There is an undeniable sense of gratification that comes from customizing a motorcycle and making it uniquely yours. Consider it a fundamental part of the motorcycle ownership experience.
Maybe it’s that need to customize a bike that has me feeling torn as I step off of Harley-Davidson’s 2016 Low Rider S and hand the keys back over to Harley-Davidson staff though. I’ve spent no less than four hours in the bike’s saddle at this point, ridden it in more situations than Harley would approve of, and ran my eyes up and down it enough times that, were it a woman and I was with my girlfriend, I’d have been slapped silly by now. Even with all of that, I still can’t see a need for changing out any one thing—this is a bike that I’d be happy to ride as is, for as long as my bank account compelled me to.
Part of that contentment comes from the bike’s looks and part from its powertrain, Harley-Davidson having placed equal emphasis on both in the move to Low Rider S, the bike having been inspired by the current tall-bike custom trend, suggests Harley-Davidson Director of Styling Brad Richards. In talking about the design approach, Richards goes on to say that, “Riders have been asking when Harley-Davidson would build another aggressive, performance-based bike like the legendary FXR models. This is our answer to that question.”
The Low Rider S model’s Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 engine is similar to the one found in the new Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S, but makes more power (115 pound-feet of torque versus 109 and lb-ft and 108 lb-ft respectively) thanks to the Tommy Gun 2-into-2 exhaust and Heavy Breather intake, and tuning for those pieces.
A satisfying answer, the S model features everything from a chopped rear fender to XR750-inspired solo seat, Heavy Breather intake, 5.5-inch bar risers, and Magnum Gold, split five-spoke cast aluminum wheels. Even more, it features an upgraded 49mm single-cartridge fork and Premium Ride emulsion shocks, as well as a Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 engine similar to what you’d find in Harley-Davidson’s other recently introduced S models, the Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S. Like those S-version bikes, the 2016 Low Rider S will also come standard with ABS, electronic cruise control, and an H-D Factory Security System.
Run deeper down that list and you’ll agree that there are fewer reasons than ever to go the way of an accessories catalog. Ride the bike and you’ll find even less, the S having a sportier stance but still being comfortable, feeling plenty powerful, and its suspension working well in most riding situations that you’ll put it in.
Harley says that the Low Rider S model’s solo seat was actually inspired by the tail of the XR750 flat track bike. It’s firmer than the standard Low Rider’s saddle, but very supportive and comfortable enough for an all-day ride. The rear fender (not shown) is actually chopped to complete the look.
The biggest difference between the Low Rider S and the standard model is the riding position, with the S model’s new seat, mid controls, and flat drag bar putting you in a slightly more square, yet assertive riding position. You’re arms aren’t up and out so far that they get tired on a moderate-length ride, while the seat (with its tall back) is supportive enough that you can sit back in it and pile on the miles. Overall, the bike and its seating position is just sportier than the standard Low Rider.
A speed screen comes standard and is used for both providing wind protection and to “communicate the personality of the motorcycle,” says Harley-Davidson Senior Stylist Dais Nagao. It works too, in the end keeping wind blasts off your helmet and, in my opinion, adding to the bike’s already solid looks. Black paint on basically every other hard part (including the engine) completes the look, for me.
Looks aren’t everything though, and I understand that, which is why I’m glad that the S delivers on its promise to outperform its predecessors. Geometry is the same as the Low Rider, yet the upgraded suspension provides more control, and this without making the ride down California’s finest (read: rough) freeways feel torturous. That’s true of around-town riding, too, where the S never made me rethink having not worn padded underwear or the like, even as I bounced from one pothole to the next on my way out of town.
The pace picked up as the group I was in ventured further up the canyon roads outside of Los Angeles, and I’ll admit that the suspension didn’t feel as planted in this type of riding. Problem here, for me, was the fork, which didn’t track as well as it hit bumps and caused some uneasiness at the front. Back the pace down to something more in line with what you’d expect from a cruiser, and the problem starts to diminish, meaning only that you can’t really ask more from the Low Rider S than its design promises. At some point, you end up dragging pegs anyways.
The Screamin’ Eagle 110 engine has more advantages up top than it does down low, but makes a claimed 115 pound-feet of peak torque at 3,500 rpm (13-percent more than the Low Rider, which makes 102 lb.-ft.) and still manages to get slightly better fuel mileage than the Twin Cam 103 engine. Harley doesn’t have a graph to show how the power advantage shifts throughout the rev range (the advantage might be less at lower rpm), but overall the 110 motor feels strong, with enough torque for you to leave the Low Rider S in just one or two gears for the majority of a ride and not worry about shifting when you’re either running down a tight canyon road or going to pass a car on the highway. Consider it enough.
Dual brake discs up front provide decent stopping power, with the only limitation being four-piston calipers that require just a little extra hand strength when grabbing the lever. Put a little effort into your pull and you can get the Low Rider S stopped with ease, the brakes still providing decent feel.
In the end, that’s a good description of the Low Rider S as a whole. In stock trim, it’s good enough that you’ll never really need to make big upgrades. I know that it’ll be tough to fight the urge to change out at least something here or there, but in truth, that’s more out of a desire to be different than out of necessity. I really believe you could keep this bike in stock trim and still be happy with its looks, performance, and comfort.
That’s a good thing too, because the only thing more gratifying than customizing a motorcycle is actually, you know, riding it!
The 2016 Low Rider S starts at $16,699, or $2300 more than the 2016 Low Rider.