Wherever you ride the 2021 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special, it’s all about authority. The appearance, the performance, and your persona on the motorcycle are undeniable. It’s not a mount for the shrinking violet uninterested in attention. The Street Glide Special is built for adulation, and its demands are met wherever you ride it.
I was on the 2021 Street Glide Special with the Billiard Red paint and Black Finish, plus the Gloss Black Prodigy wheels—add “Run With the Wolves” to your playlist. While this take is not as flashy as the two-tone versions or the biting Snake Venom paint, the Billiard Red exudes an attitude of confidence.
Backing up that nearly arrogant attitude is the Milwaukee-Eight 114 powerplant with the Ventilator air cleaner showing its pleats. With 118 ft-lbs of torque available to your right hand—you only need to spin it up to 3250 rpm—the Street Glide Special supports its promises with performance. Around town, the 114 is gratuitous. No one can argue that you need that much power—only that you want it and intend to use it, judiciously or not.
Profiling is enhanced on the Street Glide Special by the extended bags and low-profile engine guard—two distinguishing visual factors compared to the standard Street Glide. Suspension travel is just over two inches in the rear, keeping the seat height at an easy 27.2 inches.
Impressively, H-D makes the most of the rear suspension. The travel feels much longer, even on bad roads—quite a sleight of hand. Still, there are aftermarket shock options that might interest the more demanding riders. I’m just out to have fun, not compete in King of the Baggers.
You’re riding low enough to attract the right type of attention, while retaining a respectable amount of cornering clearance. The rider triangle pleases both the rider and the viewer. The grips are tastefully high, and the floorboards provide ample legroom.
It’s startling how manageable the 2021 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special is as an urban guerilla. At 827 pounds with the six-gallon fuel tank filled, you hardly expect this motorcycle to be light on its feet. Yet, in the brutal traffic of Los Angeles, which is exacerbated by streets and freeways in embarrassingly poor condition, the Special cuts through traffic aggressively with surprisingly little effort by the rider. If you know where you want to go, the Special taps your instincts to make it happen. It’s a fantastic feeling. Even better, admiring motorists are uniformly happy to part the way for efficient filtering and lane-splitting—they want to watch you go by.
The clutch and gearbox offer mixed results. I am a big fan of the slipper and assist functions of the clutch. The pull is light enough that I can ride around town all day without cramping my hands. Slipper clutches are great, especially with a long-stroke motor like the 114. You might never need it due to a poorly chosen downshift, but it’s good to have it there, just in case.
The 6-Speed Cruise Drive is slick, until you’re looking for neutral at a red light. Usually, the signal turns green before you find the elusive N. Well, it gives you something to do while you’re waiting. There’s a gear-position indicator on the LCD part of the dash, but it doesn’t tell you what gear you’re in with the clutch pulled in—that’s not helpful.
When you hit a stretch of urban freeway where the traffic has broken up, the Street Glide Special begs you to twist the throttle and let the Milwaukee-Eight 114 spin up a bit. As torquey as it is, the 114 is happy to hit the soft rev limiter at 5500 rpm, and it sings a beautiful aria along the way. It’s an invigorating reminder of the magic of motorcycling.
Because the Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special is a standard-bearer of urban cruising cool, it’s easy to forget that you can let it gobble up rural miles. The bags hold just over 70 liters (or 2.5 cubic feet, if you prefer), and that’s all you need for a comfortable weekend trip—even two-up, as long as you pack smartly. The sidebags don’t lock, but they have a convenient one-touch lever that makes them a pleasure to use. The tall narrow shape allows you to bring along a laptop, if you must stay connected when traveling.
Out on the open road, the Boom Box! GTS infotainment system comes into play. The GPS is feature-challenged compared to a smartphone app such as Waze or Google Maps, and the TFT touchscreen is not as responsive and exacting as I’d like with gloves on.
While the system supposedly integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, I couldn’t get the Boom Box! to connect to my Cardo Packtalk Bold. Apparently, after spending $30k, you also need something called a WHIM (Wireless Headset Interface Module). This is the plug-and-play era, and the infotainment system should reflect that; $300 dongles should not be required. Throw in another $340 for SiriusXM, plus the subscription, if that is on your must-listen list.
Also, the sound output from the 25-watt, 5.25-inch speakers is for urban use only—it’s not going to impress anyone wearing a helmet on the highway. Finally, the cubby hole for a smartphone needs to be deeper; at least it has a USB port that connects to the GTS system for music and phone call alerts.
A Harley-Davidson rep politely asked that I mention the Reflex Defensive Rider System (RDRS) installed on the test Street Glide Special—a $995 option. It’s a relatively new suite of rider aids that includes four cornering-aware systems—ABS, linked braking, traction control, engine braking—along with hill hold and tire pressure monitoring. I’m a nice guy, so let’s do it.
The hill hold function is excellent. It seems superfluous, until you get used to using it. Once it becomes second nature, it’s a handy feature that works—it helps that I have a fairly steep driveway. The tire pressure monitoring does its job, and it’s wise to keep track of the Dunlops’ psi as needed—peace of mind is a good thing.
The big four cornering-aware functions are pretty much transparent, and that’s the highest praise they can get. I felt traction control kick in one time when I hit a brutally abrupt road irregularity that caused the rear wheel to bounce up. I ham-fistedly downshifted coming into an onramp entrance, and it triggered the Drag-Torque Slip Control System—the slide lasted a millisecond before traction was restored.
You can brake hard and never feel the ABS, in corners or a straight line. If it were raining, I’m sure the story would be different. I like the linked braking, and it does its job quietly—perfect.
At nearly a grand, RDRS is an investment. I suggest you spend the money to avoid second-guessing yourself should something go wrong without it.
I genuinely love touring around on the 2021 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special. It has fantastic stability, and the steering-mounted batwing fairing does not lose its composure when an 18-wheeler comes barreling at you in the opposite direction with a 150-mph closing speed. The SGS tracks steady and doesn’t wear you out. Also, the cruise control is intuitive and predictable.
The height of the fairing and the smoked windshield works perfectly for me. The windblast is directed over me, rather than into my helmet or jacket. Yet, it’s low enough to not obscure my view of the road at all. I also like the integration of the mirrors into the fairing. On a similar note, the inboard turn signals—front and back—reflect excellent design skill and taste.
I like twisting roads, and the Street Glide Special is more than happy to play along. This latest version of the Touring chassis is excellent. Cornering is sure with the Harley-Davidson-branded Dunlops, and you don’t have to wrestle with the bike to get it to turn or change its line mid-corner. High-speed sweepers are confidence-inspiring, even at speeds I’m not supposed to mention (the speedo showed triple digits, if that means anything to you). The Street Glide Special does what you want, and never makes you feel uneasy about your requests.
If you get caught out after dark on a mountain road, the Daymaker LED headlight is there to show you the way, though it doesn’t illuminate into corners, yet. I’m sure that’s on the to-do list for Harley-Davidson engineers.
Reading this, I’m sure you get the idea that I love riding the 2021 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special. You look and feel great riding it, and you don’t sacrifice comfort or performance to be cool. That’s my idea of a motorcycle that embodies the sport and lifestyle to perfection.
If you’re a dirt bike guy, or ride an adventure bike, or like scorching pavement on a superbike, you have made excellent decisions on your ride. However, there’s a good possibility that you don’t quite understand the appeal of a big touring rig that weighs in at around a half-ton with you on it. That’s where actually riding the motorcycle comes in. Open your mind, and you may be opening your wallet. The 2021 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special is an addicting ride once you get that first hit, regardless of what you’re expecting.
Photography by Kelly Callan
2021 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special Specs
- Type: Milwaukee-Eight 114 V-twin
- Displacement: 114 cubic inches (1868cc)
- Bore x stroke: 4.016” x 4.5”
- Maximum torque: 118 ft-lbs @ 3250 rpm
- Compression ratio: 10.5:1
- Valvetrain: Single cam w/ pushrods; 4 vpc
- Cooling: Air and oil
- Lubrication: Dry sump
- Transmission: 6-speed Cruise Drive
- Clutch: Hydraulically actuated w/ assist and slipper functions
- Primary drive: Chain
- Final drive: Belt
- Frame: Mild tubular steel w/ two-piece stamped and welded backbone
- Front suspension; travel: Showa 49mm Dual Bending Valve; 4.6 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Emulsion shocks w/ hand-adjustable spring-preload; 2.2 inches
- Wheels: Gloss Black Prodigy
- Front wheel: 19 x 3.5
- Rear wheel: 18 x 5
- Front tire: 130/60 x 19; Dunlop Harley-Davidson D408F
- Rear tire: 180/55 x 18; Dunlop Harley-Davidson D407T
- Front brakes: 300mm floating discs w/ 4-piston calipers
- Rear brake: 300mm fixed discs w/ 4-piston caliper
- ABS: Standard
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 64 inches
- Seat height: 27.2 inches
- Rake: 26 degrees
- Fork angle: 29.25 degrees
- Trail: 6.8 inches
- Fuel capacity: 6 gallons
- Estimated fuel consumption: 45 mpg
- Curb weight: 827 pounds
COLORS/FINISHES and PRICES
- Billiard Red (Black Finish): $28,499 ($29,494 as tested w/ RDRS)
- Vivid Black (Chrome Finish): $27,099 MSRP
- Billiard Red (Chrome Finish): $27,599
- Black Jack Metallic (Chrome Finish): $27,599
- Vivid Black (Black Finish): $27,999
- Gauntlet Gray Metallic/Vivid Black (Chrome Finish): $28,099
- Snake Venom (Chrome Finish): $28,299
- Gauntlet Gray Metallic (Black Finish): $28,499
- Gauntlet Gray Metallic/Vivid Black (Black Finish): $28,999
- Snake Venom (Black Finish): $29,199
2021 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special Review Photo Gallery