All things with motors have their purpose, and can be fun when used for that purpose. Yet, somehow, I’ve always struggled to find the purpose of cruisers, or how they can be fun. Man of the people that I am, I sampled a Harley-Davidson to try and figure it out.
(Full Disclosure: Harley-Davidson wanted me to ride the Dyna Low Rider so badly, they gave me one despite the fact that I make fun of them all the time)
I’ve struggled with the cruiser thing for a long time. They don’t do well in town really because they aren’t nimble and don’t turn or stop well. They aren’t great for touring because of the lack of wind protection and the seating position. And they certainly aren’t sporty.
Yet, despite all of that, Harley-Davidson and their all-cruisers-all-the-time lineup outsells everyone else. They sell more than half of all the bikes in the United States.
With that in mind, I asked you to help me understand the cruiser thing, and many of you commented with great reasons why you’ve chosen to live that #cruiserlife. My friend Chris even wrote a small piece for us on why he loves cruisers - but I still just didn’t get it.
There was only one thing left to do on my search for understanding, and that was to force myself to live the cruiser life for a few weeks.
I asked around and was told the Dyna Street Bob was the way to go, but I wanted to incorporate a lot of two-up riding, so I opted for the Low Rider with the additional back rest for my little experiment.
Before anyone freaks out and claims all of my previous cruiser hate and teasing must have all been without reason or cause, let me be clear in saying this was not my first time on a cruiser or Harley. Not at all.
I’ve ridden plenty of Harleys, including lots of time on a friend’s Sportster, a Softail Fatboy Low (I was actually in a HD ad!), and the Electra Glide Ultra Limited, which I rode to Seattle and back. I’ve also ridden a bunch of other brands’ cruisers, but we don’t need to list them here.
The Specs That Matter
Normally, this is the part of the review where we tell you how the new bike is better than the old bike on paper. I read a bunch of Harley’s literature, a host of other reviews, and even contacted a friend who does service at a Harley-Davidson dealership.
They all agreed, not much has changed.
The Low Rider was first released in 1977 with the tag line “ride-it-hard, put-it-away dirty, make-your-own-boundaries,” and was powered by a shovelhead. It saw lots of changes, including the FXR rubber mounted chassis and evo motor in the early 80’s, and then the 90’s Dyna chassis.
It disappeared for a few years, but was brought back in 2014, and now uses the 1690 cc Twin Cam 103 engine, which is good for 75 horsepower at 5,010 rpm and 98 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm.
The bars use four hex bolt (two different adjustment points on either side) to allow a custom bar position anywhere within a 2.4 inch range of adjustability. The seat can also be adjusted for height or lumbar support.
Unlike many of Harley’s models, the Low Rider also gets dual disc brakes up front.
None of this seemed like enough, so I asked my friend at the dealership to explain to me why people bought this model over other HD models. His response was priceless:
“It’s basically the (Street) Bob, just shorter. They sell for the same reason as any bike. Looks, price, cool-guy-ness, but mostly looks to be honest. That’s all HD people care about. There’s nothing really special about it, for that model it’s really just looks and seat height.
It’s kind of a lower cost muscle bike that rides okay. The Dynas are kinda cool because of the 103 V-Twin feel and sound. It has a nice basic-ness to it. Raw.
Oh, and little dudes who think Sportsters are girls bikes. Alllll those guys buy this thing.”
The Harley-Davidson Dyna Low Rider costs between $14,399 and $15,349 depending on color options, weighs 666 pounds wet, holds 4.7 gallons of fuel, and gets 40 or so miles per gallon.
We Rode The Damn Thing
When I asked you to explain the cruiser thing to me, many of you said I needed to get one and try the cruiser lifestyle on it—so that’s exactly what I did.
I borrowed the bike for a couple weeks, and (for the most part) refused to ride anything else it. I’d put the woman I was dating at the time on the back of lots of bikes, but she likes bikes with this aesthetic more than anything actually fun to ride, which worked here because she also got mad at me if I rode fast. That wasn’t much of a temptation on this bike.
Our first outing was the loop by the popular Cook’s Corner restaurant in the Santa Ana mountains. The gentle winding roads kept me mildly entertained until I was being punched in the sides and instructed to slow down. The dual discs up front were welcome, especially when carrying precious cargo, but the Low Rider still offered a pretty rough ride.
Near the end of the ride, I could feel her as she shifted in her seat whenever we’d approach a speed bump or some sort of road imperfection. When we got off the bike, I asked if everything was okay, and she said that the bike hurt her ass and back whenever we hit anything that wasn’t perfect pavement.
I took the Harley out on many solo rides, including up to LA, and generally actually didn’t hate it. Seventy-five horsepower may not seem like a ton, but that massive torque more than makes up for it, and the gearing is so wonderfully spread that I always found myself surprised to have one or two more gears left.
Riding it was sort of like driving my roomy’s old Volvo XC90. The thing couldn’t do any one thing really well, so you sort of just sat there and went along for the ride—and looked cool doing so.
My longest day on the bike was actually the day we shot the photos for the article, and was again with my lady friend in tow. By now she’d gotten more comfortable with it and enjoyed being on it, mostly because of the back rest. The bumps, though, still made her wince and forced her to discover using her legs to get shift some of her weight off the seat.
What We’d Change
Harleys turn poorly but, given the lumbering nature of the bike, I wouldn’t actually worry too much about it. The suspension could definitely use an upgrade, with better damping up front and better everything at the rear.
The biggest issue, for me, was ergonomics. The footpegs have been moved two inches forward from the standard Dyna position, putting them somewhere between mid and forward controls.
This positioning means you can never completely rest your feet on the pegs, as they’re in the perfect position to require you use your ab muscles to keep them in place. Basically, you sit like the picture from below (taken from my motorcycle fitness article). Riding the bike was a great ab workout though, and I’m surprised there aren’t more Harley dudes with eight-packs.
The bars were also too wide and, no matter how many times I readjusted, I couldn’t find a position that was comfortable. I get that you need a lot of leverage to wrestle that thing around at speed, but I feel like we’ve seen a lot of bikes hide weight well, and the Low Rider could benefit from a little diet and a slightly more svelte profile.
The bars are also at a bit of a weird height, which had me rotating my grip slightly forward trying to hang on at freeway speeds (and burning out my forearms.)
Come to think of it, this bike is a great work out. Dirt bikes are too, but those require you to find a trail or track to get your muscles pumping blood; the Low Rider does it anytime you put the kickstand up.
Also, Harley needs to find a way to keep the key from falling out of the ignition. Having to use the key to turn it on, put the key in your pocket, then fish the key back out to turn it off, is just obnoxious.
The Stuff You Wanted To Know
I told you to ask questions about the bike so I could help tailor the review to what you wanted to know. If you aren’t following me on Instagram or Twitter, you really should be. I try and keep the food and cat pics to a minimum.
- “As soon as you started ridding did you immediately start referring to your girlfriend as your “old lady”?” - Obviously.
- “What officially licensed HD gear should I buy with it to really stand out from the other dentists?” - I’m a big fan of my new Crank & Stroker denim vest I’m wearing in the pics. His denim is about as tough as Kevlar and the fit is great. No dentist will have that.
- “Is it a comfortable ride for around town?” - It is, though the weight is always evident and keeps you hyper aware and requires a lot of deliberation in your movements. The low seat height makes it pretty manageable and comfortable though.
- “How would your life change if this was your only bike?” - It’s width and weight definitely make lanesplitting stressful and take a little longer and the ergonomics make long freeway stints no fun at So Cal freeway speeds—so likely I’ll just need a little more time to get where I’m going.
- “If you were filthy rich and could hoard motorcycles, would you want one to ride periodically?” - If I was filthy rich, I would love to have a Dyna in the garage. It would either be this, with different bars and the foot pegs moved back to a more traditional mid-control position or the Street Bob with a two-up seat and sissy bar, because it makes riding two up way more enjoyable.
- “Having worn a full-face helmet during your time aboard this bike, did you still ride around with “cruiser face” (pissed off tough guy-look) or did you feel free to smile and look around like you were actually enjoying the ride?” - Cruiser face. Whole time.
- “Assuming this bike represents the features I want (brand new, Cruiser, forward controls, V-twin, etc.) what is a better way to spend my $16k?” - Honestly, and it sort of pains me to say this, there isn’t.
I love the new Indians, but those have a retro/vintage/cute vibe that doesn’t quite line up with why so many people buy these. The Victory, on the other hand, feels too new and a little too “styled,” which also doesn’t do it for me. Something about the rims/paint/logo that doesn’t feel as timeless. The Japanese options also miss in terms of just moving you in the way that this does.
- “Urban streets and highways are just boring on a sportbike. Do you find yourself looking for a different kind of road or ride to maximize the fun of a cruiser?” - Honestly, it isn’t about seeking out types of roads as it is choosing it for certain attitudes. I found myself avoiding super windy roads, because that sort of felt like ruining places I love, but it was more about that “going for a Sunday drive” feeling than anything - and it does that well.
- “Why even do ANY posts about Harley on lanesplitter? That is the real question. All of you are predispositioned to just spew ignorant shit about them and that is all.” - That’s hurtful. It might be ignorant, but I wouldn’t call it shit.
- “Is this an ‘80s style retro bike, or have they just not done any changes to it since the ‘80s?” - Good burn.
- “During the time you reviewed the bike, did all of the other Harley riders scoff at you for being out of costume (full-face helmet)?” - Between my being half their size, having a nose ring, and wearing skinny pants - no one really knew what to do with me.
Why You Should Care
I was at Wheelie University several days before Christmas (review coming soon!) and one of the guys there mentioned that it was really weird for him to ride the school’s Triumph Speed Triple, because he’s only really ridden Harleys.
I told him I’d recently done a bunch of time on the Low Rider and some of my opinions on the ergonomics. His response? “Oh yeah, that stuff doesn’t matter. Everyone changes all that shit anyways.”
I was puzzled, so I pressed a bit further. “You mean you’re okay with a lot of this stuff being really shitty, and have just come to accept certain things are going to be bad and you’re going to have to spend more to fix them?”
“Yup. That’s just the way it is,” he said. “Look, I’d feel weird with any other name on the side of the bike, and everything else just feels sorta cheap to me. I like the heavy and the chrome and the name. So whatever. Harley riders are dumb, man.”
Harley riders might be dumb, but Harley Davidson is incredibly smart.
Maybe I need to take a page out of their book and figure out a way to write the same article every day, do a fairly bad job, and have you guys all respond that reading anyone else just feels cheap and you’d rather fill in the holes I missed and ignore my errors.
However, given the criteria that my new friend and many of our Harley riding brothers and sisters have shared, the Low Rider is actually a pretty great bike—if this is what you’re after.
The power/size ratio makes this bike feel plenty quick and the torque is just massive when you downshift—and I fell in love with the gearing. This thing just purrs along at speeds far greater than the rest of the bike wants to go. The ergonomics suck, but that’s a whole lots easier to change the way the bike makes you feel - and it makes you feel just as Harley-Davidson intends.
At the end of my time with the Low Rider, I’d love to have one in the garage. It wouldn’t replace anything else on my wish list, and it doesn’t do any one thing especially well, but I like it anyways.
I still don’t totally get only owning a cruiser, but I now enjoy riding them much more.
Helmet: Biltwell Gringo
Jacket: Aether Eclipse Jacket
Pants: UglyBros Smith Jeans
Gloves: Dainese Blackjack Gloves
Boots: Dainese Cooper Boots
Helmet: Biltwell Bonanza Helmet
Gloves: Roland Sands Dezel Gloves
Photos: Scott Sorenson