2020 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S First Ride Review

H-D’s new hot-rod Softail fills the void.

Low Rider S
2020 Harley-Davidson Low Rider SCourtesy of Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson has been making Low Riders for three decades, but in 2016 the "S" changed everything. The Dyna Low Rider S was not only the toughest Low Rider ever made, but it was also the magnum opus of the Dyna line and, as we soon discovered, its swan song. Now H-D is reviving the Low Rider S moniker with the biggest engine available in its best-handling chassis. The new S is lighter and faster than its predecessors, and at $17,999 it's the most affordable 114 The Motor Company has got—but will the new formula strike the right balance to fill the void of the successful Dyna platform?

2020 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S
The 2020 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S takes inspiration from West Coast customs.Courtesy of Harley-Davidson

The new Low Rider S, like the last iteration, takes inspiration from West Coast customs, specifically stunters and outlaw motorcycle clubs, but for obvious reasons, H-D just calls it “coastal custom influence.” Tall T-bars, a small fairing over the headlight, and a steep-backed seat are the main components to this look, all of which hold functional value as well. The tall bars and mid-mounted foot controls keep the rider in an aggressive (for a Harley) position, planted in the seat but over the footpegs, making it easy to shift the body for more precise handling when needed. The tall-backed seat helps lock the rider in, feeling more secure during fast takeoffs and ready for wheelies and burnouts, should the rider so desire. And the small fairing does a surprising amount to deflect wind away from the body, though it does leave the head and helmet exposed to buffeting. Paired with the Le Mans-inspired wheel color and blacked-out finishes throughout, the Low Rider S blends classic H-D style with modern aggression very well, still holding a classic silhouette and looking very Harley, but modern and performance-driven at the same time. Those who had qualms with the plastic tail of the FXDR or the headlight shape on the Fat Bob will undoubtedly favor the more traditional lines of the Low Rider S.

Barracuda Silver
The Low Rider S is available in Vivid Black or Barracuda Silver.Courtesy of Harley-Davidson

Suspension and steering geometry get upgraded for the new model as well. Dyna models had a rake of 30.5 degrees, which is now shortened to a more aggressive 28, dropping into turns more easily and handling better at lower speeds—feeling light and nimble. While rake angle decreases, adjustments in the triple trees actually increase the bike’s trail from 5.1 to 5.7 inches, bringing some stability back to high-speed handling. One primary point of concern during testing was the bike’s lean angle, which goes from 29.5/30.5 on the Dyna to 30.1/30.1 here, but they also removed the feelers from the footpegs, which would give you some more distance before hearing the bike scrape but not help you at all when the bike’s hard parts start touching the ground. It seems like a modification to get a better lean angle number on paper, but still feels like an early scrape point when you’re on the road. Overall, the bike was stable and the chassis was stiff while being pushed through turns, but the pegs would scrape early and hard, meaning you had to get out of the seat and use your body to really get after it.

Dual front discs with four-piston calipers and ABS
Dual front discs with four-piston calipers and ABS come standard on the Low Rider S.Courtesy of Harley-Davidson
114ci powerplant
The Low Rider S is only offered with the 114ci powerplant.Courtesy of Harley-Davidson

The Softail platform is a bit of a mix-and-match game. They have three rakes: 28, 30, and 34. There are two rear suspension lengths (adjustable and non), several triple tree options, mid or forward foot controls—essentially there are items already in their lineup that just needed to be assembled correctly to make a better Softail. H-D threw almost all of the right ones at the Low Rider S but, in an attempt to stay true to the bike's heritage, missed some performance opportunities that would have really made this model shine. Pieces like the taller suspension with adjustable preload seemed like an obvious fit for the S, but are only available aftermarket. The gauges on the tank are classic Low Rider, but the big plastic cover on the back on the fairing seems like another missed opportunity; the bike would feel more modern and premium with a digital gauge filling that space.

Low Rider S
The Low Rider S drops into the turns easily but scrapes the footpegs early.Courtesy of Harley-Davidson
Tank-mounted gauges
Tank-mounted gauges are a classic H-D Low Rider touch.Courtesy of Harley-Davidson

Compared to the Dyna Low Rider S, as this model inevitably will be, ground clearance is decreased and lean angles are comparable. There is one area the Dyna will clearly trump all Softail models though, the aftermarket. There are parts available to do any and everything your heart desires with a Dyna model, and the market just isn’t there for Softails yet. It’s coming, no doubt, but it just isn’t there yet. The Milwaukee-Eight is a huge improvement over the Twin Cam engine, and suspension is much better on the new model than on the ’16, but hop-ups and upgrades are plentiful in the aftermarket and much cheaper on a Dyna than on a new Softail.

Tall risers and low-bend bars
Tall risers and low-bend bars are a key part of the West Coast look.Courtesy of Harley-Davidson

Hitting the 2020 Softail lineup as the most affordable 114ci-equipped model, we have no doubt the Low Rider S will be the hot-rodder and customizer’s choice. The black on black color scheme paired with quintessential H-D Low Rider style means this bike will sell. It balances classic H-D aesthetics with a modern tough-guy feel, but still feels restricted by the low ground clearance and lean angles. The 2020 Low Rider S is so close to being the Softail we’ve been waiting for, and it’s the best Softail we’ve tested yet, but it still has a little way to go to live up to the premium feel and performance potential of the Dyna. But, of course, you can’t buy a new Dyna and not everyone wants to customize a bike on their own, and for those, the options on the Softail line just got a lot brighter.

Mid-mounted foot controls
Mid-mounted foot controls are more conducive to aggressive riding, but can feel cramped for taller riders.Courtesy of Ducati

2020 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S Specifications

Price $17,999
Engine 1,868cc Milwaukee-Eight V-twin; 8-valve
Transmission/final drive 6-speed Cruise Drive/belt
Claimed horsepower N/A
Claimed torque 119 lb.-ft. @ 3,000 rpm
Frame Steel tubular
Front suspension 43mm inverted fork w/ single cartridge; 5.1-in. travel
Rear suspension Coil-over monoshock adjustable for spring preload; 4.4-in. travel
Front brake Brembo 4-piston calipers, 300mm dual discs w/ ABS
Rear brake Brembo 2-piston caliper, 292mm disc
Rake/trail 28.0°/5.7 in.
Wheelbase 63.6 in.
Seat height 26.5 in. (laden)
Fuel capacity 5.0 gal.
Claimed wet weight 679 lb.
Available Now
Contact harley-davidson.com