Harley-Davidson MT500 Military Dual Sport, a Rare Gem, Heads to Auction Block

Unveiling at a Las Vegas auction on January 27th is a Harley-Davidson treasure you didn't realize you were missing. Yes, it bears the iconic Harley-Davidson emblem, but with an intriguing twist. This particular gem is an olive drab dual-sport model, meticulously crafted for the US Army back in 1998. Dubbed the MT500 (MT signifying Military Transport), it stands as one of approximately 500 ever manufactured, and astonishingly, it boasts a mere 186 miles on its odometer.

Surprised that Harley-Davidson delved into off-road motorcycles prior to the advent of the Pan America? The truth is, the renowned Milwaukee-based manufacturer boasts a rich legacy of crafting machines tailored for rugged terrains. Dating back to the Mexican Border War in 1916, Harley has been a steadfast supplier of military mounts. During WWI, around half of the Harley models produced—roughly 20,000 units—were requisitioned by America's war office. Then emerged the 740cc WRA model, affectionately dubbed the Liberator, which saw production during WWII, with an estimated 90,000 units deployed to US troops and their allies.

Harley even ventured into the realm of building and racing MX bikes in the 1970s, a period when it held a significant stake in Aermacchi, the Italian firm later morphing into Cagiva. Notably, one relic from this era, a diminutive 1972 H-D Baja100 Custom, shares the auction stage in Las Vegas, scheduled a day prior to the MT500. Additionally, Harley-Davidson's foray into the adventure bike domain through the short-lived sub-brand Buell is etched in memory, epitomized by the Ulysses.

So, where does this 1998 MT500, slated for auction, fit into the narrative? Apparently, Harley secured the military-intended design in the late 1980s from British Manufacturer Armstrong-CCM, which had initially licensed the same design, known as an XN Tornado, from Italy's Sironi Vergani Vimercate Milano (SWM). Harley retailed this rebranded machine from 1993 to 2000.

Throughout its evolution, the robust and dependable MT500 has been propelled by the same air-cooled, 4-valve, single-cylinder 504cc Rotax engine. While most MT500s were kick-start, this particular unit, with its minimal mileage, features an electric start. Outputting a modest 32 bhp at 6,200 rpm and 28 lb-ft of torque at 5,500 rpm, this bike weighs in at 355 pounds.

Sporting a 5-speed gearbox, chain drive, and enveloped by 4-piston front and rear disc brakes, this MT500 rides on cross-laced wheels shod with knobby tires. Its suspension comprises a telescopic fork at the front and a dual-shock rear setup. Adorned with an olive green rack at the rear and a compact toolbox on the bike's right flank, opposite a matte black muffler, this machine exudes utility.

Originally, the bike would have been equipped with twin plastic cases flanking the fuel tank for document storage, along with an optional waterproof rifle case on the right rear side. A 1999 unit, auctioned by Bonhams in 2017 for $18,400, showcased these features.

Less than 500 units were procured by the U.S. military before production ceased, rendering this MT500 one of the rarest Harley-Davidson motorcycles ever manufactured. With such scant mileage, the upcoming auction specimen likely spent its years in the custody of a discerning collector. Undoubtedly, its scarcity and immaculate preservation earmark it as a coveted showpiece. Nonetheless, it serves as a compelling reminder of Harley-Davidson's storied legacy in crafting off-road machines and furnishing our nation's veterans with essential war equipment throughout its illustrious history.