Powerful, bold and beautiful, Harley Davidson motorcycles are among some of the most iconic bikes ever created. Over the past century, Harleys – as they are affectionately known by their passionate owners – have become synonymous with some of the most beautiful roads in America.
The bikes have played a core role in the development of motorcycle culture and the way of life that surrounds it during the 20th century and up to the present day. Much of this is to do the combination of timeless design and unbeatable performance.
In this article, we will look at some of the best Harley Davidson motorcycles ever created.
Whether you’re looking for a new machine to drive on some of the country’s best riding roads, or you just want to learn more about the history of this storied company, read on for a breakdown of some of the most famous Harley Davidson motorcycles ever created.
1. Harley Davidson Model 11F (1915)
Although not technically a motorcycle at this stage, the venerable Model 11F is fully deserving of its spot on this list.
Kitted out with an overhead valve V-Twin motor, the 11F featured a clutch and transmission system which made it one of the most advanced bikes of its time.
You could even purchase a more upmarket version (the 11J) which included electric lighting, seriously advanced in a time where large swathes of the world did not have electric lighting inside their homes yet.
With a powertrain that produced 11 HP, the Harley Davidson 11F had the power to spare compared to its competitors. The three-speed transmission meant that this Harley was highly adept at providing the rider with the power necessary for any situation it came across.
When looking at the innovative new models Harley Davidson plans to release in the future, it is important to remember that the company has always had its roots in innovation.
2. Harley Davidson Fat Boy (1990)
In 1990, the design department at Harley Davidson changed the game with a new look that changed the way that the road-going public in America saw cruiser bikes.
A pair of beautiful ‘shotgun’ styled exhausts paired effortlessly with huge 16-inch disk wheels to produce the now-famous softail look for the very first time.
The impact of the design was huge. Until this point, hardtail bikes had been the dominant design language of the era. This applied not just to Harley Davidson, but to a range of other motorcycle companies too.
The two men who are most often credited for designing this iconic new are Willie G. Davidson and Louis Netz. Enthusiasts will tell you though that their work is largely derived from the work of numerous custom bikes coming out of Canada during that era.
3. Harley Davidson VRSCSE2 (2006)
Rather than its technical ability (which it has in spades), this V-Rod bike was loved by owners because of the huge number of color variations that it was available in.
This meant that the owners could truly have the bike of their dreams, right down to the color of paint that suited their personality.
4. Harley Davidson EL (1963)
The EL was the first bike to run the future classic Knucklehead V-Twin engine. The bike would eventually feature a displacement of 1000cc.
At the time, this meant mind-bending performance for the riders of this elegant bike.
When you consider the EL also featured a beautiful retro design that paid homage to the Art Deco school of design as well as its famous engine, there is no surprise that this bike makes into the list of the greatest Harley motorcycles.
It was motorcycles like the EL that helped Harley Davidson to emerge as one of the biggest motorcycle brands in the world.
5. Harley Davidson VRSC (2001)
For some riders, the conversation begins and ends with power. And this is why Harley Davidson produced the VRSC motorcycles.
The VRSC came as a response to the power rider bikes produced by rivals Ducati and Yamaha.
The fact that the V-Rod range of bikes was produced continuously between 2001 and 2017 goes to highlight just how popular this series was with the roadgoing public.
The VRSC range marks a shift for Harley Davidson, as it was their first mass-produced high power bike.
The Porsche designed liquid-cooled engine was capable of producing an eye-watering 125hp. Revving to 9,000RPM, needless to say, this bike has become an icon among enthusiasts.
6. Harley Davidson XL Sportster (1957)
The Sportster can trace its routes back to the Model K lightweight line of bikes. However, it is fair to say that this fabled line of bikes has now eclipsed these humble origins.
Many would argue that the Sportster is now almost as important as the Big Twins in the lexicon of iconic Harley Davidson machinery.
The original 883cc powertrain was eventually replaced with a 1,100cc and finally 1,200cc engine. Technical specifications aside, the iconic sleek looks of the Sportster mean it has endured in the memory of many motorcycle enthusiasts.
Many enthusiasts will look back on the Sportster line with fondness, as it was the bike which Harley used to derive a number of popular specialty machines.
The XLCR, for example, was based on the Speedster. That bike was cherished by cafe racers virtually from the moment that it became available.
The bike is now so beloved that even Lego creators have gotten in on the act, making their own models.
7. Harley Davidson FXRT (1983)
The FXRT separates itself from some of the other classic Milwaukee machines because of its ride height. Unlike its siblings such as the Low Rider and Wide Glide, FXRT bikes had a noticeably higher ride height.
It also possessed a stiffer frame and other modifications to its suspension which allowed the bike to cruise more comfortably at longer distances. Much to the relief of the riders who used it.
8. Harley Davidson Duo-Glide (1958)
The Duo-Glide represented a paradigm shift in the ride comfort of Harley motorcycles due to a new and innovative rear suspension system.
Up to this point, the only ‘suspension’ offered on Harley Davidson motorcycles was a saddle which had been sprung. In theory, this took the worst bumps out of the ride, but many contemporary riders at the time will probably disagree with that assessment.
The changes allowed the Harley Davidson to shift and become a true long-distance rider, as drivers could travel for mile upon mile in relative comfort.
The 1958 Duo-Glide arrived with a swingarm that featured coil-over shocks, which transformed the touring bike market forever.
9. Harley Davidson CVO Softail Convertible (2012)
There are three little letters in the name of this bike which change everything – CVO. You see, this moniker denotes the fact that the Custom Vehicle Operations department at Harley Davidson worked their magic on this very special bike.
You could call the Softail Convertible the Swiss army knife of motorcycling. The bike can be configured in numerous ways to allow the rider and passenger to adapt to the task at hand.
Whether you about to tour for an entire day, or prefer a two-up configuration, the CVO has it covered.
To help it complete the job, the CVO is graced with the most powerful V-Twin engine that Harley Davidson currently produces. Needless to say, this thing will cruise comfortably at speed.
To top off an already fantastic package, the CVO comes glistening in chrome and possesses a striking paint job, as well as a premium sound system. It really does deserve the hype.
It is always worth reading about the history of the Harley-Davidson CVO motorcycles, as these are among some of the most special bikes available in the world today.
10. Harley Davidson FXB Sturgis
Despite being produced for only a couple of years starting in 1980, the ‘Sturgis is a firm favorite within the motorcycle community.
Whereas other bikes in this list are featured because of their unique and beautiful styling, the Sturgis wins its place due to a timelessly iconic design.
Initially released as a special edition of the FXS low-rider, the Sturgis became a fan favorite in its own right.
11. Harley Davidson FL Hydra-Glide
As bikers began to take to the roads again after World War II, they needed new machinery which could carry them along the way in comfort.
To help achieve this goal, Harley Davidson created a whole new category of motorcycle. This was known as the long-distance cruiser.
Firstly, they created a larger more durable chassis for the bike. This was aimed at improving the ride comfort and accommodating a larger engine.
Next, a twin overhead valve engine was mated to the chassis. When this was combined with a set of fatter tires, the Hydra-Glide formula was complete.
Riders of a certain generation would enjoy the Hydra-Glide for years, as it became their trusty companion as they motored around the United States.
12. Harley Davidson XR750
Much of the Harley Davidson mystique has come about because of the association of the bikes with racing prowess. In this regard, the XR750 series of bikes cannot be beaten.
Throughout the 20th century, the bike and its riders cruised to endless victories in events organized by the American Motorcyclist Association.
As a result, the bike has earned its place as one of the most iconic bikes to emerge from the Harley factory.
The impact these victories had on the company’s image (and sales sheet), really cannot be understated. For this reason, executives at the company cherish the XR750 just as much as the riders who cruised to victory on them time and again.
The Best Harley Davidson Motorcycles Belong in Motoring History
For over a century, Harley Davidson has been pushing the limits of motorcycles. Their innovations have pushed the limits of what was possible with current technology, leading to the creation of some truly iconic bikes.
Whether you prefer old classics like the Hydro-Glide or modern marvels such as the CVO Softail, the best Harley Davidson bikes all share their place in history as some of the best motorcycles ever created.
Which bike in the list is your favorite? Comment below with your thoughts on the best bikes.