Harley-Davidson fans mourned the “Death of the Dyna” when the brand discontinued the Big Twin in 2017. To Dyna devotees, the cruiser was more than just a Harley, it was an identity, and the sting of that loss bred doubt and discontent with the Dyna’s replacement—the Milwaukee-Eight Softails. Under those circumstances, the consolidated cruiser family faced an uphill battle with the Harley faithful from the get-go.
The same reception greeted the FXR when The Motor Company debuted the Super Glide II in 1982. The FXRT Sport Glide followed close behind in 1983, but the legendary 1,340cc Evolution V-twin didn’t power the platform until 1984. Still, the brand’s base denounced the FXR’s "modern” design and mill, prompting the introduction of the Dyna by 1991 (we all know how that story ends).
Five years removed from the Dyna’s demise and both outcasts are now in vogue. The M8 Softails have gained acceptance among brand loyalists—including diehard Dyna fans. On the used market, second-hand FXRs command top dollar. Those unable or unwilling to purchase an aging Sport Glide often turn to the aftermarket, bolting a replica FXRT fairing onto an M8 Softail. It wasn't long before Harley-Davidson's design department picked up on that trend.
Trading the FXRT fairing’s smooth and bulbous form for an aggressive, angular aesthetic, the 2022 Low Rider ST draws from the past while blazing a path all its own. As an abbreviation for Sport-Touring, Harley’s ST line couples performance with the brand’s cross-country pedigree. To see whether the Low Rider-turned-bagger could live up to that ST designation and its Sport Glide roots, we embarked on a 700-mile road trip along California’s Golden Coast.
The Motor Company fine-tuned the rider experience when they developed the air/oil-cooled Milwaukee-Eight V-Twin. Rubber-mounted and counter-balanced, the M8 produces less vibration but retains the signature soundtrack associated with Big Twin Hogs. The engineers took that refinement one step further with the Milwaukee-Eight 117ci (1,923cc) at the heart of the 2022 Low Rider ST. If that near two-liter displacement figure isn’t impressive enough, a high-performance cam and forward-facing Heavy Breather intake propel the firm’s largest production M8 to 125 lb-ft of torque (at 3,500 rpm).
The Milwaukee-Eight 117 is surprisingly friendly despite that stacked spec sheet. Roll-on response is most direct once peak torque kicks in at 3,500 rpm but that effect starts trailing off around 4,000 rpm. Foregoing gobs of low-down pull, the V-twin favors smooth acceleration instead. That linear powerband may not exude excitement, but the predictable power pulses made the 721-pound cruiser easier to handle on the curvy roads of the Pacific Coast Highway.
Gallery: 2022 Harley-Davidson Low Rider ST
However, the Low Rider ST’s even-keeled demeanor suits long-distance travel best. In sixth gear, the tachometer reported just 2,500 rpm at 70 mph. That leisurely engine speed returned a nearly vibe-free ride, allowing the rider to pound the pavement for hours on end. The ST’s highway chops also benefited from Harley’s cruise control system. Speed adjustments were both immediate and accurate, and whacking the throttle in emergency situations didn’t trip up the system after rolling off the gas.
H-D set up the ST’s chassis for more comfort on the Interstate too. The free-piston monoshock touts 4.4 inches of travel and 2.2 inches of stroke while the 43mm USD fork now features single-rate springs. The extra travel out back not only raises the rear end and overall ride height but also preps the chassis’ geometry for the ST’s sporty ambitions. Ticking the touring boxes of the brief, Harley ditched its dual-bending valve fork internals for a magic carpet-like ride delivered by the single-rate springs.
Even the harshest hits and deepest potholes couldn’t phase the cruiser’s poised road manners. Thanks to the longer shock, the Low Rider never bottomed out either, but that plushy ride quality also comes at a price. With such softly-sprung suspension, the ST’s feedback and response suffered in the esses. That vague feel doesn’t stop the baby bagger from gliding through the curves with grace, but the ST prefers flowing ribbons of asphalt over squiggly twists and turns as a result.
The FXRT-inspired front fairing takes center stage with the Low Rider ST, but it’s more than a design exercise. Wind still danced off my shoulders and the bottom of the helmet, but the frame-mounted fairing diffuses enough oncoming air to minimize turbulence. Inlets at both sides and under the windscreen help equalize that flow while enhancing ventilation in warmer conditions. For my five-foot, 10-inch frame, the stock windscreen worked wonders. Of course, those looking for more protection can buy a taller shield from Harley’s accessories catalog.
The ST’s inner fairing may not offer the same luxuries as its Grand American Touring line, but the brand goes further with other cockpit accommodations. The Low Rider S’s high handlebars return, but taller pullback risers comfortably position the riders' hands just below the shoulders. Harley affixes the same LCD instrument cluster that debuted on the Softail Street Bob model to the top of those new risers. The bar-mounted display replaces the Low Rider’s signature tank-mounted speedo and tachometer and the results are resounding. Instead of averting my attention away from the road to gaze down at the tank console, I quickly collected critical data such as speed, gear position, and rpm at a glance.
The new single-seat configuration leans into the ST’s sporty side with a sleek shape, and the seat pan still provided enough real estate for my boney backside. Plush padding and ample lumbar support also made long slogs up California’s Highway 101 not just bearable, but cozy. With a 32-inch inseam, I personally prefer Harley-Davidson's mid-mounted pegs for extra control in the twisties. My knees bent at a 90-degree angle when in the saddle, but those with longer legs can spring for a set of forward controls or highway pegs/crash bar setup.
The ST may get its looks from the FXRT and its digital gauge from the Street Bob, but it isn’t done borrowing from close relatives. The recently discontinued Softail Sport Glide lends its clamshell saddlebags to the newest Low Rider, and they couldn’t look better in Battleship Gray. Offering 1.9 cu ft of storage, the bags accommodate enough belongings for an extended solo road trip. I was able to stuff a single-person tent, mummy bag, sleeping pad, clothing, and personal items into the expansive side cases. However, travelers will still need to pack strategically to maximize the space.
Fashion is cyclical, especially within the Harley ranks. The FXR may have been the black sheep for years, but it’s now considered the holy grail within Harley’s West Coast /performance subculture. The brand wisely positions the 2022 Low Rider ST as the spiritual successor to the FXRT to capitalize on that trend, but the fairing-clad M8 Softail is more than just a chip off the old block.
Harley-Davidson has come a long way in the past 40 years, and the FXLRST is an ode to that past and a vision of where the Motor Company is headed. Younger customers have made it clear. They want performance over posturing, and apparently, matte black over chrome. If “form follows function, but both report to emotion”, the Low Rider ST finds a natural balance between all three. That’s something all Harley-Davidson fans can get behind for once.