There is a war of high performance V-twins raging on the highways of America right now. Big-bore twins from Harley Davidson and Indian pour out of opposing factories just a few hundred miles apart — some from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and some from Spirit Lake, Iowa. If the arms race continues to deliver big power bikes like the Screamin’ Eagle Street Glide I rode last month, I’ll promote this conflict from both sides.
(Full Disclosure: Harley-Davidson saw how excited I was about the King of the Baggers concept and asked if I’d like to attend the race. The Motor Company shipped me a bright orange Street Glide with the upgraded 131ci Screamin’ Eagle motor to ride to the race last month.)
If Harley’s factory-equipped performance 114-cubic-inch engine isn’t enough for your liking, you can easily order up a bigger one from the Bar and Shield’s accessory catalog and have it installed by factory-trained mechanics. This 2.14-liter twin pumps up your bike’s horsepower by 20 percent and torque by 10 percent. Gains like that are rare in any performance application, and boy-howdy it’s noticeable; when installed in this Street Glide Special, it became an impressive highway freight train cruiser with more than enough performance to run the streets.
(Testing Conditions: I used this Harley as if it were my own for a little over a month of northern Nevada riding this fall. I rode it back and forth to Laguna Seca for the Moto America race weekend, took it for short trips around town and on a short daily commute, rode it down to Los Angeles on the gorgeous U.S. Route 395 to attend a press launch, where I swapped it for a new Harley-Davidson LiveWire electric motorcycle to ride home.)
My first experience with the Street Glide was picking it up from the warehouse in my city, where Harley had it delivered. From the first moment I saw it, I was blown away by its striking Performance Orange paint with black accents. I’m not really much for chrome on a motorcycle and would vastly prefer painted and blacked out metal — this bike delivers. Black pipes match to the black footboards, black handlebars, black engine bars and shock tube covers. The little bit of chrome is shockingly restrained for such an eye-catching bike.
Without exaggeration, every single fuel stop I made on this motorcycle resulted in someone commenting how nice it looked or inquisitively inching closer to inspect some of its finer details. “What year? I bet that thing is fast, right? What is that thing? How is that handling the wind out there?” More than anything, though, I got hundreds of thumbs up and shouts of “COOL BIKE!”
This isn’t a bike for introverts. It attracts attention, both visually and aurally sounding an alarm that a cool guy, or at least a cool bike, is coming through.
The FLHX Street Glide was introduced way back in 2006, and the big batwing-faired bike has been a popular member of Harley’s lineup ever since. The standard model comes with a 107-cubic-inch Milwaukee Eight engine, while the Street Glide Special comes with an upgraded 114ci version. The air-cooled 131 engine in this tester is a $6,195 dealer-installed option. I’ve bought complete motorcycles for the price of just this engine. You’re paying for performance, though, as the 131 engine delivers 121 horsepower and 131 lb-ft of torque with its 2147cc of displacement.
If you just want the iconic looks, a 107-cubic inch Street Glide will run you $21,999. To get the orange paint, black accents and upgraded 114ci engine, you can upgrade to the Street Glide Special for $27,699. If you can’t settle for anything less than the best, you’ll want to order the Screamin’ Eagle crate engine to get that big power shove. This is more or less the motorcycle equivalent of buying a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody at nearly $80,000 and then installing a $30,000 Hellephant crate engine. If you want the biggest and baddest shit, money is no object.
It’s silly and expensive, but having experienced the looks, thumbs-up approvals and interest from the general non-bike-buying public, that $34,894 as-tested price tag has its perks.
From my perspective, it’s probably a bit silly to buy a brand new bike and immediately swap the motor out for a bigger one. If it were my money, I’d spend it on a Road King that’s a few years old, at a depreciated price, and then have the factory-warrantied 131ci engine installed. That’s a hell of a lot of performance for less than the price of a new bike. Maybe that’s just me.
It’s heavy. At 827 pounds ready to ride, this is hardly a sport bike. It’s big and made of thick, strong materials. It feels as though it was chiseled out of a solid block of lead. That means that the extra horsepower of this bike is not only welcome, but almost mandatory.
The standard Street Glide Special is said to tick from 0-60 in around 4 seconds flat. Add in an extra 20 horsepower and a dozen torques and you’re looking at an easy sub-4-second jump to hyperspace. Of course there are motorcycles that can accomplish the same feat in around 2 seconds, but they certainly don’t weigh 827 pounds.
The big speed comes at highway runs, as the plentiful torque of this thing means you can hop out to pass a semi truck with a simple twist of the throttle. You’re not spinning this big V-twin to 10,000 rpm, but with a 5,500 rpm redline, it’s not just loafing along either. It pulls from low revs with plenty of power and somehow manages to do it gracefully.
Obviously the engine is the focal point of this motorcycle, largely because it costs about one-third of the base bike’s MSRP. It’s powerful and torquey in a way that only something hailing from America’s heartland can be. A long-haul trucker would be perfectly at home with this bike — but might wonder why there are so few gears.
Comfort is king on this big highway bruiser. The seat and suspension are plush and luxurious over expansion joints and potholes. I experienced impact discomfort only over the most intense and abrupt bridge transitions. Sitting with legs and arms reaching forward is pretty much my standard seating position, as I spend most of my time cruising a desk with arms outstretched to a keyboard. The Street Glide’s handlebars and footboards are placed just right to give a nice relaxed riding position. The big fuel tank makes for an interesting wide-legged stance, which could be a bit too much for riders with shorter legs, but I quickly got used to it.
The seat is a well-worn baseball catcher’s mitt, and my ass is the ball. Perfect shape, cushioning and size contributes to one of the best motorcycle seats I’ve sat in. It has just enough lower back support, too.
The hard saddle bags are spacious and easy to use. I probably over-packed them a little for my trip to Laguna Seca, with a tent, inflatable bed roll, sleeping bag, blanket, pillow and toiletries packed in one side, plus three days of clothes, an extra pair of hiking boots, my laptop, and the inner liner of my Alpinestars touring jacket packed in the other one. In all, these bags came in handy, and I found them to be easily removable. If you wanted to go for a more sleek look on your weekend ride, you can easily pull them off.
The gauges are large and very clear to read at a glance. I like having as much information as possible, especially when it means big analog gauges. Having navigation and music is nice, but I found myself preferring to use my tried-and-true method of running music and Waze from my phone through the Cardo speakers in my helmet. That way I’m not bringing quite as much attention to myself, or needing to lower the volume at stop lights to prevent myself from being “that guy.” The standard navigation installed in the bike is a little clunky, but it does have integrated Apple CarPlay, so it’s easy to use the map app of your preference.
The handlebar grips are huge. I have fairly large hands, but these felt particularly girthy in my grip. I can’t explain why, but I liked that. It made the bike feel appropriately substantial.
Despite this being a big, heavy bike, it managed to get surprisingly good fuel economy. On my trip from Reno to Los Angeles, I saw well over 40 mpg and managed to make the whole run with only two stops for fuel, getting over 250 miles per tank.
The weight of this big-motor bike makes it a bit unwieldy at low speeds and around town, and backing out of my driveway was an effort. It’s not impossible to work through, and people are usually willing to cut you some space and slack.
To exacerbate the weight issue, Harley’s big cruisers have some very hefty controls. The clutch, in particular, becomes painful to operate in stop-and-go traffic after just a few minutes. The brakes aren’t too bad, but the clutch and shifter are heavy, chunky and anything but fluid to operate. I’ve experienced this before on big Harleys, but finding neutral in the gearbox is nigh on impossible whether moving or stationary, which means you have to hold on to the hefty clutch lever when you’re at a stop light. I know I am probably outside the norm, as I sit at a computer all day and have abnormally weak carpal muscles, so your mileage may vary.
It’s loud. It’s not so bad at highway speeds, or at low rpm, but this big engine has a lot of bark to go with its bite. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing, I suppose. I vacillate between wanting loud pipes and despising them. When you’re up on the highway cruising at a good clip, the low grumble is a nice accompaniment to the sounds of the world around you. At low speeds and around town, echoing off buildings and setting off car alarms, it is quite clear just how conspicuous you are.
For having a large batwing front fairing, the Street Glide’s wind protection is surprisingly minimal. I am a tall gent, so my head sits prominently in the windstream. Further, the vent in the fairing seems aimed right at me. Having the ability to close off that vent, and perhaps making the small windscreen on top of the fairing adjustable in height, would make things a bit calmer at highway speeds. Then again, I noticed this mainly because I was riding in frigid temperatures and wanted a way to prevent the cold from infiltrating my jacket collar. During warmer months, that extra airflow is probably quite welcome.
Some of the controls and gauges are a little funky. For example, the fuel gauge doesn’t register that you’ve filled up the tank until you’ve ridden a mile or so. Every time you turn on the bike after a fill-up, it still reads as being empty with whatever low range you had before you pumped it full of high-test. As another example, the cruise control doesn’t always register in increments of one mile per hour. Sometimes you’ll hit the button and it’ll jump two or three miles per hour. I’m not sure why, but this would usually happen on or near the 5s and 10s. You’d click up from 59 mph and get 61 on the digital gauge.
It’s really expensive. For that kind of money, I would have expected all of the amenities be included, like heated grips and seat. And maybe a magic wand.
The Street Glide Special comes standard with traction control and antilock brakes, but you can add the Reflex Defensive Rider Systems option, which includes cornering-enhanced ABS and traction control, electronically linked braking between front and rear, vehicle hold control and tire-pressure monitoring.
As always, riding a motorcycle is far from a safe exercise, but with these electronics fitted, you may be less likely to have a solo crash due to rider error. Which, you know, is nice. You’ll still have to worry about everyone else on the road, though. Wear your gear.
The 131 engine is pretty amazing, but I don’t think I’d option it on a showroom-new $27,000 bike. If you want the engine, maybe have it installed in an older bike you picked up on Craigslist, as I mentioned earlier.
As for the Street Glide, I’d probably spec mine just like this one. The orange is great, and it works very well with the awesome black accents of the Special. And of course I’d have to have the safety electronics on the options list. If you can handle chrome and a smaller, lower-horsepower engine, maybe go for the non-Special to save a few bills.
If you can get past the price of this motorcycle, riding this thing across the American West feels like an extremely punk rock thing to do. This is probably the perfect motorcycle for riding U.S. Route 50, aka the Loneliest Road, all 408 miles of it.
It can conjure a badass from the meekest among us. It’s bikes like this that make me understand why Harley has earned a reputation among many different crowds. For some, buying one of these might seem like it can fill certain holes in your personality. It can make any Kirk Van Houten feel like a Rainier Wolfcastle. If that’s worth a decent down payment on a small house in the Midwest to you, then more power to you.
Grip it and rip it, pal.