If you’re looking for one do-it-all street bike with bark, bite and big power, the answer is coming form an unexpected (for me) place: Harley-Davidson and their new Low Rider S. While H-D is best known for high-profile and often low-and-sorta-slow cruisers, the LR-S is a bit of a revelation: a blacked-out, lower-profile powercruiser that can still get it on when the road begins to get curvy.
Some backstory: Last fall, the Harley-Davidson crew came to Portland for their big press ride and it was great fun to show them some of my favorite secret backroads.
Myself and the gaggle of journos along for the ride swapped bikes at the many stops, but I was keen on the Dyna Low Rider, which had just gotten some nice upgrades, and by the end of the ride, I was smitten. It was everything a… maturing performance rider could want in a “cruiser”: stonking motor, triple disc brakes, decent cornering clearance, low bars, standard pegs, lots-o-torque, 6-speed box, and so on. It was fast. Comfortable. Great looking and somewhat affordable. Even with the stock 2-1 pipe on it, it still sounded tough as you rolled on the throttle. Pretty much perfect. What could be better?
Well, of course something can always be better, and recently, the kind folks at the Bar and Shield generously invited me to take a two-day spin on their “new” Low Rider, the sinister and simplified Low Rider S.
The Low Rider S hops up the performance quotient over the regular Low Rider – as well as upping the price. A basic Low rider will set you back just over 14 large, while the S version tacks on about another two grand. So what do you get for the extra dosh? More motor for one, as the power plant jumps from 103 cubic inches to the big 110ci Screaming Eagle unit. This upgrade alone is pretty much worth all the extra dough-re-me. More on that in a bit.
Also on the upgrade list: suspension. The front forks click up to a beefy 49mm cartridge-types, which look normal but provide more firmness for sport riding antics. However, there is no adjustability, pity that. Out back, the rear shocks are fancy gas-emulsion units with preload adjustment. On the road, the ride is noticeably more taut than the plain Low Rider, but on the freeway, it’s still inside the comfort envelope.
What else? A cruise control appears on the left control pod and man, every bike should come with one. So nice and works great. A small cowling rises just over the headlight, and the exhaust plumbing terminates in black 2-2 staggered right-side pipes that, in my opinion both look and sound just right.
Glossy black is the default paint scheme, except for the cast wheels, which harken back to the bike the Low Rider S pays homage to: the original XLCR Cafe Racer from the 1970s. But rather than the sleek, angular bodywork of that now infamous experiment, the LR-S sports a chopped rear fender and Low Rider split-style tank with center-mounted instruments that include a speedo, tach and inset LCD screen that shows range, odo, two trip meters, gear and the time. The gas gauge is in the fakey left “gas cap” per Harley’s usual arrangement. Despite the LCD, fuel injection, ABS, throttle-by-wire and other tech, the Low Rider S has a very analog feel to it, which suits me just fine.
Walk up to the LR-S, throw a leg over the seat and hit the starter button. Oh, did I forget to put the key in? Nope, there’s no key to fumble with here, just a fob in your pocket that knows when it’s near the bike and allows the starter to spin. Lose or forget it and there’s a backup button-dance “PIN” sequence to bring the fire.
The fuel-injected 110 spins to life, a moderate bop-bop-bop emanating from the twin cans. At this point, car alarms and the faint of heart have nothing to fear from the stock setup. Thankfully, Harley didn’t succumb to temptation and give the LR-S some gigantic 300-series rear tire. Instead, it’s a meaty but handling-friendly 190 unit with plenty of grip. Give the cable-actuated clutch a solid pull, click the slicker-than-expected tranny into first and you’re underway. The fun is just getting started.
Riding the “plain” Low Rider last fall, I was impressed with the 103ci engine’s output and manners. Great cruising engine, and when you open the throttle, satisfying forward motion as you ride that famous wave of Harley torque. No complaints, but not exactly a rocketship either.
But it’s here, with the 110-inch motor, that the extra coin suddenly makes sense. Rolling onto a nearly deserted freeway early on a Saturday morning and heading for the Angel’s Crest Highway, I roll in some throttle and as the tach crests 3,000 rpm in second, the Low Rider S absolutely launches forward with a ferocity I was not expecting in any way, shape or form. I’m not sure what they did back at the factory (but I have some idea), but this motor has an ideal combination of horsepower, torque and smoothness. Money well spent! Click up through third, fourth and fifth with repeated big throttle inputs and 90mph – which most everyone seems to be going – arrives in seconds. Hold the fuck on.
Even in the super-tall overdrive sixth, there’s enough grunt to quickly pass those slowpokes going 80 like they’re going 40. Best of all, above idle, the engine vibes are subtle, not intrusive. But I’m looking for excuses to drop to 5th and gun it as often as possible, vibration be damned. But really, it’s never an issue as the Dyna rubber mount system takes the hits so I can focus on the quickly upcoming traffic ahead as the power builds all the way to 5,000rpm while a vicious snarl more fit for an Italian or Japanese bike pours from the pipes. Insane.
Up front, dual-disc brakes with plenty of whoa respond to moderate pressure from the lever as the bike dives into corners. The experience isn’t exactly like riding a cutting-edge replica racer, but the binders do transmit good feel through the lever and a solid pull brings things to a halt right quick. The rear disc works as expected without being grabby or underpowered.
After rallying through the curves to the famous Newcombs hideaway for some breakfast along Angels Crest Highway, I take a break and soak up the scenery of bikes, sports cars (Ford GT40!) and vintage rides camped out in the parking lot. On the way to to the seminal stop, the Low Rider S has been a blast. With the big twin hovering between 3,000 and 5,000rpm, I strafed corner after corner, pushing the bike as far as I dared, which is less than I normally would since… it’s not my bike. But even at a 8/10s pace, the LR-S acquits itself well, and beyond expectations.
The only real nit is the lack of clearance on the right (pipe side) as I repeatedly grind the long peg feeler into the pavement. Tight lefties seem to have a few more degrees of clearance and while I do touch down the peg on that side as well, it’s awfully close to the limit of what I would ever need the LR-S to achieve in go-fast-and-turn mode. Was I giving the Gixxers, Ducs and S1000RRs fits in the corners? Well, no, but I was properly entertained – more than I ever expected to be – by the LR-S’s planted manners, lack of drama and near-neutral steering. A bit more preload out back (or fewer fajitas) would likely make the steering dead nuts neutral.
After descending out of the mountains dissected by the famous Highway 2, I make my way east toward Highway 10, key the cruise control and try to settle in, but it’s here that a key difference between the regular Low Rider and the S reveals itself: the seat.
The plain Low Rider features a great seat that even has a little extra pad for those short on inseam, I problem I will never have. But the LR-S seat is short, thin and has a bump right in the back that quickly begins burning a hot spot on your buns as the miles tick by. For a shorter (and lighter) rider, the stock seat may likely be fine, but I’m neither short nor light, and this is the seat I have, so I have to tough it out. Truly, a first world problem.
Given the breadth of saddle choices out there, fixing the seat is as simple as making space on your Visa and using a couple of hand tools. I nominate the stock seat on the regular Low-Rider, as I rolled around it on all day with no complaints. The LR-S seat falls short of that but I simply added in a few stop-n-stretch points and made it just fine to Palm Desert, where a friend confirmed to me that he also found the stock seat less than comfy.
Back out on the open road and hustling up out of Palm Desert on Highway 74, I etch more pavement with the right side peg on occasion, but otherwise, the LR-S fairly flicks into and out of the tight 20mph-posted turns and rolling on the gas rockets my by minivans, cars and other bikes with the kind of instant-on passing power that satisfies the soul.
Rolling up Highway 1 into L.A. proper, the tiny bug screen atop the headlight actually punches a decent hole in the wind (especially at L.A. freeway speeds) without causing any helmet buffeting. Still, it would be nice if the bike had more of an XLCR-ish bikini fairing and the instruments were on the bar rather than on the tank. Aftermarket to the rescue? Sure hope so.
Far too soon, my time on the Low Rider S is at an end and this sleeper of a bike is now tops on my power cruiser wish list.
I’ll just have to get a different seat.