Discover Why This Uncommon Harley-Davidson Sets Itself Apart from Any Other Harley You've Encountere


Harley-Davidson boasts a rich history of crafting what many consider to be quintessential American motorcycles. While models like the Road Glide, Street Glide, and Sportster are ubiquitous sights, others, such as vintage classics like the Harley-Davidson Strap Tank or the El Knucklehead, are rare treasures fetching astronomical prices. Among these rarities stands a motorcycle that defies convention: the Harley-Davidson MT500, a military bike that diverges from the cushy cruisers and historic relics typically associated with the brand.

Despite bearing the Harley-Davidson badge, these military-spec bikes have roots that trace back several decades with origins in the United Kingdom and Italy. Upon closer inspection, one would notice that the engine powering these bikes deviates from Harley's iconic V-twin design. So, what's the story behind this intriguing deviation?

Harley-Davidson's involvement in military motorcycles spans over a century, dating back to World War I. Alongside other American motorcycle manufacturers, Harley contributed to the war effort by supplying motorcycles for various military applications. These bikes served in roles ranging from mobile gun platforms to compact ambulances, showcasing the versatility and adaptability of motorcycle-based combat.

During World War II, Harley-Davidson once again stepped up, providing over 80,000 motorcycles for military use. The agility and versatility of motorcycles made them indispensable for tasks such as messenger duty and navigating rough terrain with ease.

In the early 1980s, Harley-Davidson's foray into military motorcycles took an unconventional turn in Italy. The story begins with SWM (Sironi Vergani Vimercate Milano), a manufacturer specializing in trials, enduro, and motocross racing motorcycles. Their Rotax-powered XN Tornado, introduced in 1982, laid the groundwork for what would become the Armstrong MT500.

Armstrong-CCM took over production of the MT500, which was initially commissioned for the British Army, with some models reportedly seeing action in the Falklands War. The MT500 boasted a 504cc Rotax single-cylinder engine producing 28 HP, with variants featuring electric start options for the Canadian and Jordanian militaries.

Harley-Davidson's involvement with the MT500 began after Armstrong-CCM ceased operations in 1987. Harley acquired the military bike program, aiming to utilize the Rotax engines for its dirt track racing endeavors. The resulting Harley-Davidson MT500 retained many of the original design elements, albeit with the iconic Harley-Davidson branding integrated into the bike's aesthetics.

Characterized by a steel tube frame and plastic bodywork, the MT500 featured practical additions such as front-mounted panniers and a rear-mounted rifle case. Production commenced in Pennsylvania in 1989, lasting until 2000, with later models incorporating improvements like disc brakes and electric start options.

Despite its rarity, the MT500 wasn't without its challenges. Harley-Davidson's decision to use gasoline-powered engines clashed with the military's move towards standardizing fuel types, leading to limited adoption within military circles. Nevertheless, a modest number of MT500s were produced, with some finding their way into civilian markets through Harley-Davidson dealerships.

Today, the MT500 remains a curious anomaly in Harley-Davidson's storied history, embodying a unique chapter in the brand's evolution. While it may not have achieved widespread acclaim, the MT500 stands as a testament to Harley-Davidson's willingness to explore unconventional avenues in pursuit of innovation.