Low Rider. It's not just a catchy, soundtrack-ready ditty by Long Beach funk band War that peaked at number seven on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart in the summer of '75. It's also the hydraulic hot rod described therein. And two years after said song's release, it was the name of Harley-Davidson's eye-popping first factory custom motorcycle.
Rolling out at Daytona Bike Week in 1977, the FXS Low Rider boasted a 1206cc V-Twin engine, a top speed of 105.6 mph and a seat height of 27 inches. With extended front forks, it might not have been the best at, you know, cornering, but the look was unmistakably cool, and the Low Rider quickly became a best seller. Various iterations became staples of Harley's cruiser line for the next three decades.
Since 2009, the brand has put out different kinds of Low Riders on and off. But now it's the summer of '22, and there's a new edition that is just about as attention-grabbing as the original. The Low Rider ST is different, however, because this bike promises to handle just as well as it looks. Having joyfully ridden a couple of earlier Low Riders in recent years — through Baja, Mexico in 2017 and over Colorado's Loveland Pass in 2019 — I was stoked to take a little trip, take a little trip, take a little trip and see… what these wheels could do.
Is the Harley Low Rider ST new?
Relatively. The 2022 Low Rider ST hit dealerships alongside its stripped-down sibling, the Low Rider S, this past spring.
What makes the Harley Low Rider ST special?
Harley historians will tell you that the ST's style emerged from Southern California, where FXRs, Dynas and Softails get customized into dazzling machines that don't skimp on performance, thanks to powerful engines, raised suspension for better cornering and tall bars for... okay, yeah, those are mostly for looks.
That vibe carries over to the streamlined Low Rider S, a naked bike with a profile not that different from the Low Riders of yore. But it is also present in the ST, a more road trip-friendly option owing largely to an aerodynamic frame-mounted fairing and nifty removable saddlebags.
In a nod to modernity, the ST offers a minimalist LCD "tech gauge" embedded in the handlebar riser and tempting options such as a $1,020 Rockford Fosgate Inner Fairing Audio Kit, which I am obligated to mention because my test ride had one — and I enjoyed the hell out of it. The ST also has cruise control, and as old-school as I sometimes like to think I am, I enjoyed that feature too.
Both bikes also boast a growling beast of an engine, the Milwaukee-Eight 117, a 1923cc V-Twin packing 103 ponies and delivering 125 ft. lbs. torque at 3500 rpm. Of course, one can only appreciate what that means when the rubber meets the road.
How does this Harley ride?
To thoroughly test this bike, I knew I had to take at least one long ride. So, in addition to ripping around the New York City area on it, I packed the saddlebags for a weekend trip to the DC suburbs where my parents and sister's family reside, about 260 miles from Manhattan.
I also had some good context to evaluate it because I've made this trip on various other bikes, including a Honda CTX700, a Triumph Bonneville T-100 and an Indian Chieftain Elite. Compared to those three, the ST was the smoothest ride yet.
The main reasons include many of the features I've already referenced. The engine, first of all, is spectacular. I specifically remember earlier Low Riders having an impressive rumble… so much so that the bars shook, and it was difficult to get into neutral, two qualities that get old fast. The beast has been tamed here — it positively purrs when you cruise at a steady pace. Yet when you need a lot of gas quickly, beating a light or making a bold pass on a two-lane road, you only need to flick your wrist and the bike roars to life, accelerating quickly, even at high speeds, to get the job done and have a blast doing it.
The FXRT Sport Glide fairing also plays a role here. It's not particularly bulky, so it doesn't impede maneuvering in tight traffic. Yet, it helps split the wind with alacrity, while the six-inch tilted windshield provided just enough deflection to go 90 on the highway without feeling assaulted by the power of the air. Frame-mounted fairings can feel a bit funky at first because the headlight does not turn with the bars, but in my experience, the stock LED headlamp also provides plenty of illumination at night.
A third component that impressed me was the saddlebags. I was happy to discover that the two removable interior pockets from my Dakine High Roller snowboard bag fit perfectly into these user-friendly compartments, which offer a combined capacity of nearly two cubic feet. That meant I could pack for a three-day trip without worrying about strapping anything onto the bike or my back. The bags are positioned well above the exhaust and are slim enough that, like the fairing, they don't affect close-quarters maneuvering.
I learned first-hand when I stopped by a friend's place in Brooklyn on the way back from DC on what happened to be a major holiday. The ride from there was one of the most trafficky I have ever experienced, but the ST proved so maneuverable that I could make moves all over the place — almost like I was riding a bicycle — and get home much more quickly than expected. It's worth noting that these bags are also pretty easy to remove when you really want to streamline.
It's also worth noting that as great as it is to have a bike with the torque, top speed and maneuverability to ride on all kinds of roads, it all means very little if those features don't add up to an overall feeling of fun. They do equal bliss with the ST, though. A long, continuous road trip can feel like a slog when the miles pile up, and your wrist and butt get numb. On this one, the ride was so breezy that the trip almost ended too soon.
Anything else stand out about this cruiser?
The fairing and saddlebags probably detract a bit from the looks — I've always thought naked bikes look cooler — but not that much. I know this because when I stopped for gas in a small town in Maryland, three different guys driving pickup trucks stopped by to admire the bike and ask me all about it. How much their interest had to do with the relative fuel efficiency of a motorcycle versus, say, a Ford F-250 is anybody's guess.
As I mentioned, the Rockford Fosgate sound system, which integrates pretty seamlessly into the fairing, is an option and a rather pricey one. But if you are gonna fork over $20,000-plus for a motorcycle, I recommend you put up another grand. You control it entirely with your phone, so it's worth mounting that to your handlebars (I swear by Peak Design's Bar Mount, which is tricky to install but a shock-absorbing, quick-releasing delight when in place).
Once you have done so and paired up, you'll be rocking out to a pair of 5.25" woofers and remote tweeters — audible up to about 80 mph — so you can hit the road with your personal soundtrack. In my case, lately, it's been Hail Satin by the Foo Fighters because there's nothing like rolling around town fueled by testosterone, gasoline and… disco.
How much does the Harley Low Rider ST cost?
The base price of the Vivid Black version is $21,749, while the Gunship Gray paint job starts at $22,199.
2022 Harley Davidson Low Rider ST
Engine: 1923cc Milwaukee-Eight 117 V-Twin
Gearbox: six-speed manual
Horsepower: 103 hp
Torque: 125 ft. lbs. at 3500 RPM
Curb weight: 721 pounds
Seat height: 27 inches
Top speed: 120 mph