Low Rider S Is Back And Better Than Ever And Tech Upgrades To Road Glide Will Keep The Rubber Side Down
Words by Art Friedman
Photos by Harley-Davidson
Low Rider S
When Harley killed the Dyna series in 2017, there was much gnashing of teeth and prophecies of doom among those loyal to the narrow, rubber-mount, twin-shock chassis. While some of the Dyna series were reinvented in the new-generation Softail chassis, others just disappeared. Among those was the Low Rider S, the more aggressive – both in performance and appearance – version of the Low Rider.
Now the S has been reborn in the modern Softail chassis. We’ll let others argue whether a Softail can truly be a Low Rider, but we will assert that the 2020 S-model thoroughly lives up to – and exceeds – the ‘defiant attitude’ and over-the-road performance of the original. The profile, with its mini fairing, tank-top gauges, solo seat, blacked-out drivetrain and staggered 2-into-2 exhaust – mimics the visual cues of the old S. One of the style points of the original S was a gold-colored finish on the cast wheels. The 2020 version goes that one better with a unique matte bronze finish on its wheels and a few other pieces.
But the new chassis and 114-ci Milwaukee Eight engine make a much better performance package than Dyna ever did. The frame is stiffer and steadier, and solidly mounting the twin-counterbalancer engine further increases rigidity. The beefier, 43mm inverted fork, along with a 28-degree (vs. 30) rake, both contribute to steadier and more precise steering. I was also impressed by the ride quality and control offered by the preload-adjustable shock and new, single-cartridge fork. At very low speeds the S is a bit ponderous and reminds you of its 690 pounds, but as soon as you get moving it asserts that aggressive personality.
The new engine makes more power at any rpm and hammers home the performance message. The powerband is so wide that you usually have your choice of three gears. The ratios are nicely staged, with the usual clunky Harley shifting, stout clutch pull and slightly abrupt engagement. I thought the counterbalancers thoroughly squelched vibration, but a few others on Harley’s intro ride complained of tingling palms after an hour or so.
I wasn’t as happy with the seat, which left me butt-sore about an hour in, or the riding position. Harley calls this peg placement a “mid” position, but with the low seat (about 27 inches unloaded) it felt a touch close-coupled. At highway speeds the little fairing was inadequate for me, with wind pressure providing a good upper-body workout. If I owned an S I’d immediately swap the saddle for a more comfy dual seat and the four-inch bar risers for something half that high or less.
Anti-lock brakes are standard equipment, as they should be. The front brake is strong and sensitive, the rear brake just the opposite.
Even a Low Rider S fan who is dismayed by the bike’s conversion to a Softail owes it to him- or herself to ride this one. Although that glassy smoothness at highway speeds on the rubber-mounted bike can’t quite be matched, the new Low Rider S is better in every other way than the original. Pricing for the S-model start at $17,999.
ROAD GLIDE LIMITED
After spending a day riding the Low Rider S, which felt like a new and much more advanced bike than what came before it, my reaction after getting on the Road Glide Limited and CVO models the next day was sort of, “Yup, it’s a Harley tourer.” If you have ridden a recent Harley tourer, this one will feel very familiar. Yes, there are a variety of new premium finishes on the Limited and some styling touches to make you look, but you can ride it all day and probably not feel as though there is much new. That’s because the big news is fresh technology that’s pretty unobtrusive until you need it.
Harley calls it Reflex Defensive Rider System (RDRS), an assemblage of technology that doesn’t assert itself until matters get dicey. It is standard on CVO models, a $950 option on tourers, and available on some additional models.
Anti-lock braking has become common on bikes as we ride in 2020, and I can tell you that it allows you to stop amazingly hard in situations where you’d almost certainly end-up flat-side-down without it. I wouldn’t buy a new bike without it. Harley has gone one better with Corner-Enhanced Anti-Lock Braking, which adjusts braking pressure to maintain cornering traction when you brake while leaned over. It was hard to get a feel for this, as you might imagine, but it seems like a good way to save your bacon in an additional circumstance. An electronic brake-linking system provides braking at both wheels when either brake is applied.
On the other side of things, RDRS also includes a traction-control system with three selectable modes: Standard, Rain, and Off (when a burnout is required). Like the ABS, the traction control includes sensors to modulate it further when you are cornering. Finally, there is Drag-Torque Slip Control to prevent rear-wheel lock-up if you make a clumsy downshift while braking in slippery conditions.
Overall, I’d say the extra cost is money well spent, as RDRS can easily pay for itself in the first hospital bill you avoid. Pricing for the Road Glide Limited starts at $28,299. 5
Art Friedman is a former editor of Motorcyclist, Cycle News and Motorcycle Cruiser. He can be reached at ArtoftheMotorcycle@hotmail.c