Harley’s Low Rider S: exceptionally light and powerful
Harley-Davidson’s new Low Rider S is a big, beefy, tough-looking bike — and quite intentionally so.
The country’s biggest motorcycle manufacturer set out to build an exceptionally light, exceptionally powerful, exceptionally Harley motorcycle. It’s good news for a certain kind of biker — and bad news for another — that they succeeded.
The Low Rider S boasts the company’s Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 engine, the largest-displacement power plant Harley builds. Though H-D doesn’t advertise horsepower numbers, the 110-cubic-inch engine — 1,801cc in metric terms — puts out 115 pound-feet of torque.
That’s the same engine that powers the big boulevard boats that Harley builds, like the company’s CVO Street Glide, Road Glide, Ultra Limited and Pro Street Breakout machines, as well as its Fat Boy S and Softail Slim S.
Some of those big Glide boys weigh more than 900 pounds. The slender, stripped-down S is almost 300 pounds lighter.
The power feels at first like it’s all low-end grunt. The torque comes on just above idle, as the thrumming, throbbing engine chugs at 1,000 revolutions per minute.
It comes on fast after that. Corner-to-corner acceleration is dramatic. A little loose in the throttle could mean a little rubber left on the pavement.
The Low Rider S designers said they wanted a bike that harkened to the ’70s, back to the “tall bike” period, when short-nose chopped motorcycles, like Dennis Hopper’s in “Easy Rider,” darkened the American roads.
That means a lot of engine, chassis and exhaust pipe blacking, sparse chrome and stripped-down body. The cast-aluminum wheels are gold. The license plate is set off-center from the chopped rear fender.
It also means a high crown and handlebar position.
Riding the Low Rider S out at parking lot speeds, or caught in stop-and-go traffic, is no fun. The clutch pull is stiff, the steering is clumsy and the leg lift from asphalt to foot peg, on this foot-forward machine, feels uncomfortable — though the low 26.6-inch seat height is welcome at stoplights.
Once underway, though, the Low Rider S returns to its weight class. The formerly clunky bike begins to feel well-balanced. Though the suspension is stiff and the high-handlebar steering continues to feel a little heavy, above 20 miles per hour the S starts to be interesting.
But it isn’t until the S hits the open road that its true nature emerges. Here, the Screamin’ Eagle really screams. The S accelerates majestically, pulling hard from first to second to third and, perhaps, beyond. On a late-morning ride, even at speeds above 65 mph, I had no need for fourth, fifth or sixth gears. That’s how big and powerful this motor is.
Cruise control is standard, but I never got there. ABS is standard, though I luckily didn’t have to put it to the test.
Here too that high crown and handlebar position have an advantage, forming a fly screen that adequately blocks the wind under 60 mph.
I never got entirely used to the ergonomics, which seemed to require that my knees were closer to my chest, and my hands farther from my shoulders, than was comfortable. I was also happy I wasn’t riding this Harley on a hot day: That Screamin’ Eagle puts out a lot of heat, even with the standard “engine idle temperature management strategy,” which is designed to cut power to the rear cylinder at idle and theoretically reduce heat emission.
But I appreciated the dual front disc brakes, and I really appreciated the self-canceling turn signals — also standard on this Harley — which for safety’s sake ought to be required on all street bikes.
The Low Rider S packs a bit of a wallop in the wallet. MSRP starts at $16,699 — not a lot by Harley standards, but still plenty of green.
Despite that, Harley says the bike is designed for a younger rider.
“It’s for a younger generation that wants to get into the brand, but not necessarily their father’s brand,” said Brad Richards, H-D’s director of styling and design. “But it’s more about emotion than just performance. We knew we could make a motorcycle that was lighter, that gets better mileage and handles better. But we also didn’t want to break with our heritage.
“That was our design challenge — one foot in the past and one in the future.”
To crib an old quote, this bike is the perfect bike for people who like a bike like this. It’s a head-turner, and H-D aficionados recognize it immediately as a new machine.
It probably won’t convert any non-Harley riders to the brand, but it could bring new riders into the sport — and that’s always a good thing.