2020 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S Review – First Ride

John Burns
by John Burns

Everything that's old is new again

That’s “S” for Sport. The last one of these we rode was a 2016, when it was built upon the now-defunct Dyna platform, ie., twin shocks out back. This 2020 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S is new from the nubs up. It’s now built upon the new Softail frame that debuted in 2018, with a single shock cantilevered under the seat, and joins ten other 2020 Softail models.

2020 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S

Editor Score: 80.0%
Engine 18.0/20
Suspension/Handling 11.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.5/10
Brakes 8.5/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 6.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 7.5/10
Value 7.5/10
Overall Score80/100

2020 Harley-Davidson Models Announced

That new frame was necessitated by the new-for 2017 Milwaukee 8 engine – a 114-cubic incher here (1868 cc) – which now finds itself bolted solidly in place instead of rubber-mounted like in the old bike: Dual counterbalancers counter-rotating on each end of the crank make that possible. More information than you need about all that is here.

The end result of all that is a new Low Rider S that Harley says is 26 pounds lighter than before, at 679 pounds; 0.6-inch shorter of wheelbase, at 63.6 inches; and even lower of seat, at 26.5 inches.

Now we’re up to 3.4 inches of wheel travel out back, and 5.1 inches from the new 43mm inverted single-cartridge fork up front. Excellent brakes get standard ABS.

Well, it’s still a big motorcycle, isn’t it? But the claim is 119 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm, so it hardly matters. As we roar off en masse through the concrete canyons of San Diego, I’m once again struck by how quiet and great-sounding M8 Harleys are as they leave the factory. Just a nice low rumble. Even though I can see the “Ventilator” intake ahead of my right knee, I hear no giant sucking sound.

They say the bike will run fine in the rain, but the Ventilator intake comes with a raincover anyway. Good name for a handgun, no?

It seems like the clutch pull should be heavier with all that torque, but H-D’s wide, thin, blade-style levers are mechanical evolution at work. Just ease that thing out and engage those 1868 cc of torque; you can’t kill the beast. (Years ago I nearly lost a leg when I hit a Big Twin starter while the bike was in first gear, before the invention of electronics to keep us from doing stupid stuff.)

The 114 is the biggest M8 Harley puts in the Softail chassis; the claim is 119 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm. Lights out is at 5500.

As soon as you hit a few bumps, you’ll appreciate that the new Softail frame serves up a bit more rear travel than the previous’ LR-S’s 2.1 inches; we’re up to 3.4 inches of travel now via 1.2 inches of rear shock travel, and 5.1 inches of front wheel travel from the 43mm inverted fork.

TFT display up there inside the headlight nacelle maybe? Not happening, says H-D. We decided the unused space would be good for a couple nozzles and a Screaming Eagle mister system for hot days.

The seat is pretty thick and plush, as it needs to be given that so much of your weight is sat on it with little help from your legs. You’ll also appreciate the seat’s lip when all that torque shoves you back against it. For the size of the gears in the six-speed box, they all mesh suavely together without much need for clutch once past second. Someday there may be a quickshifter on a Softail, but not this one.

Seating remains somewhat gynecological with the “mid-mount” footpegs, which fit me okay but which people with legs longer than about 32 inches don’t much like: Taller people ride with their knees higher than their hips. The big crinkle-black motocross handlebar bolts onto four-inch risers rubber-mounted to the triple clamp. There were a lot of complaints about vibration through the grips. I felt low-frequency vibes but wasn’t really bothered by it. Maybe I have a high tolerance for vibration. My joints have softer cartilage? Still not a fan of Harley’s large-diameter grips. All the other bike makers have settled on grips of about 32mm diameter. Harley uses ones that are quite a bit thicker, and they’re harder to hang onto on motorcycles you have to hang onto. Which for me, this is one. For my 5’8” bod, it’s a bit of a reach forward to the grips. It wouldn’t be bad if the footpegs were further to the rear…

The LR-S is a great motorcycle for blasting around town on, particularly if you’re a large and in-charge extrovert. For sporty riding in the curves it’s a pretty fun thing to ride, too. But that weight, long wheelbase, and old-tech bias ply tires give it an old-fashioned feel. Wait, does nostalgic sound better?

They steepened the rake to 28 degrees, but the specs say the new bike’s trail has grown from 5.1 to 5.7 inches; 145mm is a lot of trail. Steering requires a heave. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been passed by guys in flapping flannel shirts on these things like I was standing still – on fast roads, anyway. It’s actually more stable than a freight train. The new one does have a bunch more cornering clearance than the Dyna version did.

Anyway, the guys in the flannel shirts will little note, nor long remember what we criticize here. It’s the style and Harley-Davidness of the thing that matters. The LR-S “is rooted in the legacy of the Low Rider models of the 1980s, that has a devoted following which has spread world-wide from origins in Southern California,” according to H-D’s VP of Styling and Design Brad Richards. The H-D faithful love these things, with their black blackness and bronze wheels: All bright finishes are replaced with black finishes for an aggressive look. The powertrain, primary cover and tank console are finished in Wrinkle Black; the derby cover, intake, and lower rocker covers are Gloss Black. Mufflers and exhaust shields are Jet Black. Forks, triple-clamp, riser and handlebar, and rear fender supports are Matte Black. The LED layback tail lamp has a smoked lens…

Radiate cast-aluminum wheels, 19-inch front and 16 rear, are finished in Matte Dark Bronze for an intriguing contrast to your Vivid Black or Barracuda Silver.

At the end of a day’s ride on the LR-S, around a bunch of San Diego County’s finest backroads, I have to conclude the people who love these things are generally tougher and harder of core than yours truly. (Speaking of which, on no other brand will so many hard-core women emerge from the woodwork to tell you about the Harley they used to have, their ex-SO had, they aspire to have… a couple of men, too.)

My soft upper body and tiny fists in the wind were a little tired of hanging on by the end of the day, my lumbar was a little bent, but mostly my butt was tired of being locked into the same spot all day; I tried to stand up on the midmount pegs a couple of times, as I typically do on all other motorcycles, but couldn’t pull it off. I couldn’t find the cruise control button, maybe because they removed it on the new LR-S. At the end of the day, I’m Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles: I tell ya I’m bushed. They tell me cruiser riders develop a different set of muscles. I don’t know if I’m buying it. Harlissimus dorsi?

Luckily I bounced back in time for cocktail hour, electric-scootering around downtown San Diego, karaokeing – and was able to ride a bunch of the excellently upgraded FL touring bikes the next day. More on them next week.

2020 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S

+ Highs

  • Looks to die for
  • Everybody wants to be your friend
  • Ground-pounding M8 114 powah

– Sighs

  • Short and tall people both complain about the ergonomics
  • Looking straight down to see the tach doesn’t work for me
  • Gee, the previous version had cruise control…

2020 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S Specifications

Engine typeOverhead-valve air-cooled 45° V-twin; 4 valve/cylinder
Displacement1868 cc (114 cubic inches)
Bore/stroke102 x 114.3mm (4.016 x 4.5 in.)
Torque119 ft-lb @ 3000 rpm (claimed)
Compression ratio10.5:1
Starter/batteryElectric starter/12V 19Ah
Fuel systemElectronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection
Primary driveChain
Final driveBelt
Front suspensionPremium ride, single cartridge 43mm inverted fork; 5.9 in. travel
Rear suspensionSingle emulsion shock; 3.4 in. travel
Front brakeDual discs; four-piston calipers, ABS
Rear brakeDisc; two-piston caliper, ABS
Tires front/rear110/90B / 180/70B16 bias ply
Rake/ Trail28°/ 5.7 in.
Wheel base63.6 in.
Seat height26.5 in. unladen
Fuel capacity5.0 gallons
Curb weight (claimed)679 lb. (308 kg)
ColorsVivid Black, Barracuda Silver
Warranty24 months, unlimited miles
John Burns
John Burns

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