The first Harley-Davidson hit the road in 1903. Since then, America’s most famous motorcycle brand has produced countless two and three wheel models. While not every bike was a success, the company continues to dominate because though it may fail at times, it ultimately aspires to stay true to its roots.
Purists appreciate Harley’s commitment to tradition. And though they do update their technology from time to time, they don’t stray too far from their roots and what they’re best known for. Newcomers appreciate Harley’s willingness to experiment with new bike designs and attempts at entering new markets. These bikes break with tradition and breathe fresh air into the sometimes classic-heavy lineup. And though some of their experiments had failed, or didn’t even see the light of day, the bar and shield company has some of the most popular and best-selling motorcycles in the entire global market.
Updated April 2023: Harley-Davidson is celebrating their 120th anniversary in 2023. And you don’t get to be that old without having a few popular, top-notch products under your belt. In an effort to keep our readers up to date with everything that is Harley-Davidson, this article will periodically be updated!
Harley Davidson Sportster riding from right to left
The Harley-Davidson Sportster is easily the best-selling motorcycle from the HD brand. With production starting in 1957, there have been many versions of the bike, but the basic features stayed the same. You may not recognize the first models because they sported the name “K series.” Throughout the generations, Sportster motorcycles helped riders break records, perform stunts, and it helped save the Harley brand.
The bike’s simple design makes it highly customizable, which translates to broad appeal. The agile handling and responsive engine make it a pleasure to ride. Harley has also done a solid job at evolving the bike to stay relevant with the times by introducing the Sportster S, a premium model utilizing their latest, water-cooled Revolution Max engine, and the Nightster, with its more traditional styling.
2023 Harley-Davidson Softail Standard riding on the road.
The Harley-Davidson Softail is a love letter to classic bike design. It features a vintage-inspired look that the Harley-Davidson motorcycles of the 50s had. We have Bill Davis to thank for the Softail design. He customized his Super Glide to give it a softer suspension and then took it to Harley to show them his prototype.
Harley now offers a complete lineup of Softail motorcycle models. There is the Fat Bob 114, Fat Boy 114, Heritage Classic, Low Rider S, Low Rider ST, Softail Standard, and Street Bob 114. While the original design hasn’t changed much, the Softail is easily customizable. This helps them to stay popular among riders of all ages.
8 Street Glide
Harley Davidson Street Glide ST riding left to right
The Harley-Davidson Street Glide got a slow start. Riders couldn’t understand where it fit into their lineup. However, despite the slow beginning sales, the models following the initial release gained traction and popularity.
The Street Glide started as a personal project to satisfy one man’s desire for a bike to fit his needs. However, it now resonates with riders looking for a sporty touring bike. The bike comes loaded with innovative technology and luxury features, making the bike a popular option for those with larger budgets. Popularity has grown to the point where Harley now has four variants: the Street Glide, Street Glide ST, Street Glide Special, and CVO Street Glide.
Action shot of the 2022 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight
As one of the smallest motorcycles in the Harley-Davidson lineup, the Forty-Eight fills a certain void. The super low seat and skinny frame make this bike perfect for smaller riders that would find the larger Harleys too overwhelming. Despite the bike being over 500 pounds, the low center of gravity makes it surprisingly nimble.
The Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight is also the perfect urban bike. It makes like practicality for long rides, but it’s sure to make a statement when pulling up to the meet. The extra small teardrop-shaped fuel tank harkens back to classic motorcycle design, giving the bike a touch of heritage. And the overall look of the motorcycle is raw, powerful, and compact.
Press photo of a 2017 Harley-Davidson V-ROD Muscle
Manufactured from 2001 through 2017, Harley-Davidson produced the V-Rod lineup to compete with other popular muscle bikes. Porsche collaborated with Harley to build a bike that dramatically departed from the typical models you see in the Harley lineup. For example, the fuel tank is under the seat, not in front. In addition, the frame and radiator support the air cleaner cover, which sits where the fuel tank used to sit. Harley also eschewed the classic esthetics of their other bikes for something more sporty looking.
Instead of culture marketing, Harley focused on the bike’s performance abilities. The result was the Harley-Davidson V-Rod becoming a top-selling bike internationally for Harley. In the United States, it drew in riders who typically preferred other manufacturers.
5 Road King
Action shot of a 2022 Harley-Davidson Road King
The Harley-Davidson Road King is another product of the FL series. While it made its first introduction in 1994, you can trace its roots back to the 1940s. Riders love the Road King because it gives you the best of everything. Cruise around town on short rides or put that big powerful engine to work on long rides. The simplicity of this bike makes it easy to customize, so you can make a standard production bike unique to you. In addition, helping the Road King sales is its usage by police and fire departments across the country.
4 Dyna Wide Glide
Press photo of a 2017 Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide
The Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide made its first appearance in the 90s. However, the Glide lineup has deeper roots dating back to the 70s. Despite taking a brief hiatus, the Wide Glide has become one of the best-selling bikes produced by the motorcycle company.
Unlike other bikes sporting the Harley emblem, we haven’t seen much change in the Wide Glide all the way until it was discontinued. It still had the original V-twin engine that everyone knew and loved. This lack of change fostered familiarity and comfort among enthusiasts, helping to keep the Wide Glide as one of the most in-demand bikes from Harley.
The H-D Pan America in grey seen in this pre-production shot
This wouldn’t be a Harley list without including their flagship, and so far only, Adventure motorcycle. And what a doozy this bike turned out to be. Not only did it outsell the grand-pappy of all ADVs, the BMW R 1200 GS, in the American market, it proved to the entire two-wheel riding world that Harley-Davidson can in fact produce a successful motorcycle that isn’t a cruiser!
Sporting a brand new Revolution Max liquid-cooled engine, something much closer to a European power plant than one of its own Milwaukee based beasts, the Pan America came equipped with all sorts of class-leading goodies. The stand-out of course was the adjustable suspension, which lowered the entire bike as it came to a stop. This technology opened the PanAm up to shorter riders, which could then flat foot the large bike at any stop. Now if only we could convince Harley to release that other motorcycle they’ve been teasing us with for several years now.
2 Electra Glide
Motorcycle riding on street during the day, to the right.
The Electra Glide is the breakout star from the FL series. It is one of the oldest models on this lineup, with its first introduction in 1965. Back then, it featured the iconic Panhead engine. However, it has seen many improvements and evolutions over the years. That batwing fairing became standard and over the years became a staple feature of the bike.
Before the model was discontinued, it came with the Milwaukee-Eight V-Twin engine, the latest emulsion-technology rear shock absorbers, and plenty of comfort features. It’s no surprise that the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide is one of the most popular grand American touring bikes on the road. The last model came out in 2022 and has since been replaced by various other “Glide” versions that continue the touring tradition the Electra Glide personified for so many years.
1 LiveWire Del Mar S2
Side shot of a LiveWire S2 Del Mar.
This maybe controversial. And, yeah, it’s not really a Harley. But isn’t it, though? Harley-Davidson created the original LiveWire, an electric motorcycle that was the first such bike for any major manufacturer. They’d then spun it out as its own entity, so as not to be burdened by its own internal combustion history, and have been trying to ramp up sales ever since. But we’re not here to talk about the Harley-Davidson LiveWire, or the LiveWire One. The Del Mar S2 is really where it’s at these days.
Just to show the potential of its popularity, the Del Mar S2 first, limited run sold out in 18 minutes. It was only an initial 100 units, true, but that is extremely promising for the future of this handsome urban tracker. Because at the proposed $16,999 price, which is right in line with its competitors from Zero and other electric brands, this EV from a proven, mass-producing manufacturer is exactly what the industry needs.