Harley Davidson FXS 1200 Low Rider


Make Model

Harley Davidson FXS 1200 Low Rider


1977 - 78


Four stroke, 45° V-Twin, OHV, 2 valves per cylinder.


1207 cc / 73.5 cu-in
Bore x Stroke 87.3 x 100.8 mm
Cooling System Air cooled
Compression Ratio 8.0:1


Single 38mm Keihin carburetor


Coil battery
 Starting Electric

Max Power

58 hp / 42.3 kW @ 5150 rpm

Max Torque



4 Speed
Final Drive Chain

Front Suspension

Telescopic forks

Rear Suspension

Swinging arm

Front Brakes

2x 250mm disc

Rear Brakes

Single 250mm disc

Front Tyre


Rear Tyre


Wet Weight

280.0 kg / 617.3  lbs

Fuel Capacity

15 Litres / 4.1 US gal

Consumption Average

47 mpg

Braking 60 - 0 / 100 - 0

-  /  49.3 m

Standing ¼ Mile  

15.0 sec  /  85.8 mph

Top Speed

158 km/h / 98 mph

Road Test

Cycle 1979

Honda CX500 vs Harley FXS 80 Lowrider


The FXS Low Rider, had turned out to be a crowd Dnte among Harley buyers The low-slung idle, flat drag-bars, and cast wheels formed : perfect combination of style and function, id it would become the second-most pro-need model for 1978  While the 1977 editions were sold in only the gray paint with red tank trim, the 1978s could be had with a contrasting two-tone scheme of black and silver Improvements to the valve train were implemented in the middle of 1978

Motor Cycle Mechanics 1978

Suddenly a lot of things become clear. Like why, for instance, the US has a blanket 55 mph speed limit and why American brakes have the reputation they do.

In a nose-to-nose comparison with Japanese machinery half its size, you could rip the 1200cc Harley apart. But in many ways it would be like comparing the short-lived performance of a Derby winner to the simple magnificence of a Shire horse. If beauty can have a lumbering clumsiness, Harley Davidson have got it.

Imagine two, ponderous, 600cc singles pumping a third of a ton of bike along . .. imagine patches of pulsing vibration which make it seem like the two cylinders are operating independently... The big, 45-degree twin clatters along with all the majesty and attraction of a 1930's iron — including 75 mpg fuel consumption.

Big and rugged  everything from the rear shocks to the brake to the tyre and even the exhaust fits Harley's Lowrider character.

Normal riding doesn't encourage you to chase the Harley along, the iow-rewing motor waffles lazily away, the gearshift pushes the wide ratios slowly through, even the seating tempts you to sit back and let the world roll by. So "normal" takes on a new meaning where the Low-rider is concerned; but keeping its speed up to legal limits for cruising, the single carb motor gives an easy 65mpg and, after a hundred miles mostly of dual carriageway, when I deliberately rolled it along at 50 to 55mph, the tank only needed 1.3 gallons.

On shorter journeys, or when I used a bit more of the motor's thumping capacity, the 2.9 gallon tank gave a range of around 130 miles before getting on to the reserve which itself held about 6 pints, or a good 45 miles' worth.
At first sight, several things about the Harley hit you simultaneously. There's the never-ending array of piping and strangely forged devices protruding everywhere you look. Even the gearshift has a largely external mechanism. There's the sheer size, amplified by the low riding position, the 5.10 x 16 Goodyear rear tyre and the clutch housing bulging from the low-slung engine. Then, when you start absorbing some of the detail, the mind recalls pictures from books, old films, faded catalogues and you realise that not a lot has been changed since . . . well, since the good guys rode Harley, it says in the ads.
The reactions of passers-by are often illuminating; the Harley stopped them in their tracks, young and old. In fact it seemed to have a special fascination for the particularly young and the particularly old. Schoolkids stopped, wide-eyed. Ancient men became sprightly to the point of being agitated ana claimed that they "had one in 1923".
For me it was a totally new experience; I had never ridden a V-twin Harley before and I can boast that I entered into the venture with an open mind. I wasn't expecting the Harley to be like anything else I'd ridden. I wasn't disappointed.

The big motor only needed choke when the weather was cold. On the mild day when I collected it, a couple of pumps on the twistgrip would squirt in enough fuel to get the motor running. And that's when I noticed the throttle return spring was damped out, leaving a light-action twistgrip which stayed where you put it. It didn't seem like a good idea but in practice there was no problem.

At the first push of the button, the starter motor would nearly stall in getting the piston over compression, then it seemed to pick up speed on the downhill stroke and on the next turn one or other cylinder would fire and the engine would rattle into life.

The riding position isn't conducive to paddling along at low speed, but luckily the600lb machine didn't need it  as soon as the clutch started to bite, the Harley slid forward and could be ridden feet-up. For such a cumbersome device this low-speed stability made all the difference and it was surprisingly manageable, even in densely-packed traffic.

But the open road is obviously where the Harley is- aimed, preferably a long, unobstructed stretch of tarmac on a lazy summer's day. The riding position immediately suggests an easy-going, lolling back, armchair comfort, complete with alternative footrests so you can put your feet up in style. It ought to work. For me it didn't.

Even on deserted motorway stretches where there was nothing else to do but find a comfortable position, the Harley always felt like it should have been comfortable but it never seemed quite right. I always had the feeling that if I could move the bars back a bit or put the footrests up a bit or move the seat I would really be able to sit back and relax.

But sadly none of the hardware offered any real adjustment and the Lowrider is stuck with a seating arrangement which is infuriatingly nearly right. I eventually came to the conclusion that although a leaning back position seems, logically, to be comfortable, it can never really work out.

The reason is that your weight is supported through your backside and the small of your back; even mildly bumpy roads shot down the armchair theory and in between jolts I recalled the same problem with the reclining hammock seat on the Quasar. On a conventional bike you don't realise how many road shocks you absorb through your legs and arms  and as a shock-absorbing medium the bended knee seems superior to the spinal column.

The flat torque of the motor starts solidly at idle speed and appears with no hesitation; it doesn't just make the gears unnecessary, you feel that the transmission barely needs a clutch either. To pull away, you don't feed it in, as soon as the bike is moving you can forget all the delicate co-ordination, the 1200cc motor just doesn't need it. In the same way, it doesn't much matter which of the four gears you happen to be in. As soon as the engine note has progressed from a chug to a clatter you can shove the gear lever up into the next ratio. There certainly didn't seem to be any point in letting the crank spin through the full 5500rpm up to the redline. Forward progress was not proportional to the reading on the tank-mounted rev-counter.

In fact there is a good reason for not using the motor's full rev range. The long pushrods to the overhead valve gear have been known to flex which could let the valves get all tangled up.
Trundling along on the Harley  and I can't think of any other way to describe it  takes all the urgency and hurry out of one's mission. The bike's character dominates and the only thing to do is sit back and enjoy it. There's ample time to take note of things, like the mirrors which actually show a panoramic view of the road behind, with not an elbow in sight. That in itself made quite a change, although ironically the Harley's lazy manner just doesn't put driving licences at risk and it needs its mirrors far less than most other machines.

The indicator buttons (one on each handlebar) match the starter and horn buttons and have to be kept pressed as long as you want the lights to flash. Braking ana changing down, blipping the unsprung twist-grip and indicating right at a busy junction is a manoeuvre which requires some thought. All it needs to complete the juggling act is a slippery road and a foot-operated clutch. The slippery road you'd have to find for yourself, but Harley-Davidson can do a foot clutch . . .

Braking brings the machine right up to date with hydraulic discs all round, twin discs with tiny calipers at the front and a single disc with a huge caliper connected to an equally rugged pedal for the rear wheel. Considering the size and the leverage of the rear brake, its performance was less than impressive although the riding position inhibited any tendency to have a good stomp on the car-type pedal.

The front brake was much more powerful, although it needed fairly heavy lever pressure. We stopped the bike in just over 30 feet from a true 30mph which, considering the sheer mass involved, wasn't too bad. At higher speeds the Harley needed more room and I instinctively played safe, always getting on the brakes good and early. The brakes themselves were perfectly reliable and must have been pretty powerful but matching any stopping system to such a beast could never be a very rewarding task.

In the same way, the suspension and handling had to cope with more than it is reasonable to expect. Both are matters for compromise between rigidity and comfortable control and the fact that they work at all is probably praise enough. In fact the suspension worked remarkably well leaving only the slightly suspect riding position to show up any problems. It took the edge off sharp bumps without throwing the bike off line and the front wheel could be seen pattering away over ripples in the road while very few jolts got through to the bars. As the back wheel presumably traversed the same ripples, the rear shocks must have been doing an equal job.

Handling and steering, while heavy, were firm and positive. Trie only time the Harley got upset was when I let it ground by going through a bumpy bend faster
than I should've.

Then it leapt up and twitched across the road. It would ground easily, many degrees before most other machines but I don't see this as a fault. The Lowrider gives you plenty of warning that it isn't meant to be hustled through bends, the whole nature of the bike shouts it at you from the very start.

The bike only grounded once while I was riding it and it was certainly easy enough not to let it happen again.

Performance is something else in which the Harley does not relate to conventional norms. 46bhp and a top speed of 101 mph are not what most bikes would deliver from 1200cc of engine room. But that doesn't take into account the sheer pulling power. In top gear the V-twin rolls along at 50mph and 2500rpm. It will go down to 1000rpm — 20mph — and then pull full throttle, thumping away like a traction engine.

The actual torque delivered by the engine carries on increasing to a peak just below 4000rpm, by which time the Harley would be doing about 80mph in top. So for all road speeds, or all legal ones, top gear is not only adequate but it has a steadily climbing torque curve to fall back on. Hills and headwinds don't exist for the big American motor. Perch a passenger on the back and it makes no difference.

It's a lazy bike and it gets you into a lazy way of riding — if you're looking for anything else, the Harley's the wrong bike. Even if your idea of biking perfection is to roll along at a steady 50 or 60mph with the minimum of fuss and gearshifts, there's still a couple of things about the Harley which you may not find too appealing. One, quite obviously is the price. Pound for pound (sterling or otherwise), just what do you compare it with? The intrinsic value of this refashioned piece of Americana is strictly between you and your bank manager.

The other point is the spares and service situation, which hasn't enjoyed the best record in the past. While AMF, Harley Davidson's parent company, were importing the bikes it seemed as if the UK end was treated like the poor relation. Now Coburn and Hughes are bringing the bikes in, it remains to be seen whether they will have any more luck in getting parts from the Milwaukee factory.

On top of that, the Harley V-twins have had a reputation of leaving a trail of bits and pieces behind them. Our model, despite the hefty vibration, stayed pretty firmly stuck together and didn't suffer any failures.

To offset any practical disadvantages, the Lowrider does exude an atmosphere all of its own. I mentioned its effect on casual passers-by: one of the guys on the staff took it home where it was spotted by a youthful neighbour. It would be technically true to say that he took one look at the Harley and rushed out to buy a Honda. The whole truth was that the bike, cluttered with so much mechanical paraphernalia, made him aware of bikes and motivated him to the extent that he suddenly wanted one. So he couldn't afford a Harley but he could, and did, afford a 250 Honda.

With that kind of thing going for it, who's to say whether the 1200 is good or bad? The only thing for sure is that it's not indifferent.