One Of The Softail Initiates From The Dyna Family

The blade with which Harley-Davidson streamlined its cruiser lineup cut deep and wide with an entire branch (Dyna) finding itself pruned from the family tree. That’s right, we lost the successor to the FXR family, and have only the Softail lineup for cruiser work. Though we’ve lost an iconic family (that I never cared for, I should probably add), my target for today picks up the torch from a particluar Dyna model that held a special place in the hearts of many, the Low Rider. Powered by the new-to-cruisers Milwaukee-Eight engine with a total of 110 pound-feet of torque, the new agile Softail frame brings heretofore unseen performance to the family. Good thing too, since the MoCo is pinning its hopes for success in the cruiser market on models like the new Low Rider. What else has Harley packed onto the ride? Read on to find out.

Continue reading for my review of the Harley-Davidson Low Rider.

Design

2018 Harley-Davidson Low Rider
- image 742634
The foot controls are not quite as far forward as a proper set of forward controls and not as far back as mid-mounts; the pegs are placed in a comfortable middle ground for what seems to be a good compromise between the two traditional positions.

They may call it a “Low Rider,” but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is, in fact, the lowest Softail, ’cause it ain’t. Seat height measures out at 27.2-inches high unladen, and a 180-pound rider should make the rear suspension squat another inch. Ground clearance measures out at 5.1 inches high, and just to give you perspective, the Softail Deluxe runs with only 4.5 inches of ground clearance with 0.4-inch lower seat height. Once you get past that and really look at the thing, the tie-ins to the original from back in the ’70s become apparent in the tank graphics and twin-clock, tank-mount instrument panel. The saddle seems to tie in as well, though I can’t exactly qualify that impression. Maybe it’s the look of the segmented panel or the squared-off corners, but it has a certain nostalgia about it for sure.

A mid-size front fender sets the tone right off the bat with an old-school brow over the cyclops headlight. It’s clean and slightly custom, but not too much so. Buckhorn pullback bars put the hands near shoulder height and are wide set for plenty of leverage, but the foot controls are a curious thing. Not quite as far forward as a proper set of forward controls and not as far back as mid-mounts, the pegs are placed in a comfortable middle ground for what seems to be a good compromise between the two traditional positions. Sure, you’re still in the classic cruiser windsock position, but at least your legs aren’t fully stretched out ahead of you feet first, ’cause that can be less than confidence-inspiring on the highway.

The stock seat has a tapered, Mustang-style pillion pad that seems to say “yeah, you can ride, but I’d rather you didn’t.” Truth to tell, it’s a nice touch that works well with the overall look if you ask me. As ever, the frame geometry mimics that of the old hardtails, all the way down to the triangular swingarm that really sells the illusion.

Chassis

2018 Harley-Davidson Low Rider
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Looking cool just isn't enough anymore. People want more performance, and I think the factory is finally responding to the calls for better handling and power.

The Softail frame got completely rebuilt for this new generation. Let’s face it; the Softail family was never particularly known for its handling or performance. It has relied on its looks alone for decades, and while those looks were enough when Softails were a novel new thing, those years are far in the rear-view mirror at this point. Looking cool just isn’t enough anymore. People want more performance, and since H-D is scrambling to gain a foothold with the tech-native Millennial buyers, I think the factory is finally responding to the calls for better handling and power.

Although the Low Rider comes with more agility and cornering ability, the steering geometry gives it solid tracking with a 30-degree rake and 6.4-inch trail that should make for relatively effortless cruising. The all-new frame dropped a whopping 50-percent of its components for an overall lighter build with greater strength and flexibility in all the right places, and this is from whence the newfound agility springs. Speaking of springs, the front forks come with the swanky Dual Bending Valve technology we see on the tour bikes and that somewhat makes up for the lack of adjustability. The rear monoshock moves from beneath the transmission to up beneath the seat where it’s equally inconspicuous, but much easier to get to without the dubious benefits of dirty knees.

A single disc and four-pot anchor slows the front wheel with a twin-pot caliper to bind the rear, and you can get the brakes as vanilla as the suspension, or you can spring for the $795 ABS option for that extra safety net.

Rake (steering head) (deg): 30
Trail: 6.4 in.
Lean Angle, Right (deg.): 29.6
Lean Angle, Left (deg.): 29.6
Wheels, Front Type: Black, machine highlighted, Radiate cast aluminum wheel
Wheels, Rear Type: Black, machine highlighted, Radiate cast aluminum wheel
Brakes, Caliper Type: 4-piston fixed front and 2-piston floating rear
Tires, Front Specification: 110/90B19,62H,BW
Tires, Rear Specification: 180/70B16,77H,BW

Drivetrain

2018 Harley-Davidson Low Rider
- image 742637
The Milwaukee-8 made its debut last year in the touring lineup, and now it has moved into the cruisers to completely phase out the Twin Cam.

Unlike some of its kin, the Low Rider comes with just the Mil-8 107 with no 114-inch version on the table just yet. This mill made its debut last year in the touring lineup, and now it’s moved into the cruisers to completely phase out the Twin Cam. It carries itself in the same 45-degree V-Twin layout we’ve seen from the factory for over a century now with a 100 mm bore and 111 mm stroke that gives us the 1,753 cc total displacement and 10-to-1 compression ratio. The Mil-8 107 cranks out 110 pound-feet of torque at a low 3,000 rpm for some real stump-pulling power that’ll help it haul its 661-pound (wet) bulk out of the hole when the light turns green.

With the return to the single-cam valvetrain, the factory also restored the shape of the nosecone area to something more aesthetically pleasing than the Twin-Cam gearcase, thank goodness. It also brought back the old familiar pushrod-tube geometry that uses four external pushrods to actuate the four-valve heads for a total of 8 poppets, hence the “Eight” in the ingeniously-clever engine name. Electronic fuel injection runs with a good-old, pull-open/pull-closed dual-cable throttle, and the gadgetry helps the engine milk an average of 47 miles out of every gallon, but does little else.

As usual, the engine management is plain vanilla with nothing in the way of traction control or variable power-delivery modes, so H-D persists in its dead-last position tied with Indian among the major manufacturers around the world as far as top-end engine wizardry is concerned.

Engine: Milwaukee-Eight® 107
Bore: 3.937 in.
Stroke: 4.375 in.
Displacement: 107 cu in
Compression Ratio: 10.0:1
Engine Torque Testing Method: J1349
Engine Torque: 110 ft-lb @ 3,000 rpm
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Exhaust: 2-into-2 shotgun; catalyst in muffler
Primary Drive: Chain, 34/46 ratio

Price

2018 Harley-Davidson Low Rider
- image 742642
There are three things in life that you can count on: death, taxes, and a set of Vivid Black sheet metal for nearly every Harley in the world.

There are three things in life that you can count on; death, taxes, and a set of Vivid Black sheet metal for nearly every Harley in the world. The factory offers the Low Rider with its usual tiered pricing, and the black model takes up its usual place at the bottom with a $14,999 pricetag with a red and blue tank graphic. For another $400, you can score the LR in Wicked Red, Electric Blue or Bonneville Salt Pearl that all come with the same graphic but in more of a monochromatic color selection.

Colors: Vivid Black, Wicked Red, Electric Blue, Bonneville Salt Pearl
Price:
Vivid Black: $14,999
Color: $15,399
ABS: Option $795
Security System: Standard

Competitor

2018 Harley-Davidson Low Rider
- image 742638
2015 - 2017 Yamaha Raider
- image 729160
Someone who 'really' wants the Softail look will only be happy with the Softail, but for the “close-enough” crowd, the Raider certainly makes for an attractive alternative.

With such classic American looks to compete against, I bet you’d expect me to pull out an Indian for my head-to-head. Well, not this time. Yamaha’s Star branch makes a ride that I think will appeal to a lot of the same riders for a lot of the same reasons, so I’m going to give the Raider a shot.

Right off the bat, Yamaha dives deep into chopper territory with an incredible 39 degrees of rake that pushes the wheel way out in front and extends the wheelbase out to 70.9-inches long. Even though the Low Rider carries a wider-than-usual, 30-degree rake, it just doesn’t have quite the same visual impact as the stems on the Raider.

Frame design also plays heavily into the looks here. While the Raider doesn’t run a faux hardtail swingarm, it does hide the shock out of casual view while mimicking the rigid frame geometry all the way back to the swingarm for an overall look not unlike that of the Softail. Someone really wanting the Softail look will only be happy with the Softail, but for the “close enough” crowd, the Raider certainly makes for an attractive alternative.

Suspension is vanilla across the board, and although Star gets points for the dual front discs, it doesn’t offer ABS, even as an option. Yamaha knows that Americans like their big V-twin engines, and it obliged us with a 48-degree, 113 cubic-inch (1,854 cc) plant that cranks out 123 pound-feet of torque, a fistful more than H-D’s Mil-8, but honestly, once you get over 100 pounds o’ grunt, you’re just being a bit gratuitous. Still, more power is more power, and Star has it in this case.

No fandangled electronics either, just brute strength. Surprisingly, H-D squeaks in a minor win at the checkout, but only by a slim, $200 margin. While that isn’t a huge difference, the fact that they are even close is remarkable, and probably indicative of Yamaha asking too much.

He Said

“I like it alright enough I suppose, but I’m still waiting for my favorite Dyna of all (Wide Glide) to make the transition. Still, I’m glad Harley is preserving the Low Rider name and spirit while it looks to the future and tries to draw in another generation of riders. As for me, it’s just a little weird seeing a Softail under a Low Rider banner. Is it just me?”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "Some specs I was made privy to, though I didn’t test them myself, was that the new engine is 10 percent faster 0-60 mph than last year’s engine, and it is 13 percent faster 60-80 mph. I didn’t put that to the test, but you can definitely feel the difference pulling away from a light or kickin’ it up to make a pass on the highway. If you’ve ridden a Softail in the past and wasn’t impressed, now is the time to try them again."

Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain::
Engine: Milwaukee-Eight® 107
Bore: 3.937 in.
Stroke: 4.375 in.
Displacement: 107 cu in
Compression Ratio: 10.0:1
Engine Torque Testing Method: J1349
Engine Torque: 110 ft-lb @ 3,000 rpm
Fuel System: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Exhaust: 2-into-2 shotgun; catalyst in muffler
Primary Drive: Chain, 34/46 ratio
Gear Ratios (overall) 1st: 9.311
Gear Ratios (overall) 2nd: 6.454
Gear Ratios (overall) 3rd: 4.793
Gear Ratios (overall) 4th: 3.882
Gear Ratios (overall) 5th: 3.307
Gear Ratios (overall) 6th: 2.79
Chassis:
Rake (steering head) (deg): 30
Trail: 6.4 in.
Lean Angle, Right (deg.): 29.6
Lean Angle, Left (deg.): 29.6
Wheels, Front Type: Black, machine highlighted, Radiate cast aluminum wheel
Wheels, Rear Type: Black, machine highlighted, Radiate cast aluminum wheel
Brakes, Caliper Type: 4-piston fixed front and 2-piston floating rear
Tires, Front Specification: 110/90B19,62H,BW
Tires, Rear Specification: 180/70B16,77H,BW
Dimensions & Capacities:
Length: 92.7 in.
Seat Height, Laden: 26.2 in.
Seat Height, Unladen: 27.2 in.
Ground Clearance: 5.1 in.
Wheelbase: 64.2 in.
Fuel Capacity: 5 gal.
Oil Capacity (w/filter): 5 qt.
Weight, As Shipped: 633 lb.
Weight, In Running Order: 661 lb.
Fuel Economy: Estimated City/Hwy: 47 mpg
Electric:
Lights (as per country regulation), Indicator Lamps: High beam, turn signals, neutral, low oil pressure, engine diagnostics, ABS (optional), security, low battery voltage, low fuel
Gauges: 4 inch analog speedometer with digital gear, odometer, fuel level, clock, trip, range and tachometer indication; 4 inch analog tachometer
Details:
Colors: Vivid Black, Wicked Red, Electric Blue, Bonneville Salt Pearl
Price:
Vivid Black: $14,999
Color: $15,399
ABS: Option $795
Security System: Standard

References

2015 - 2017 Yamaha Raider
- image 712693

See our review of the Yamaha Star Raider.

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: harley-davidson.com, yamaha-motor.com

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