2016 Harley-Davidson FXDLS Dyna Low Rider S Review

A Dark Side Throwback for The Next Dark Side Generation

2016 Harley-Davidson FXDLS Low Rider S
A little bit XLCR, little bit Street 750, the FXDLS melds history and power to create one sweet ride. Tom Riles

Stripped down, yet stuffed with the largest engine the Motor Co. puts in a motorcycle and a laundry list of features previously reserved for CVO editions, this new dark custom was created for the next generation Harley-Davidson owner. Harley listened to what customers wanted-- everything and nothing at the same time. Welcome to the dark side. 

When I got the call from Basem to ride the brand new 2016 Harley-Davidson FXDLS Dyna Low Rider S this week (priced at $16,699) in my own Los Angeles backyard, I couldn’t say no. Two weeks and 45 minutes later, I arrive at the host hotel (traffic!) and climb down off my loaner BMW R1200GS, step over the saddle of the Dyna Low Rider S and think to myself, this is going to be interesting.  Where do I put all my camping gear? And what about the 12V espresso machine I’ve got stashed in my panniers?

In their marketing materials, Harley-Davidson underscores the new Low Rider S as "the powerful, dark side of a legend.” So I looked back in time, looking for the source of this legend, and found far more than just the throwback color scheme that reminds me of Burt Reynolds’s Pontiac Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit. There’s a formula they’re working with here, a formula for success. 

With the technical briefing, dinner and drinks complete, it was time for sleep-- but I was too excited to ride. Having been teased on by the designers’ reports of glee after the pre-ride-- and personally knowing the roads we were about to ride-- I, too, wanted that smile on my face. But first, a little backstory, then the riding…

Chances are pretty good —if Harley’s marketing efforts are successful— that you weren’t alive for the cinematic release of Star Wars in 1977, but you know the film. If not, your internet is broken.

Also released that same Memorial day weekend was a film about a couple of southern bootleggers, headlined by a hero with a black and gold hot rod. Muscle cars and muscle bikes mingle in the minds of men over time, and in that same year, Harley released its very first ‘factory custom,’ beginning the hot rod fusion of top shelf performance and dark side style on two wheels before the “dark side” was anything cool, in space or in pop (or biker) culture.  The original 74 cubic-inch, 60 horsepower FXS Low Rider of the same year has come a very long way in the last 40 years, but the song remains the same.

In the years, the CAD perimeter frame of the 1990s helped the FXS to shed some weight, and the solidly-mounted power plants, and slipped into something a little more comfortable --the Dyna chassis-- picking up a few more characters along the way to create the FXDL in 1995. Fast forward 20-odd years and it’s back, in some bad-ass trim!

Then and Now

Swapping drum brakes and iron cylinder heads for triple disc brakes and the largest production engine Milwaukee’s best has to offer (an 1,802cc v-twin), the FXDLS offers 115 pound feet of torque from the Screaming Eagle Twin Cam 110 and the potential for more with the bolt-on 117 cubic inch kit. Perhaps eons is a more appropriate delta indicator.

But what’s with the “S" at the end of the model name? That’s new to me too, so I looked it up. And I can tell you this first, it doesn’t mean “shiny.” Comparing apples to apples, 2016 "S" and 2016 non-S versions of the FXDL, black is the new chrome. “S” refers more to “style" than anything else.  Just think of the “S” bikes as factory (“dark”) customs, with premium kit at a premium price, but not quite at CVO levels. The Low Rider S joins the Softail Slim S and Fat Boy S to form a class of it’s own. 

With a bigger motor, blackened fork tubes, 2-into-2 exhaust and anything else that is normally chrome on a Harley, the Low Rider S also gets the heavy breather ram air treatment, a speed screen and magnum gold painted 5 split-spoke wheels and trim pieces. Running down that dream, you’ll also be on a solo saddle and spending $2,300 more than the non-S version. Definitely chock full of “S”… and that’s style remember. But what a dream it is!’

In The Saddle

Our morning began like it does for many readers at home (kinda), through neighborhood streets, pass coffeeshops, bakeries and commuter traffic and occasionally, the odd mashup of street culture and motorcycling. While circling the box for our first photo session, quietly trolling down the boulevard in 1st and 2nd gear we caught the eye of a young rapper shooting his own video on the same block. The dark custom vibe just spoke to the kid, and he needed to be seen with us (sure it was the bikes) in a few clip. Five minutes on the bike and we’re already being seen… that’s some truly effective styling work on the part of Harley’s key designers Brad Richards and Dais Nagao!

Poised long (89.9-inches) and low, the view from the front 3/4 looks like a touch like the Street 750, but with real muscle and attitude… and LOTS more power. It’s the headlight nacelle doing that to your brain, the ‘speed screen’ as they call it, a blackened micro-fairing that keeps a surprising amount of wind off your chest… even at highway speeds. A real throwback to the XLCR of yesteryear.

Trailing back over the bent-T handlebars and across the tank-embedded dashboard and wrinkle black powdercoat is the shapely-low solo saddle, reaching only 26.6 inches from the ground and pretty darn comfortable. Senior stylist Dais found inspiration for it in the XR650 and built it for everyday use.

Intending to ride to Newcomb’s Ranch and back, never would I have expected so much fun from what looked like a stiff bike that would be scraping pegs in the parking lot. Instead, at top gear, between 3000 and 4000 rpm, and with the torque peaking in between the two points, we found a sufficient pace ranging between 70 and 80 mph —where legal— and with ease! And smooth. I just love that rubber band transmission and drive train… twist and deliver with delicious performance arcs every time.

While I personally prefer my feet beneath my ass on a ride for the added suspension level and pelvic position, the lack of mid-mount pegs (as seen on Sportster models) left lots of maneuvering room at the traffic signal. The relaxed clam shell riding position was more comfortable than expected, although I was too busy wringing out the throttle to notice anything else. Our ride back down off the mountain was a non-stop blast of 50+ miles, from snow pack to urban sprawl… there that smile!

Finding more speed and lean angle (roughly 30 degrees each way) than expected in the canyons as well, I was pleased to find the suspension as it was… supportive and not mushy.  At such speeds, I found myself braking as I would a sportbike, heavy on the front brake, less so in the rear (opposite of many low speed cruiser rides). Thank to the Premium Ride 40mm cartridge fork, front end dive was minimal and well rounded. The nitrogen gas-charged emulsion shocks rolled the Michelin Scorcher “31s” over the worse of it without the need to pull myself from the saddle.  With a little fine tuning this machine will be an enjoyable all-day mount, bar top to mountain top and home again, smiling. Save the cruise control lock out in 6th gear for the long ride home, you’ll get lost in the ride.

The Hot Rod Formula

Anyone knows, to build that “Bitchen” Camaro, you need to cram in the biggest motor possible, pack it with top shelf features and give it an iconic paint job. Harley-Davidson took that formula one step further when they stripped down this Dyna, mounting their biggest factory engine to date, adding on features like upgraded suspension and cruise control (seen only on CVO models thus far), and gave it a dark custom paint job. Make that two steps further with the addition of ABS brakes, and security system as standard. Somehow you get less AND more with the 2016 Harley-Davidson FXDLS Dyna Low Rider... but I still don’t know what to do with my cooking supplies.