Harley-Davidson modernises two of its iconic baggers

… without forgetting their 1960s heritage. Nick Ferman joins Harley-Davidson in the south of France for the first ride of the new 2024 Road Glide and Street Glide

Motoring 13 Mar 2024

When doing my research ahead of the European launch of Harley-Davidson’s new models, I came across this quote from Willie G Davidson, the grandson of one of the company founders: ‘Form follows function, but both report to emotion.’ To me, it perfectly encapsulates the essence of the Milwaukee-based manufacturer, who recently celebrated 120 years of glorious history.

A Harley is more than a machine; it’s leather jacket-clad Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, or Elvis taking Priscilla for a spin on his 1966 Shovelhead FLH. It’s the American Dream, if that still means anything to anyone (it does to me).

The Street Glide and Road Glide have been the bestselling Harley-Davidson baggers (large touring bikes) for quite some time; they are direct descendants of the 1969 Electra Glide, the first production motorcycle in history to mount a fork-fixed fairing as standard. Although the bikes have been evolving mechanically and aesthetically over the decades, until this year, there hadn’t been such a radical redesign. According to Brad Richards, the Harley-Davidson vice president of design and creative director for motorcycles, the reason is that for years consumers wanted a Harley that ‘looked like a Harley’: the big selling point was the idea that their favourite brand never changed. So, why now? In Richards’ view, research showed that the modern Harley customer is ready for something new, reflecting the constantly changing world.

To the untrained eye, the 2024 Street and Road Glides don’t look too dissimilar to their predecessors, however the upgrades are a big deal for the connoisseurs. The trademark “shark nose” of the Road Glide now feels futuristic, with a bigger headlight that takes up most of the fairing and a newly designed windshield. The Street Glide’s Batwing fairing, which until recently recalled its distant 1969 cousin, is brought into the 21st century with a flatter, sculpted silhouette and a fully integrated LED system that accentuates that famous fairing.

Other design features go beyond the aesthetic, offering a better riding experience: for example, the new one-piece seat shape and padding materials are considerably more comfortable. Re-shaping the fuel tank helped shave up to 8kg off the new models, meaning that a 368kg motorcycle now feels almost agile. As a result, approaching the twisty French roads on the Street Glide was pure joy – moving the bike from left to right felt easy and the lower handlebars and fork-mounted fairing made entering tight bends a surprisingly smooth experience. On recent American riding trips, I recall liking the Road Glide more, with its sky-high bars and fixed fairing, but I was on long, wide open roads in Tennessee that didn’t require precise cornering. This is probably why the Street Glide outsells the Road Glide in the UK. Weight saving is not the only thing that makes for a better riding experience. The new Milwaukee Eight 117 V-Twin engine has 7 per cent more torque and 11 per cent more power compared to the previous Milwaukee 114, and having ridden previous 2023 and 2022 models I can tell that the difference is noticeable; the “pulling” power is instant and keeps going across the RPM scale.

I’m an analogue guy, but I guess in 2024 it’s only natural that a fully digital touchscreen dashboard had to be part of the redesign. The 12.3” screen is the biggest on a production Harley yet, and the Skyline™ OS infotainment system has a myriad of functionalities that will make touring more comfortable.

I am biased. I have been a Harley-Davidson convert since my 2021 California trip, but there is no denying that on those tiny French roads the motorcycles looked incongruous: too big, too loud. On the first day, in the corner of my eye I caught a silk-scarfed, coffee-drinking Frenchman looking at me with a confused (irritated?) expression on his face. I liked that. If I wanted to go unnoticed, I probably should have ridden a BMW GS.


The Harley-Davidson Street Glide starts at £26,795 and the Road Glide starts at £27,295; harleydavidson.com