The Big List - Important Harley-Davidsons Throughout Time
10 November 2017 - RideApart
Founded in 1903, Harley-Davidson is America's oldest and most popular motorcycle marque.
Throughout its 114 years of production, Harley has made countless iconic bikes and constantly evolved to meet evolving tastes and markets while maintaining its essential Harleyness. The company survived multiple wars and depressions, two world wars, stiff competition by both the British and the Japanese, and outlived all of its original competitors save Indian. In doing so, Harley helped shape motorcycle culture and gave birth to a big slice of Americana.
The following list includes significant motorcycles in Harley-Davidson history, those bikes that represented the next step in motorcycle evolution or set the standard for an entire bike segment. Although it's pretty exhaustive, this list excludes unique or short lived models like the Aermacci/Harley Sprints, Servi-Cars, most military models, and one-off items like scooters or snowmobiles since they're largely outside the scope of this article. Also, honestly, each of those categories deserve their own book and, since they're so rare, weird, or exclusive, existing information about them is largely nonexistent.
So let's get down to business, shall we? For the purposes of this list, I've separated the bikes into two broad eras – pre-Knucklehead and post-Knucklehead – which I've called "The Beginning" and "The Modern Era". As you may know, the legendary Knucklehead was Harley's first overhead-valve engine. Its introduction brought Harley into the modern era, and every modern big twin – Dynas, Softails, and touring models – can trace its lineage straight back to the old Knuck.
We're not perfect, so if you know of anything we missed in our information, please comment below or email us. For instance, we believe we've caught all of the known model codes for the models listed, but there are always special edition or one-off models that sometimes change the code. It's possible we've missed a few, but to the best of our efforts, this is a complete list of every Harley-Davidson models today.
Also, if you're looking for more depth in the subject a great resource for true-HD enthusiasts is the Big Book.
Engine Offerings: 405cc, 439cc, 495cc, 800cc, 1,000cc, 565cc, 810cc
Known Suffixes: 1905, Model 1; 1908, Model 4; 1909, Model 5, Model 5A, Model 5C, Model 5D; 1910, Model 6, Model 6A, Model 6B, Model 6C, Model 6D; 1911, Model 7, Model 7A, Model 7B, Model 7C, Model 7D; 1912, Model 8, Model X8, Model 8A, Model X8A, Model 8D, Model X8D, Model X8E; 1913, Model 9A, Model 9B; 1914, Model 10A, Model 10B, Model 10C; 1915, Model 11B, Model 11C; 1916, Model 16B, Model 16C; 1917, Model 17B, Model 17C; 1918, Model 18B. Model 18C, Model 18E, Model 18F, Model 18J; 1919, Model 19F, Model 19J; 1920, Model 20F, Model 20J; 1921, Model 21F, Model 21FD, Model 21J, Model 21JD; 1922, Model 22F, Model 22FD, Model 22J, Model 22JD; 1923, Model 23F, Model 23FD, Model 23J, Model 23JD; 1924, Model 24FE, Model 24FD, Model 24FDCA, Model FDCB, Model FDCB, Model 24JE, Model 24JD, Model 24JDCA, Model 24JDCB, Model 24JDCB; 1925, Model 25FE, Model 25FDCB, Model 25JE, Model 25JDCB; 1926/1927, Model 26F, Model 26FD, Model 26J, Model 26JD, Model A, Model AA, Model B, Model BA; 1927, Model 27F, Model 27D, Model 27J, Model 27JD; 1928, Model 28A, Model 28AA, Model 28B, Model 28BA, Model 28F, Model 28FD, Model 28J, Model 28JD, Model 28JXL, Model 28JDXL, Model 28JH, Model 28JDH; 1929, Model 29A, Model 29AA, Model 29B, Model 29BA, Model 29D, Model 29F, Model 29FD, Model 29J, Model 29JD, Model 29JXL, Model 29JDXL, Model 29JH, Model 29JDH
Reasons to Love: In the beginning, Harley-Davidson built motorcycles to race. The early years featured a huge variety of models, from singles, V-twins, and opposed twins in a variety of frames. Engineering development was in full swing, and the American-made racing scene was a beautiful drama. During these years, Harley-Davidson was in a frenzy of engineering and development. New models, engines, and chassis configurations seemed to change every year or so as new breakthroughs were made and new ideas were tested.
Pre-Knucklehead: In 1901, William S. Harley, completed a blueprint drawing of an engine in a bicycle frame. He partnered with longtime friend Arthur Davidson and, after two years of woodshedding in mutual friend Henry Melk's garage, rolled out their first bike in 1903 and immediately went racing. With the paint still wet on the 1903 bike, Mssrs. Harley and Davidson got to work on a new, more modern motorcycle with a bigger and better engine single-cylinder engine.
Completed in September of 1904, this bike rolled out of Melk's garage and went straight to the track just like its 1903 predecessor. The engine was a 24.74 cubic inch, inlet-over-exhaust single with a single-speed transmission and a leather belt drive with back-up pedal assist. The entire thing weighed less than 200 pounds and had a top speed of around 40 miles-per-hour. It took fourth place with rider Ed Hildebrand in the saddle, not bad at all for what was essentially a one-off prototype.
In 1905, Harley-Davidson released the first true Harley – the Model 1. Basically a production model of the 1904 prototype/racer, the Model 1 was nearly identical to its predecessors.
It wasn't until 1909 that Harley-Davidson released its first V-twin powered motorcycle – the 49.5 cubic inch Model 5-D. Around this time, Harley-Davidson became America's largest motorcycle manufacturer, eclipsing arch-rival Indian and completely dominating smaller outfits like Thor, Henderson, Excelsior, and Pierce. The F-Head engine in the 5-D was a flop for a number of reasons which are, once again, outside the scope of this article, and was replaced a year later with a better engine.
In 1919, the 37ci Sport model was introduced with an opposed-twin engine. In 1922, the 74ci V-twin engine is introduced on the JD and FD models. Four years later in 1926, Harley produced another single-cylinder engine, for the first time since 1918. Models A, AA, B, and BA are available in side-valve and overhead-valve engine configurations. In 1928 the first Harley-Davidson two-cam engine was made available to the public on the JD series motorcycles.
Engine Offerings: 580cc/37ci
Known Suffixes: Model 19W
Reasons to Love: The Model 19W introduced new technology into the lineup and eventually evolved into the famous Army motorcycle, the W-Series.
Model W: Also known as the Sport Twin, the Model 19W was built as a middleweight-sized bike and an entry-level model with the purpose of enticing new riders and increasing the motorcycling market of the day. The Sport featured Harley's first flat-twin engine and a trailing-link front fork suspension.
The Sport Twin set speed records on runs across the country. Although, like many models of the time, poor American sales led to the end of production after only four years. Not to be confused with the later W-Series, which featured the now famous 45ci flathead.
D-Series - "45" Solo
Engine Offerings: 45ci
Known Suffixes: DL, D, Model 29D, Model 29FD, Model 30D, Model 30DL, Model 30DLD, Model 31D, Model 31DL, Model 31DLD, Model 32D, Model 32DL, Model 32DLD, Model 32D, Model 32DLD, Model 32DL, Model 33D, Model 33DL, Model 33DLD,
Reasons to Love: Built as the entry level, lightweight model to compete with the Indian Scout.
The year after Harley introduced the two-cam engine, Harley built the D-Series to compete with the Indian Scout. The motorcycle introduced the side valve 45ci V-twin known as the "45" and later nicknamed the flathead. Introduced in the WR racing bike, it proved to be solid and reliable and Harley settled into consistent production and models. Flathead v-twins were also available in 61ci and 74ci displacements throughout the same model years. The 45ci bikes looked very similar to their larger displacement siblings, but the easiest way to tell them apart is that the "45" has the final drive chain on the right instead of the left like a modern Sportster.
R-Series "45" Solo
Engine Offerings: 45ci
Known Suffixes: R, RL, RLD; Model 34RL, Model 34R, Model 34RLD, Model 35RL, Model 35R, Model 35RS, Model 35RLD, Model 36R, Model 36RLDE, Model 36RS, Model 36R
Reasons to Love: New styling that made Harley a staple of Americana. Perseverance through the Great Depression.
A replacement for the D-Series, the R series was a step in the evolution from the D to the W. No major technical changes were introduced for the R, but it was a significant motorcycle for Harley as it helped the company survive the Great Depression. Styling changes like Art Deco style badging and paint helped sales.
Years: 1929-1973 (according to Harley, variations of the engine were sold until 1973, primarily in the Servi-Car trike).
Engine Offerings: 45ci
Known Suffixes: Model W "45" solo, Model WL sport solo, Model WLD "45" solo, WR, Model 37WL, Model 37WLD, Modwl 37WLDR, Model 37W, Model 37WS, Model 38WLD, Model 38WL, Model 38WLDR.
Reasons to Love: After the war, thousands of WLAs were sold off in surplus, which helped start the chopper movement since they were plentiful and cheap.
This was the final model to receive the 45 (minus the H-D Servi-Car which we're not talking about here). A high compression option was available at the time. During war production, the WLA was built for military use and was essentially the only version built. Close to 60,000 units were produced for U.S. military use and for export through the Lend-Lease program during the War.
Engine Offerings: 74ci, 80ci
Model Suffix: U, UL, ULH, UH, UHS, US,
Reasons to Love: While these side valve/flathead engines were still being used in the UL for a while after the introduction of the Kucklehead, they did bring with them some updated technology like a recirculating oiling system.
In 1937 Harley introduced the UL model with available in 74ci and 80ci V-twins. The previous models featured total-loss oiling systems, ran hot, and mostly miserable and unreliable. The 45ci introduced a smoother running engine and more reliability, but it wasn't until the big-twins of the UL, which used a dry sump lubrication system, that real reliability and cooler operating temps were now common.
The new UL also featured a four-speed transmission and forged aluminum heads with deeper cooling fins. Brass spark plug inserts were added to address the former engines' problems of stripping threads. Customers could also opt for optional silicon aluminum heads. These big twins were popular, but when the war broke out production stopped on civilian models and focused instead on WLA models for the military efforts.
The Modern Era - Knuckles, Pans, Shovels, and Sportsters
Model Suffix: E, EL
Engine: 61ci, 74ci
Reasons to Love: The EL-series is not only beautiful, but it marked the birth of Harley's modern era with the introduction of the Knucklehead, the company's first overhead-valve V-twin.
Introduction of the first overhead-valve (ohv) V-twin from Harley-Davidson brought Harley-Davidson into the modern era of motorcycle design and engineering. While the first EL was good, Harley constantly tinkered with it over the years to improve power and performance. According to some historians, almost every part on the EL-series was changed between its first year to its last.
In 1941, the EL got bigger with the introduction of a 74ci version of the Knucklehead along with more engineering improvements across the line. Like other models, the outbreak of WWII meant new civilian EL models became very scarce.
Years Built: 1952-1956
Engine Offerings: 45ci, 750cc, 888cc
Known Suffixes: K, KK, KR, KH, KGK, KRTT, KHRTT,
Reasons to Love: Just like the very first Harley-Davidson, the first K-Model was built with the essence of a race bike. Also, Elvis.
In an effort to stay competitive in the face of stiff competition from the Brits, Harley-Davidson needed something lighter and sportier than their heavy 45ci flatheads and even heavier EL-models. Starting with the bottom end of a 45ci flathead engine, Harley engineers designed a case to house the transmission for a lighter weight and more condensed package. This was similar to the unit construction power plants of the Triumphs and BSAs that were all the rage with the kids. (Remember, Marlon Brando's Johnny rode a Triumph in The Wild One -Ed.) The company added aluminum heads with fins for cooling to their new engine, then built a lightweight, narrow chassis around it all. The engine performed well and the bike was lightweight, narrow, and easy to ride. It was also the first Harley-Davidson to feature suspension on both wheels – Hydraulic forks on the front and exposed shocks on a swingarm in the rear.
With all this engineering, Harley-Davidson birthed not just a sporty street cruiser but its next race bike as well. The K-model became the platform for flat tracker and road racers of the era, and evolved into the XR bikes of later years.
Years Built: 1957-current
Engine Offerings: 750cc, 883cc, 1000cc, 1200cc
Known Suffixes: XL, XL883, XL883C, XL 883L, XL883R, XL1100, XL1200, XL1200C, XL1200R, XL1200S, XLCH, XLCR, XLH, XLH883, XLH883R, XLH1200, XLH1200S. XLS, XLX, XR1000, XLRTT,
Reasons to Love: Economical, easy to maneuver (for a Harley), and the basis for many factory built race bikes like XR flat trackers, road racers and the cool cafe model (XLCR).
If you've ever heard, "Oh yeah, my friend just bought a Harley, way cool, it's a... I can't remember," chances are it's a Sportster. Considered Harley-Davidson's entry level bike, the Sportster line has always been kind of in its own world within the Harley family. A separate engine line that's visually similar to that of its bigger brothers, but a unique tightly packaged drivetrain nonetheless. The XL Sportster has put countless new riders on Harley's, and has produced some of the coolest, most eye-catching customs the company ever produced.
Factory Experimental FX Superglide
Years Built: 1971-2017
Engine Offerings: 1200cc, 80ci, 1310cc, 1,340cc, 1,450cc, 1,584cc, 1,690cc,
Known Suffixes: FX, FXE, FXD, FXD35, FXS, FXDL, FXEF, FXDF, FXWG, FXDWG, FXDWGI, FXB, FXDC, FXDG, FXDS-CON, FXDX, FXDXT, FXLR, FXS, FXSB, FXR, FXRT, FXRP
Reasons to Love: Marketed as Harley's first factory custom to capture the growing Chopper movement. A solid mid-range line with the power of a big twin and the handling of a Sportster. (Also, a super sweet boattail rear end and swingin' red, white, and blue paint job -Ed.)
Designed by Willie G. Davidson, the idea behind the FX-series seems so simple in retrospect: take the light handling front end from a Sportster and mount it on a full size touring bike frame. Enter the Superglide. FX was short for Factory Experimental, as the bike was a response to the wild late-60s custom scene. Introduced only a few years after Billy and Captain America stormed on to the big screen in Easy Rider, the FX Superglide was a huge and instant success.
If the Sportster is a Miata in terms of avoidable performance in the H-D realm, then the Superglide was a Corvette. This simple action of stripping down a touring bike introduced a new category of motorcycle, and probably attracted as many new riders as the Sportster. The FX platform evolved constantly over three decades until it was axed for 2018, and was arguably one of the most constantly updated models in the Harley-Davidson lineup. The Superglide finally brought Harley into the good graces of new motorcycle reviewers and meant real competition against the Japanese brands.
The Superglide name came and went over the years, but the FX prefix for the line remained. The FX Superglide was eventually replaced by the FXR, the one-percenter club member's bike of choice. The Superglide remained alongside the FXR for a few years, gaining a small, single tank and dropping the two-piece tank and dash combo.
The Superglide was eventually discontinued with the introduction of the Evolution engine in 1984. The Dyna platform then replaced the FXR, in 1991, and while all three motorcycles have very different engineering and designing features, they all share the FX prefix and DNA.
Years: 1984 to current.
Engines: 1200cc, 80ci, 1310cc, 1,340cc, 1,450cc, 1,584cc, 1,690cc,
Known Suffixes: FXCW, FXCWC, FXST, FXSTB, FXSTBI, FXSTC, FXSTD, FXSTS, FXWG, FLST, FLSTC, FLSTF, FLSTFI, FLSTN, FLSTS, FLSTSB, FLSTSC
Reasons to Love: Comfortable, classically styled, and offered in a huge variety of styles. Hardtail looks with modern performance.
The looks of a hardtail with the ride and comfort of a modern motorcycle, the Softail platform was a revelation in 1984. Built to look like Harleys from the 40s and 50s, the Softails' rear suspension featured hidden shocks underneath the bike mounted to a triangular-shaped swingarm and fat hydraulic forks up front. Softail engines were hard mounted to the frame – unlike the FX/Dyna series where the engine was isolated from the frame by rubber vibration dampers – and the bikes had a reputation of being slow and rattly.
Despite this rough-riding reputation, Softails steadily grew into one of the most popular and diverse of Harley's lines. They inhabited a middle ground in the big twin family between the performance-minded FX/Dyna line and the comfortable roadgoing couches of the FL touring line. Throughout the Softail's original 32-year run, the line produced some of Harley's most iconic modern bikes such as the Fat Boy, the Heritage Softail Clasic, and the Deuce.
Engines: 1200cc, 80ci, 1310cc, 1,340cc, 1,450cc, 1,584cc, 1,690cc, 61ci, 74ci,
Known Suffixes: FL, FLH, FLHX, FLHRS, FLHPI, FLHR, FLHRCI, FLHS, FLHT, FLHTC, FLHTK, FLHTCSE, FLHTPI, FLHTCUI, FLHTCUSE, FLHXXX, FLT, FLTC, FLTCU, FLHTCUTG, FLTR, FLTRI, FLTRX, FLTRSEI
Reasons to Love: The Harley-Davidson FL Touring models have been comfortable touring cruisers and the most quintessential Harley of the modern era.
Harley-Davidson has used the FL name since 1941. FL's were much the same as their EL, U, and UL siblings, and were powered by the Knucklehead ohv v-twin. The FL series remained largely unchanged until 1948 when the Panhead engine was released. In 1949, just a year after getting the Panhead upgrade, the FL series' old-timey leading link springer front end was replaced by a set of modern hydraulic forks, thus giving birth to the famous Hydra Glide.
In 1958, the FL Hydra Glide got a radical redesign that introduced a rear suspension consisting of a swingarm and twin shocks. The name was changed from Hydra Glide to Duo Glide (Duo, two, two suspensions...get it?) and a legend was born. A few years later in 1965, the Duo Glide was replaced with the Electra Glide, which featured the first electric starter (again, get it? Eh?) on a Harley-Davidson big twin bike. Harley's iconic batwing fairing was introduced as an option for the Electra Glide in 1969, and was initially easily removable unlike today's permanently affixed fairings. FLs got a front disc brake in 1972, and over the next few decades went through a number of transmission, engine, and electrical system upgrades.
Today, the FL lineup consists of Harley's big time baggers and touring models. From the stylish Road King bagger to the unique Road Glide (My personal favorite Harley tourer -JM) to the high-end, eye-wateringly expensive Ultra Limited, Harley's touring bikes carry on the proud tradition of powerful and comfortable FL tourers.
VRSC - V-ROD
Engine Offerings: 69ci water-cooled Revolution v-twin, 76ci water-cooled Revolution v-twin.
Known Suffixes: VRSC1 VRSCA, VRSCAW, VRSCB, VRSCD, VRSCDX, VRSCF, VRSCSE, VRSCSE2, VRSCR, VRSCX, VRXSE
Reasons to Love: Harley made a great attempt at producing a modern, well-engineered V-twin. The V-Rod is reminiscent of the beginning days, when Harley thought of racing first. Also, Porsche DNA.
Ah, the V-Rod. Developed in the late-90s/early-aughts to compete against ever faster muscle bikes like Yamaha's savage V-Max, the V-Rod was always an oddity in the Harley-Davidson family. Developed around the newly built, Porsche-designed Revolution engine, the V-Rod was initially a major success and received high marks from the motorcycling press. The Revolution was a 60-degree, water-cooled v-twin that performed unlike anything Harley had ever produced. The design included a hydro-formed frame and underseat fuel tank for a low center of gravity. It performed well, but it was sadly discontinued (along with its Dyna cousins) with the introduction of Harley's new 2018 models.
Engine Offerings: 500cc, 750cc
Known Suffixes: XG, XG750R, XG750G, XG750
Reasons to Love: The XG is Harley-Davidson's modern attempt at capturing the youth market with a sporty, small displacement bike. The XG harkens back to the K-model in that it's an inexpensive, nimble, and fun motorcycle that exists largely outside of Harley's established lines. Like the K-model, it's also the base for the company's modern flat track race bike.
When it was released, the XG was Harley-Davidson's first all new model in 13 years, the first sub-1000cc production engine in decades, and the least expensive offering in the lineup. Originally the Street was built for the Indian and European markets, where the 500cc or 750cc motorcycle sales have been booming for over a decade. Eventually, the 500cc model was brought to The States and was first introduced as the go-to bike for Harley's in-house riding school. Once established in the Learn to Ride program, the XG was then made available to moto journalists and the public. Soon thereafter, the 750 model appeared in American showrooms and the rest is history.