Harley-Davidson motorcycles have long been known as the ultimate touring machine. Their V-twin baggers, with origins going back more than 80 years, set the standard for comfort, convenience, and raw attitude when exploring the open road.
Recently, though, we’ve seen Harley-Davidson give the grand touring bike a sporty twist. The 2023 Street Glide ST, Road Glide ST, and Low Rider ST attempt to capitalize on the grassroots “high-performance bagger” movement for riders who want to give their long-distance adventures a high-octane edge.
Luxury performance vehicles, ones that let you cruise in comfort or rev up the RPMs depending on your mood, are nothing new in the automotive world, so it’s no surprise there would be a similar market among motorcyclists. But is the Harley-Davidson ST lineup successful in creating its own unique variation on this theme?
A History of Bagger Excellence
First, we should consider how Harley-Davidson came to be a bagger authority. The timeline of the bagger motorcycle is somewhat spotty, but it’s generally accepted that they can be traced to World War II. The Harley-Davidson WLA was enlisted for battlefield service, and riders would add saddlebags for carrying tools, weapons, provisions, and other supplies they needed.
This convenience, combined with the development and expansion of the American highway system after the war, led to the Harley-Davidson bagger, and touring bikes in general, becoming highly desired. The Harley-Davidson FL can be considered the first commercial bagger, and subsequent models like the Hydra-Glide (1949), Duo Glide (1958), and Electra Glide (1965) made the ride progressively more comfortable and more powerful.
Today, bagger models from Harley-Davidson, officially known as Grand American Touring motorcycles, include the Road Glide, Street Glide, and Road King. There’s also the Ultra Limited, which finally replaced the Electra Glide in 2023 after nearly 60 years of service. It’s a series with a long, rich history, one the company is now striving to reimagine with a Sport Touring (ST) package.
Why Is Harley Going Sporty?
While Harley-Davidson is one of the most famous names in motorcycles and was a dominant racing presence for much of the twentieth century, it’s fair to say their high-performance efforts had tailed off, other than in flat-track racing. They shelved the VRSX Destroyer drag bike project in 2006, and three years later killed off the Buell Motorcycle Company sportbike line. Notoriously, Harley-Davidson wouldn’t even consider selling Buell to another company to continue production, though they did license the famed 1125R to founder Erik Buell, which let him form Erik Buell Racing out of the ashes.
However, two factors have changed the company’s tune again. The first is Jochen Zeitz, who became CEO and President in 2020 and publicly declared his commitment to reinventing the brand to make it more attractive to younger riders. The second is racing success with the motorcycles that Harley-Davidson is most famous for. MotoAmerica, which took over management of the well-known AMA Superbike Championship in 2015, added the King of the Baggers series in 2021. Intended as a throwback to early AMA racing, the class consists of Harley-Davidson FL Touring and Indian Bagger/Touring V-Twin bikes that have been souped up for the race track.
It may have seemed like a novelty at first, but King of the Baggers is arguably now the fastest-growing motorcycle racing series in the U.S., with a schedule that includes legendary tracks such as Daytona International Speedway and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Harley-Davidson rider Kyle Wyman took the inaugural King of the Baggers title in 2021. The following year, the Road Glide ST, Street Glide ST, and Low Rider ST from the Cruiser division were in Harley-Davidson dealerships. If that’s a coincidence, it’s a pretty fitting one.
What Does the ST Trim Add?
Saying that you’re trying to make your touring motorcycles sportier and more performance-oriented is one thing. Doing it successfully is another matter. As we’ve mentioned, the ST trim is available for three different Harley-Davidson models. Trying to compare all of them would be quite the undertaking, so we’re going to focus on the 2023 Street Glide ST versus the base 2023 Street Glide to see what’s changed and what hasn’t.
First, and most notable, is the V-Twin engine powering your adventures. The 2023 Street Glide base trim comes with the Milwaukee-Eight 107, as does the Road Glide Limited. As the name says, this powerplant has a displacement of 107 cubic inches. Combined with the 10:1 compression ratio and 2-1-2 dual exhaust, it produces 86 horsepower and 111 pound-feet of torque. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but not the subject of performance enthusiast’s dreams, either.
The ST trim, on the other hand, packs the Milwaukee-Eight 117, a 10.2:1 compression ratio, and a dual exhaust with a crossover. An extra 10 cubic inches and slightly higher compression might not seem like much, but it makes a world of difference. The Street Glide ST leaps to 106 horsepower, an increase of more than 23%, and 127 pound-feet of torque. When you add that the weight in full running order is 15 pounds lighter, you’ll feel the difference every time you squeeze the throttle.
Harley-Davidson also gives the rider more tools to command that added power. On the regular Street Glide, anti-lock brakes and electronic-linked braking are optional features. For the Street Glade ST, they are included as standard. When you’re barreling towards a sharp turn, you’ll be able to get woah’ed up quickly while maintaining control. Other add-ons such as cornering enhanced traction control, drag-torque slip control, and vehicle hold control are inspired by the track to let you seize the highways.
Not only that, but the Street Glide ST looks and feels more like a sportbike than anything you’re used to from a Harley-Davidson bagger. Although the wheelbase and rake are the same as the base model, the ST edition is two inches shorter overall. A more compact bike is perfect for maneuvering quickly in tight traffic. The low rear suspension gives way to a standard height suspension, letting you lean a bit more in corners so you can take them more aggressively.
Lighting has also been updated on the Street Glide ST. Instead of traditional halogen headlights, you get LED bulbs that produce brighter light for high-speed visibility. Finally, the Enforcer II Cast Aluminum wheels have been replaced with Bronze Prodigy wheels that are straight out of central casting when it comes to vintage racing style.
Modern Performance Meets Old-School Touring
Clearly, there’s a lot that performance enthusiasts can love about the Harley-Davidson ST series. They might never be confused with a Ducati Panigale V4 or a Kawasaki Ninja H2, but it’s perfect for riders who feel the need for speed from time to time.
Even with the upgrades, though, ST motorcycles stay true to decades of bagger roots. It maintains the same fairing design, luggage capacity, tires, gear ratios, and fuel tank size as its touring-focused foundation. Even with more giddy-up and turn-hugging, you have the unmistakable comfort, feel, style, and personality of a U.S.-made Harley.
To answer the original question, yes, the Harley-Davidson ST trim does succeed at what it sets out to do. It’s a more than worthy entry into the pro-touring performance market that honors the company’s heritage while flirting with the cutting edge. We can’t wait to see how the sport touring lineup evolves in the coming years.