Harley-Davidson believes the spoils go to the victor. Whether it’s board trackers or road racers, flat trackers or drag racers, if the Motor Company has skin in the game, it has a title to show for it.
In 2021, Harley added a King of the Baggers (KotB) championship to its decorated trophy case. It wasted no time enjoying the spoils of that victory either, releasing the KotB-inspired Touring ST and Low Rider ST models by January, 2022. Less than seven months later, the brand drew deeper from its racing well with the Apex factory custom paint schemes.
The Apex option is no race replica, though. Harley designers paid homage to the legendary XR750’s svelte silhouette with angular graphics on the fuel tank. Factory Team flat trackers and drag bikes of yore informed the ghosted Bar and Shield inset pattern. The new trim further modernizes the firm’s historic design language with Gauntlet Gray panels and slashing Jet Fire Orange accents set against a Vivid Black backdrop.
On the 2022 Road Glide Special, the Apex treatment only complements the model’s existing lines. The sweeping graphics not only communicate velocity but also contour everything from the shark-nose fairing to the stretched saddlebags. The RGS may look the part, but without technical upgrades to match the sporty facelift, can it live up to Harley’s rich racing lineage? We took to California’s canyon country to find out.
The Right Tool for the Job
Harley-Davidson relies on its Milwaukee-Eight 114 V-twin like a flat tracker relies on the rear brake. From the Fat Bob to the Fat Boy, from the Street Glide Special to the Street Bob, the 1,870cc lump remains the Motor Company’s go-to mill. Wedged into the Road Glide Special, the 114ci M8 generates 118 lb-ft of torque (at 3,250 rpm). The resulting low-down pull and instant response have become the 114’s defining characteristics.
Comparatively, the Milwaukee-Eight 117 boasts more torque but it doesn’t reach its 127 lb-ft peak until 3,750 rpm. On the highway, the 117’s long legs ease mile-munching excursions, but off the corner, there’s nothing more addictive than torque. The 114 provides that fix at practically every exit. Whether plowing through a sweeper or bending into a hairpin, that readily available torque paired with Harley’s Rider Safety Enhancement delivers all the muscle without the malice.
The Road Glide Special comes standard with ABS and electronic linked braking, but customers can tack on additional safety nets to their heart’s content. I never pushed the RGS enough to engage the cornering-enhanced traction control system or lean-sensitive ABS, but the drag-torque slip control system settled several abrupt downshifts just before corner entry.
On each occasion, the rear wheel chirped as the system synced the engine and rear wheel speeds. I highly prefer a nominal tire screech over a lockup, though. Harley-Davidson cruisers and tourers may not have much use for newfangled doodads like quickshifters and auto-blippers, but the drag-torque slip control system ensures that the rider can select the appropriate gear before tip-in.
Fortunately, the robust six-speed transmission withstood the abuse in the braking zone and the rapid ascents on the straights. Those looking to save tenths can easily perform clutch-less upshifts, but I’d only recommend that technique when pushing past third gear. I'm happy to report that the Road Glide never shot me a false neutral. On the contrary, finding neutral at all became a bigger issue.
At stoplights, illuminating the green N turned into a podiatric puzzle. On average, shifting into neutral required four tries. I regularly gave up the gearbox ghost after five failed attempts. In motion, the transmission communicates each upshift with an oddly satisfying thunk. However, such an elusive neutral gear seems inexcusable for a $27,449 machine.
When Sparks Fly
The MoCo claims that the 2022 Road Glide Special offers 32 degrees of lean angle starboard and 31 degrees on the port side. The same 49mm Showa dual-bending-valve front end found on the base model Road Glide keeps hard parts from touching tarmac with 4.6 inches of travel. Further aft, the emulsion shocks (with preload adjuster knob) help the model achieve a welcoming 26.1-inch seat height. With just 2.1 inches of stroke, though, the squat shocks do the lean angle figures no favors.
As a result, the Road Glide scrapes floorboards with regularity. When it comes to baggers, the fun ends when sparks fly. Hanging off preserves as much lean angle and purchase as possible, but the tourer reaches its limit when faced with tighter twisties. The RGS doesn't flip-flop through the zig-zags, but it remains light on its feet. That’s no short order considering the model’s 853-pound curb weight, 64-inch wheelbase, and 26-degree rake.
Gallery: 2022 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special
As its name suggests, Harley’s grand tourer likes to glide around the corners, not tear through them. The dual four-piston caliper and twin floating rotors up front scrub off enough speed to trail brake into corners. Despite the liked braking system, manually actuating the powerful four-pot clamper at the rear makes all the difference. Those truly sending it into the bends will come to rely on the brake pedal to set safe cornering speeds.
Neither the front nor the rear master cylinder presents the rider with loads of feel and feedback. What the brakes lose in finesse, they make up for with brut stopping force. Trailing either the lever or pedal into the turn helps bring the Road Glide Special back to the apex, before driving the big-bore V-twin off the corner. For a bagger, the RGS boogies—as long as you keep it between the floorboards. Of course, the user just has to know the Hog’s strengths and weaknesses to extract the maximum performance.
Are You Not Entertained?
The Road Glide Special may assume sportier ambitions in its Apex guise, but it remains a grand tourer at heart. For evidence, look no further than Harley’s Boom! Box GTS infotainment system. Decked out with a full-color, 6.5-inch TFT display and two 5.25-inch speakers, the cockpit comes open-road ready. The sound system not only delivers high-quality audio in AM/FM, Bluetooth, and navigation modes but also pumps up the volume to combat wind noise.
The automated feature maintains musical mirth from light to light, but it mostly pays off on the highway. At full blast, the system cuts through all the commotion. Even with earplugs in, I could clearly make out every note and vocal intonation. The navigation system also shines in these environs. The spoken directions aren’t just loud and clear, the TFT dash provides visual aids at critical highway junctions. It’s safe to say that I never missed an interchange thanks to the navigation. However, navigating the system itself was another story.
Harley already receives flak for splitting its turn signals buttons between both hand grips. Unfortunately, they apply the same strategy with the Boom! Box GTS controls. The left switchgear hosts the home button with volume and track/seek functions. The right joystick allows users to toggle through on-screen options. Aside from forcing the rider to potentially navigate with their throttle hand, the split-function setup only forces the user to perform more mental calculus before carrying out a task.
For instance, the left joystick skips tracks in Bluetooth mode but riders have to alternate to the right joystick to cycle through radio presets. Centralizing these tasks would help keep the user’s hand on the throttle and their mind (and eyes) on the road. Riders can bypass the hand controls altogether by operating the system via the touchscreen TFT display. The only detail that thwarts that plan is the extended reach to the frame-mounted fairing’s dash.
Starting at $27,449, the base trim Road Glide Special is a premium product in its own right. Add on the $2,300 Apex paint option, and the MSRP jumps to $29,749 (chrome finish) and $30,679 (black finish). That’s no chump change, but for those fortunate enough to afford the cosmetic upgrade, there’s no shame in enjoying the spoils of victory.
With or without the fancy finish, the Road Glide Special holds its own on the open road and in the canyons. It won’t set any road racing records, but the Harley balances comfort on the long-haul with thrills in the twisties. In the end, that’s a win-win for customers.