The speedometer just cleared triple digits as I roared down the back straight of a Las Vegas Motor Speedway practice track, and as the tach brushed up against 5th gear’s redline, a speed-killing dual 180-degree U-turn came into view.   

The temporary chicane was marked off in cones in case someone (like myself) carried a bit too much speed into the turn. I kept clicking down through the gears while increasing pressure on the dual 320mm front Brembo scrubbers. Still downshifting, I added in a bit of rear brake pedal as well, which caused the traction control light to blink spasmodically as the rear tire chirped, howled and slid a bit with each downshift.

But I slowed just enough, and with a slight bit of wag from the rear tire, I kissed an orange cone with a frame slider as I curled into the U-turn at 10 mph. Following a second 180-degree pivot, I was hard on the gas again, a howl rising from the twin exhausts as the speedo quickly cleared 90mph once again. Despite my in-helmet histrionics, the motorcycle was stable and controlled throughout my laps on the curling road course. "Not bad for a street bike," I thought as I wound up the motor again, "And truly amazing for a Harley-Davidson bagger.”   

Harley-Davidson CVO BJNB2213_P
Harley-Davidson CVO BJNB4474_P
Harley-Davidson CVO BJNB4810_P

Indeed, the motorcycle I hammered around the Las Vegas track was a 2024 Harley-Davidson CVO Road Glide ST, an 800-pound V-twin powered touring bike complete with fairing, hard saddlebags, a potent stereo, cruise control, and handlebars north of superbike bars but south of ape hangers. It's fast. It handles, brakes and goes far better than it should, too. 

What sorcery is this?   

Credit the MotoAmerica Mission King of the Baggers (aka KOTB) racing series for the swift CVO ST. It's exactly what it sounds like, a crazy speed and drama race from a pandemic-born idea that has rekindled a racing rivalry complete with saddlebags and big fairings.   

Video of the first race in 2020 went viral and the KOTB “series” quickly expanded, with monstrously powerful factory-built race bikes, top-tier riders, and leather-clad fans in the stands. By the end of the 2023 season, top KOTB bikes were just a second or two off the Superbikes’ pace. This year, KOTB will run for the first time during the MotoGP weekend at COTA. And now Harley-Davidson has struck first on the inevitable trickle-down from race bikes to street bikes, a $43,000 limited edition track-scalding sleeper with hard bags and a fairing, glistening in both sinister gloss black or golden-hued pearlescent white.   

The ST’s 121-cubic inch High Output (HO) Milwaukee 8 stroker V-Twin spins up 127 horsepower and 147-pound feet of torque from what Harley brass says is the most powerful stock engine the company has fitted to any street legal motorcycle. It then shortened the final overall gearing for faster acceleration. Of note, the all-new Revolution 1,252cc liquid-cooled V-twin in the Pan America makes a claimed 150 horsepower, but less torque than the ST’s.   

Harley-Davidson CVO BJNC6633_P
Harley-Davidson CVO BJNC5709_P

The CVO ST is no lithe ballerina at 800 pounds, but it is down over 25 pounds from the 2023 model. Carbon fiber bits help, but Harley-Davidson also trimmed weight with a stock titanium exhaust and lighter brake discs. Even the gas tank is two pounds lighter while still holding six gallons. Go-fast clues include a solo seat and remote reservoirs for the adjustable rear shocks mounted brazenly on the rear fender. Up front, the 47mm Showa inverted front forks are re-tuned for better performance but do not offer adjustability. Dual front Brembo radial brake calipers grab floating petal-style rotors that look like angry circular saw blades. The windscreen atop the body-mounted fairing is vanishingly brief, as on the race bikes.   

The look is backed up by the hoot-in-your-helmet fun I experienced out on track. While our laps were led by the KOTB racing Wyman brothers, fair to say they set a challenging pace so we could push the limits.   

Harley-Davidson also brought along their two newly reskinned 2024 King of the Baggers Screamin’ Eagle factory-prepped race bikes. The Wyman brothers, in full race gear, took them out on the track and they are, of course, ear-covering loud. They are also astonishingly fast. Top speed? Classified. Horsepower? Doubly classified. Weight? Race rules stipulate that KOTB bikes can't weigh less than 620 pounds.     

After our CVO ST track day, we took the regular Road Glide and Street Glide models out on the desert highways outside of Las Vegas. Our ride was abbreviated by an incoming atmospheric river (which gave us a good drenching on the way back), but we got in enough miles to be clear that the new baggers handle far tighter, go faster, and just plain work better than the 2023 bikes. They picked up more power, better brakes and suspension, and new technology bits as well, including that big TFT touch panel run by the new Skyline interface replacing the traditional round analog instruments.   

Harley-Davidson CVO BJNB7824_P
Harley-Davidson CVO BJNC5700_P
Harley-Davidson CVO BJNC5670_P

For 2024, there's just one engine for the Glide line, the 2023 top-spec 117-cubic inch Milwaukee 8 from the 2023 CVO model. However, Harley engineers have massaged it further and added a tick more compression that helps boost horsepower and torque. There are six speeds, belt drive, upgraded triple-disc Brembo ABS brakes linked rear to front, and a suite of rider tech including cornering ABS, traction control, and much more. Only the CVO Road Glide ST gets the booming 121-ci HO stroker, but Harley does offer a drop-in cam kit for the 117s for a claimed eight horsepower gain.   

Creature comforts aren't lacking, either, as the 200-watt audio system on both Glides is improved; the CVO ST gets a 500-watt Rockford Fosgate Stage II system. The standard seats have been redesigned for better long-distance comfort, as have the fairings to cut down helmet buffeting by a claimed 60%.     

The Road Glide’s body-mounted fairing includes two deep cubbies that can hold phones, gloves and other small bits, and the right side has a USB-C pigtail. While the Street Glide’s bar-mounted fairing includes a handy slide-out tray with a USB pigtail. It has room for a phone, wallet and small items. D-pads on both handlebars let riders control the 12.3-inch widescreen TFT touchscreen display, which can show Cruise, Tour and Sport instrument cluster presets, along with full GPS from the bike’s built-in system (a $350 option).   

Riders can also choose from three dedicated ride modes including Road, Rain and Sport, as well as four custom modes that allow for tweaking ABS and traction control settings. The CVO ST also includes two additional ride modes, Track and Track Plus, which further dial back multiple nannies.    

All of those new features, and the Road Glide CVO ST’s mere existence, do beg some questions: Who would want the kind of performance the CVO ST offers in a touring bike? I have an easy answer: Riders like me.   

Harley-Davidson CVO BJNB6699_P
Harley-Davidson CVO BJNB7824_P
Harley-Davidson CVO BJNB6651_P

I’ve ridden sport bikes most of my career for the simple reason that I like the speed and finesse they offer. I’ve owned exactly zero Harley-Davidson motorcycles—and not because I have anything against them. I’ve reviewed many Harleys over the years and, the outta-left-field Pan America adventure bike excepted, “riding a Harley” has been a fairly predictable experience characterized by laudable comfort, miles of style, a ton of torque, and a shortage of cornering clearance.  

At last, the Road Glide CVO ST bagger has hit the mark. Photos show me touching down the miniature floorboards but this time around, I had to try fairly hard to do it, and at a racetrack where we had the space and safety to find those limits. I don’t think I’d ever ride the ST like that on the street, but just knowing it's possible to wick up the pace on a curving stretch of highway seals the deal for me.   

By extension, much of the improvements on the CVO are also present in the mass-market Road Glide and Street Glide, and at a much lower price. On our excursion near the Valley of Fire, we strafed sweeping stretches of road at speeds and lean angles that would have had entire floorboards and exhaust parts detaching themselves from older Harley baggers. I touched a floorboard down for a split second for the sake of some dramatic action photos, but it would not be a regular occurrence on a road trip with either of these re-thought models, and I do ride aggressively.  

The markedly improved performance in nearly every facet of these once ponderous tourers are the wages paid from three years of roaring heavyweight bagger battles out on a racetrack, and competition has indeed greatly improved the breed. I can’t wait to see how things progress from here.   

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