Looking for a lighter appearance, customizers began swapping Sportster forks onto to Harley-Davidson Big Twins. Willie G. Davidson and The Motor Company picked up on this trend and built production machines using the “parts bin” approach. Starting with the Super Glide, 1971, it proved very successful. By 1977 the formula was refined and the product got the name Low-Rider. The rest is history.

Sales soared on these models as they offered a cool, kicked back look, a low 27 inch seat height which was inviting to women, too. The Low Rider then outsold all other Harley models. Low bars, 32 degree steering head angle, mag wheels with raised white letter tires, a stepped seat, a two-into-one slash cut exhaust and forward foot controls gave the machine a custom look. The venerable Shovelhead motor, already ten years in production, offered plenty of torque and good sound.

The new 80 cubic inch engine arrived in the Low-Rider in 1979, belt drive in a few years as well. Saving design and engineering time, the Sturgis and SuperGlide models were also based on this build approach.

Looking back to this era, we also saw 1977 bring us the Harley-Davidson XLCR Cafe Racer, a Sportster variant, as well as the MX250 motorcrosser. It was an important time in Harley’s history with new ideas and great expansion in manufacturing volume.

This Low Rider, on loan from Iowa resident Jeff Ott is just one of dozens of Harley-Davidsons you can see when you visit the National Motorcycle Museum. Street, competition and custom, they are all here awaiting your visit.


    • Engine: Overhead Valve, 45 Degree V-Twin
    • Displacement: 1200cc’s / 74 Cubic Inches
    • Bore & Stroke: 3.44 x 3.97 / 87mm x 101mm
    • Horsepower: 58HP
    • Carburetor: Bendix
    • Transmission: 4-Speed
    • Primary: Chain Driven
    • Electrical: 12 Volt
    • Ignition: Coil & Points
    • Starting: Kick & Electric
    • Final Drive: Chain
    • Frame: Double Down Tube
    • Suspension: Hydraulic Fork / Twin Shocks
    • Brakes: Triple Disks
    • Wheels / Tires: 3.50 x 19 / 5 .10 x 16
    • Wheelbase: 63.5 Inches
    • Weight: 623 Pounds
10 replies
  1. mark harrigan
    mark harrigan says:

    I bought my 1978 Low Rider used in 1979 with 5400 miles, today it has 109,000 and has been mostly “retired” for 20 years but I still ride it several times a year, always fires right up.

  2. Robert Schlichting
    Robert Schlichting says:

    I wish I’d of kept mine too. I see this one is missing the turn signals. I took mine off for some dumb reason. The transmission went out around 6500 miles. the 3rd gear heat treating was the reason it blew. I got this new from Dorothy Wilwert in DBQ, Iowa for $3,500. I had about 65,000 on it when I sold it. Family and boating became the bigger need of my time then.


    I wish I still had mine too. It was stolen 20 years ago. It was the best HD I have ever owned. 60 MPH for real. I still have my 82 Sturgis lucky to get 30 MPH with this one. Rebuilt at 75000 miles now has 5500 on it.

  4. James
    James says:

    Love my 78 I got mine from my foster father, it came into my life at 10 years old an he got it ñew from pates Harley in Chattanooga, it sat for 18 years so it took me years to make it ware it is today but worth every minute

    • Dr. James T. Bacon
      Dr. James T. Bacon says:

      In 1977 the FIRST SERIES HD FXS 1200 – 3,742 motorcycles.
      The color is Original: Gun-Metal-Gray. Only MY 1977 available.
      With RED “1917” Harley-Davidson logos on the fuel-tank.
      Dr. Bacon.

  5. Joe Kucic
    Joe Kucic says:

    Still riding my 77 FXS. Bought it off the showroom floor in 77, I was 23. I’m 66 now, had the topend done twice through the years and new seals in the bottom. My FXS came stock with a Keihin carb, not a bending as stated in the specs…Runs like a top…keep the shiney side up!


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