In light of the fact that Harley-Davidson is once again preparing to enter a couple of new markets in their design features, our attention turns to previous attempts to break into a new market. Did you know that Harley is coming out with a Pan America adventure bike? It’s their latest endeavor to take a run at the market for dirt bikes, but it isn’t the first time that the iconic brand has ventured into this territory. The traditions tend to go out the window for Harley purists who may or may not subscribe to this philosophy, but their numbers are dwindling. We don’t know a lot about the new cafe racer and flat tracker coming out, but we can look at the past to get an idea of what didn’t work with any major sticking power. Still, some were happy with the Harley dirt bikes from the 1960s and ’70s. Here are the 5 best Harley-Davidson dirt bikes of all time.
5. Alta Redshift
Harley-Davidson invested in the Alta company to go in partners on a line of dirt bikes. The Alta Redshift is a radical departure from the custom cruisers and tourers that Harley is best known for. This bike is an electric bike that moves the iconic brand into there EV territory, which is becoming the new trend in motocross and fast track riding. It’s clutch less and gear less which is a tremendous change. When you see the Alta brand, it’s important to know that Harley formed this new partnership with them in 2018, to attempt to break into a new market. Perhaps the absence of the Harley-Davidson name will prevent any bias in choosing to give this new dirt bike a spin. Alta is reputed for taking its share of podium finishes with the Redshift platform. It’s recently been made available in 19 states and at 44 dealers throughout the United States.
4. Harley-Davidson XR750R
The MX-250 is a Harley dirt bike that was made to improve the brand’s standings in the dirt bike market globally. This was a bike that the company made a sizable investment into an Italian bike producer to try to fit into the niche with a powerful and effective bike on the track. The project included redesigns on the MX models in a collaborative effort with their partnership, and ownership of the Italian Aermacchi brand of bikes. It never was a success, but out of the effort, came one that was. The XR750R became known as one of Harley’s best V-twin dirt bikes in American flat track racing.
3. Harley-Davidson Early Sprint SX Model
The Early Sprint SX was first produced in the year 1969. This was their off road version within the Sprint line of motorcycles. The bikes were a middle of the road in sizing. They were manufactured in a joint venture with Aermacchi. The dirt bikes features a flat cylinder engine that was made for flat tracks and off-road racing. The engine ws a 350 cc size.
2.1970s Harley-Davidson SX models
In the later years of the production of the SX dirt bikes, Harley bad increased its interest in ownership of the Italian Aermacchi company from fifty percent to one hundred percent. HD was getting caught up in the enduro movement in motorcycles that took place in the 1970s. The S dirt bike became the only HD dirt bike to win the Baja 500 racing event in 1979. It ws made with a more traditional cylinder that was vertical in shape.
The MT-500 was one of Harley’s Italian design bikes that was started in that country, then embellished by the British. Not many of the MT-500 dirt bikes were made, as it came during the time of World War I, but this rare and collectible bike does exist in the current world. If you can find one they’re of great value. Although frequently manufactured with sidecar accessories for carrying a passenger during the time of the war, removing them made it a sturdy dirt bike that was capable of traversing some of the rugged terrain that officers had to conquer in that difficult time. Even though this model had serious input from British and Italian designers, it was badged as a Harley bike.
Through the years since the first motorcycles were produced by Harley-Davidson, in 1903, there have been a few dirt bikes designed and marketed. From early in the company’s conception a few have tricked through, but the most prolific attempts to break into the dirt bike and racing markets were made in the late 1960s through the entire decade of the 1970s. HD experienced limited success with any of the models, and they quickly pulled out of the competition for this market. We’ve learned that more recently, the iconic brand is ready to throw its hat back into the ring with two new models they’ve kept a secret. Plans for future development and testing the market waters for the motorcycle racing industry include a new flat tracker and a cafe racer, which will be a first for HD for the latter.
History indicates that this has never been an area that Harley has excelled within, and it’s uncertain how Harley fans or the rest of the world will feel about the break from tradition. With the numbers of Harley purists dwindling, and serious racers with tens of thousands of dollars up to millions with podium and trophy wins on the line are more discriminating. This is how motorcycle racing has evolved throughout the years. You can say what you will about HD’s failed attempts at becoming contenders in the racing world, it is an iconic brand that is known around the world. Only time will tell if a new dirt bike will achieve the expectations of investors.