There is no doubt that Harley-Davidson is one of the most iconic and legendary names in the motorcycle industry. In fact, their branding is so on-point that they are one of the most famous brands in the world. Period. Even someone who has never sat on a motorcycle knows the name is synonymous with rebels, rock and roll, and freedom.
Starting out in a small shed in the backyard, Harley-Davidson has grown into a billion-dollar company, but not everything they’ve worked their magic on has turned into a success. Even some of the bikes that must be considered to have been fairly successful have had their production cycle come to an end in order for the Milwaukee motorcycle manufacturer to renew themselves. Here are 20 bikes H-D seemingly just gave up on, whether it was due to poor sales or something else.
Harley-Davidson quietly killed off the famous Dyna product line for 2018 without so much as an official announcement, simply merging it’s Dyna products into the new Softail platform. The “performance” Big-Twin-powered Dyna, with its signature rubber-mounted engine and twin rear shocks, had a huge following among Harley riders both young and old – especially after the Sons Of Anarchy tv series – alas, that wasn’t enough to save it.
19 VR 1000
In 1994, Harley built its first true racing machine, powered by a 60-degree liquid-cooled DOHC V-twin engine producing 135 hp at 10,000 rpm, and weighing in at a mere 375 pounds, thanks in part to its lightweight carbon fiber fairing. The VR1000 never truly lived up to its promise, and by 2001, Harley had enough and disbanded the program.
18 Ironhead Sportster
Reliability and Ironhead are not used in the same sentence very often. Hard starting, poor electrics and weak transmissions are the things that usually come to mind when asking someone who’s into old Sportsters. Let’s just say there’s a reason you can pick up this vintage bike for pennies. Eventually, H-D ditched the Ironhead engine in favor of the virtually bulletproof Evo engine.
17 V Rod
The Harley Davidson V-Rod was discontinued in 2018. Sure, the model had a decent run since it was launched in 2001. It was initially introduced to compete against the Japanese bikes and was drastically different from anything H-D had previously done in order to target the non-Harley customer base. In the end, Harley decided to give up on the V-Rod.
Harley released the Topper, a rebadged DKW, in 1958 and kept selling it until 1965. It was powered by a 165cc, air-cooled, two-stroke single that ran on premixed oil/gasoline and was started with a ripcord like a lawnmower. It had a ton of issues, yet sold respectably until its end in 1965 when production ended.
15 MC 65 Shortster
This little wonder was only offered for one year, 1972, and was an attempt by Harley to cash in on the minibike craze and at the same time get kids into Harleys. Unfortunately for Harley, the plan didn’t quite work. Japanese bike manufacturers had the minibike market all sewn up. Harley-Davidson wasn’t exactly synonymous with quality, and people would rather spend their money on a cheaper, better, Honda Monkey.
14 Buell XB
We can hear the Buell fans screaming that Buell isn’t the same as a Harley – even if they technically borrowed some components from the Sportster. And they’re right. But Harley did end up owning Buell for a brief period of time… and then shut down production. Buell XB ownership offered at least as many problems as owning a Harley, combined with being less practical.
13 1981 Sportster
We know we’ve already mentioned the Ironhead Sportster, but there seems to be one particular model year everyone keeps repeating that people should stay far away from – the 1981 Sportster. It was not only one of the worst Harleys ever made, but one of the worst handling bikes ever made by any company. Luckily, the Sportster was eventually reinvented after H-D split with AMF.
12 Harley-Davidson S-125
In 1948, not everyone could handle a huge, 42 hp, 1000cc Panhead. The Motor Company filled out its line with the dramatically named S-125 – a direct copy of the 1938 DKW RT125 two-stroke commuter bike. With three horsepower and a 50 mile per hour top speed, these little beasts aren’t exactly what we think of when we hear the name Harley-Davidson.
11 Harley-Davidson Bobcat
The Bobcat was a quirky descendant of the S-125 that was a bit ahead of its time. It showed up in 1966 and came with a one-piece molded seat, tank, and rear fender. While not that important historically, and never made in large numbers, this forgotten and rare bike influenced the original boattail Low Rider, the later XLCR Sportster, The Triumph X75 Hurricane, and the Spanish built Bultacos and Ossas.
10 Harley-Davidson Sprint 250
In 1960, H-D bought a small Italian company called Aeronautica Macchi, or Aermacchi, and some glorious lightweights rolled out of this partnership. Aermacchi had impressive horizontal cylinder 250 and later 350 with a solid road racing pedigree. Most Harley fans ignore the AMF days, but some serious fun and road racing successes came along with AMF.
9 Harley-Davidson SS125
The SS125 came in road and enduro formats. The king of the hill was the ss250 a pretty darn fast 250 in an era of fast 250s. By 1980, the show was over for Harley lightweights, sadly. Fierce competition from Japan, a worldwide recession, and deep trouble at the motor company brought an end to the partnership with Aermacchi.
8 Harley-Davidson/OMC Snowmobile
The 1970’s also included the great snowmobile boom. Everyone was doing it. Harley-Davidson partnered with Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC) to market 340 and 440cc snowmobiles. If you like flipping over on your head, this could be for you. Sadly, in 1974 spiking fuel prices clobbered the snowmobile business and fun was over. H-D sleds, for reasons unknown, are highly sought after today.
7 Model K
The Model K was the predecessor of the Sportster and was Harley’s first attempt at defending themselves from the British Invasion. The flathead-unit bike only saw production for a few short years – from 1952 until 1956 – then the Sportster arrived in 1957. A bike that’s proven so popular that it’s still in production to this day.
Harley-Davidson manufactured a line of small 3 wheeled fleet vehicles. The Harley-Davidson Servi-Car used a variety of 45 cubic inch flathead engines. In 1964, the vehicle was equipped with an electric starter, making it the first civilian Harley to use one. The Servi-Car was created during the Great Depression when the company was struggling to make sales.
The 1981 XR-750 was another embarrassment by AMF, according to Low Brow Customs. The XR-750 produced 100 horsepower from its 749cc engine. Unfortunately, it had serious problems – such as a weight imbalance that caused riders to tip to their left. Harley would soon reclaim the company and replace the dysfunctioning AMF engine.
4 Harley Davidson Golf Cart
Harley-Davidson began manufacturing golf carts in 1963 when William “Willie G” Davidson joined the company. They began as three-wheel models and then expanded to four-wheel models. In 1969, Harley-Davidson was sold to AMF, which kept the Harley-Davidson name on the golf carts. AMF continued making golf carts under this name until 1982 when it sold the golf cart company to Columbia Par Car.
3 FX1200 Super Glide
In 1971, the FX 1200 Super Glide made its first appearance. The ‘FX’ actually stands for ‘Factory Experimental’. The first custom/cruiser machine produced by Harley-Davidson, this bike was a hybrid Sportster/big twin model. With that said, the 1971 FX Super Glide was an utter failure in sales – one particular feature caused everyone to avoid it like the plague: the ‘boattail’ fender.
2 XLCR 1000
Harley-Davidson also introduced a 1000 cc cafe racer model known as the XLCR in 1977. Although the model is popular with collectors these days, it was largely ignored back when it was released. Sales figures for the XLCR were low, and the model was discontinued in 1979. To this day, people have mixed feelings regarding these bikes.
1 Super Glide Confederate Edition
One of the rarest and most controversial Harley-Davidson models ever made. In 1977, AMF-Harley produced a limited edition line of bikes known as the “Confederate Edition” series. The “Confederate Edition” line consisted of silver-painted Sportsters, Electra Glides, and Super Glides that were factory-accessorized with decals of the rebel flag. A civil rights complaint was lodged against Harley-Davidson for its use of the Confederate flag symbol on its products.