2020 Harley-Davidson Lineup Review
New RDRS Traction Control, CVOs and other touring line updates for H-D 2020.
Harley-Davidson’s 2020 lineup is a reflection of their current strategy to push out into new demographics and products—like electric motorcycles and bicycles—while taking care of their bread and butter. This is the bread and butter: A new take on a retro hot rod to make you feel like an outlaw, and continuing improvements to their legendary Touring models means that their traditional base is far from forgotten.
By Billy Bartels
Photography by Harley-Davidson
While crossing town on the interstate recently, I was passed by a pair of refugees from Sons of Anarchy. You know the type: high-risers, small flyscreeen, blacked-out paint. I was thinking to myself, “hasn’t that show been gone for like five years?” Apparently, that’s what streaming is for, because that’s also the blueprint for the Low Rider S.
This is that bike, at least to the extent that a factory can do that bike. Big motor (114 cubic inches, up from the basic 107 c.i.), tall bar, an aggressive posture, and a beefy front end to match. Like an iPhone S, the Low Rider S comes with a bit more than the base Low Rider. 114 cubic inches of Milwaukee-Eight, pumping out a claimed 119 ft.-lbs. of torque, to the Low Rider’s 107-incher.
The S has all-black everything (in various textures), except the dark bronze-colored wheels, while the Low Rider is (mostly) bright paint with chrome and black accents. The front end is an inverted (and blacked out, of course) 43mm cartridge design, sporting dual disc brakes, over the LR’s conventional front end and single disc.
While H-D will position this bike as a more aggressive performance Softail, they’ve already got a couple of those in the Fat Bob and FXDR. But while those motorcycles are decidedly futuristic (and maybe a little European-looking?), this one’s looks are planted squarely in the All-American past; specifically the 1980s. There are those who still mourn the death of the Dyna. While I’m sure Sons of Anarchy did wonderful things for H-D’s bottom line, it also planted the idea that (the now discontinued) Dyna Glides were for young folk, while Softails were dinosaurs of the past. While a Heritage Classic might be a bit of an old man’s bike (personally, I’d point you to the new Tri-Glide CVO), this is Young Punk personified.
The Glory Days
Nostalgia is a funny thing. The gauges are on the tank to match the profile of the ’70s-80s Low Riders. But the holy grail of customizing back then was welding the tanks and losing the gauges. On this bike, there’s a perfect place to relocate them: inside the fairing. But that’s filled with an ugly piece of plastic instead. Side note, you can’t see the gauges in a full-face helmet without looking down. All that nostalgia and OG-ness is designed to make you not miss the exposed dual shocks of the Dyna chassis, (or, really, every Low Rider chassis from the 1970s on), or notice the added oil cooler between the frame rails up front. This is not the ‘S’s first rodeo. It was introduced as a Dyna four years ago, then was dropped less than two years later when all the Dynas got ported to a unified Softail chassis, and is back for a second go-round. Though obviously a different motorcycle than that one with a different frame and engine, they’re very much cut from the same cloth.
Sitting astride the Low Rider S, I find my knees above my hips (I’m 6’0” with a 33” inseam), but my arms a comfortable stretch to the tallish bars. The Low Rider S may not have ape hangers, but the ergonomics would work well for an actual ape. As it is, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Though a lot of weight is directed at my backside, the seat is deeply cushioned and only gets uncomfortable at the end of a day of riding. For the record, I loved the 2014-17 Dyna version with the adjustable bar, seat and footpegs (base model, not the S), it was the most comfortable Dyna I’d ever been on.
Arms-up, knees-up is not the worst way to ride a motorcycle with some swagger, or aggressively for that matter. And it does aggressive very well. The inverted front end, equipped with dual floating discs, does a really good job of keeping it tidy on the brakes or leaned over in a corner. Those high pegs make more sense when you’re cranked over and still not scratching the pavement with them yet. They’re still under you enough to stand on them, if you need to go off-road. Or, you know, just not hit a big pothole sitting down.
Despite pulling in the rake (as compared to the base Low Rider), handling seems deliberate—well planted, with good cornering clearance, but she definitely likes being pushed around.
It’s all perfectly matched to the larger Milwaukee-Eight, handing the extra torque with ease. It’s basically unflappable. It isn’t particularly practical. With just a bare fender behind the seat, there’s nowhere to put anything (goods or human) without consulting H-D’s legendary accessory catalog. From there, windshields and passenger accommodations, luggage and lighting; all manner of practical things are possible, while slowly stripping away the pure, singular outlaw bike that is the Low Rider S.
In Praise of Acronyms
RDRS (Reflex Defensive Rider Systems) is Harley-Davidson’s new suite of electronic rider aids that are standard on the high-end CVO models and LiveWire, and optional on most Touring family models. RDRS is an amalgamation of four sub-systems, each with their own acronym. C-ELB (Cornering Enhanced Electronic Linked Braking) balances braking front to rear for added stability, even while cornering. C-TCS (Cornering Enhanced Traction Control System) is designed to limit wheelspin under acceleration, and has settings for Rain and “Standard,” as well as the ability to disable it. VHC (Vehicle Hold Control) holds brake pressure to ensure the bike doesn’t roll when it shouldn’t, such as on a hill. DSCS (Drag-Torque Slip Control System) is to control excessive engine braking that can cause slippage on wet or otherwise traction-compromised surfaces.
The two subsystems dubbed “Cornering Enhanced” is acknowledging the limitations of their base ABS to deal with lean angle. In training videos for their old system years ago, the rider was specifically reminded to brake upright if at all possible.
I rode a few RDRS-equipped Touring models and attempted to detect any interventions that may have occurred, but they are supremely subtle. Only the (standard to all models, and not part of the RDRS package) ABS is easy to engage by stomping on the rear brake, other than that, the nanny programs were nearly imperceptible. Braking hard with the front (especially leaned-over) should probably kick in a little rear brake, but I never felt it. Unlike some nanny systems, these stay well in the background.
Available for the same set of motorcycles (Touring and Livewire) is Harley-Davidson’s new H-D Connect app-based subscription service. H-D Connect serves as a remote readout of most of your bike’s stats: fuel (or charge) level, tire pressure, riding statistics, and maintenance status. It also sends a notification if your bike is unexpectedly tampered with, as well as its location; useful if its stolen or you just can’t find it in a large parking lot. The service starts at $150/year (with a year of free service for new owners), and is available for Apple and Android smartphones, but not tablets, through the Harley-Davidson app.
Harley-Davidson 2020 Touring Lineup—Nomenclature Evolution
Way, way back in the day, there was the Electra Glide. Originally that meant a Harley Big Twin that had an electric starter. Eventually it came to mean a luxury tourer with a fork-mounted “Batwing” fairing. Then came the Ultra, which was just an upgraded Electra Glide, with all the bells and whistles (not literally, those are still only an aftermarket option). The Ultra moniker eventually also applied to the upgraded version of the Road Glide—Harley’s fixed-fairing touring rig—which confused some people to no end, since Ultra had become synonymous with the Electra Glide.
Harley’s CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations, or in-house custom) division came about in the ’90s, throwing (again, not literally) everything they could think of at a limited selection of models every year. Naturally this resonated with the touring crowd, to the point where all the current CVO models are touring, where they used to have some custom cruiser styles tossed in. While CVO models were (and are) thick with custom grips, wheels and other shinies, they are also big on the creature comforts like heated grips and the latest electronic enhancements. The trickle down from this innovation to the rest of the product line meant they needed yet another label for this new level of equipment somewhere north of Ultra, and thus was born the Limited.
A look at Harley-Davidson’s current Touring lineup confuses these past definitions. Without writing it all down, there’s now a model called the Ultra Limited. Both of these terms were previously modifiers for existing models, now those two words basically mean an Electra Glide with all the full-on stuff, which is very different from Harley’s entry-level tourer, the Electra Glide Standard. Which brings us to the new Road Glide Limited. The word Limited has apparently taken the place of Ultra in H-D’s lexicon meaning “The one with all the touring stuff on it” (regardless of fairing configuration). It’s somewhat like how the word “literally” can now literally mean “figuratively.” Just to confuse things, there’s an Ultra/Electra Glide (whatever you want to call it) in the CVO lineup named the CVO Limited. Really?!
I used to tell people confused by H-D’s naming conventions, “Trust me, it makes sense,” and now I can’t.
The new 2020 Road Glide Limited is not exactly a new model. The Tour Pak-equipped Road Glide has been around since the 2011 model year as the Road Glide Ultra. The Road Glide, with its frame-mounted fairing, is known as the “rider’s bike” of Harley’s touring family. Now that it’s Limited, undoubtedly even more will flock to it. It now features darker finishes than the Road Glide Ultra did last year.
Custom Vehicle Operations Turns 21
Twenty-one-years of in-house customs. New accessories (available via their catalog), bigger engines, and bold design ideas, or sometimes just the best version of a given bike with a spare-no-expense attitude. Harley-Davidson’s Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) division is a lot like in-house brands from luxury carmakers, like Mercedes’ AMG, with limited runs of exclusive vehicles.
This year, as in most of the last two decades, all CVO models come loaded with features, some for comfort/convenience and performance, but mostly for looks. Powered by the liquid-cooled Milwaukee-Eight 117 (the biggest, most powerful engine H-D makes), with upgraded suspension, infotainment systems, LED lighting everywhere (including illuminated switches), power locking luggage, heated seats, 30w bluetooth headset, custom wheels, side covers, controls, etc. Basically, they’re loaded. The adaptive LED Daymaker headlights are perhaps the most exciting thing here, as they sense lean angle to help illuminate around corners.
Returning this year are the popular CVO Limited and CVO Street Glide. CVO Limited is the ultimate custom touring rig, emphasis on both custom and touring. Based on the Ultra Limited, it’s the same solid handling, comfortable heavy tourer, but with slightly better power delivery and suspension components. It’s a great rig for a cross country jaunt, but you’d be right to worry about keeping all of that shiny chrome looking good on a hard ride through the elements.
The CVO Street Glide is the made-for-fun version of the Limited. Stripped of the top box, 70 pounds lighter, with the same big engine and twice as much stereo wattage (600w vs 300w on the other CVO models); it’s ready to party. Another rider asked why I didn’t just use the 30w headset. Or at least I think that’s what he asked as I turned up the volume and rode away. With considerably less weight and just as much horsepower, this is the CVO that easily makes the most sense, carving corners like a bike 2/3’s it’s size.
A New CVO TriGlide brings the luxo-level treatment to H-D’s trike lineup for the first time. Billed by Harley as the Ultimate Trike, it brings all of the same amenities and accessories to the table, albeit with and extra wheel and another 300+ pounds. CN