Harley-Davidson is America’s most legendary and iconic motorcycle company. For most Harley owners, it’s more than just a form of transportation – it’s a lifestyle. They’re quick to claim that there is something about riding a Harley-Davidson that’s unlike riding any other brand. Is it the rumbling exhaust note? Is it the “lobe-y”, “cammed” lope at idle that shakes the entire bike? Or is it the old school, rebellious, lack of a certain refinement attitude and mystique that is so deeply rooted in Harley-Davidson’s rich history? The answer for many is D: All of the above.
There isn’t really a Harley-Davidson model that I dislike, because each model is unique in its own way, however I do have my favorites. Below is a list -in no particular order- of 10 Harley’s that I would love to see parked in my stable.
10. FXRT Sport Glide
Some say the FXR is the best motorcycle Harley-Davidson ever came up with. It was different from prior Harley models. To give a little background on its name, the F is derived from the FL touring models and the X came from the XL Sportster line. The FXR frame is essentially a touring model’s frame constructed to be lighter and more rigid and its suspension components came from the more agile handling XL Sportster. The result was a hot-rod with a raised profile and greater ground clearance, taller seat height, increased lean angle and better overall handling and suspension response.
The motor also had three mounting points, instead of two, which decreased the amount of engine vibration transmitted to the rider. The FXR also featured a 5-speed transmission, instead of 4. On top of that, the FXRT model came with hard bags and a front fairing. Translation: you could absolutely CRUSH miles on this thing. It’s no wonder why the FXR was so popular with outlaw bikers during the 90’s and continues to carry the same type of clout today.
9. FXDWG Wide Glide
I think the 90’s Wide Glides are just timelessly cool Harley’s. They have custom chopper styling you could get standard right from the factory. This included a bobbed rear fender, mini apes, cushy two-up king & queen seat complete with a sissy bar, and of course the raked out wide fork that straddles the skinny laced 21-inch front wheel. All of this made for a 70’s chopper look but with modern refinements to engine performance and overall ride quality. To top it all off, girls loved to hop on the back these things and you could find one parked in front of any local watering hole wherever you went.
8. FLSTF Fat Boy
For a long time people have called Harley’s “hogs” and to me, it’s the Fatboy that comes to mind whenever I hear the term. Just look at it – it’s as solid as Harley’s come. With its long, low profile and solid disc wheels, it’s an almost half ton, pavement pounding, steam rolling freight train. Just about everything on the bike is beefed up, most notably the front end. It’s a big bike built for a big man capable of helping non-human cyborgs from the future save the world, just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger.
7. FXDX T-Sport
The T-Sport is a close relative to the FXR with a few upgrades that one could expect from a newer motorcycle. The main differences were the motor and frame. Just like the FXR, it was a motorcycle designed to log a lot of miles swiftly and comfortably. The motor was upgraded from an 80ci Evo motor in the FXR to an 88ci and later 96ci Twin Cam in the Dyna, however it only had two mounting points instead of the FXR’s three. Slowing the bike down were three disc brakes instead of two. Additionally, the T-Sport had removable saddlebags and a front fairing that came standard from Harley-Davidson that made travel more convenient and comfortable. It was the perfect daily rider for someone who rode their bike further than just around town.
6. XL1200S Sportster Sport
Ride a Sportster, then hop on a Big Twin and then come back to the Sportster – you’ll instantly know why Harley-Davidson engineers gave it its name. The Sportster is a more nimble, snappier, scaled down version of its bigger brothers that packs an impressive punch in its 1200cc version. The Sport model was given several performance upgrades you wouldn’t find on regular Sportsters in both the engine and suspension departments.
The engine received dual-plug heads, an increase in compression (a 10.0:1 ratio up from the standard 1200’s 9.0:1), more aggressive cam profiles and a freer flowing exhaust. On suspension side of things, the Sport had three-way fully adjustable shocks where you could easily set your preload, compression and rebound damping, unlike regular Sportsters. Finally, the Sport had two disc brakes up front slowing it down instead of just one. This model was a great improvement on an already solid platform.
5. BUELL S1 White Lightning
BUELLs. What can I say about BUELLs? They’re hot-rodded, engineering works of art that will blow the doors off of just about anything. Well, that last part might not be entirely true, but still, these things can haul the mail in the right tight and twisty settings. Long time road racer and Harley-Davidson engineer, Erik Buell knew what he was doing when it came to designing a decent handling chassis around a giant Harley lump. There’s just something about a v-twin powered sportbike that makes you want to twist the throttle harder than usual. Both the muffler and rear suspension were positioned underneath the motor to both lower the bike’s center of gravity, and more importantly to centralize its mass, making it very flickable, not to mention the visual coolness of their unique placement. You can still see elements of Buell’s mass centralization innovations across various manufacturer’s models… two decades later.
BUELLs looked like concept bikes more than anything else, and performance was at the root of every design. I’ve had the pleasure of owning two different BUELLs (an S1 Lightning like the one pictured above and an XB9 Lightning), and just about every time I took it out people would ask, “What the hell is that thing? I hear a Harley, but see a sport bike.” Or, “Nice Ducati!” Most of the time I couldn’t hear what they were saying over the rumble of the motor, but the pattern was clear.
4. FXS Low Rider
The 1977-1979 Shovelhead FXS Low Rider model was an instant hit once it showed up on showroom floors. It was a precursor to the FXR because it used a mixture of FL and XL parts and paved the road for future Dyna models as well. In my opinion, this platform is just tough as nails. I mean, look at it! It’s the Mr. Steal Your Girl of all Harley-Davidson motorcycles. I have the pleasure of owning a ’78 and it gets compliments everywhere I take it, and people can’t believe it’s a 40-year-old bike. Its clean lines and stylish looks have certainly withstood the test of time.
3. X-90 Shortster
The X-90 Shortster comes from the Aermacchi days when Harley-Davidson was in the business of marketing smaller displacement, two-stroke (yes, I said two-stroke) mini bikes. This bike was produced for three years from 1973-1975 and was fully street legal. What’s cool to me about this particular bike is first and foremost that it’s a two-stroke wearing a Harley-Davidson badge – yep, as rare as a $3 bill. Secondly, if you’ve ever ridden a Honda Z50, CT70 or any similar mini bike, you know how much fun minis can be. On top of that, you could park it on the sidewalk next to a bicycle, and the cops wouldn’t bat an eye. It’s the type of fun that makes an adult feel like a kid again.
2. FL Panhead Duo Glide
The 1958 Harley-Davidson FL Panhead Duo Glide was the first Big Twin bike to feature a rear swing arm and dual shock suspension. Every big bike H-D made prior had a rigid hard tail which, just as its name suggests, had no sort of cushion aside from the squish of the rear tire to help absorb the bumps. Riders would run lower rear tire pressures to help smooth out the ride. The Pan head was a touring bike meant to go places, except in 1958 you could do it more comfortably and with greater peace of mind not having to worry about a lack of suspension rattling everything off. My grandpa had this bike and put over 100,000 miles on it before handing it down to one of my cousins who still rides it this day. The Panhead is a true testament to Harley-Davidson engineering.
What is there to say about the venerable XR750? Well, for starters, it has more dirt track wins than any other bike in AMA history and has been called the most successful race bike of all time. Spanning four decades of competitiveness, the XR is just now fading from the competitive arena, as newer designs kick-off a more diverse era in flat track. And if that doesn’t do it for you, it was also frequently the bike of choice for Evel Knievel, and we all know who he is.