More Owner Modified Off Road Sportsters – Is Harley Davidson Going to Get on Board? – Updated

Off road Sportster from Japan

Off road Sportster from Japan

We've pointed out off road Sportsters before and this one looks ready for dirt duty complete with knobby tires and long travel suspension. Bob, one of our regular readers, was cruising the Interwebs and spotted this one in Japan. There are only a few photos and a walk around video with a couple of fellows speaking Japanese, but it looks capable of taking the road less traveled. The front end seems to be a straight swap from some flavor of dirt bike, a bit more work done in the rear for tire clearance, a set of high pipes and the result looks like it would do the job and be fun, too.

The second video shows Chris Palermo, a Hollywood stuntman, riding a Sportster for "A Day in the Dirt," a California MX event that attracts stuntmen and various racers and celebrities. The Sportster holds its own on the course, maybe not like some factory dirt bike but certainly well enough to get you grinning. Chris mentions preparations for his bike include factory Harley Davidson modifications. Hmm, ... do you think Harley has started thinking about using the Sportster for something other than cruising on the street? If so, it's about time, they've certainly been off road before and a lot more owners are doing these mods on their own, if Harley doesn't want to totally miss this they better get in gear.

UPDATE: More photos added below.

Videos below:

UPDATE: Just got photos in from a reader who has been interested in Sportster off road conversions for some time. Not sure where they all came from. Just shows the idea has been out there for a while.

Off road Harley looks pretty small and relatively light

Off road Harley looks pretty small and relatively light

Off road Sportster in the adventure bike size

Off road Sportster in the adventure bike size

Another Sportster off road variation

Another Sportster off road variation

Another small Harley off roader

Another small Harley off roader

Related: Sportster Off Road Conversions
Related: Universal Adventure Motorcycles


  1. B50 Jim says

    Harley needs all the help it can get, and opening up an entirely new segment would be a good direction. The audience wold be different but it can’t hurt to have an American-made dirt bike on the market. As with the nearly-endless iterations of Harley’s road bikes, the off-road version could cover several niches. An adventure-tour Harley would be a good alternative to Bavarian-made.

  2. kneeslider says

    It would be so easy for Harley to do this. They already make the Sportster, all they need to do is change the suspension, put on some high pipes, maybe a new special paint job, and Presto!, new model and potentially new market.

    Even better, sell the “Scrambler Kit” so current owners could do it themselves or generate profit for their service departments installing the kits for owners who don’t have the skills or time. Hello! Harley?

  3. JDW says

    Or….they shouldn’t have killed Buell and allowed Project Griffin to launch thus gaining a foot into this market.

  4. nortley says

    If Harley had offered a true dual surface adventure bike I might never have bought my Paris-Dakar.

  5. FREEMAN says

    I understand there are a lot of converted sportsters running around offroad, but is there enough to draw the attention of HD? Is the demand for a sportster-powered dirt bike really there?

    I could see an aftermarket kit, but I don’t know about production.

  6. Bones says

    I think it’s great that people are making these modifications, but I don’t know that a simple conversion would be the best move for Harley. The physical characteristics of a sportster do not hold a candle to a proper modern motocross bike. Standard sportsers already feel quite top heavy to me. I couldn’t imagine what it might feel like with a taller suspension. I would love to see what Harley engineers could come up with in terms of a motocross specific bike. Would anyone be against a single cylinder HD motor. Heck, cut an 883 in half and you still have 400cc’s to play with! I do agree however that a Scrambler Kit would generate some revenue for the company. Kits like that almost certainly always do. Look at Roland Sand’s retro kit for Twin Cam Harleys. They look amazing.

  7. kneeslider says

    Bones, a conversion isn’t a good move if you have high sales, big profits and a growing market, in that case you start fresh. In the current climate, a conversion is perfect, it stays with Harley’s core brand, which seems to be their focus now and makes use of a model they already have. It’s a low cost way to try something new, lots of bang for the buck.

  8. Will13 says

    I think this is a great off-shoot to the best bike in Harley’s line up. The Sportster has always been a great platform to play with in terms of doing just about whatever you want to do, and this article proves it.

    The idea of a kit conversion is nice, but my experience with such products has always been a difficult sell. I like the idea much better of Harley producing a MX version of the Sportster outright. Triumph did this with the Scrambler, and it was the hottest bike in the Triumph line up in terms of sales upon its debut.

    The comment that Bones makes about the current Sportster being a bit top heavy is legitimate. While the Triumph Scrambler isn’t top heavy per say, it’s still weighty with a scale in of around 450lbs. While this may detract from the vehicle’s performance in the off road arena, I am willing to bet that few Scramblers actually see regular use in the dirt and dust. The Scrambler does make a great street machine, and I’ve long felt that HD could do the same with the Sportster by building such a variant.

    HD could also take a cue from the Triumph Thruxton, and revive the XLCR in my opinion. I know I’d be interested in buying one.

  9. kneeslider says

    Will13, the Sportster is definitely a great platform to play with and modify. The problem is Harley isn’t pushing the envelope anywhere near far enough. If you have to explain to someone looking at a couple of Sportsters what actually makes a Forty Eight different from an Iron 883, … it isn’t. But line up all of the factory Sportsters, then put one of these off road versions in the lineup, or better yet, put the Warboy in there. You’ll have a hard time convincing them it actually is a Sportster. That’s pushing the envelope.

  10. FREEMAN says

    @ Bones: Buell used half of the sportster engine on their Blast model. Personally, I own one so I may be bias, I love it. It has just the right amount of oomph for me and suits me well as a commute bike. However, a lot of people hate them and think they’re wimpy/boring because it doesn’t stain their shorts. The bike is very easy to handle and maintain. As such, they’re considered by many as great “beginner bikes” and “girl bikes.”

  11. QrazyQat says

    Bones, I’d agree if someone wanted to build a motocross bike, but how about a cow-trailer, on the order of the BMWs? (I hope you’re not going to try to argue that those huge BMWs are “proper modern motocross bike[s]”.)

  12. lostinoz says

    You said “all they need to do is change the suspension, put on some high pipes, maybe a new special paint job”
    thats 2 extra things theyd have to do to make a new model, so next year your getting the xlungrnfudh which is just another sportster with a bit more bolt on chrome and a new paintjob with the standard pipes. theyre calling it the notabitch bike.

    While I like the idea of Harley going into the enduro harley idea, they never will, too scared to try after the 70’s.

  13. says

    Bones: There already is a Harley single based off the Sportster motor…it’s the Buell Blast’s motor, and it’s 500cc.

    It would be cool to see Harley diversify, but I would be very surprised if they did anything like this from the factory. I could see the aftermarket offering conversion kits, though.

  14. Mule says

    Like Triumph’s Scrambler, Harley doesn’t need a new model, they just need the look. Riders could cruise down the road with full knobbies and long suspension with the “Ready for anything Look”. At 570 lbs, it would be a bit ungainly in the dirt, like the Triumph Scrambler and most “Adventure” bikes. But it sure would have the look and thats what sells. I can’t really see Harley diving into the almost a motocrosser but still a streetbike market and if they did then maybe they should consider a BigTwin trials bike while they’re at it. They could do it super easy!

  15. Eaton says

    I would like to see them eliminate all the factory variations (Nightster, Iron, 48, Low, Superlow, Custom, etc) and just make every Sportster made to order. Give the potential owner an array of options and them create the type of Sporty they desire! It would be awesome and a great buying experience.

    I know they are doing a 30% solution of this in the HD1 product. Take a look:

    But even this program is not exactly there. Let the buyer have options to build a scrambler or a cafe or a roadster or bobber or a cruiser, etc. It would drive traffic to the web page. How fun would it be just to configure versions? It would generate excitement among current owners to buy a new bike. Indeed, if one owns 08 Nightster is there any reason to buy a 11 Nightster? This idea would change that. Almost all XL Sportster parts are interchangeable with other XLs anyway. This just let the customer shuffle the deck rather than Will G.

  16. Eaton says

    I dont know if there is any truth to this rumor but I heard HD actually considered transitioning the Buell XB12XT into a HD product. If its true it would at least indicate that the management recognizes this as a market to consider.

  17. Alan says

    At first I was shaking my head and chuckling at Chis Palermo’s woo-hoo-I’m-a-stuntman-doing-crazy-stuff. But then I remembered that’s how they used to do it back in the day. Grab your Sporty or Bonnie and head off in the dirt. One bike to do everything. They had iron nuts back then.

    What if there were a series of Sportster vs. Scrambler motocross races?

  18. says

    Alan, “What if there were a series of Sportsters v Scrambler motocross races?” There’d be a lot of bent bikes and people in the hospital!

  19. kneeslider says

    @Mule: “There’d be a lot of bent bikes and people in the hospital!”

    Or there might be a lot of guys with smiles on their faces having a good time.

  20. todd says

    I’d like the direction. Not full motocross – no way. Just an American Scrambler with a side of grits.


  21. says

    They’d be smiling in the hospital? :-)

    Paul, I’ve ridden 500+ lbs bikes in the dirt and it seems that you run out of “Fun Tickets” pretty quick. If they start to GO, they don’t come back. And if/when they land on top of you, it’s all over but the slow walkin’ and the sad talkin’. I’ll watch thank you.
    That said, I remember being at Carlsbad and watching Springer running his XR750 through the MX section in the first Superbikers. Pretty darn impressive. But he’s one of the best in the world and the bike was 250 lbs lighter than a Sportster. Get some hack on a stocker and it’s more of an event for Jack-Ass the movie.

  22. James says

    No, will never happen cause it is all super-ultra-low-seat season and could you imagine some idiot breaking his neck on a top-heavy Harley and them getting sued?

  23. mattigan says

    It sounds like most of you guys have ever ridden a G/S, GS, or ADVENTURE or anything else that can usually cross ANY road and haul ass down the twisties like no other over-grown dirtbike ever should. THEY ARE SICK! go ride any & all flavors of BMW Galende Strasse and tell me they are not COOL. Yes they are expensive, yes they require maintenance, yes dropping any motorcycle over 400-600 lbs off-road is a bitch, but they are tanks of motorcycles & quite sporting when stripped of luggage. They are pretty much two-wheeled HUMVEE’s. HP2 Enduro is the most recent, most pure example that was raced successfully in a few circuits that suited it but Harley could just as easily make a more off-road version of the XR1200 or Sportster that could go further in the dirt than just an oval track.

    This harley could be such a good bike if they could make it half as good as the stupid marketing gurus would let it get watered down to for the domestic market with all the heavy touring bags and crap

  24. JP says

    the problem is all Harleys are big heavy ancient things by design.
    Yeah, these conversions are neat in an old Scrambler kinda way, but they are gonna heavy even compared to the original Sramblers. There was a reason folks used Triumphs and BSAs for that. Even an all new HD with injection and modern shocks is still a bit of 1930’s tech with few concessions to modernity and gonna be heavier than it needs to be. The Buel 1125 tuned for more low end would be a better choice for motor. But then that isn’t a “real” HD motor. The V-rod design would work well too. Too bad HD never worried about actually updating tech to even 70’s levels on anything else. The drivelines weigh far more than they need to. HD reminds me of the British cars of the 70’s. If they continue this route, we will see them fade away until either they are selling other’s designs with their badge, or they will fold all together. They don’t need an inline4 or even a full sport bike(although I’d like to see true sport bike), or even liquid cooling (though the EPA may make that a necessity) but a lump of engine that weighs a ton with a tranny in the next time zone is not cutting it. Even a Sportster engine is almost twice the weight it needs to be.
    I’d not miind buying a HD some day, but they make nothing that appeals to me. the XR is the closest, and the dead weight kills it for me.

  25. Sleeping Dog says

    Is the adventure tourer market in the US large enough to interest HD? In the rest of the world Honda sells well regarded adv bikes that could be brought into the US inexpensively yet they don’t, because they do not believe the market offers sufficient opportunity.

    For HD to be interested they’d need to project at least BMW GS sales. That would be difficult. As attractive as a Sportster based adv bike seems the reality is that would like weigh more than 100 pounds more than the BMW or KTM and weight is not an advantage for those buyers.

  26. kneeslider says

    Mule, when I wrote this post, I specifically placed a “related” link at the end for Universal Adventure Motorcycles. If you’ve forgotten that post, check it out again.

    Those guys, by your definition, couldn’t possibly be having any fun. Of course, it didn’t occur to them that they weren’t enjoying themselves, they thought riding their bikes out into the woods and up mountain trails was pretty cool. They didn’t have the luxury of cushy suspension and lightweight bikes, they just had the motorcycle they rode everywhere so they took it off road, too. Some folks never signed up for the class that teaches them everything they can’t do, so they just go out and do stuff. Sportsters off road? Absolutely!

  27. says

    A little perspective might help on this thread.
    I agree with Paul(Kneeslider) that fun is the key ingredient in this mix.
    It’s not a matter of whether we are going to become the 2011 World Motocross champion on our street bike. It’s just to have fun.
    And old tech might not be as fast as new tech, but if you’re not in a competition to beat new tech, who cares?

    Here’s a good example, using the kind of bike I ride.
    The Royal Enfield Bullet DOMINATED the Six-Days Trials championships thru the entire decade of the 1950s, with Johnny Brittain riding.
    Today,you could modify and ride a street Royal Enfeld Bullet in a similar way, and it would do everything it did back in the 1950s, except we’re not all Johnny Britain with 13 ISDT Gold Medals
    Of course, it’s not going to come close to winning the 2011 ISDT. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not fun, or it can’t do a nice job off-road. Sure, our suspensions will be short, and we have low ground clearance, and we’re heavy by dirt-bike standards. But we can go there. We just won’t be as fast.
    Who cares?
    It’s the journey, not the destination.

    I know a guy who even races his Bullet today in vintage motocross, in the Far East. He doesn’t win, but he has fun.

    I think the basic premise of this whole thread by Paul is that it is not a requirement to be a World Class rider or motorcycle to have fun.
    Maybe we are slow by modern standards, but we can still blast around in the dirt a little, and fix our bikes up to handle that job if we want.

  28. OMMAG says

    I like it!
    As a guy who’s dirt roaded and trailed on 60s style Triumph scramblers, a Ducati 750 and a Norton … also ran them up hills against dual purpose bikes like Yammaha 360s…. ….. I can attest to the benefit of big torque on that terrain.

    Still …. the light weight of a real off road bike makes up for it most of the time.

  29. says

    I’m not a naysayer and I totally agree with fun and riding just about anything anywhere anytime. However, having built a jillion Sportsters (and at the begining stages of a jillion new Triumphs), with an emphasis and making them much, much lighter, I can say that watching the guy “Ride” his streetbike around a motocross track was amusing. I’ll give ya that. But these things are a)heavy for streetbikes, b) have a forward weight bias for the street, extremely bad in the dirt, c) would require old beater units that would get throw down on their faces repeatedly and lastly d) would most likely not be ridden or taken seriuosly by anyone with even the lowest levels of riding skill. So for the purpose of this “Dream Party”, yea, a full race series would be really neat. Right. But if you just want to have fun, fun, fun on an old bike riding in the dirt, buy a vintage motocrosser. There is already an organization (AHRMA), there’s thousands of proper bikes with lightweight and antique suspensions available at prices below $2K and then have seious fun without trashing a $6-10K streetbike that will break your freakin’ femur if it lands wrong.

    Ok, yes, put long travel suspension on a streetbike and call it an “Adventure” bike or a Hummer style motorcycle and pretend it’s an American GS. But lets leave it at that and keep our wallets and health intact for the love of God, please! :-)

  30. jar says

    Nope. Don’t think this one would work.

    Kneeslider:”They already make the Sportster, all they need to do is change the suspension, put on some high pipes, maybe a new special paint job, and Presto!, new model and potentially new market.”

    Sounds easy enough, however, keep in mind that for an OEM to produce a vehicle or even a “kit”, there is a significant amount of work that goes into the process of “verifying effective” regarding the design and application. An OEM is not afforded the luxury of making “one” work (a la any custom one off outfit out there), then pounding out a bunch of parts for the masses. The OEM’s take so long between significant change (as such a kit as suggested would be – completely changing vehicle dynamic), in order to put in the effort to confirm that the vehicle works right for its intended audience and its intended application. If they don’t, or you ignore or rationalize test data, you end up like Toyota.

    As far as “new market”, really? Who is this market? True off road guys wouldn’t even look twice at such a model (thereby erasing the vast target audience for an offroad vehicle), the HD customer would shun such a product as not being a “real” harley (‘member V-Rod?), and what would be left would be a handful of guys with dusty sportsters doing nothing in their garage that could be turned into fun smash around field bikes.

    The Kneeslider: “The problem is Harley isn’t pushing the envelope anywhere near far enough.” Absolutely correct. HD – like the US based automotive companies – has had it far too good, for far too long, which in this example bred both complacency in the product development department and lack of flexibility and innovation in new product issue. Why should an automotive company forsake great margins and ease of build regarding SUV’s to develop a cool, fun little road dart – that would likely present less margin at point of sale, and cost nearly as much in development, test, and tooling? HD’s application of such rationale regarding heavy weight cruisers seems much the same to me. What they forget, as the Kneeslider implies, is that without risk there is no reward. When the pocket book is fat, it should be a great time to experiment with “new markets”, by developing significant models perhaps out of the typical HD comfort zone, unfortunately such has not been the case – and will not likely move in that direction given the old bean counters currently in charge. Move in, cut staff, cut plants, regain some profitablity largely through such actions, then retire in 3-5 years, resting on fat returns on stock options. These guys wouldn’t recognize innovation or a new idea as anything other than an additional expense, no return, high cost cost effort – all things negative to the bottom line.

    JDW was closest to the truth regarding Griffin. If it is worth doing (offroad market) do it well, and do it to the best of your ability. This was the frame work of Griffin.

    Rather than dismiss that opinion and program out of hand, simply as it was branded Buell, I would encourage the Kneeslider to discuss the offroad thought with contacts in the know at Milwaukee’s orange and black – and perhaps ask specifically about a curious animal known as “Ajax”…….

  31. says

    Just changing the geometry (and handlebars) of a bike like done above makes for a ‘new’ bike.
    The safety factor on iffy roads is increased by that geometry (and handlebars), gravel roads become a bit more fun, good camping spots can be explored better, city handling improves…
    I love bikes ‘like that’.
    Even having just changed the handlebars to motocross ones on my BMW 75/5 ‘helped’ heaps…
    A set of enduro forks alone could make a huge difference in turning one bike into another one…easy peasy for anybody to do.

  32. tim says

    @Mule and others. I own a Triumph Scrambler. Its great. For its intended use, which is providing a relatively comfortable on-road, experience, adequate shingle road capability, making me smile when I see it in the garage, and making me feel like Steve McQueen when riding it. But for serious (single track) or adventure style riding you need a LOT less weight, more suspension, and better tyres, also less weight, and if it could be lighter that would be good too. Real offroading with road capability: DR650, DRZ400, CRF230, or something like that.

    I really doubt HD will offer a kit for this: they arleady have mined their racing success to give us the XR1200, but they dont really have serious off road credentials at a factory level do they? (serious question by the way) So what would drive the “faithful” to want one?

  33. Tinman says

    The use of Alloy rims, DOT knobby tires,2 into 1 exhaust and plastic fenders would take a new Sporty Scrambler down to 510Lbs, about the same as the BMW Adventure bike that is so loved. Yes you would be down on HP but the torque would be more than enough to satisfy. Harley wont do it, but they should.

  34. Bob Childers says

    Kneeslider, Thanks for finding more information on the Harley for me. Now just go out and find who builds a conversion kit. Jeez, it shouldn’t be that hard for you or is it I’m too lazy to go looking. After all, I am an old retired bum with too many motorcycles.

  35. fast eddie says

    It might sound like this . Hey eric this is harley davidson calling, would it be ok with you if we used all your innovations and put them to good use on a sportster scrambler ? Eric
    may respond by saying . Why don’t you hire me to design your bikes ? Harley would respond , we will have a few thousand meetings and we will give you a big maybe in pencil. As it stands right now we’re scared to make any moves that mat effect
    our profits [or lack of profits] keep in mind we are bankers not m/c builders. The leaves have turned in New England the thunderbolt has 43,780 mi on it. gotta ride….see ya FE

  36. the Ogre says

    I definitely think that they should…

    …but would be astonished if they actually did. Harley are not in terribly good financial shape last I heard, and I think they’d see doing something like this as more expensive than it would be worth, and despite them finally producing the Vrod (after talking about doing a bile like that for how many years) and the XR1200, the Motor Company just doesn’t seem to *do* change. The elimination of Buell (and earlier in their history Aermacchi and Trihawk) plus the giveback of MV Augusta shows this clearly. I also think they’ll survive, but it’ll be chancy for a while.

  37. bah says

    I guess whatever floats your boat. If it comes down to a choice between paying for a dirtbike from a company with an R&D department and paying twice as much to support a bloated producer of scooter/vibrators before going to the trouble of doing the conversion, I’ll take the former.

  38. David says

    @ the Ogre:
    “finally producing the Vrod (after talking about doing a bile like that”)
    @ bah:
    “to support a bloated producer”
    Wow! “Bloated “and “bile” (a brownish-yellow or greenish-yellow liquid that is secreted by the liver.
    Why do you talk about Harley like that?

  39. bah says

    I’m a fan of Erik Buell. Even before Buell was axed last year the contract that kept Buell Motorcycles alive was an insult. I am aware of and respect the motor company’s history. What blows my mind is continuously listening to diehard Harley guys bellyaching about how they wish HD would do this or that. Why put so much faith in these people if they don’t build the bikes you want in the first place?

    btw I think the bile thing might have been a typo

  40. Sportster Mike says

    @ Eaton
    Love your idea of build to order from all the variations of Sportster
    (Once upon a time it was just the one model of Sportster)
    I was already thinking of putting MX fat bars on my 883R.. so nearly there..
    I just need to add (as Colin Chapman said) lots of lightness..
    At 250 kilos a Sportster in the mud is going to STAY in the mud

    After market people .. bring it all on – if the Factory don’t want to do this

  41. Simon says

    Back in the old days, a lot of people used to take Sportsters in the dirt, without even modifying them. They just didn’t try to go fast. In fact, back then, the kind of “big twin chauvinsim” that results in the current “girl bike” comments about Sportsters used to have people referring to Sportys as “dirt bikes.” You can even take an Electra Glilde into the dirt, though it’s not easy: motor officers used to do it as part of their training. that said, there can be no argument that the Sportster is not a “serious” dirt bike. It’s not. If that’s what you want, and you want something that can do double duty as a decent street bike, then get a Suzuki DR or Honda XL. However, the idea of a Harley adventure bike is certainly doable and interesting. A few years ago, this is a market segment that simply did not exist except for a very small group of eccentrics, and these were guys who followed the adventures of Danny Liska on his Beemer. Today, I see more and more riders, especially guys more around my age (the Peter Egan generation) getting into Adventure bikes because of their general all-around usefulness. I have absolutely no interest in motocrossing or riding an enduro. I would, however, find a bike capable of plonking along dirt mountain roads a useful thing. It would also handle better in winter weather. I suspect if Harley has any plans at all along there lines, they might be thinking of trying another experiment with a street-going XR750 type bike, like they did once before, except they didn’t do it right. It would be interesting to see them try again.

  42. Nicolas says

    Back in the days, people used to drive model Ts everywhere, road or dirt … I believe that the “back in the days” comparison is not really relevant, as there was not much alternative anyways …
    A guy took his yamaha R1 all around the globe, just with different tires and a pair of alumin(i)um cases, so why not a sporkster in the dirt ? Now, let’s be serious, even a DR/XR650 can feel really heavy in some serious offroad conditions, even though they’re engineered to be at least 1/2-offroadworthy capable. So I don’t believe an iron horse would be so much of fun in the dirt/mud/rocks …
    Now if it’s only to improve the street/urban abilities and about the looks, that would be cool. And ain’t all the HD riders only about the looks anyways ? (c’mon gents, just kidding)

  43. rohorn says

    Rich Urban Bikers on Sport Utility Bikes (RUBs on SUBs)? That Milwaukee (or where ever they are coming from now) hasn’t done this yet says a lot about them.


  44. John says

    H-D is as tone deaf to the future as Detroit. They have been this way since since the 50’s and their lack of foresight will eliminate them from the market. Their target group of customers are aging and cannot ride forever. Change or die H-D.

  45. says

    First off there’s a big difference between a motocross bike and an adventure bike. While both are made for speed the moto is lighter, more agile, and much more of a jumper. The adventure also handles off road but with less of a “hoon” factor.

    There both designed for the dirt but they are two very different bikes with different purposes.

    Second–If you think HD will enter this market you’ve been hitting the pipe a bit too hard. For better or worse HD has painted itself into a corner (which previously worked out rather well for the company). They are afraid of alienating the faithful for a new model that has a good chance of failing.

  46. kneeslider says

    Some comments above imply this off road idea is too small in scale for Harley to bother with. Oh, really? I guess they’re pretty busy keeping up with demand for current models flying out of their showrooms. Other commenters see into the future because they already “know” this would never work. Some commenters believe what they like translates directly into what everyone else likes. By the way, all of those BMW GS models only get sold to really serious adventure riders, right?

    Serious competitive dirt riders, or those who think they are, will buy a Honda or whatever bike is the flavor of the day. But the guys who built the bikes shown above “think different,” sorta like Apple Computer, which just happens to be making tons of money during the recession by making stuff outside their “core,” (Apple, … core… get it? Ha!) like the iPod, iPad, iPhone and new computers, too. Business is bad? Adapt!

    100 percent of the ideas you don’t try won’t work. Some ideas you try will work, but until you try, you won’t know which ones. Try or die.

  47. Derek Larsen says

    I used to really dislike Harleys. Until I learned more about their history and the sort of bikes they used to make. I would be really interested in an off-road Harley (granted, more like the Aermacchi built models, or the DKW clone), and given the demographics of their core audience, I’m surprised they haven’t. I mean, they put their logo on a NASCAR and a Ford “work” truck? Why not a dirt bike or a utility terrain vehicle? I could totally see some farmboy in South Dakota with a grin on his face as he goes “potato-puhtayto” around the fields hauling a fertilizer tank.

    But this all would require a change in perspective from HD management. They would have to see themselves as a transportation manufacturer, not as a “luxury brand” for “lifestyle accessories.”

  48. says

    What Paul said there ^.

    Here, have two more cents:
    “Motocrosser”, “trail tiddler”, “adventure tourer”, “scrambler”…these are all different kinds of machines (now). Used to be that a 650cc was a BIG bike. Used to be that we waited for a lightning storm to start the fire for us outside our caves. Used to be that you could ride around the world safely on a 14hp Douglas streetbike, though that’s impossible now. :)

    Just because a Ford F-150 would suck at autocross compared to a Focus doesn’t mean that Ford is stupid for building the most popular truck in history or that doing autocross in a pickup wouldn’t be six shades of fun. Not every problem requires a nail, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fix it with a hammer.

  49. FREEMAN says

    Sometimes I hate articles like this. I understand everyone’s got an idea of what a company should do, but in the end it’s up to that company to do it. It’s like asking porsche to produce bicycles or sea-doo to manufacture cameras. In reality, most of us are outsiders looking in. The same can be said for any number of companies. It could be they already have something along these lines in development or maybe they’ve squashed the idea entirely for now. Harley makes a great product that many endorse and love and even some decide to make them their very own, such as these offroad conversions prove. I have no qualms about Harley continuing to produce the motorcycles we’ve come to expect from them. I’ll bet anything that unless someone was serious about owning/obtaining a particular product (such as an ipad for example), chances are they’d save up to buy one, accept it for what it is, maybe customize it to their liking, and not complain and moan about what the manufacturer isn’t making.

  50. Scotduke says

    Be a bit heavy for serious off-roading but looks ok – in the real world be in a similar class to the off-road looking versions of the Hinckley Triumph Bonnie?

    But as I said, it looks ok and is probably pleasant to ride, as long as you don’t push it too hard in the dirt.

  51. todd says

    Freeman, last I checked ATK was the only American manufacturer that provides off-road motorcycles – nothing for on/off road. Harley is financially in the position of providing essentially the only “American made” dual purpose motorcycle yet they have chosen not to. There are a number of people in the USA who live and die by H-D but are left in the cold when they want to go off-road. I say those people should just buy a Honda and get over it. However, buying a Honda for some people is like surrendering Pearl Harbor.


  52. says


    You’re aiming at the wrong target. “Check your Fire! Check Your Fire! New coordinates follow: 3700 Juneau Ave, {break}, Milwaukee, WI {break}. FIRE FOR EFFECT!


    Really??? Asking a “motorcycle” company to produce a “motorcycle” compares with asking a car manufacturer to produce a bicycle or a power sports manufacturer to make a camera??

    Must be some new form of calculus.

  53. says

    {steps onto soap box}

    I don’t know about you buy myself and plenty of people I know would love to have a HD. They just don’t want a cruiser and would like some technical innovation.

    Are you listening HD??

    They have future customers for these types of products but can’t hear them (or refuses to) over the groans and moans of their core customers. They definetely don’t want to be seen as “alienating the faithful”.

    The thing is Harley doesn’t need an entirely new product line. The cruisers sell well are very profitable. Fine. Keep them.

    But how about adding a true cafe racer or a true off road adventure bike. Not a warmed over Sportster but a true, purpose built bike.

    HD has a strong racing /performance heritage but if you look at their marketing its hardly ever mentioned. It’s almost like their embarrassed by it.

    It would be great if HD would rethink their strategy and incorporate some of these products into the mix.

    Sadly, I don’t think it will happen.

    {steps down from soap box}

  54. Tinman says

    Well yes, I restore HD Aermacchi dirt bikes and ride them all over the place. I for one would buy a Sportster Scrambler in a minute!! One of my Sportys is a Flat Track style bike right now, another is a Side Hack rig, A Scrambler would round out the fleet very nicely. May I remind the Nay Sayers that HD is the No.1 seller of street bikes to the U.S. market, Bar None, and this applies to all age groups, Get Over It!!

  55. NIck5628 says

    Harley is definitely going to miss this one on purpose, their business model hasnt been exactly ambiguous recently

  56. FREEMAN says

    @ kevin: sure. why not?

    How is it any different? Harley doesn’t make dirt bikes. How is asking them to make dirt bikes (or cafe racers, crotch rockets, mini bikes, etc, etc) any different than asking them to make whatever else they don’t make (like something extreme like cameras)?

    They don’t manufacturer them. That’s the point. If they saw dollar signs in making dirt bikes, or cameras, or even distributing clothing (oh yeah, they already have a clothing line in dealers, don’t they?) they’d probably sell them. Currently, they don’t.

    Furthermore, and this is just a hunch, they probably don’t make them because the demand isn’t there. Regardless of whether they are capable of producing dirt bikes, which I’m sure we all agree that they may, my guess is that HD does not believe that enough people want Harley dirt bikes. That’s why I don’t really like these articles. Would the people talking here actually put their money where their mouth is and buy an “overpriced, overweight, poor performance, old tech” Harley dirt bike if they actually made them? I only believe those that already customised their current Harleys would do just that.

  57. JerseyMayhem says

    HD had possession of a true American Made dual sport: The Buell Ulysses. And they killed it in 2009. but i don’t want to dwell on their stupid mistakes.
    I despise articles like these, everyone on here: stop trying to say what a company COULD do to make themselves better. All these suggestions for a cafe racers and single thumper engines from motor companies need to stop; it’s never going to happen! The motorcycle industry is set in its ways. HD is not going to produce a off road capable bike because its not what they are best at, they are best at making old school cruisers. If you want a dual sport motorbike, go look at KTM, BMW, Yamaha etc.
    I do not blame HD for not changing their ways and types of bikes, they found their niche and they are capitilizing on it. YES, i’m mad for them killing buell and not giving answers, but what buell rider isn’t?
    Pay attention here: If you want a cafe racer, a street tracker, a heavy off road bike or a single 500cc cruiser or street bike….BUILD IT YOURSELF!!! Cause NO established company is going to do it. There is not enough of a demand for it. So instead of coming onto this site and saying oh they should do this and they should do that; comment on how amazing the bike is and what great quality the build is, and what an amazing amount of work that must’ve took. If you want a motor company to build something, tell them! Write Harley a letter demanding they build you and 10 other people a heavy, non-agile, off road bike utilizing a HD sportster. Complaining about the lack of bikes to fit your specific wants isn’t going to do anything. Get a pencil and paper and sketch your own design then put fist to metal and BUILD IT! The possibilities are endless.

  58. Simon says

    I have to shake my head and roll my eyes at some people. You’re all entitled to your own opinions, but not your own manufactured “facts.” In some 40 years of riding, I’ve either ridden or owned almost every type of bike there is, so I am not a dyed-in-the-wool Harley chauvinist, by any means (although I’ve owned several and currently ride a Sportster 1200), but the fact is that Harley’s market share is growing, not shrinking, as some of you seem to think. And they are attracting more younger buyers than ever before, primarily due to their very affordable Sportster line (the Nightster, the 48, etc.). And as far as the Big Twins go, I see a lot more Electra Glides on the road these days than Gold Wings, which was not the case only a few years ago. The whole idea of this website, it seems to me, is to feature and enjoy all types of motorcycles, especially those that are different or modified in interesting ways, not slam one type of motorcycle or another, or one type of rider or another. We are all equally vulnerable to inconsiderate, potentially lethal, cell-phone using, texting and otherwise oblivious drivers. Let’s have a little more tolerance for one another, shall we?

  59. says

    I seriously think it’d be a great idea. I like dirt bikes or enduro bikes and whatnot. I would seriously buy one if they made one. Just don’t expect it to be sporty- more like an offroad militarybike(almost like the one wolverine had in Origins) or maybe like BMW’s Dakar. Real good offroad powerhouse but not something you’ll be pullinig of Nitro Circus stunts with.

  60. fearnow says

    Would it be so bad for HD to actually try something new and not kill ideas outright?

    It’ll never happen, though – HD is as scared of change as the rest of Amurica. A damn shame.

  61. FREEMAN says

    @ fearnow: there’s nothing wrong with any of these ideas. For a big company (like one that ships around 200,000 motorcycles a year) the idea has to make them some serious money to justify the cost of production, marketing, hiring and insuring employees, and whatnot AND turn a profit in the end.

  62. Scott says

    As they illustrated with their dumping of Buell and MV Augusta, Harley isn’t really interested in selling bikes most of us would like to buy. They want to maintain a very narrow focus on a very narrow demographic and, if that works for them, God bless.

    I found myself thinking, as I watched the XR1200 racing last year and saw that their times weren’t that far off of the Sportbikes: “Hmmm, if they just work on refining this, shorten the wheelbase, maybe add a fairing, increase engine output a little maybe they could actually compete head-to head in the Sportbike class . . . ” but then I realize: “Doh! They were already there with Buell.”

    Harley has illustrated that they want bikes that fit a very narrow class. They don’t understand other classes and they aren’t interested in getting involved with other classes . . . at least under current management.

  63. Rashomon says

    As someone who knows a little bit about Buell and the Buell-Sportster engine, and owns an Ulysses, I can authoritatively say there is far more room for a decent off-road machine powered by a derivative of that powerplant than most people realize. They key is the weight of the XB/Sportster powertrain, and its potential to lose it. A standard XB/Sportster 1200 engine scales about 190 pounds; the XBRR race engine, despite displacing 1340cc and making 50 percent more power and 25 percent more torque, weighs just 145 pounds — even while still having a clanging, clunking, unreliable primary drive shared with the street model with enough material in it to build a good 80cc motocross engine. Most of the weight loss was through better materials and refined, analysis-driven design in the power-producing parts of the engine — neither which have ever been priorities at HD unless Buell pushed hard. It would be relatively easy to shorten the XB engine by 4 to 5 inches by applying a gear primary drive and, say, the six-speed transmission from Rotax’s 1125R engine.This version of the 1200 could have made 100 hp and weighed less than 135 pounds — lighter than a KTM 1000 Adventure engine, and which would have allowed the next generation of the Buell XB12X Ulysses to have scaled less about 390 pounds wet minus fuel, no bullshit, on independent scales. However, any real chance of something like this happening probably died with Buell. The chance of it coming out of the current Harley organization, despite having good tools and good engineers, is very slim.

  64. david says

    Scott, if you think that an average of 20 sec slower (for the best racers) with the XR 1200 is not so “far off” you’re really not serious…

    PS : anyone mentioned US Highland ? That’s a real big enduro V-twin and (almost) american… no ?

  65. says

    I have never been a fan of Harleys (Much more inclined to small displacement 2 strokes and dirt bikes in particular ), and then I rented an 883 in Florida ,wasn’t much fun on I95 but i had a ball on the A1A and became believer, thoroughly enjoyed the time spent with it and probably will do it again when i am in the U.S. in about 10 days.These off road/adventure Harleys are awesome and unique (as I am sure the builders are!!!)Seems to me the kit idea is the way to go but one way or the next I am lusting after all of these bikes and wish i had the skill money and imagination to make it happen!!!Hats off to the builders!!!!!!