It doesn’t matter if you’re a man, woman or child: It’s pretty much a given that you know of the Harley-Davidson franchise. It’s an iconic American motorcycle with a long history - more than a century’s worth of production, in fact. The company’s bikes have provided endless hours of riding pleasure to generations of motorcycle enthusiasts.
Given the length of time this brand has been around, it’s no simple feat to pick out the best Harley-Davidson motorcycles. I’ve managed to compile a list of five of my favorites.
William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson started to build bikes in 1901. However, compared with other bikes of the time, their designs before the 1915 11F didn’t cut the mustard. In fact, their first few models were reported to have trouble making it up hills without some extra pedal power and exhibited less-than-impressive power and speed.
Image Credit: Yesterdays
Good thing the Harley-Davidson team persisted because the 11F is when the brand really started to rev up. The 11F was the best-selling Harley at the time, probably because it still used old-school, acetylene-burning lights, making it relatively cheap to maintain.
One of the handy, new features in the 11F was the automatic oil pump (previously, the rider had to keep pressure in the oil tank by hand while riding). The 11F was also the first Harley with a three-speed transmission and came equipped with a 1000cc engine capable of producing 11 horsepower.
Shortly after production, the EL acquired the nickname Knucklehead, due to the bike’s similarly shaped valve covers. It boasted a 40-horsepower, 61-cubic-inch (1000cc) engine. The EL made history as the first Harley to make the transition to overhead valves from a flathead engine design (which made the engine more powerful and efficient).
Image Credit: Mecum Auctions
The Knucklehead makes this list due to the overwhelming popularity of the machine. In 1947, the Harley-Davidson EL made up over half of the company’s 20,000 sales.
The EL was also the last bike the Davidson brothers and William S. Harley worked on together. If you’re lucky, you may come across one of these for sale, at about the $100,000 USD mark.
Since 1970, this bad boy has been the king of dirt road racing.
Before 1970, though, the KR was Harley Davidson’s leading racing bike. However, since the KR was almost unbeatable at the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) Grand National Championships, the AMA tweaked the rules to give other Japanese and British models a chance. So Harley-Davidson built another bike - the XR-750 - to fit these new specifications. And again, Harley-Davidson’s top dirt bike blew the competition out of the water.
Image Credit: Mecum Auctions
The XR-750 went on to become the the bike that won the most races in the history of AMA racing. And it has also been called the “most successful race bike of all time”. Based on this remarkable performance record, the XR-750 has definitely earned its spot as one of the best Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
It’s also worth noting this bike was not only famed in the racing arena. Daredevil biker Evel Knievel famously broke jumping records on the XR-750 between 1970 and 1976.
The first edition of the Fat Boy was sold in 1990, but it’s still being produced today, at a price tag of $22,999 (for the 2019 edition).
When it first came out, the Fat Boy ushered in a new style of production cruiser bike, but its solid-cast disc wheels are often considered its real standout feature. Designed by Willie G. Davidson and Louie Netz, the Fat Boy had other defining characteristics like shotgun exhausts and fenders with an outward flare. These distinctive touches definitely make the Fat Boy one of the best Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Still, some feel doubtful as to the actual origins of the Fat Boy. They say the Fat Boy was actually modelled after custom bikes being built in Montreal in the 80s, called Low Boys.
Image Credit: Harley-Davidson
Today, Harley-Davidson markets the Fat Boy as a bike with a muscular look and spirit, despite the Fat Boy moniker. I would tend to agree: The satin chrome finishes, hulkey front tire (at 160mm, it’s the widest it has ever been), and the broad front suspension add to the brawny feel of this machine.
This is a stunning bike, renowned for its good looks as much as it is esteemed for its performance. In badass shades of black, with a black engine (save the bolts and cooling fins), it has a 96B engine that can handle 1584cc. The forward handlebar placement that forces the rider to lean their upper body forward only adds to this bike’s cool factor.
Image Credit: Top Speed
A ride on the Night Train is also a slick trip due to exhaust silencers, thanks to the Night Train’s Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection system. This is one of the best Harley-Davidson motorcycles that will take you on journeys you will not soon forget.
There’s no questioning Harley’s legendary status. The company’s specialty in touring bikes and sport bikes - and all those in between - made it easy for Americans to fall in love with the brand. It’s really no wonder it’s been dubbed the “American motorcycle.”
Comments will be approved before showing up.