Torque Wars: Hot Performance Baggers for 2023
You or someone you know is definitely guilty of throwing balls at baggers. Admittedly, they’ve been an easy target over the years, with plenty of catchy monikers like land yachts, road sofas, and chrome fortresses. But a new day has dawned for the suitors, and some of today’s hottest OE highway liners make over 100 horsepower while in stock, not to mention wild aftermarket options like (oh yeah) forced induction.
Inconclusive? Watch the King of the Baggers race once. Comparing Harley and Indian, the series attracts thousands and is driving serious performance development. Who would have imagined that a wardrobe (though seriously modified) could complete a professional lap in under 4 seconds compared to a Superbike. And we’ve all seen video footage of modified baggers dragging the rear fenders on the road (not that we can endorse this kind of behavior).
Before we start, let’s talk about the elephant in the room — literally. These bikes are heavy, some weigh close to 850 pounds, and that’s not for everyone. But since less than 90 pounds separate the lightest and heaviest on our list, it’s not worth the long stay. With a delightful mix of power and practicality, it’s no surprise that the majority of the tour crowds are bag-goers and the following bikes are the hottest bikes you can get your hands on. buy now.
Harley-Davidson Road Glide ST You have to start somewhere, and it could also be with HD. Considering their market share in this area, Harley would be remiss not to start the bagger arms race and some of the Milwaukee-Eight models have made the class. I can go either way between ST Surfing and Road Glide ST, but when it comes to KOTB, I have to mention the Shark Road Glide.
Billed by Harley as the King of baggers, the Road Glide ST combines the power of a Milwaukee-Eight 117 ci engine with HD’s most aggressive touring body. To separate it from the Street Glide ST, is a frame-mounted shark-nose bib with a pair of LED headlights. While it’s a somewhat familiar hobby, we think it has a more modern and distinct look than the bat wing bibs.
The Road Glide bags have a chiseled look and combined with the black painted parts, cast bronze wheels and classic HD fuel tank design, this bike has a pretty impressive image. Credit when credit is due, the Road Glide is definitely the least plastic bike of the bunch.
There’s more to it than visuals, however, and the 117 ci, air/oil-cooled Milwaukee-Eight engine is the heart of the Road Glide. Sporting electronic sequential port fuel injection, the M8 produces 127 lb-ft and an estimated 103 hp. Torque, but sacrificing a bit of horsepower, you know what you’re getting with an air-cooled V-twin.
Equipped with dual front discs, four-piston brake calipers, and raised suspension to maximize lean angle, the Harley has certainly met the demands of performance-loving travelers with ST Surfing. It all comes at a price, though, and it’s a tough pill to swallow at $29,999, making it the most expensive bike on our list by a small margin. However, if you have that kind of money burning a hole in your pocket, then I suggest you pause for a few months, as a new M8 121 ci is coming. [Harley-Davidson]
Dark Horse Indian Challenger Harley and baggers go hand in hand, but by the end of the KOTB 2022 season, it’s Tyler O’Hara of India that leads in his Mission Foods S&S Challenger and the brand has gained momentum. If you are not one of the lucky 29 people who spend India’s race-ready Challenger RRThe Dark Horse is your chariot, and it’s no slouch.
Between the Chieftain and Challenger Dark Horse models, you must choose the Challenger to get the liquid-cooled 108 ci PowerPlus engine. Blacked out, with well-camouflaged intercoolers, the 11:1 compression V-twin produces 122 hp and 128 lb-ft.
Scroll through the Dark Horse’s spec sheet and a few big names will catch your eye. For starters, you’ve got radial four-piston Brembo brakes, Bosch six-axis cornering ABS, and Apple CarPlay integration. There’s also hydraulically adjustable Fox shocks at the rear and upside-down forks up front.
With wide body panels mounted on the chassis, LED lighting and sculpted pockets at the rear, the Challenger has a slightly more modern high-end bagger look than its HD counterpart. It often feels more like plastic, and bike parts feel that way too, but not quite.
Grasping modern technology and development, Dark Horse Challenger will surpass the HD’s acceleration when rolling or from a dig, making it the current king of the V-twin. The MSRP costs $29,499, which is still expensive, but no doubt the money was spent. [Indian]
BMW R 18 BEAUTY Roctane or R 18 B? The Roctane will definitely get more attention, but for continuity I’m going for the one with the bib. The pride of the BMW Heritage range, the R 18 B is BMW’s welcome at the performance bagger stage for fans of classic boxer engines.
BMW has targeted the classic cruiser scene in 2019 with the launch prototype R 18and cites the 1936 vintage R5 for much of its design inspiration. However, the R 18 B takes another twist on the platform, with the inclusion of a more travel-friendly bodywork and saddlebag. It’s a bike that has its downsides, but overall an attractive prospect and premium offer for just $19,945.
Underneath the swept-back body, you have BMW’s 1,802 cc air/oil-cooled twin boxer engine that makes 91 hp and 116 lb-ft in the R 18. It’s not a super hot machine, with its 9.6:1 compression and chain-drive cams, but its super-reliable boxer and classic look are unmatched on today’s market.
The R 18B Selected BMW technology exclusively, with active cruise control, integrated ABS and dual front four-piston brake calipers. BMW won’t leave you hanging in the cockpit, and the massive 10.25″ digital display and Marshall Gold Series sound system are a delight to the eyes and ears.
If I could break into BMW’s configuration engine and make some risky decisions, I’d improve things a bit by adding the R 18 B’s headlight shield to the Roctane. Just a thought BMW… [BMW Motorrad]
Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero ABS There’s not much to say about Kawasaki’s Vulcan 1700 Vaquero, other than that it has ‘beautiful’ features and a comfortable ride. While we often find American-style Japanese cruisers a bit tedious, the Vulcan 1700 Vaquero was unmoved by hostility and continued to operate to the tune of 104 cubic inches and 108 lb-ft.
The heart of the Kawasaki 1700 Vaquero is a V-twin engine, with a capacity of 1,700 cc, liquid-cooled, producing 81 horsepower. While slightly behind the rest of the field, the Vulcan is no slouch and its 0 to 60 time is less than a second behind the Harley.
The Vulcan is not to be outdone either in terms of technology, boasting air-assisted rear shock absorbers, electronic cruise control and dual front four-piston brake calipers with ABS. The Vaquero also matches Kawasaki’s K-ACT co-active brake technology. This system combines the standard ABS function with the ability to adjust the front and rear brakes together. In other words, the system will apply some braking force to the opposite end if you panic brake with only one wheel.
General Vulcan 1700 Vaquero almost a real threat. It’s mechanically competitive, and its aesthetics are on par with more expensive offerings — except for the tiny 16-inch front wheel. But that’s just preference I suppose. [Kawasaki]
Yamaha, Moto Guzzi, etc. Instead of recommending you another Harley, Indian or BMW, I give you Honda Goldwing. The Goldwing isn’t a bagger, it’s a touring bike—I know. But Victory is dead, Yamaha has killed the Eluder and Moto Guzzi’s MGX-21 is gone. Polaris likes things better with Indian than Victory, but we’ll miss the others.
Consider the return of Yamaha and Moto Guzzi, until then, this class will gradually disappear into touring cars like the Goldwing. We need options and this list needs more bags. And consider for a moment the sight of four diverse brands fighting for the KOTB championship, instead of two. Or will it be the Battle of the Twins again? [Honda]