Photo by Tom Riles

Harley-Davidson’s S models are the Motor Company’s equivalent of a “sport version.” These versions of the bikes get better components, more power, and special style bits so the guys at Bike Night will know yours isn’t like the rest. The Dyna Low Rider is the latest to get the S treatment. The result? It’s the Harley I want most in my garage.

(Full Disclosure: Harley-Davidson wanted me to ride the Low Rider S so badly that they believed me when I said I would be fine to ride a motorcycle just 10 days after being hit by a car. They didn’t even complain when I really explored the full range of second and third gear, as I was trying to shift with my bruised ankle as little as possible.)

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I know, the words “Harley-Davidson” and “sport version” go together about as well as “Cleveland Browns” and “Superbowl Champions”, but the S models really are their equivalent to something like the Ducati Monster 1200R or KTM 1190 Adventure R. And believe it or not, their changes do actually make the bikes a little more sporty instead of just shiny—but we’ll get to that.

Photo by Brian J. Nelson

The S treatment is sort of a new thing for Harley-Davidson, and the Low Rider S follows the pair of Softails that Harley began the line with. The Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S got similar treatments over their regular versions, and all three fall far more in line with what I’d like to see from HD’s bikes.

They care far more about sales numbers than my preferences (and rightfully so), but hopefully the S models do well enough that we see a Sportster S and Street Bob S sometime in the near-ish future.

The Specs That Matter

At $16,699, the Low Rider S comes at a $2,300 premium over the regular Low Rider. That extra cash actually goes an exceptionally long way with the Low Rider S.

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The Twin Cam 103 engine is swapped for the Harley’s big 110 powerplant and given a high performance air filter. The stock fork is ditched for HD’s Premium Ride 49 mm single cartridge unit, and they’ve fitted the back with their Premium Ride emulsion shock with compression and rebound damping control.

I had problems with the ergonomics of the Low Rider, but the Low Rider S gets a new handlebar, handlebar riser, and new seat which changes the rider triangle dramatically enough that I found it near perfect. For around town riding, the bar was a little far forwards for my taste. It put my body in a position where it felt like I was trying to come off as a tough guy, which just feels fraudulent when you weigh less than 160 pounds. But once we got into the canyons, they were perfect for trying to get the big beast to hustle.

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Style wise, the Low Rider S gets gold, five spoke aluminum wheels, a blacked out engine, a bullet fairing, blacked out exhaust, black finishes throughout the bike, and a chopped rear fender.

We Rode The Damn Thing

I know I’m sort of new to the whole cruiser thing, but between the regular Low Rider helping me start to get the whole cruiser thing and the fact that I thought this Low Rider S was actually pretty cool looking. I was excited to ride the bike. So excited that I got up at 5:30 a.m. to soak my legs in the hotel hot tub, hoping it would ease the aches of my bashed legs a bit and let me focus on my cruising this cruiser.

Photo by Brian J. Nelson

We spent the morning doing some around town riding before jumping on the freeway for a decent little stint, and then finally getting into some canyon riding. Harley knows the bulk of riders buy their bikes for daily riding, but also that a day spent in traffic and at stop lights is no way to enjoy a motorcycle.

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The first thing I noticed about the bike that morning was likely one of the most important for Harley buyers: the looks. I don’t say that as an insult but, for a bike that is more about emotion and less about performance, that’s a huge part of it. In person, the bike is absolutely beautiful and the finishes are all exceptional... until you look at the wheels.

Photo by Brian J. Nelson

I’m a huge fan of a good black and gold color scheme, so much so that my DR-Z400 supermoto was basically the same as this Low Rider S. In person, the color and matte finish of the wheels just felt cheap, and like the hue of the color was slightly different than the brown-gold of the badges on the tank. They reminded me of the rims you see in the auto isle at a Walmart, and needed to be more gold and less brown.

The bullet fairing on the light was also pretty hard to stomach but, after feeling like I was going to be blown off the back of the stock Low Rider, I attempted to withhold judgement a bit.

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Around town, the Low Rider S feels very similar to the stock Low Rider. It has gobs of power and tons of low end torque, and reminds you constantly that it’s a large and heavy motorcycle. It’s pretty far from unmanageable, but made me acutely aware of my inputs during low speed maneuvering.

As I’d hoped, that little fairing does wonders for the bike at high speeds. I may have even exceeded the speed limit once or twice, for science’s sake, and can confirm that it makes sitting on the Low Rider S quite comfortable at any sane speeds. The new suspension also improves the ride, which I found out the hard way as I hit some road debris while trying to avoid a tire and giant metal plate sitting in the middle of the freeway.

Now, while I don’t think that sporty riding is an accurate or fair test of a bike like this, that doesn’t mean I didn’t do it. I tried to hustle the regular Low Rider down a twisty bit or two and decided quickly that I was better off abandoning my efforts.

Photo by Tom Riles

Between the upgraded suspension and new riding position, the Low Rider S is more than happy to drag pegs down beautiful roads. We rode the Angeles Crest Highway north of the city, which doesn’t have anything too tight, and had a properly fun time chasing each other up to Newcomb’s Ranch. As we wound our way up the hill and got used the feeling of metal grinding and using more rear brake, our speeds climbed high enough to show that the suspension still is pretty far from sport tuned and the chassis wanted to flex and bounce while leaned over at speed. Again, this isn’t a sportbike and that’s all okay, but it’s something to think about if you like to ride slow bikes hard.

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This isn’t a bike you should buy if you want to go ride canyons. But, if you want a cruiser and want to do cruisery things and want to look awesome and be more comfortable all the while, AND want to sometimes ride nice roads at speeds that take your attention from scenery to the apex of the next corner - the Low Rider S will be happier to oblige than I was that time Dinan asked if I wanted to play with their BMW M4.

What We’d Change

I’ve had the idea for a while now to get a Harley and see what it would take it get it up to snuff safety-wise. I was so charmed by the Low Rider S that I turned my attention to trying to come up with things I wanted to change about it that would warrant borrowing one for a while.

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The problem is, there really isn’t much I would change on the bike. I might like bars that were swept back a tad more so my torso was more upright, or wish they’d put a little storage area in the back of the bullet fairing—but those are hardly complaints about the bike.

Photo by Brian J. Nelson

I’d likely fit better brake lines and pads, simply because my riding style relies on using more of it, but I actually did several brake checks using the front and rear and found the Low Rider S to scrub speed just fine.

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New front brakes and a fresh coat of paint for the wheels that was a little more gold and a little less brown and I’d love to have one in the garage.

You Wanted To Know

I posted a pic of the bike on those social medias the teens are always talking about and asked what your questions were 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 keep my rants about Chemtrails to a minimum, I swear.

  • “Not to sound pervy at all, but what’s your inseam?” - You dirty dog, you. I’m typically a 32 inch inseam.
  • “This or the XDiavel? And yes, I bought the Super Duke.” - I love it when you guys actually listen to me. I’d buy this over the XDiavel, but only because I’d by other bikes to do fast things and because I like the way this bike looks and makes me feel more.
Photo by Brian J. Nelson
  • “Does it ride even half as good as it looks?” - It does!
  • “How’s the heat? My 103 would get crazy hot when I was sitting still on PCH.” - I actually did notice a ton of heat on the right side of the bike from the headers. Not a bike I’d want to sit in traffic on.
  • “Why do you keep doing this to yourself?” - Because I’m a man of the people, a glutton for punishment, and because I actually think think Harley could make a bike I would love to own and I want to be part of commenting on their progress as they get there.
  • “Nothing.” - Thanks, you’re very clever and this joke is not the most tired one on the Internet. Sorry I chose to review a bike you aren’t interested, but I’d be happy to give you a refund for your subscription.
Photo by Brian J. Nelson
  • “How does the 110 motor compare to the 103?” - I’m sure plenty of guys will disagree, but I found them nearly identical. If someone told me the 110 pulled better somewhere or was a tad faster, I’d believe them - but the differences are negligible. The 103 is more than enough motor for the bike, though the upgrade is not unwelcome.
  • “Can it out accelerate a Camry?” - God, yes. This bike is no slouch with the acceleration.
  • “Should I look into it to replace my Sportster, or should I wait for the Octane?” - Funny you should mention that, because the Octane press launch was the same time as the Low Rider S one. I would absolutely look at this bike as the next step up from the Sporty and a great landing spot in their offerings. I have not been on the Octane yet, and was a bit surprised that it’s not quite the bike they promised and seems more like a styled and beefed up Scout, but friends who went to the launch had nice things to say. My guess is that it isn’t about better or worse, and that they’re just different bikes.
Photo by Brian J. Nelson
  • “Doesn’t that air cleaner turn into a problem when it rains?” - Harley makes a sock that fits over it that lets it do its job without taking in water. I know, it sounded nuts to me too, but I asked a few Harley friends about it and they agreed. Sometimes it really just that easy. Also, the new air cleaner moved it forward, which meant I stopped banging my knee on the side of it like I did the old one. That was really nice.

Why You Should Care

Harley-Davidson’s S line is the most interesting thing they’ve done in years, at least in terms of bikes they’ve actually put on dealer floors (because who knows when we’ll see a production electric.)

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While I actually wish that all of their bikes came with the level of brakes and suspension that the Low Rider S gets, I’m happy they at least exist somewhere for the people who don’t feel like they should have to add it themselves.

Photo by Tom Riles

The Low Rider S is a wonderful update to the Low Rider and, after spending an entire day riding it, I only wanted more. I think it looks great, rides much better, and is absolutely worth the price.

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The real question is, will the Low Rider S sell? Do the true Harley crowd want something that doesn’t need as much help? Do they even care about the extra help at all? Are they going to be willing to pay a little extra for it?

Hopefully these take off and Harley is encouraged to keep bringing them to us. While this is definitely the bike in their lineup I would take if I had to pick one, I don’t know that they’ve hit the nail on the head yet. I’d love to see what they thought a Sportster S looked like, or even if there was room for something between a Sportster and Dyna for guys like me just looking for some porridge that isn’t too cold or too hot.

Sean’s Gear:

Helmet: ICON Airframe Pro Ghost Carbon

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Jacket: Aether Eclipse Motorcycle Jacket

Gloves: Spidi T-Road Gloves

Pants: UglyBros Smith Jeans

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Boots: Dainese Cooper Boots

Contact the author at sean.macdonald@jalopnik.com. Follow Lanesplitter on Facebook and Twitter.