Review: 2022 Harley-Davidson Low Rider El Diablo
With the Low Rider El Diablo, Harley-Davidson has leveled up the strange bedfellows of opulence and austerity. Parked on its side stand, the layered, faded, and pinstriped custom paint is breathtaking, highlighted by the textured black finishes of the valve covers and various other metal bits. Swinging a leg over the seat and viewing the bike from the spartan simplicity of the cockpit contrasts the motorcycle’s outward beauty in the most complementary way.
This devil is the second release in H-D’s Icon Collection, which began with last year’s Electra Glide Revival model. Both Icon bikes had production runs of only 1,500 units. Getting the chance to put some miles on such a rarity was like taking the hottest girl in school to the prom. But prom dates aren’t just about appearances—knowing how to party once the dance is over is equally important. The El Diablo is pretty, but also the kid who brings the tequila.
A Sporty Icon
Powered by the largest of H-D’s V-Twins, the 117 cubic-inch (1900cc) Milwaukee-Eight draws air through its Heavy Breather intake before compressing, exploding, and exhausting its fuel/air mixture to the tune of 125 claimed pound-feet of torque and 103 claimed horsepower. The claimed curb weight is a not-exactly-light 728 pounds. Never once, though, did the El Diablo feel as if it weighed what the spec sheet states nor did I ever think to myself, “If only it had a little bit more power.”
The free-revving nature of the liquid-cooled, counter-balanced, fuel-injected Milwaukee-Eight engine is a crowning achievement of pushrod engine design. Smooth all the way up to its redline and surprisingly flexible, the engine never felt taxed and was equally happy being short-shifted or carrying a gear past its peak output. For all intents and purposes, it’s a sporty engine, which is good because the bike’s chassis is as well.
With my knees riding higher than the fuel tank due to the positioning of the footpegs, I was aware of the El Diablo’s enhanced cornering clearance before ever rounding a turn. Once underway, I happily confirmed that the El Diablo does indeed play frisky with a set of switchbacks, especially for a motorcycle with saddlebags and a frame-mounted fairing. The reach to the handlebar was a little longer than I prefer, but don’t all sportbikes have you leaning forward for better handling? So, for me, the seating position took a little getting used to, but overall I grew to like the tradeoff of comfort vs. control. The nicely contoured seat deserves recognition for increasing the tolerability of the somewhat awkward seating position.
In keeping with the bike’s sporty nature, the El Diablo’s suspension was up to the task of rounding corners quickly, as well as dealing with the occasional pothole while keeping all 915 pounds of combined bike and rider weight from getting out of sorts. I assumed the devil was outfitted with some fancy Screamin’ Eagle suspension components but—like always when I assume something—I was proven wrong. Apparently, the fork, with 5.1 inches of travel, and the shock, with 4.4 inches of travel, are simply nicely sprung and well damped from the factory.
The small saddlebags are mounted high. Most of my time aboard the El Diablo was in an urban setting but had I the chance to venture farther, the roughly 50 liters of storage capacity would have demanded I pack light. With no passenger seat to attach anything to, you’re left wearing a backpack for extended road trips.
The 300mm dual front discs and four-piston calipers are up to the task of slowing the El Diablo’s roll, but the rear brake was so ineffective it might as well not exist. The bike comes standard with ABS, which is only one of three electronic conveniences. The other two are cruise control and Bluetooth. Cruise control works just as it should, while Bluetooth connects your phone to the factory-installed Rockford Fosgate speakers mounted to the inside of the fairing. The small speakers pack a wallop of sound via the 250-watt amplifier, and the system is outfitted with automatic volume control. Without a phone mount on the handlebar, however, there’s no way to control the volume, select music, or do anything else with the phone while it’s stowed in your jacket pocket. This is where the simplicity of the El Diablo gets confusingly interesting.
The Subjectiveness of Value
One has certain preconceptions of a modern motorcycle wearing a $27,999 price tag. My surprise when finding the cockpit devoid of a full-color TFT display, accompanied by a myriad of handlebar-mounted switchgear for toggling through an endless procession of menus for adjusting everything from ride modes to suspension settings, left me wondering what I was here to evaluate. But as my eyes floated around the void behind the frame-mounted fairing, I started really appreciating the underwhelming nature of it all.
The cockpit is so minimalistic there’s only a small digital readout wrapped around the handlebar, containing information such as speed, clock, fuel gauge, two trip meters, and a tach. As I put miles on the bike, I came to be satisfied with having only the miniature gauge and no other electronic distractions. Each spin aboard the El Diablo was a mini-vacation away from technology. But this was me bopping around known roads in my local vicinity. Would I continue appreciating the lack of technology on a longer trip to unfamiliar locales?
RoadRUNNER’s Jeff Buchanan was along for the day’s photoshoot, riding a Royal Enfield Scram. At one point, he commented how the Scram is so low-budget that neither the brake nor the clutch lever is adjustable. I replied, “What do you expect for a $5,000 motorcycle?” And then I noticed that the same levers on the $28,000 El Diablo are also non-adjustable. This sent me down a wormhole of perceived value.
The bliss of ignorance started wearing thin as I considered Jeff’s comment. A moment prior, I was happy aboard the tech-free H-D. The El Diablo is gorgeous, rides well, and I feel good when I’m aboard it. There are more than a few motorcycles, however, in the same price range that fit these criteria and also come with technologies I adore, such as electronic suspension, a heated seat, and adaptive cruise control. Would I feel it was money well spent after having purchased an El Diablo? Luckily, I was spared having to make the hard decision due to my devil being a press bike and on loan for a finite period of time.
Reflecting further, though, I can definitely see the attraction of having this rare beauty parked in the garage. The technology-free zone it provides is the perfect excuse for not answering the phone or knowing exactly where you are or when you’ll be home. Owning the El Diablo is similar to why I spend the money keeping my 1975 Honda CB400F in good running condition and the registration and insurance current. I have other bikes with modern conveniences at my disposal, but sometimes I want to ride, hearing only wind and engine noise and nothing more. The El Diablo costs a lot more than my Honda, but it’s not for sale even for the devil’s MSRP. The value of the experience doesn’t have a price tag.
+as gorgeous as it’s rare, all-around good performance, anti-technology
–pricey, limited storage space, anti-technology
Engine: Liquid-cooled, V-twin, Milwaukee-Eight
Power: 103hp @4,750rpm; 125lb-ft @3,500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed Cruise Drive
Weight: 725lbs (claimed)
Seat Height: 28.3in
Fuel Capacity: 5gal
Fuel grade: Premium
Colors: El Diablo Bright Red, El Diablo Dark Red Metallic Fade