Harley-Davidson claims the dawn of a new era in motorcycle touring with its latest machines, promising bikes that are not only more powerful and dynamic, but also lighter than their predecessors.

The press launch itself, named ‘American Dreaming,’ only added to my curiosity – particularly as it was taking place in the South of France. It begged the question: how much of the cherished American Dream could one expect to experience on a crisp winter’s day in Provence?

More than I imagined, as it turns out. Our base for the launch was the luxuriously appointed Domaine De Manville hotel, located approximately 20km east of Arles on the edge of the Alpilles Natural Regional Park – not particularly American, but certainly dreamy.

As our airport transfer pulled up at the entrance, the line of bikes parked up gleaming in the winter sunshine instantly demanded our attention – and everyone else’s, for that matter.

Few machines offer the physical presence of a Harley, never mind an entire pack. Interspersed with subtle grey and black examples, it was the bikes presented in patriotic Whiskey Fire Red, White Onyx Pearl and Blue Burst that stood out.

Harley-Davidson Street Glide

Identified by its lower handlebars and circular headlight, the Street Glide is historically the best-selling of the two models in Europe. The Road Glide offers a larger fixed fairing and high-rise bars, outselling its sibling in the States. Horses for courses, it seems.

Both models are available with an optional black trim pack for the engine, which I would wholeheartedly recommend.

Even as a seasoned rider of high-end motorcycles, I eagerly anticipated the opportunity to experience these legendary machines firsthand. Up first; the Street Glide, which did not disappoint. With its more understated profile and refined aesthetics, it exudes a timeless elegance that is quintessentially Harley-Davidson.

At first glance, the bike’s most distinctive design feature is its ‘Batwing’ fairing, a component that was first introduced back in 1969 on the Electra Glide model.

On today’s Street Glide, the fork-mounted fairing takes on a new form with a sculpted silhouette, fully integrated LED lighting, and a split-stream vent opening. First seen on last year’s top-spec CVO model, the fairing has been designed to optimise aerodynamic efficiency and rider comfort, above all else.

Harley-Davidson Street Glide

Our first day of riding took us through the hilly landscapes of Les Alpilles, where the Street Glide proved to be a highly impressive piece of engineering. You sit low over the bike, legs forward, with your feet placed flat on large running boards.

Despite its considerable weight of 368kg, this is a touring motorcycle that handles with grace and precision, effortlessly gliding through winding roads and sweeping curves.

Featuring robust 49mm telescopic forks and powerful four-piston Brembo brakes, you can certainly hustle the Street Glide along if you wish, but it’s happiest cruising in a high gear, allowing you to settle in for the ride.

Beyond its striking exterior and surprisingly fluid handling lies a powerhouse that can trace its roots back to Harley-Davidson’s very oldest models.

At the heart of the Street Glide beats the new Milwaukee-Eight 117 cu in pushrod V-twin, equivalent to a mighty 1,923 cc.

Much more refined than you might imagine and delivering a creamy surge of low-down grunt from very low revs, it produces a maximum of 107 hp at 5,020 rpm and an abundant 175 Nm of torque.

Harley-Davidson Street Glide engine

As a result, you rarely find yourself in the wrong gear when the need to accelerate arises, but you do run out of revs quite quickly when overtaking. With enhanced intake and exhaust flow, this engine not only boosts performance over older models but also optimises thermal comfort for the rider thanks to new liquid-cooled cylinder heads.

To ensure the rider is always in control, the Street Glide offers four selectable Ride Modes – Road, Sport, Rain, and Custom – which allow riders to electronically adjust the performance characteristics of the motorcycle to suit their preferences and riding conditions.

But it wasn’t just the performance and flexibility that impressed me, comfort levels are equally noteworthy. As we rode through the picturesque French countryside, weaving through thick pine forests and rocky outcrops, I found myself becoming incredibly relaxed as I sank into the redesigned one-piece seat, no doubt helped by the increased rear suspension travel.

I also appreciated the improved aerodynamics, which underline the bike’s long-distance credentials – I’d have no qualms in riding the Street Glide to this stunning part of France from the UK.

Harley-Davidson Street Glide

One of the standout features for touring riders of the 2024 bikes is the new infotainment system. Powered by HD’s very own Skyline OS and presented on a 12.3-inch TFT colour touchscreen, you can easily access navigation, music (via Apple CarPlay), and communication features, all while enjoying crystal-clear sound from the new 200-watt audio system. There’s also USB charging and a handy retractable media tray in which to securely store your smartphone or tablet whilst riding.

Both models also come fully equipped with a host of rider safety systems including ABS, linked braking, multiple types of traction control, and a system called Vehicle Hold Control, which cleverly reduces the need to perform hill starts.

The second day saw our group point our motorcycles south towards Camargue and the vast wetland area situated in the Rhône delta, on the Mediterranean coast. Focusing on flat, sweeping roads, this felt more akin to a Harley-Davidson’s natural habitat and it was my turn to sample the Road Glide.

Thanks to its higher bars, the Road Glide offers a commanding riding position, offering more space and for riders over six feet. The fixed ‘Shark’ fairing takes a little getting used to but once underway and up to cruising speed, you soon begin to appreciate why Harleys are so popular – they simply make you feel fantastic.

With our tracking photos in the bag and following a welcomed coffee stop, it was time to head for our flight home.

Before I accepted the invitation to attend this launch, I was unsure about the relevance of a near-700lb, 2,000cc motorcycle for the European market, but I learnt a lot on this trip.

Built using a well-refined formula largely unchanged for decades, Harley-Davidsons attract a huge cult following – it’s about embracing a lifestyle centred around freedom, self-expression, and the pursuit of happiness.

I must confess, I once stereotyped Harleys as bikes solely for riders fixated on cubic inches, who overlook other qualities. Yet I’ve come to realise that conventional comparisons don’t quite fit the bill here.

If I had to nit-pick, the Tonka-toy controls feel outdated, but they soon become irrelevant as you aim for the horizon, twist the throttle and feel the throb of that mighty V-twin.

Although flawed in some aspects – there’s also no getting away from the sheer mass of these bikes, especially when manoeuvring – these motorcycles represent the pinnacle of Harley-Davidson engineering and design.

The impressive performance, unmatched comfort and slick technology make perfect sense when you’re racking up the miles, and there’s also an extensive range of accessories and upgrades available to benefit you or your pillion.

So, if you still believe in the freedom of the open road and the thrill of adventure, consider the charismatic Street and Road Glide – because the American Dream is alive and well at Harley-Davidson.

Harley-Davidson Street Glide £26,795; Harley-Davidson Road Glide £27,295. For more information: harley-davidson.com