Top 11 Harley-Davidson Motorcycles That Defined Success Throughout History

At the turn of the 20th century, William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson began attaching single-cylinder engines to bicycles. In 1903, they founded their legendary company: Harley-Davidson. For over 120 years, the company has developed and produced some of the most iconic and exceptional motorcycles ever made.

Success is relative and can be measured in various ways. Here, we have chosen key metrics like sales figures, years in production, and overall influence on the industry and popular culture. By focusing on these metrics, we can highlight some of the best bikes Harley-Davidson has to offer.

Our list features numerous groundbreaking models that set new standards and paved the way for future technological breakthroughs. From early innovations like the Model J to modern marvels like the LiveWire, each motorcycle has offered something unique and continued the brand's enduring legacy.

Join us as we explore 11 of the most successful Harley-Davidson motorcycles in history. We will uncover the stories behind the bikes, investigating their origins, design, performance, and legacy. This journey celebrates the remarkable achievements of these iconic models and admires their enduring appeal to motorcycle enthusiasts worldwide.

Harley-Davidson LiveWire (2019-Present)

For Harley-Davidson, the future is now. The LiveWire, launched in 2019, marks the company's first foray into the electric vehicle market, representing a sustainable and technologically advanced future.

Powered by an electric motor, the LiveWire delivers instant torque and rapid acceleration. With a range of 146 miles and a recharge time of about an hour, it combines classic Harley features with modern elements like a touchscreen display, LED lighting, and a futuristic frame. Despite its lukewarm sales and skepticism from traditional Harley enthusiasts, the LiveWire represents a significant step toward the company's future in electric motorcycles.

Harley-Davidson Model J (1915-1929)

The Model J, produced from 1915 to 1929, marked a major leap forward in engineering and design. With its three gears and 61 cubic inch (1000 cc) F-Head motor, it produced 15 horsepower. Its electric lighting system was innovative for its time, making it popular among both civilians and military personnel.

During WWI, the U.S. military extensively used the Model J, boosting Harley-Davidson's reputation. Its success established design and engineering standards that would define Harley-Davidson bikes for decades to come.

Harley-Davidson EL Knucklehead (1936-1947)

Launched in 1936, the EL Knucklehead featured a 61 cubic inch (1000 cc) V-twin engine with overhead valves, capable of producing 40 horsepower. Its recirculating oil system and innovative design set new standards for motorcycle engines. The Knucklehead helped Harley-Davidson dethrone Indian Motors as the number one motorcycle manufacturer in the U.S., solidifying its reputation for building high-performance motorcycles.

Harley-Davidson Panhead (1948-1965)

Introduced in 1948, the Panhead capitalized on post-WWII prosperity. Its 74 cubic inch (1,200 cc) engine featured aluminum cylinder heads, hydraulic valve lifters, and a refined oil system, improving performance and durability. The Panhead became the bike of choice for many Americans, embodying the spirit of the open road during the booming post-war era.

Harley-Davidson Dyna (1991-2017)

Produced from 1991 to 2017, the Dyna was known for its distinctive design and customizability. Featuring Harley-Davidson's Evolution engine and later the Twin Cam engines, the Dyna became a cultural icon among custom builders and motorcycle clubs. Its balance of traditional styling and modern performance made it a beloved motorcycle, despite its discontinuation.

Harley-Davidson Fat Boy (1990-Present)

Launched in 1990, the Fat Boy is one of Harley-Davidson's most iconic models. Its robust appearance, solid-cast disc wheels, and powerful 80 cubic inch (1,340 cc) Evolution engine made it an instant classic. Its inclusion in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" cemented its place in popular culture. The Fat Boy continues to evolve, maintaining its classic look while incorporating advanced technology.

Harley-Davidson XR750 (1970-Present)

The XR750, launched in 1970, was designed for flat-track racing and became Evel Knievel's bike of choice. With its 46 cubic inch (750cc) V-twin engine and lightweight design, it dominated the American Motorcycle Association Grand National Championships, winning 29 of 37 titles between 1972 and 2008. Its success in racing and stunts secured its legendary status.

Harley-Davidson Road King FLHR (1994-Present)

Introduced in 1994, the Road King blends classic design with modern performance. Powered by a Milwaukee-Eight V-Twin engine, it provides 96 horsepower and is designed for long-distance cruising. With features like hard saddlebags, a plush seat, and electronic cruise control, the Road King has remained a favorite among Harley-Davidson fans.

Harley-Davidson Softail (1984-Present)

Introduced in 1984, the Softail combined the classic aesthetics of a vintage hardtail with modern suspension. Powered by an 82 cubic inch (1340cc) Evolution engine, it provided about 70 horsepower. The hidden rear suspension became its defining feature. The Softail has gone through many iterations, including the iconic Fat Boy, and remains a game-changer for Harley-Davidson.

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide (1965-Present)

Launched in 1965, the Electra Glide filled the touring market gap with its electric starter and powerful V-twin engine. Its large windscreen, saddlebags, and passenger backrest made it ideal for long-distance journeys. The Electra Glide has evolved over the years, retaining its classic design while incorporating modern performance features.

Harley-Davidson Sportster (1957-Present)

The Sportster, launched in 1957, is Harley-Davidson's best-selling model ever. Designed as a lighter, agile alternative to heavier models, it featured a classic, minimalist design and a powerful Ironhead OHV 45 cubic inch (748cc) engine. It has evolved over the decades, adopting new technologies while maintaining its original style. The Sportster's success is a testament to its enduring appeal.