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.

  • 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 .