2011 Harley XL883L Super Low | First Ride

How Low Can You Go?

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Brian J. Nelson, Tom Riles

Harley-Davidson Communications Manager Paul James looked around the briefing room, saw 10 moto-journalists with an average height of 5'11" and two centuries of combined riding experience, and sighed: "You have to remember, this bike is not aimed at you."

Indeed not. Harley's 2011 XL883L SuperLow is designed for beginners, and focuses on reducing the intimidation level of learning a potentially dangerous new skill and replacing it with that legendary sense of exhilaration and freedom.

A word about that name: With an unladen seat height of 26.8 inches and a bestraddled height of 25.5 in., the SuperLow isn't exactly "super" low. In the Dyna Range, both the FXDB Street Bob and FXDWG Wide Glide have identical 25.5-in. seat heights, and unladen seat heights .1-in. lower at 26.7 in. The FLSTN Softail Deluxe towers only 25.9 in. over its irrigation arm of a sidestand, and squashes down to 24.5 in. under "Biker On Board" conditions. But as with all things Harley, to belabor specs is to miss the point.

When 55 percent of 883 Low customers turned out to be women and 40 percent were first-bike buyers, Harley did the logical thing and listened to them, not us.

A startling amount of engineering went into the SuperLow to make it low in more super ways. Buckhorns are out. Mid-rise bars paired with 5.7 in. of trail and relaxed rake deliver, in H-D's words, "outstanding steering feel and feedback to the rider." Or in our words, unthreatening and stable geometry.

Unlikely though it may sound, the XR1200X contributed chassis enhancements to the running gear of its SuperLow stablemate. Gone are the Low's 100/90-19 front and 150/80-16 rear bias-ply tires, replaced by lower-profile 120/70-18 front and 150/60-17 rear radials. Those new wheels are also lighter, reducing unsprung weight-a critical concern on a bike with just 2.12 in. of rear-suspension travel

One area where SuperLow ergonomics err is the footpegs. Where highway pegs allow you to ground your boots behind the foot perches and standard mounts let you put feet down ahead of the pegs, the SuperLow's "mid-mounts" fill the precise airspace where my size-12s want to flare for landing.

That isn't the end of footrest woes. The SuperLow's pegs aren't just low; they're splayed so wide that I cricked my bolted-up left ankle in a pigeon-toed scrabble for upshifts. Perhaps beginners won't be familiar with the tradition of placing shifter tips within striking distance of left-side pegs.

Those long, low pegs are also comically easy to drag. Despite substantially grinding off the pendulous steel peg feelers before we even left the parking lot, we still crunched pegs into the ground in first gear.

At higher speeds, the frame banged the pavement regularly while passing RVs on Highway 101. We suspect it might be disconcerting to early-career riders when their rubber contact patches are abruptly replaced by painted steel sliders. The wide-stance pegs may serve to remind riders to observe those yellow signs suggesting cornering limits for trucks. One jot faster and you're back to vandalizing the asphalt.

On the road, one notices the extra countershaft sprocket tooth, intended (successfully) to soften first-gear acceleration. Despite tall gearing, big parts fluttering around its heavy flywheel start to feel busy above 50 mph. Nevertheless, the near-liter engine is capable of propelling you far faster than this chassis should reasonably be pushed.

On the down low, there are upsides. Clutch feel is soft with a long engagement band, and the levers are comfortable. The single front disc, like the smoothly injected torque, is accurately described in the classic Rolls Royce tradition as "adequate." Steering is light but solid at all speeds, and the stumpy-yet-progressive rear suspension rarely bottomed, even under my substantial bottom. Paint work is as gorgeous as any high-end European bike, and that bigger, 4.5-gallon fuel tank provides ample range.

Although we churn through new bikes of every description, we consistently recommend crashable used mounts to beginners. At least, we do if they're our friends. As of this writing, H-D has not announced trade-in protection for this XL, which even a freshly hatched rider will likely outgrow by the end of his or her MSF course.

The SuperLow's MSRP is just under eight grand. That makes it affordable for a Harley-D, but you could still score a couple of used bikes for the price of one SuperLow while on your way to buying that Dyna of your dreams.

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