Top 10 Harley-Davidsons of All Time

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4. XL

Harley Davidson XL

After 110 years of building motorcycles, the Sportster is arguably the most versatile platform the Motor Company has ever produced. Whether in 883 or 1200cc versions, the Sporty is so many things to so many people, from an excellent beginner bike to a cool-as-hell barhopper to an effective commuter. Is there nothing the Sportster can’t do? David Zemla of Burly Brand says no.

“Sportsters are my favorite, and not for what they are but for what they can be,” Zemla told us from the climate-controlled comfort of a cross-country flight to the inaugural AIMExpo. “It’s a virtually unkillable platform, right at home as a chopper, dirt-tracker, cafe, bobber or scrambler and does each with minimal spend and maximum fun.” Okay, that sounds a bit like the hyperbole of a zealot. But it’s hard to argue with Dave’s logic.

“Not many other bikes are that versatile, inexpensive, reliable or plentiful and absolutely none provide the ideal balance of old/new, wrong/right or fast/slow that is the venerable Sportster,” Zemla continues. “Maybe it’s the cabin pressure at 30,000 feet, but I look at the XL and cannot help but smile.”

Harley-Davidson XLCR 1000 courtesy Autopictu

Renowned motorcycle photographer Brian J. Nelson took the XL position a step further, giving his “all-time fave” nod to the café-inspired XLCR, a late 70s Sportster Harley might be wise to relaunch today. “I love the XLCR,” Nelson says. “It was cool before its time.”

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  • sem

    #10 Evo FXR – First image isn’t an Evo.

    • Jonny Langston

      Oops, you guys were right. More of a typo than wrong photo. Consider it fixed.

  • bert

    #10 looks like a shovel fxr to me.

    • Dana P Rockwell

      Folks knew something new (engine) was coming because of the extra space above the Shovelhead engine, waiting for something taller (the Evo in ’84
      )….

  • Craig Howell

    Glad you liked my photo of Lucifer’s Hammer that I took at the 1985 Champion Spark Plug 200 at Lagguna Seca! Photo attribution & linkback are always appreciated. ( photos.thecreeper.net/Motorcycle-Stuff/1985-Champion-Spark-Plug-200 ) – Craig Howell

    • Jonny Langston

      Consider it done, Craig! Thanks again

  • Keurig Mikuru

    1959 XLCH Sportster, any K-Model (1952-1956) especially KR, JD for it’s appearance. Got to vote down the FXB Sturgis for that ugly air cleaner. It looks like something AMF designed; oh that’s right it did.

    • donny1020

      Actually Willy G designed that bike and it was a huge deal. Are you saying that the Super Glide, the XR, the Lowrider, the Fat Bob are a junk bike because AMF had involvement with them? I had a new 78 Lowrider and loved it. Wish I still had a stock grey one.

      • Keurig Mikuru

        Didn’t mean to generalize to all the bikes you mention. Certainly didn’t mean to imply any were junk. Just thought the Sporster should be emphasized. I am a kind of an old bike snob, that’s just me.

  • Harrison Withers

    Another vote for the xr1200 here, I love mine and just wish they would make it again, with an eye towards weight reduction.

  • Dana P Rockwell

    The FXRP never caught on as a police bike either…

  • ACG

    No V/Rod??Best Harley ever water cooled&fast!

  • Kevin

    My great-grandfather was a Denver motor cop, one of my earliest memories of him was visiting him at his house and watching a movie from the late 1930s in which Fred McMurray is pulled over by a cop on a Harley-Davidson. The cop pulled up alongside the car and issued the ticket through the window while still seated on the bike. As the cop rode away the movie went to commercial and Gran-dad asked my father if he knew why they did that ( ride alongside and pass the ticket through the window). When my father replied no, Gran-dad offered “To actually catch a speeding car on one of those damn things would pucker your butt so badly you couldn’t get off of it for 20 minutes!”
    H-D has been around for 115 years, had its share of ups and downs, survived 2 world wars the great depression, and even AMF. As time and technology has progressed so has H-D, albeit too slowly at times. It is for that reason that I believe the best H-D of all time is one of the 2014 FLH models even to admit my seat time is limited to a single test ride. No other motorcycle company has a more faithful and loyal customer base and no other motorcycle company has more passionate critics. Love ‘em or hate ‘em every body still thinks and talks about them. They are better bikes now than they have ever been and my bet is that my Grandson will someday be talking about them one way or another long after I’m gone.

  • Mark Brenneman

    No way to list a top 10. However, my ’74? 350 Sprint SX was a good starter bike. My ’71 FLH ranks high on my list as I rode it from Oh to the top of Mi and to Fl in the same summer. My ’38 UL (74″) Flat Head was slow to get rolling but turned a lot of heads. My ’73 Sportster w/ a hack was my most fun bike. Way to many people had too much fun on it. My ’89 Heritage Softail has a place because it was a nice bike and the only new Harley I ever bought of over 30 + of them. Before someone goes off, I have had both sizes of Shortsters, the moped looking step through with 3 speeds on the twist grip, to a 110″ Kick only Shovel in a custom frame with suicide clutch and jockey shift. I even had a 2 stroke Enduro Model.

  • BUCK Ronald Bucholtz

    1968 XLCH sportster with P cams and magneto the bike would not idle it ran best wide open only I passed a new cop in town and he could not get close ,the sound that bike made coming on cam was unreal it made the hair on my neck stand up , I also owned many 48 up pans they,were great bikes as well ,being only16 I did many stupid things you can not get away with do day but that XLCH was WICKED bike .

  • donny1020

    I like them all I have 2 chopped FLs, a Super Glide, and a SX. I think most guys will tell you what they are making payments on is the best. And, how do you define “best” or “favorite”? Both of my FL bikes are kick bikes and I think they are cool but at 5:00 am when it won’t start and you realize you flooded the bitch and you have to get to work, or when you are stuck in traffic and you can’t white line it and that 50 weight turns into something more like Italian dressing a little bit of that love dissappears.

    The KR and XR are definitely special , the Soft Tail also was a huge deal when it came out from HD direct. Some folks remember when that soft tail frame was stricktly an aftermarket non-HD frame, and the Super Glide was and still is a great bike without all the doodads and luggage, just a bike with a big motor. Just some gas money and a pocket full of reds you can make it across the country pretty cheap. Just get loaded and crash next to the bike. You also can’t say enough good things about the XL line, great fun bikes to ride after a little engine modifications. Many believe the 1969 74ci was the best bike HD made, many say that was the last “real” Harley Davidson.

    People talk down about AMF but without AMF HD would have died, there wouldn’t have been the Evo motor, no Soft Tail and no Super Glide, XLR, Low Rider or Fat Bob. The real issue with AMF quality was in 70 and 71 when none of the guys working the line knew if they would have a job the next day. The biggest issue with AMF was the dealers who didn’t appear to care about the customers/owners. Then AMF brought litigation against a bunch of folks for copyright and patent violations which pissed everyone off. AMF also pulled their advertisement money from Easy Riders magazines because they wanted to use the outlaw image to sell bikes but didn’t really want to be associated with them. On top of that, AMF supported helmets during the same time. Along with this there was also the fact that holds true today that when you buy a new HD you have pay extra money to get the bike to perform as it should. The new bikes still need to have the heads flowed, the cam replaced, new exhaust and open up the breathing on the thing. You do that and a HD is a damn great motorcycle.

    By the way things appear today I think most folks will tell you a geezer glide of some type is the best, that’s what folks are buying., stereos and TV screens appear to be important to more than a few folks.

    For me the bikes I own are my favorites,
    DFFL

  • Tom Woodward

    Darn missed the list with my 1930 VLC, 1950 FL and 1984 FXRT…

  • materialman

    No question the FXR had to be on there. Good list for sure.

  • Ralph Derstine

    this is my 81 flhs

  • Frank Murphy

    No ultra classic?

    • Hot Stuff

      It is included with the FL touring bikes, which were lumped into one group for this list.

  • Eyam Ova-Urazis

    Cool list. My ’85 Lowrider didn’t make it, but the Sturgis is close enough.

  • http://shovelshop.wordpress.com/ Bill J. from Austin

    Donny1020′s comments about AMF’s role in Harley-Davidson’s survival are spot on. However, while Harley desperately needed the money AMF shelled out in order to upgrade the Motor Company’s aging physical plants and outmoded manufacturing equipment, AMF’s most important contribution, IMHO, was allowing Willie G. to produce the Superglide.

    Historians generally agree that the Superglide single-handedly revived the Harley-Davidson brand, drawing a new and younger customer base, and fending off the onslaught of Japanese makes in the 1970s. If HD hadn’t produced that first bare-bones, mix-and-match kick-only 74” FX Superglide of 1971, with its “boat-tail” fender and Evel Knievel-inspired paint scheme, there would have been no FXS Low Rider (1977), no FXEF Fat Bob (1979), no FXB Sturgis or FXWG Wide Glide (both 1980), nor any of the alphabet-soup “factory customs” of the past 35 years. It is quite likely that, without the Superglide, there would have been no 1981 buyback, and that AMF, weary of bleeding money into Harley’s coffers, would have simply allowed the brand to die. Poof! Gone! No Evo. No Softail or FXR. No Road King, Dyna-Glide or V-Rod. No Twinkie. No 90th or 95th Anniversary,let alone a 100th or 105th. The last great American motorcycle manufacturer gone the way of the wild geese.

    That’s why I am amazed that the Superglide did not make this Top 10 list. It has certainly earned a spot there!

  • Hot Stuff

    Tough to make a list of only 10. I might have added the XR-1000 , and instead of the Dyna Defender, replace with the FXDX and FXDXT.