2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S First Ride Review

John Burns
by John Burns

110 cubic inches for power, black paint for cool, "S" for sporty.

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.”

2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S

Editor Score: 82.75%
Engine 17.5/20
Suspension/Handling 12.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.0/10
Brakes 7.75/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.0/10
Appearance/Quality 8.5/10
Desirability 8.5/10
Value 8.0/10
Overall Score82.75/100

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 Twin Cam 110 inhales through this Heavy Breather Performance Air Cleaner, which is somehow not nearly as loud as you’d expect. If it rains hard, you put the little sock on it that you won’t forget to keep in a pocket. Harley says it produces 115 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm when measured at the crankshaft.

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.

The “speedscreen” knocks a bit of wind off your chest. The tachometer is the bottom gauge, pretty impossible to safely consult when you’re flogging the Hog. A cool ZX-10R-style multicolor digital bar graph tach across the inside of the fairing would’ve been cool for me, but the lead designer seemed aghast at the thought. All is forgiven thanks to the little cruise control button on the left housing below the turnsignal button.

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.

The latest in 300mm floating discs mounted directly to the 19-inch wheel meets the latest Michelin bias-ply rubber – the company that invented motorcycle radials in 1984. It all works. ABS is standard with the ABS sensor cleverly hidden in the wheel bearing.

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.

Undeniably hip Magnum Gold Split 5-Spoke wheels (okay, five pairs of spokes) are inspired by ’60s-style mag wheels, and cover your ears while we hearken back to the old XLCR with that headlight/fairing and gold badge.

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.

These Showa shocks and their dual-rate springs deserve a medal for making 2.1 inches of wheel travel seem like enough.

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

  • Basic black big-block hot rod
  • Easy to clean your air filter
  • Cruise control!

– Sighs

  • I wouldn’t complain if the shocks were one inch longer
  • Instrumentation looks a few decades old (for many that’s a “High”)
  • Modern radial rubber might be a better choice for an “S” model

2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S Specifications

Engine typeOverhead-valve air-cooled 45° V-twin
Displacement1,801 cc (110 cubic inches)
Bore/stroke101.6 x 111.1mm (4.0 x 4.374 in.)
Torque115 ft-lb @ 3500 rpm
Compression ratio9.2:1
Starter/batteryElectric starter/12V 19Ah
Fuel systemElectronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection; Rider-Initiated Engine Temperature Management System
LubricationDry sump
Primary driveChain, 34/46
Final driveBelt, 32/66
Clutch9-plate, wet
FrameDyna, double-downtube mild steel, rectangular section backbone
Front suspensionPremium ride, single cartridge 49mm fork; 5.1 in. travel
Rear suspension2 Premium ride emulsion shocks; 2.13 in. travel
Front brake2 300mm floating discs; four-piston calipers, ABS
Rear brake292mm disc; two-piston caliper, ABS
Wheels front/rearCast aluminum; 2.50 x 19 in. front, 4.5 x 17 in. rear
Tires front/rear100/90B19 57H / 160/70B17 73V
Trail128mm (5.1 in.)
Wheel base1630mm (64.2 in.)
Seat height27 in. (685mm) unladen
Fuel capacity4.7 gallons (17.8 L)
Curb weight (claimed)674 lb. (305.7 kg)
ColorsVivid Black
Warranty24 months, unlimited miles
John Burns
John Burns

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2 of 75 comments
  • Tom Dinchuk Tom Dinchuk on Mar 20, 2016

    Hey John, I can give you plenty of reasons not to have one. Especially since my 2002
    Superglide Sport could blow this turkey into the weeds on any mountain road. Harley
    Davidson( take note); Design an updated version of the Sport by making it lighter (like mine), getting rid of that silly air cleaner and giving it adjustable suspension that has
    more than 2 inches of travel. Take a ride on an old Superglide sport and see if you don't

  • Bubba Blue Bubba Blue on Apr 28, 2016

    I have to believe that next year there will be a Fat Bob S, or a Street Bob S. The Current Fat Bob has a High Output TC103. The current Street Bob has a (regular output) TC103. And then there are Softail models and this one with a TC 110 and HO103.

    I'd really like to know the performance differences.

    It's getting so there are a lot of different displacement and performance versions of the Harley Davidson Twin Cam engine.