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Will Harley Davidson Build a Superbike?

Where To Next With The Revolution Max Engine?

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Harley Davidson is busy reinventing itself, helped by the Revolution Max liquid-cooled engine. But where does the company go next? Could we see a sports bike some time in the future?

Will Harley Davidson Build a Superbike?

Will Harley Davidson Build a Superbike?
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Buell 1125R
The last time H-D played in the sports bike field

These are interesting times for Harley Davidson although, let’s face it, since when have they ever not been interesting times?

The company has often thrown curveballs, from their purchase of 50% of Italian engineering company Aermacchi in 1960 and the subsequent series of small-capacity H-D branded single-cylinder bikes that were actually pretty successful, to buying MV Agusta in 2008 (only to sell it two years later).

Will Harley Davidson Build a Superbike?
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Aermacchi-Harley Davidson
An unlikely marriage but it brought race success

Buell Enters the Fold

Then there was the Buell episode. Erik Buell was a H-D engineer who left in 1983 to set up his eponymous company. In 1993, Harley took a 49% stake in Buell and then, in 2003, it bought the company outright, before effectively closing the company in 2009, not before the 1125R had made its appearance, showing that H-D was not adverse to the idea of playing in that category.

New Directions

In recent years, Harley has shocked the motorcycling world by becoming the first of the major motorcycle manufacturers to offer a fully electric production motorcycle for sale - the Livewire - and topping that shock by launching the Pan America adventure bike: both models about as much of a departure for this most traditional manufacturer as it would be possible to imagine!

Will Harley Davidson Build a Superbike?
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Pan America 1250
Tok everyone by surprise; Shows H-D aren’t afraid to play in new territories

So, what next for one of the oldest motorcycle manufacturers in the world? Well, given the surprises they have sprung in recent years, would it be out of the question for it to consider entering the sports bike market? Could we see a Harley Davidson superbike?

Is that idea really that far-fetched? The latest Revolution Max liquid-cooled v-twin is clearly an engine upon which Harley is pinning a lot of hope. In the Pan America, it produces 150bhp which might be well shy of the 200+bhp thought to be needed for a ‘proper’ superbike but would it be out of the question to boost output to 170-180bhp to take on the likes of the KTM 1290 Super Duke R? Would they even have to go that far?

Bronx Streetfighter: Promise Unfulfilled

Will Harley Davidson Build a Superbike?
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Bronx Streetfighter
Looked great but H-D dropped it at concept stage

In the recent flurry of concept models, the Bronx ‘Streetfighter’ naked bike was shown, although it was quickly dropped amid rationalisation following Jochen Zeitz’s promotion to the CEO position at H-D. The reasons given - that it wasn’t central to the strategy to prioritise the traditional H-D core market and focus on segments that make money - were slightly baffling as the company was committed to the Pan America which was certainly not a traditional market for the company and in no way guaranteed to be a success.

If the Bronx Streetfighter was dropped because it would be hard for H-D to compete with the current breed of superbike-based naked sports bikes from Europe and Japan, then why did the company think they could compete with the intensely competitive adventure market against manufacturers with decades of experience?

Will Harley Davidson Build a Superbike?
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New Sportster S
Second use of the Revolution Max engine; will there be more models using it?

So, Will Harley Give Us A Sports Bike?

So, is a Harley sports bike out of the question? I don’t think it is. Certainly, the traditional litre-superbike market has taken a huge hit in recent years but the naked sports bike segment is booming. And neither would a contender in that market have to match the 180bhp of the KTM 1290 Super Duke R or the 178bhp of the new Triumph Speed Triple 1200. Couldn’t it play in the middleweight naked category alongside the 116bhp Triumph Street Triple, not to mention the Kawasaki Z900, Yamaha MT-09, Husqvarna Svartpilen 701 or KTM 890 DukeR?

The Bronx showed that Harley was thinking along those lines and it is inconceivable to think that the company won’t extend the range of Revolution Max-engined bikes in the future beyond the Pan Am and the new Sportster S. The question is; in what direction will they go? I love the fact that the company is bold enough to set the cat amongst the pigeons in (for the company) non-traditional categories so is it such a leap of imagination for H-D to surprise us again in the sports bike category?

I’m hoping not!

Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher
Motorcycling Contributor
Born and raised in England, he has lived in South Africa with his family since 2002. Harry has owned examples of Triumph, Norton, BSA, MV Agusta, Honda, BMW, Ducati, Harley Davidson, Kawasaki and Moto Morini motorcycles. He regrets selling all of them.  Read full bio
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