First Ride Review: 2016 Harley-Davidson Dyna Low Rider S

The Third Member of the H-D “S Club” Is The Best Yet

2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S review by Brian Hatano
The Crest Test: We flogged the new Low Rider S for over 200 miles on the Angeles Crest Highway.Photo: Brian J. Nelson

Harley-Davidson says: “The power to bend every rule.” Motorcyclist says: “These rules were meant to be bent.”

If black is your new chrome and tire-spinning torque is what wakes your brain on that morning ride to work, then Harley-Davidson's design team nailed it with the latest addition to the "S" lineup. The 2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S is quite possibly the best Dyna ever to wear the bar-and-shield tank badges. No, check that. This is the best Dyna ever to wear those badges.

A bold statement for sure, but what makes this new addition to the S-series so special? Well, the Low Rider itself has been a favorite of hard-riding cruisers since its debut in the late ’70s. After a solid run spanning more than three decades, H-D pulled the Low from its lineup for a five-year hiatus, using the time to update the powertrain, mix up some contemporary colors, and hype its relaunch. That happened in 2014. The Low Rider returned with the 103-cube Twin Cam engine, a marked improvement over previous Low Rider powerplants but nothing that would curb the desire for a little more torque.

2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S, rear view
Motor Company stylists are anxious to see what owners will do to personalize their Low Rider S.Photo: Brian J. Nelson

So when Harley-Davidson introduced two new Softail cruisers late last year—the Fat Boy S and the Softail Slim S (see the First Ride review here)—both packing Screamin' Eagle 110 Twin Cam engines, the writing was on the wall. It was only a matter of time, we hoped, that H-D would make the 110ci engine available in other platforms. For once, we got what we wished for.

2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S, Screamin' Eagle 110 Twin Cam V-twin engine
The SE 110 Twin Cam is the largest-displacement engine that Harley installs at the factory. The forward-facing Heavy Breather air cleaner is standard on the Low S.Photo: Brian J. Nelson

Part of the design process at HD is to have one foot in the past to understand the legacy and heritage of the brand and one in the future to be competitive in the market. The challenge in creating each new model is finding the right ratio. Prior to the Low Rider S arriving on the scene, that ratio was heavily biased on the past. Not a bad thing for traditional buyers, but what the Dyna-based model was missing was a contemporary hook to get riders shopping the Low Rider along with other modern performance cruisers.

2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S, Magnum Gold split 5-spoke wheels
Those wheels have five split spokes, powder-coated in Magnum Gold.Photo: Brian J. Nelson
2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S, Magnum Gold Bar & Shield tank badge
The Low Rider S gets classic Bar & Shield tank badges in matching Magnum Gold.Photo: Brian J. Nelson

The Motor Company achieved that by dropping the largest-displacement engine that H-D installs at the factory into the Low Rider S frame and combining it with Premium Ride components that includes a cartridge fork and nitrogen gas-charged emulsion rear shocks. It’s more than just displacement, too; the blacked-out SE Twin Cam 110 V-twin gets a forward-facing Heavy Breather open-element air cleaner and matte black 2-into-2 exhaust system making a claimed 115 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm.

2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S, Premium Ride emulsion shocks
Premium Ride emulsion shocks are part of the Low Rider S package.Photo: Brian J. Nelson

Keen observers will recall that the S-series Softails claimed torque is 109 pound-feet at 3.500 rpm. We asked H-D Product Planning Director Paul James about the uptick in torque. He says that though all three engines are Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 V-twins, the Low Rider S benefits from a different intake and exhaust, and the Low Rider S sports the non-counterbalanced engine in the rubber-mount Dyna chassis. The Fat Boy S and Softail Slim S both have the internally counterbalanced SE 110B in the rigid-mount Softail frame, and driving that counterbalancer costs a bit of power.

We joined H-D for the Low Rider S intro and press ride that would take us out to Newcomb’s Ranch Restaurant, a 77-year-old destination located 5,400-feet up in the Angeles National Forest. The only access to Newcomb’s is via the Angeles Crest Highway, a road favored by Southern California motorcycle riders for its many twists punctuated by the occasional strip of straight highway for “passing.” A perfect road to get acquainted with any new bike.

2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S, Brian Hatano test riding
Smooth throttle response with 115 pound-feet of torque is a nice combination. Yes, the Low Rider S non-counterbalanced SE 110 puts out 6 pound-feet more torque than the internally counterbalanced SE 110 in the Fat Boy S and Softail Slim S.Photo: Brian J. Nelson

The nimble Dyna chassis with mid-mount controls shines on roads like the Crest, and the rider’s position on the Low Rider S allows even more aggressive performance when compared to the standard Low Rider. The new bucket-style solo seat provides firm lower back support and the lower drag bars on 5.5-inch risers have less pullback, allowing you to lean forward in a more sporting posture rather than in the classic laid-back, feet-forward cruiser position.

Riding the S model back-to-back with a standard Low (which we did), you’ll feel a firmer street ride with less front-end dive when you squeeze hard on the brake. On the twisty roads, the Low S model’s Premium Ride clearly makes a difference. Although the S fork is the same 49mm diameter, the single cartridge internals eliminate much of the looseness felt in the standard front end with less roll or wallow in higher-speed turns. The rear emulsion shocks do a good job of absorbing bumps with no residual bounce. The Hayes ABS brake setup is adequate but not as strong or fade-resistant as the Brembo-equipped Harley cruisers that we’ve ridden.

2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S, dash view
We'd love to see that space behind the speed screen be put to better use. A great spot for the indicator lights?Photo: Brian J. Nelson

There’s a difference between brute torque and smooth torque, and accelerating the Low Rider S through the twisties brings out the grunt and growl that the Screamin’ Eagle 110 is known for with superbly smooth throttle response. No need to downshift that six-speed Cruise Drive trans if you scrub off a little too much speed. Just twist the throttle a little more and the Low S pulls out and goes.

Although wind protection is minimal, there is a small turbulence-free zone behind the speed screen should you feel the urge to tuck in. The screen strikes a perfect stylistic balance with the bobbed rear fender that looks to be pulled from the Wide Glide/Street Bob parts bin. What really sets the Low Rider S off are the Magnum Gold wheels. H-D Senior Stylist Dais Nagao pointed out that while they might look like typical multi-spoke rollers, if you look closely, they’re actually a split five-spoke design powder-coated with a shade of gold that throws you back to the hot rodder’s gold-coated Halibrand mags of the 1960s, or for you sports car buffs, those racy gold Cromadora wheels common on Ferraris of the same era. There’s your foot-in-the-past analogy.

The 2016 Low Rider S comes in one color, the right one: Vivid (glossy) Black and carries a reasonable price tag of $16,699, and that includes ABS, cruise control, and an H-D Factory Security System. That MSRP puts the Low Rider S on the lowest rung of the S model price ladder by a good margin and nine grand less than the closest CVO cruiser (the new Pro Street Breakout). In a market where buyers are becoming increasingly more budget conscious and demanding more bang (and torque!) for the buck, Harley-Davidson’s Low Rider S handily balances that ratio of keeping one foot in the past and one in the future.

2016 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S, side view
A left-side-mounted license plate bracket on US models keeps the profile looking clean. Canadian models get the tag bracket hanging off the rear of the fender.Photo: Brian J. Nelson

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION
First the Earth cooled, then Harley-Davidson began making motorcycles, then the Dyna chassis replaced the FXR, and now we have a stylish Dyna Low Rider with more cubes and plenty of torque.
RIVALS
[Harley-Davidson Low Rider][] and [Softail Slim S][], [Star Raider Bullet Cowl][], [Suzuki M109R B.O.S.S.][], [Victory Gunner][]
TECH
PRICE $16,699
ENGINE 1801cc, air-cooled 45° V-twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/belt
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER n/a
CLAIMED TORQUE 115 lb.-ft. @ 3500 rpm
FRAME Tubular-steel tubular frame
FRONT SUSPENSION H-D Premium Ride 49mm fork
REAR SUSPENSION H-D Premium Ride emulsion shocks
FRONT BRAKE Hayes four-piston caliper, 300mm disc
REAR BRAKE Hayes two-piston caliper, 292mm disc
RAKE/TRAIL 30.5º/5.1 in.
WHEELBASE 64.2 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 26.6 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.7 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 674 lb. wet
AVAILABLE End of March 2016
CONTACT [harley-davidson.com][]
VERDICT
The best Dyna to date and a performance-oriented American V-twin that checks all the right boxes if you like an aggressive-looking cruiser with real grunt.
Brian Hatano test rides the Harley-Davidson Low Rider S cruiser
Brian's gear:
Helmet: Scorpion EXO-GT3000
Jacket: Icon 1000 Basehawk
Pants: Icon Denim
Boots: Alpinestars Oscar Rayburn
Photo: Brian J. Nelson