One year review of the Softail Low Rider

It’s been about a year since I got my motorcycle, and I figured it would be a good thing to write about it, and that now would be a good time to do it.

I live in the suburbs of Paris, where public transports are probably the most popular way to travel in the region, and in particular to commute. It may come as a shock to some but, I’ve never needed a driving license. Things changed during 2018 when the offices of the company I work for were moved and using public transports became impractical. That’s when I decided to get my own vehicle and, while going through all the possibilities, the idea of a motorcycle came across my mind. I quickly fell in love with it, and in particular the chromed cruiser style, and in particular the Softail Low Rider.

I got my license at the end of 2018 and have been riding the entire time since. To give you an idea of what I did before writing this review, here are some numbers. I’ve been riding 6 days a week on average (commuting and week end trips), for a total of about 19 000 km (a bit less than 12 000 miles). I’ve ridden through heavy storms a dozen times or so. I did a couple of road trips of about 500-600 km (300-370 miles) a day. I believe this makes me reasonably qualified to give an opinion about the bike and the experience around it, while keeping in mind this is an opinion coming from a beginner. My goal here is to convey my experience so that it helps other people make better decisions for themselves.

The engine

I should probably start saying that in France, it is required by law that the engines of motorcycles be restricted to 35 kW (47 hp) for the first two years after obtaining the license. That being said, there are no restrictions on torque itself, and I quite enjoy the low-end torque of the “restricted” Milwaukee Eight (M8) engine of my bike. Because of the power restriction, torque is of course lower as well, but you definitely feel it, up to 2500-3000 RPM. Another requirement of the law is that, during those two years, the maximum power of engines when not restricted be at most 70 kW (95 hp). That requirement meant I could not get a bike with a 114ci M8, which I was fine with since the Softail Low Rider only comes with the 107ci M8 version.

What I can say about the engine is that acceleration is great and control is smooth, and that despite the restrictions, I still have power available at highway speeds. I can only imagine what it will be like once the restrictions are lifted.

The sound

The engine is somewhat loud, but with stock pipes, it has nothing to do with the popular idea most people (including me) have when they hear “Harley”. The mufflers are very effective, so much so that, when the engine is idling, I can hear it “whining”. Apparently, that sound comes from the primary chain, and there’s nothing to worry about. The exhaust sound gets a lot better during acceleration, and I’m personally satisfied with it. I imagine that, if the mufflers allowed a better rumble when idling, the roar during acceleration would be forbidden by some of the regulations the engineers had to take into account. And I, for one, am willing to tone down that sound for the sake of others. In addition, it makes long rides more comfortable.

The ride

The Low Rider is actually quite easy to ride. It weighs more than 300 kg (661 lbs), so it requires care at low speeds, but the center of gravity being low definitely helps. My main concern at low speeds is turning, because the buckhorn bars can quickly get close to the knees when doing a tight U-turn. Once out on the road, the bike is pure pleasure. It feels planted on the ground and turns very easily, which is quite comforting for a beginner like me. The throttle is both smooth and responsive, and being a throttle-by-wire system, it makes it possible to install electronic cruise control, a great tool for long rides.

The Softail version of the M8 is rigidly mounted on the frame, so internal counter balancers are used to heavily reduce most of the vibrations. At stops, when I put both hands on the handlebars, the mirrors don’t shake at all. Without the hands, they get a little shaky. The end result is a machine that feels both alive and smooth, what many people call refined, and I definitely agree. It’s apparently nothing like the previous generations of Dynas and Softails though, so some people are disappointed by what they perceive to be a lack of character or soul.

The Low Rider comes with mid controls which naturally make it kind of sporty despite the buckhorn bars and the upright position. Being 1.83m (6 ft) tall, the bike is actually a bit small for me in this configuration. It’s usually fine, except for long rides. I’ve replaced the stock foot pegs with ones from the dominion collection and it did help, but since then, I’ve decided to keep this bike for a long time and invest in it, and I’ve arranged a custom job at my dealership to install footboards. I suggest trying bikes with mid controls, forward controls, and footboards before making your choice, because their effect on your position is probably one of the most important variables regarding overall comfort.

When going on a trip for several days or more, the Low Rider isn’t the best tool for the job. On other Softail models such as the Deluxe, it’s possible to install lockable saddlebags in addition to a Tour-Pak, also lockable, and all of them sharing the key of the fork lock, but that’s not the case with the Low Rider. The saddlebags are fine but not as water-resistant as I’d like so I put everything in bags before putting those in the saddlebags. On a more positive note, the 45 cm (18 in) windshield is great, and something I can hardly do without on long rides. I only leave it home once in a while when the weather is warm. The stock seat is very comfortable, but I needed something more for long distance trips, so I replaced it with the Sundowner seat. Despite a slight visual defect that makes a gas tank bolt visible, and being slightly stiffer than the stock seat, its effect on my lower back is so good that I’ll never forget the feeling when I first rode with it.

In the end

The Softail Low Rider is exactly what I expected it to be : a gorgeous, sturdy, do-it-all machine. I’m as much in love with it as I was at day one, and it’s likely to go on for some time. I also want to thank the people at RoadStar 92, my local dealership, for making the whole experience smooth and enjoyable. I particularly appreciated having direct contact with the mechanics, and the general candor and passion for the job.