by Gus Breiland
I would have gone with the dinette set. While that statement may seem a bit too drastic, I have to preface my review with the statement “I don’t get it?” I spent a lot of time talking with other Harley riders about the experiences that I had and the things that I found both positive and negative trying to understand why “I don’t get it.” But it all came back to “Gus, you just don’t get it.”
We will start off with the positives of the bike. First of all we had the Brilliant Silver ride. As Victor backed it out of the MMM warehouse I was on the pipe (right) side of the bike and “Wow” is all I can say. From the view that I had I could see why people fall in love with these things. I had an open mind and wanted the key badly. Victor proceed to tell me that “…back in one piece…blah blah blah…” As you can tell by now, I was looking at the motorcycle and tuning him out.
There is not much missing from this cruisers profile. With a low seat height of 26.2 inches it is a compact bike and the lowest HD in their lineup. This makes the ground clearance about 4.6 inches with a turning angle around 29 degrees on both sides. In some instances, you will want more…turn angle that is. The 88 cubes of motor are slung under a standard HD 4.7 gas tank with clocks mounted down the centerline of the tank. While the clocks on centerline clean the bikes dash up, it is in a poor location for travel, as you have to take your eyes off the road longer to see your speeds and any idiot lights.
Once you pull your eyes away from all the shiny bits on the motor you will see the 13-spoke cast rims, the staggered chrome shorty dual exhaust and gun fighter low rider seat. Our bike had the Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI) system installed and HD’s security system.
Now in defense of the bike, both Victor and I hadn’t been around the HD security system so the circus of follies that proceeded to unfold was quite comedic. There was a bunch of pushing of the buttons and hitting the starter. Lights were flashing, 2 larger men were doing laps around this thing and it was becoming more a study in human behavior than the actual goal of how to start the bike.
Again, we didn’t have the manual to which both Mr. Wanchena and I lamented on sometime later and figured we would have started the bike sooner if we were able to read about it. Victor did state the security system wasn’t to keep the rider from stealing the bike but more to lull him into a spiral of depression and frustrate him to the point of robbing a bank to buy one versus stealing it.
Finally, Victor won and the bike fired up. With a nice stock rumble behind me, he handed me the keys and said, “Don’t use the security system.” “Yes sir” was my reply as my hand was closing my helmet visor and I was waving goodbye.
As I was heading out past MMM headquarters the burble of the pipes bounced off the buildings and I was gone. This bike pulls. Its fuel injection makes the throttle control excellent. Keep twisting the throttle and a nice steady stream of power follows immediately behind. I thought about pulling some stumps out around the house but I didn’t think the warranty would allow me to do that. With a published 85-ft lbs of torque at 3000 rpms, the motor pulls the 656 pounds of bike around twists and curves nicely.
For the mass that is between your legs it is quite nimble rolling down the road. U-turns at low speed in a city street are possible and while the lean angles are a little light in corners it weaves and bobs through traffic with a flick of the toe and a twist of the wrist.
I found the highway pegs to be the most comfortable position as the controls were below the air cleaner and at highway speeds it was difficult to keep your legs from flopping around in the wind. For me, it was the motor and transmission that was the best part of the ride. While boxy, the tranny did its job well, popping from gear to gear with no miss shifts or surprises. And with that motor pulling as well as it did I wanted to fly down the road as fast as I could or until the seating position was too painful to continue.
OK, kid gloves are off and let’s see you come out fighting. As I had said before, I went into this review with an open mind. I have ridden two other Harleys in my limited riding experience and found them to be acceptable. But the Low Rider kept disappointing me as the days wore on.
First of all, with only 108 miles on the clock the bike started to place oil on various parking surfaces around my house and work. It was leaking. This is unacceptable. Period. It was leaking around the rear of the primary cover at the lowest bolt. Now the old joke around the water cooler is don’t buy a Harley unless you like a leaker. But that is an old joke. With manufacturing processes and quality control, these things are worked out of any production line right? Well, appearantly not.
What amazed me was how many people knew about the location of the leak after I would tell them it was leaking. This is where anecdotal research is done. “Some do that, it is easily fixed. In fact mine did that and after a couple of attempts it was fixed” was one quote, another was “Well mine doesn’t leak”. So at least I know they all don’t leak but still the one that a motorcycle paper takes out for a few days of fun leaks. I don’t think that is a good thing.
The folks that I know who ride or have ridden HD looked at me with a blank stare as I am preaching “…after 100 years of making motorcycles you would think they could get it to stop leaking?” There is a disconnect that I don’t understand about the true HD rider. The ability to forgive the manufacturer for a common problem, common enough for someone within my little world to tell me “It is easily fixed”, is a little hard to grasp.
My one dear friend I shared the bike with continued my puzzlement by saying “Gus, you just don’t understand”. It is the bike’s personality. It is what gives the bike soul. Our riding forefathers dealt with so many other things that a little oil drop is nothing. While I respect his input and knowledge, I just can’t buy the notion that this is HD and I as a consumer have to accept it.
For me, the bike is not about soul. It is about function. My motorcycles have a function. Get me to point A, then B, then C…etc. If it cannot do that for an MSPR starting at $14995 or more, a dinette set is more valuable to me than the bike. Socially, if I need to have a HD to be a part of the socializing, I don’t need to be social. If I need a bike to be part of the socializing, I will be the one making an ass of myself in the corner, lampshade and all.
The Low Rider is low. Duh right? But when after a couple of days in the saddle I am pricing out control kits to move them out to the highway pegs, that is too low. What happens is while you are moving in traffic, one bike length at a time, you duck walk. Waddling back and forth as you slowly creep along. The control pegs are so wide you tend to hit them with your shins or ankles making them more of an obstacle vs. necessary.
One other problem with the short seat height was the position of the battery box under your right thigh. While riding and duck walking the corner of the box was digging into my leg.
When I was taught how to ride a bike, I was taught to approach the bike from the left side and swing a leg over. The ignition on the Low Rider is under you right butt check. This was difficult for me to grasp since the bike is set up to approach from the right, insert key and then walk around it to swing a leg over or feel goofy and swing a leg over from the right. I understand the rationale behind the placement of the key on the non-kickstand side; I just didn’t like it.
The other major gripe I have with this product (cruisers) in general is the “fat” grips on the bars. I have found that the bigger diameter grips that are being used in the cruiser market are fatiguing. It tends to focus the stress of wind on your upper body on the knuckles and joints of your fingers rather than your wrists. Call it grip envy if you would like but if my hands are staring to ache at the beginning of the ride, I won’t be riding much longer. As for the headlight, you might as well snip the wire and throw away the light. It is doing you no good and just adds weight.
All in all, it is a Harley Davidson. What I say here will not stop anyone with a passion to be part of the Harley Davidson club and I guess membership has its price. Is the Low Rider the perfect bike for you? If you like short rides to the corner, polishing your bike and being “IN” with the club, then yes. If you want a bike you can ride and have fun on for miles upon miles, then no.
Thank you to Donahue Sportscenter for our bike. You can find them at www.donahuemotorsports.com or ride to them at 4354 US Highway 12 is Delano Minnesota 55328. Give them a call at 1800 827 2530 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Victor Wanchena
Most of my friends like the Low Rider, at least the ones I let ride the venerable classic from Milwaukee. First introduced to the motorcycle public in 1977, the Low Rider has been available from H-D in many flavors over its 27-year life. The first Low Rider was dressed up with black engine components, highway pegs, drag bars and a slammed down seat height. The look was a success and has influenced a lot of other designs since. The core principle of the look was a sit “in” the bike, not just on it. A sort of fusion between the chopper and the muscle car. Long, low and with enough power to back up its styling. The long life and many incarnations of the Low Rider speak to its popularity.
The current generation is based on the proven Dyna platform. The Dyna line was introduced in 1991 and featured rubber mounted engines, twin shock frames and five speed transmissions. A mid-size bike for Harley-Davidson, the Dynas are bigger than the Sportster line with a more plush ride than the Softails, but lighter and less bulky than the FL touring bikes. The Dyna Low Rider was first introduced in 1993 and has been one of the mainstays of the line. The Low Rider is a mid-level offering in the Dyna family of motorcycles, which includes both the Wide-Glide and the Super-Glide.
The big news for 2004 is the availability of EFI in for the Dyna line. The Low Rider we tested had the EFI version of the 88ci Twin-Cam motor. A ground up redesign of the venerable Evolution motor, 88 is as rock solid as its older brother. The bore and stroke are a conservative 3.75″x4.0″. A nice long stroke does keep the redline low but the motor makes up for it with a fat 85ft. lbs of torque on tap. The 88 is a low-end monster. At anything over 1500 rpm (isn’t that really just about high idle) the motor would pull cleanly regardless of gear. The fuel injection is an electronic sequential port injection, which in non-engineer speak means it is a nice system. The computer brain of the motor did a great job of dealing with whatever I threw at it. It is a closed loop system that will adjust for temperature and elevation and is the same unit that is used on the Softail and touring bikes. Among it’s electrical black magic is a knock sensor and heat management system that is designed to protect the motor as well as keep the rider cooler when running in low speed or the dreaded stop and go situation. It does this by controlling the engine speed and fuel delivery under those conditions. The transmission and final drive are the standard 5-speed and belt setup, nothing really new or dramatic here. The gearbox shifts with a solid clunk each time giving the rider a good positive feel. It works well and doesn’t have any annoying quirks.
The chassis of the Low Rider is the traditional FX twin down tube Dyna frame. No fancy pants titanium or aluminum super ray gun space section or geodesic dome-looking frames here, just good old-fashioned mild steel. Why mess with something that works? The motor is hung in the frame with rubber isolation mounts to help quell some of the vibes from reaching the rider. The low-slung chassis has a conventional 39mm fork up front and twin shocks in the rear. The suspension is “ride it like you find it”, completely unadjustable. Living up to its name the Low Rider has a seat height of 26.2 inches unladen (H-D measures it at 25.2 inches with a 180 lbs. Rider). To accomplish the low seat height the Low Rider uses short travel shocks which have a pitiful 3.3 inches of travel. They tend to send a jolt through the rider on all but the smallest bumps. The front forks were nicely compliant but again, the lack of adjustability means larger riders can overwork their softer springs. The handling of the Low Rider is fine given the “one size fits all” suspension and was only really limited by the lack of ground clearance. Hard parts will come in contact with the ground if the pace is too aggressive.
The brakes are 11.5-inch rotors front and rear with four- piston calipers doing the squeezing. The rotor themselves are the H-D patented Uniform Expansion Rotors. The cutouts in the rotors have a stylish flair as well as helping brake performance. I don’t have any solid numbers to compare the old style brakes to, but given the feel the new style brakes have I would say that there is a definite improvement, especially the rear brake, which tended to have an off or locked kind of operation.
The controls are Harley standard, well thought out, smooth and easy to operate. The turn signal controls will be familiar to BMW riders but may flummox others. They also feature a dip switch that senses when the bike has leaned to make a turn and then auto cancels the signal after you return to level, a feature other makers should take note of. The instruments are standard H-D, nice looking and functional but the are set on the tank of the Low Rider and I found myself having to stare down at them taking my eyes from the road. Our tester was also equipped with a security system that was less than intuitive in its operation. For the record we never read the manual but it took 10 minutes of frustrated button pushing to turn it off. The starting procedure was very simple; key on, whirring noises emanate from somewhere, wait for engine light (which is the universal car engine symbol, come on boys pony up for a v-twin graphic) to go out, then hit the starter. The bike fires instantly and then settles down to idle.
On the road the Low Rider was a fair machine. The seating position wasn’t really to my liking but I am 6’8”, not an average sized rider. The bike is fairly agile and moves through traffic easily enough. The mountains of torque made shifting an option at everywhere except stops. My only criticism of the motor is that it has some real vibration at roughly 65-70 mph in top gear. That, unfortunately, is right where I like to cruise. The motor is smooth under and over that speed. The real limits of the Low Rider were the harsh suspension and the lack of cornering clearance. A motor that pulls as well as the 88 needs a better chassis. I realize that long travel suspension and the words Low Rider don’t play well together but a harsh ride limits how far one is willing to travel afield. Ironically the seat on the Low Rider was very comfortable. It has deep firm foam that would be well-appreciated 1000 miles and three states down the road.
The stock pipes were plenty throaty and really should be loud enough to satisfy all but neighbors be damned types. And then there was the leak. After a few miles there was a small leak out of the primary case. Not a lot, just enough to let the Low Rider mark its turf in my garage. I found it ironic that after going to great lengths to shed that image the H-D I happen to test tried to reinforce old stereotypes. It was a small leak due to a bad gasket. These things happen in mass manufactured products. I refuse to vilify H-D for one weepy primary.
My overall impression of the Low Rider is not as dim as fellow rider Gus. Although not well suited to my kind of riding the Low Rider is a good choice for shorter riders or those who don’t want to do any longer rides. It is an easy bike to ride and would make a great choice for women wanting to upgrade to a larger machine. The price is a bit steep for only getting two wheels and keys but for those wanting American this won’t matter. Overall a good bike with a few flaws that will be chalked up to character by most. Thanks again to Donahue Sport center for the generous use of the Low Rider.