By Peter Corn
Harley-Davidson has long been a staple in the motorcycle industry — if not, arguably, the heart of the motorcycle industry, at least in America. It can be difficult looking to the future and moving forward when so much of your brand value is wrapped up in your past. Lately, though, it seems like the folks in Milwaukee might be trying to at least catch up to the future with offerings like the all-electric LiveWire bike.
But the big, bearded bikers can take a deep breath, because bikes like the new 2020 Low Rider S show that Harley hasn’t gone all spacesuits and rayguns; they’re still making good ol’ knuckle-draggers, too.
Although it’s not the most technologically advanced Harley to come out this year, it’s still a step into a more forward-thinking and adaptive Harley-Davidson. The Low Rider S is a performance cruiser with its eye on both the past and present. Offering a tip of the hat to the West Coast heritage of customized lowrider Harleys of the ’80s, this new bike also offers a dressed-down modern look and performance boost versus the Softail it’s based on.
If you want the Low Rider S it in a bright, pretty color — well, forget it. This new bike only comes in black and gray, to add to its aggressive nature. It has been set up with raised hand controls achieved by setting one-inch dirt bike style handlebars on top of four-inch risers.
The thumping heart of a Harley-Davidson has always been what the people come for: that endless rolling thrum of potatopotatopotatopotato. The Low Rider S’s body is wrapped around the Milwaukee-eight 114 cubic inch V-twin. Of all the bikes built on the Softail chassis, the Low Rider S was given the largest motor, one capable of making 119 pound-feet torque.
All that torque makes for a bike that is not afraid to snap your head back — but Harley-Davidson was kind enough to include ways to deal with the power from the monster V-twin. Up front sits a pair of big ol’ 300-mm disc brakes, with another disc in the back. Unlike the ’80s lowriders of southern California, this modern bike, of course, comes standard with ABS. To give riders further confidence while putting the Low Rider S through its paces, Harley tucked the front forks in a bit, lowering the rake to a sporty 28 degrees — two degrees less than the standard Low Rider.
Harley-Davidson has set the standard in two-wheeled cruisers for more than a century. Like ’em or not, they have positioned themselves as a company that is synonymous with not only motorcycle culture, but the motorcycle, period. And with models like the new Low Rider S, it seems clear they intend to hang onto their niche well into the future.