other reason they put that crap on there.

  • Chris

    HD has had several Demo Days in my area. Unfortunately, They didn’t bring the Low Rider. Closest I could get to try was the Slim. Being that I have a Short Inseam, The Slims Forward Controls made it hard for me to use. If the Engine and Trans are the same, I like the Solid Shifts. Much better than my 15 Street 750, I would buy a 18 Low Rider.

  • Douglas

    Because of the proper positioning of pegs/controls and sane handlebar height, this is the only non-touring H-D I’d ever consider buying new. But I’d get some slash-cut Screamin’ Eagle pipes, tho’, and the best windscreen I could find….and maybe a tall-boy seat (if they still make them).

  • Bubba Blue

    Look at the seat. It’s way thick. An aftermarket seat from C & C Seats could easily replace rider’s butt backward by 2″. Maybe more.

  • George

    mmm …. This (HD Low Rider) or the Motto Guzzi Eldorado ? Test rode both of them … Each has its pluses and minuses … Both are beautiful Motorcycles (IMO) … Sigh …

    I currently own a 2016 Motto Guzzi V7 Stone and a 2015 HD Super Low 1200T