A bagger without the bulk, say hello to the Harley-Davidson Low Rider ST
Some riders like to load their bikes up and disappear to some far flung place for days on end, while others prefer to just putt around town. Then there are the riders who spend most of their time around town but like to take the occasional weekend jaunt and that’s the sort of rider that Harley’s Low Rider ST is going to suit down to the ground.
Baggers are cool. They’ve got cred and there’s enough room and bling to load up and disappear with as much gear as you can hold. But the drawback of having mega litres of storage, a wireless, and a luxurious riding position comes with a drawback – and that is weight, and lots of it. And the ST is an option for those who don’t want or need that burden in their lives.
The Low Rider ST is essentially the same as the Motor Company’s Low Rider S but with a frame-mounted fairing and a set of hard panniers that provide 50 litres of storage.
The dimensions are almost identical: same 18.9-litre fuel tank, same suspension, same brakes and same engine. The main differences are a 10mm increase in ground clearance for the ST, which also pushes the seat height from 710mm to 720mm, and with the extra kit included the ST is heavier than the S.
Now look, you can’t talk Harley without talking engine; that’s what Harleys are about. The ST runs the biggest production donk that H-D has to offer – 1923cc of pure grunt! There’s 77kW (103hp) of power at a low 4750rpm and a tyre-frying 169Nm of torque at a ridiculously low 3500rpm – exactly the same as the Low Rider S – and that means mumbo on tap whenever you need it. The 117 grunts away from lights, corners and traffic with enough zest to make you feel very thankful that the seat has lower back support otherwise you’d be sliding off the rear.
There are no surprises in the rest of the drive train; the berries are pumped through a six-speed gearbox that’s typically Harley-clunky, and the power is fed to the 16-inch tyre via a belt drive.
But to what makes the ST different: the fairing and the bags. The frame-mounted fairing provides good protection and is a welcome addition that turns what would normally be a bike better suited to around town duties into a bike you can load up and head away on. Having the fairing mounted to the frame doesn’t add weight to the steering, so apart from having more weight over the front there’s no real negative affect.
Functionally, the fairing does its job well but, apart from looking perhaps a little awkward, it does look a little like an afterthought once you get behind the ’bar. There are no instruments fitted into the inside of the fairing, so you’ll just find an acre of black plastic staring back at you. It looks unfinished to my eye, and for the $36,995 asking price a little more effort could have been made to integrate it better into the finished bike. And despite all the room, all the ST’s information is displayed in the same little 2.14-inch display on the top bar clamp like the Low Rider S, which only adds to the afterthought look.
The bags hold a total of 50 litres and, despite the filthy weather I rode through, my gear was dry on arrival at my destination. I did have an issue with one of the bags popping open, but I did have them jammed with a lot of stuff. Luckily, I didn’t lose anything, but make sure they are locked and secured properly if they are chockers.
What tends to happen is that some rogue piece of gear gets caught in between one of the clam-shell-style bags and stops it from latching properly. To be clear: this isn’t a fault of the panniers, just something to be mindful of.
The bags aren’t huge but there’s enough room to pack for a weekend away. If you are thinking of taking a passenger along for your next ride, you’ll need to cough up the dough for the optional seat and associated ’pegs. And be warned: the bags sit up high to aid ground clearance so strapping gear to the back isn’t really an option.
As far as Harleys go, the Low Rider S is a nimble machine and unsurprisingly the ST retains that trait. H-D quotes 31.3 degrees of cornering clearance on the ST and it tips in better than most Harleys, but when the footpegs do touch down, and they will, it can be an educational experience.
The ST is one of those bikes that lures you into going faster because it feels sorted, so you can get sucked into a corner at a speed that you probably shouldn’t. This behaviour has the ’pegs biting into the road savagely which can also rip your feet off the mid-mount controls when your heel grabs the road. It’s certainly no sports-tourer, but it’s still capable of being thrown at a series of corners if you keep the bike’s and your own limitations in mind.
The suspension story is the familiar Harley cruiser affair, with a non-adjustable Showa 43mm inverted fork and hidden monoshock on the rear with hydraulic preload adjustment.
For the type of riding you should be doing on the ST, the suspension performance is perfectly adequate and, with 56mm of travel on the rear, the ST doesn’t pummel your back like some other Harleys do. Granted, it’s still not a lot of travel, but the rear shock is damped well even for my bulk. You’ll find the limits of the ground clearance well before you find the limits of the suspension.
Another big tick in the ST’s box is the twin front-brake set up. You’ll find twin 300mm discs and four-piston calipers on the front and a 292mm disc on the rear with a twin-piston caliper. I’d be happy if Harley put a twin front braking package on the front of all its machines; it’s just so much better. There’s enough power to haul up a machine of the ST’s size and weight – no bike over 200kg should have a single rotor on the front. Feel through the front lever is pretty wooden, as per usual on a Harley, but the rear is excellent also as per usual on a Harley.
It’s easy to live with thanks to the low centre of gravity and low 720mm seat height. I’ve ridden a few Harleys that are aimed at the touring market that don’t have seats as comfortable as the Low Rider ST’s. It is nicely shaped, provides excellent lumbar support and puts you in a riding position that doesn’t put too much weight on your tailbone like many cruisers do. I rattled off many hundreds of kilometres on the ST and the only complaint I would make is that if you’re a tall rider, the mid-controls put your legs in a less than ideal position which can create a bit of discomfort on a long stint. If I owned an ST I’d be fitting it with a set of forward controls which would be better for my size.
When it comes to electronics there’s a long list of things it doesn’t have. The list of what it does have consists of ABS and cruise control so it’s a jump-on-and-hit-the-road affair.
It would be interesting to see how the ST is selling since its release in 2022. It is a niche product, but is it a cruiser trying to be a bagger or a bagger trying to be a cruiser? Although heavier, the Road or Street Glide are better touring rigs and handle pretty damn good in their own right. On the other hand, if you’re after a lighter ride with bags, there’s also the Softail-based Sport Glide which is $4500 less expensive than a Vivid Black Low Rider ST – although you get a bigger engine and better brakes on the ST.
I like the ST: it’s comfortable, has the thunderous 117 Milwaukee-Eight in it and handles and stops well. However, it’s just a bit too niche for me, and the afterthought front fairing just doesn’t appeal visually. But, like I said, if you like the idea of a getaway machine that isn’t pushing the 400kg mark, then the ST could be right up your alley.
Test Pete Vorst + Photography Josh Evans