• Andrew Clarke

Style: Substance



Harley-Davidson Low Rider S

Let’s face it, there is an army of people out there hankering for a Harley-Davidson. The evocative bad-boy image and the freedom to do what you want tickles a little part of many of us. And to lay confessions on the line, one of the first things I will do when free from supporting children at school is invest in a Harley for my soul.

For me, the idea of a big cruiser appeals more than a sports bike, I am too old to want to ride like a manic nut on weekends, but I love the freedom of a big weekend ride that is not really possible with my scooter. Well not the one I’ve got at the moment at any rate, enter BMW soon.

Harley kind of inspires like an old muscle car from the 60s, the only different is the tech that sits beneath the surface will never leave you wanting. There’s anti-lock brakes for a start, and a chassis and suspension set-up that has the life engineered out of it, or into it if you prefer. It is like Porsche with the 911, if you invest heavily enough you can make anything work.

In short, you can buy the style without giving up the substance.

The Low Rider S

Harley has a vast range of bikes, and flicking through the catalogue can be both mesmerizing and frustrating. From the simple learner bikes all the way through to cruisers that look to be the size of the Titanic. Stuck in the middle, though, is the sweet spot of the range in the Softail (a registered trademark for Harley-Davidson but referring to a bike with its rear suspension hidden from view), and the most evocative of those is the Low Rider S.

The Low Rider S is designed purely for solo travel, and has a few tweaks over the standard bikes to make it a little more nimble in the corners without giving up its cruising ability. This starts with the reduced frame rake, down from 30° to 28°, which while it doesn’t sound like a lot has a big impact, as does the inverted front forks in terms of creating a more nimble 300kg+ bike.

When you climb on, the first thing you notice is the seat height. Yes, it says Low Rider, but that doesn’t always mean this low. It is perfect for shorter people, but I understand there are some modifications that make it work for the taller in our community. I am, or was when I last measured, 180cm and I reckon that is close the comfort limit.

The handlebars are raked back a little and raised a little higher than the standard bike, and the old style speedo and tacho sit mounted on the fuel tank. Ergonomically this sucks, presentation wise it is perfect. There is a mini trip computer tucked away in there too, but I wouldn’t have minded an LED display that could give me Sat Nav too.

Coincidentally to that wish is that the headlight is LED. There is a little glowing ring and then a powerful main and high beam unit tucked away inside. There is also a little fairing around the headlight which deflect just enough air at speed to make it a little more comfortable.

Back to the seating. It is a comfortable seat, well-shaped and padded. The pedals are mounted not that far forward and relatively higher than on other bikes (ie, normal spot but lower seat makes it higher), so you have to fold up a little more than you expect. It took a few days for my hips to adjust, but then it was fine.

The clutch and gearbox combo are easy enough to use and the brakes are strong and with an anti-lock system that I had to use within 500m of leaving Harley Heaven in Melbourne when an Uber driver tried to prove he was also a taxi driver.

I came to love the brakes and the feel from both the front and the rear. The twin discs at the front given plenty of confidence.

The heart of any Harley is the engine, and the Milwaukee-Eight 114 is just that. The latest generation ‘Big Twin’ is a two-cylinder engine with the cylinders in a vee formation, so for those not in Harley lingo we’d call is a V2. The 114 represents cubic inches, but what you need to know is that is nearly 1.9L, making is a big engine.

This is ninth iteration and only the third all new design in 80 years and is characterised by four-valves per cylinder (eight valve in total and hence the name when I was expecting it to be the Milwaukee-Nine) which ups the torque by around 10% while also giving better fuel economy.

In looking at the story behind the engine, you get a clear picture as to how HD has thrived in recent years, perhaps a few of our politicians could have a look at how they do it. They understand their core, but also the need to bring on new people. Newbies were looking for a smoother engine with less vibration, the traditionalists want the bike to rock and shake, so they cut the vibrations just enough to keep both happy. This meant keeping the engine hard mounted and without rubber to smooth it all out. You are certain, every minute you are on this bike, that you are riding a Harley-Davidson

What they have done is build an all new high-tech engine that does the job amazingly well without taking any of the Harley out of it. It is flexible too, delivering from down low and pushing up to the rev limit. The benefit of this is fewer gear changes are needed while negotiating the army of tools in Volkswagen Golfs. At cruising speeds too, chunking along in sixth gear it has enough urge to overtake without the need to change down a gear.

And best of all, they have done it all with the Harley-Davidson soundtrack.

Conclusion

There is a reason why Harley-Davidson is one of the most valuable brand names in the world. The maintenance of an image in the place of the advancements of technology is never easy, but the US motorcycle legend has managed that, and this is why it holds its place in the brand order tree.

The latest Low Rider S is a perfect example. It oozes tech, but not at the cost of the style that makes it a Harley-Davidson. It isn’t cheap at around $30,000, but it is the embodiment of the brand and it makes a style statement like few other bikes on the planet.

Importantly though, it provides all that style and image in a high-tech bike that delivers a great riding experience. I struggled a little with the low seat height and the angle I needed my hips, but I reckon I could get match fitness up quickly. The only limitation is the inability to carry a pillion passenger. But when I’ve got rid of the kids, who cares?

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© Andrew Clarke

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