Review: 2023 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Highway King

2023 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Highway King

I’ve been reading the Little Golden Books to my daughter. In the story Tawny Scrawny Lion, the titular lion realizes that chasing rabbits is a fool’s errand, so he embraces the carrot stew the bunnies prepared and retires to a life of vegetarianism and leisure.

When riding the Electra Glide Highway King, I forwent lane-splitting and hard cornering, and let the motorcycle choose the pace. As soon as I did, I understood its purpose and basked in its unapologetically nostalgic glory.

The Highway King doesn’t just draw upon its 1968 heritage—it embodies it in the most wonderfully contemporary way possible. Its two color options (Hi-Fi Orange and Hi-Fi Magenta) were derived from 55-year-old paint cans found in the storage room of a retired Electra Glide paint booth.

The removable windscreen, with its color-matched bottom half, is cool like a bubble-shield helmet. The coup de grace are the sprung solo seat, all-white hard saddlebags, and whitewall tires rolling on wire wheels, of course.

Intermixed among all this Electra Glide reverence is a menagerie of modern conveniences including cruise control, disc brakes linked to cornering-ABS, a Showa fork with dual bending valve technology, emulsion-technology rear shocks with hydraulically adjustable preload, cornering traction control, a slipper clutch, and vehicle hold control.

Outside of a few extra switchgear buttons, none of these modernities are readily visible on the motorcycle, so there’s nothing to detract from the bike’s vintage appearance.  

2023 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Highway King

The Beating Heart

The one unmistakable difference at the heart of the matter is the past Electra Glide’s Shovelhead V-twin, which contrasts with the Milwaukee-Eight V-twin of today's Highway King. During the half century between the two, the Motor Company developed its quintessential V-twin from a 1200cc carbureted four-valve into a fuel-injected 1868cc eight-valve motor.

The Milwaukee-Eight also boasts a six-speed transmission and belt final drive, compared to the Shovelhead’s four-speed gearbox and chain. There’s also the matter of the Milwaukee-Eight’s 35 more horsepower and torque bump from 70 lb-ft in 1968 to an impressive 122 lb-ft in 2023.

Normally, I’d moant about a spec sheet showing 95 claimed horsepower (86 with a 10% drivetrain deduction) from a 1868cc engine pushing around 849 pounds of claimed curb weight. This time, however, I’m willing to let it slide.

That’s not just because of the engine’s redeeming torque production, but more so because of the fact, as I stated earlier, that if you’re riding the Highway King fast, you’re riding it wrong.

Whether I’m aboard a tourer, cruiser, ADV, or, of course, a sportbike, I enjoy riding motorcycles fast. So what is it about the Highway King that makes me want to slow my roll?

I think it’s what almost all other motorcycles don’t have—a two-tone coil-sprung solo seat. Working in conjunction with the bike’s modern suspension components, the saddle generates a feeling of floating above the pavement, as if the bike was gliding atop a magnetic levitation system similar to bullet trains. To emphasize the feeling, switch on the cruise control, relax, and enjoy.

Just don’t do it at 80 mph. At 80, I experienced a fair amount of buffeting as air traveled over the top of the windscreen and right into my helmet’s forehead area. Once I slowed to 65 mph, the buffeting ceased.

This is also where the engine hits its sweet spot, thrumming along in the recognizable cadence of a H-D big twin. At this speed, there’s plenty of torque for passing slower-moving vehicles, while the minimized wind noise allows the sound emanating from the dual stock exhausts to massage your ears.

2023 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Highway King

Traditional Comfort

I found the seating position of the Highway King to be about as natural as I could ask for. My hands met the bar just where I’d expect them to.

The vibration-dampening floorboards were positioned forward enough to provide the legroom I require without excessive stretch, while also allowing me to plant my feet on the ground without interference. My left foot kept reaching for a heel shifter that apparently resides in the Harley-Davidson accessories catalog.

A counter-balancer exists inside the Milwaukee-Eight but H-D engineers retained enough shake to win traditionalists’ approval. Circling back to the seat, I’d be surprised if there is a butt in this world that wouldn’t enjoy spending time in the wide, thickly-padded, sprung saddle.

Atop the fuel tank resides the analog speedometer and, within it, a digital readout displaying information such as gear position, trip meter, odometer, and whatnot. Wearing a full-face helmet required me to purposefully bend my neck down to see over the chin bar and view the information on the tank-mounted instrument cluster. My open-face helmet required no such effort.

Besides the aforementioned buffeting, the windscreen deflects the majority of headwinds without causing any residual turbulence. You can remove the windscreen, but otherwise it is nonadjustable. At its current height, my 5-foot-11-inch frame put my line of sight approximately two inches above the top of the windscreen, providing me with an unencumbered view of the road ahead.

2023 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Highway King

The Eyesores

After waxing poetically in the Highway King’s favor for the last 800 words, I do have to point out the motorcycle’s most egregious cosmetic flaw. I hate to do it, because once seen, it’s impossible to unsee.

Located underneath the sprung seat, but not far enough to be hidden from the view, are two bolts jutting out through the rear fender. There are no cosmetic bolt caps or any other device with which to disguise them—they’re just there, as if the contestants on a motorcycle design game show ran out of time. They do nothing more than hold a plastic cover in place.

This brings up the second eyesore—the plastic covers beneath the sprung seat. They’re meant to cover the area usually hidden by an unsprung seat.

The black plastic pieces do the job, but on a motorcycle as pretty as the Highway King, they seem to be a temporary fix that became permanent. I’m not a big fan of fringe, but on this motorcycle, a fringed seat for hiding these unsightly moles might be preferable.

On my test bike, the twistgrip was noticeably loose, rattling around as if it were designed for a larger-diameter handlebar. Surprisingly, the ill-fitting twistgrip didn’t affect throttle control, but it didn’t instill confidence in it not failing either.

2023 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Highway King

The Verdict

According to the Harley-Davidson Museum, there were 5,300 Electra Glides built in 1968. For 2023, only 1,750 Highway Kings will be constructed, 1,000 of which will be Hi-Fi Orange, leaving only 750 bikes in the Hi-Fi Magenta color scheme. That makes the Hi-Fi Magenta Highway King the most limited example of all the Icon models.

The retail price of $26,999 for the 2023 Highway King is $11,499 more than a clean, original 1968 Electra Glide in the same colorway that sold on Bring a Trailer in April 2021 for $15,500. This begs the question of what will be more valuable in 20 years—the original or the reproduction?

To paraphrase blues singer Willie Dixon, the Highway King is built for comfort, it ain’t built for speed. Other touring bikes exist, but besides the Electra Glide Revival from 2021 (another Icon model) none combine the heritage, beauty, and modernity the way the Highway King does.

They also don’t make me feel fat as butter when riding the sleek as satin Highway King.

Technical Specs

+modern nostalgia, sprung solo saddle, great sounding pipes

-ugly fender bolts, plastic covers, loose twistgrip

Distributor: Harley-Davidson
MSRP: $26,999
Engine: Milwaukee-Eight 114, 8-valve, fuel-injected
Displacement: 1868cc (114 ci)
Power: 95hp @5,020rpm (claimed); 122lb-ft (claimed)
Transmission: 6-speed, best final drive
Rake/Trail: 26°/6.7in
Weight (wet): 849lbs
Seat Height: 31.1in
Fuel Capacity: 6gal
Fuel Consumptin: 43mpg (claimed)
Fuel Grade: premium
Colors: Hi-Fi Orange, Hi-Fi Magenta