There is no correct way to choose a bike and every single model out there has a number of benefits and faults that will attract an array of riders. Even the duds have a few fans out there who are more than willing to keep their lemon alive as long as they possibly can. The truth is that even if your bike is completely worthless, once you’ve found the bike for you, it becomes challenging to see it as anything else.
In other words, these aren’t the worst bikes on the planet, nor are they terrible bikes across the board; each and every model has a few pros and some aftermarket upgrades that can make it exceptional. However, the vast majority of riders found many of these ‘embarrassing’ Harleys to be too much trouble than what they’re worth. With that said, don’t be afraid to go out there and tackle any project bike to your heart’s content, just be aware of the common issues that may plague your desired model.
On the flip side, there are a number of stunning bikes that Harley-Davidson has created that are like no other. Whether they’re drop-dead gorgeous in every sense of the word or if they satisfy your torque-fueled bike addiction, these are just a few of the notable Harley-Davidson models that many riders have come to love. While many of these models aren’t going to appeal to the Harley traditionalist, there are a variety of models that touch a little bit of something for everyone.
25 2017 Road Glide (Embarrassing)
If you’re going for a Harley, then having some hardcore power is a priority. But this bike is extremely dull. A Road Glide is obviously a larger bike, but some of the newer models have a feeling of weightlessness. As for the 2017, you can feel every ounce of its weight as you’re riding. And with all of that weight, it’s still a gutless bike that disappoints, even while riding wide open on the highway. Its Milwaukee-Eight engine has received four recalls including issues with the clutch and oil leakage, while the suspension is disappointing, to say the least; it handles potholes about as good as a scooter and bottoms out extremely easily. The only thing the 2017 Road Glide does exceptionally well is ride in a straight line comfortably.
24 1981 Sportster (Embarrassing)
The rumors are true and most cruisers are a lot slower than the alternatives, but that doesn’t typically make them bad bikes. Well, if that was the only thing eating the 1981 Sportster, then we probably wouldn’t have much to complain about. However, the 81 model was so top-heavy that it was very challenging to turn. Long corners were a special struggle and riders detested the handling. Not only was this bike downright dangerous, particularly for small riders who had more difficulty handling the disproportionate weight, but it was also extremely boring because it also had to be driven at slower speeds. And even driving slow had its drawbacks; the forks hindered the rider’s movability.
23 Street 500 (Embarrassing)
For many beginner riders who have always dreamed of owning their very own Harley Davidson, the Street 500 may seem like the answer. After decades of offering bigger bikes that were better suited for the experienced riders, Harley finally introduces a smaller displacement cruiser that can appeal to a younger crowd. Unfortunately, this attempt at catering to a new generation has been completely botched by the terrible quality of the Street 500. However, since it is a new addition to the Harley family, it has a few kinks that have yet to be worked out, some of which are electrical while others involve the bike just breaking down. Many owners complain about the brakes and the ergonomics of the bike. The fact of the matter is that the Street 500 is completely overpriced for what you’re getting, especially since there is a vast selection of competitor cruisers with similar engine displacements that will outlive the Street 500.
22 FXSTB Night Train (Embarrassing)
There’s no denying that the Harley0Davidson Night Train is one of the best-looking bikes that has ever sat in the Harley showroom. The Night Train has a rugged look without taking things over the top, which is undoubtedly why it has attracted so many riders and lived such a long life. However, there were too many bones to pick with Harley over this bike and that ultimately led to its eventual discontinuation. For one thing, the Night Train couldn’t touch twin-shock Dynas as far as handling goes and it's really only good for short-distance cruises, particularly those that involve minimal maneuvers. The Night Train had become an icon in the Harley lineup and was practically selling on its image alone.
21 Livewire (Embarrassing)
The Livewire was another of Harley’s failed attempts at appealing to a new market of consumers, and they weren’t entirely terrible at stirring up some attention. But the execution of the bike is all wrong. For one thing, the Livewire is an electric bike that doesn’t have any gears but still has all of the Harley power that a cruiser rider would love. The major flaw of the Livewire is the fact that it costs $30,000 which is making it a premium niche product. That’s fine and dandy, except that the majority of buyers who are interested in electric bikes are younger generation riders who are less likely to afford that bike. The Livewire just seems like a smug joke on the part of Harley; there are a number of competitors that come in at thousands cheaper.
20 1971 FX Super Glide (Embarrassing)
The FX Super Glide was designed to offer the feel of a custom motorcycle straight from the factory. The ‘FX’ actually stands for ‘Factory Experimental’. With that said, the 1971 FX Super Glide was an utter failure in sales, possibly for a few reasons but one particular feature caused everyone to avoid it like the plague: the ‘boattail’ fender. The notorious fender, along with the buckhorn handlebars, was meant to give the Super Glide something for people to talk about. Unfortunately for Harley, it was the last thing that bikers wanted to discuss. And, who can really blame them? The 71's boattail rear-end is such an eyesore that you’d inevitably have to customize this ‘custom-from-factory’ bike.
19 2017 Street Rod (Embarrassing)
The Street Rod is meant to be the bike that breaks boundaries with its dark, sleek design. The only bounds that the Street Rod actually breaks are the hearts of cruiser loyalists. It’s probably one of the least comfortable Harleys ever made. True, it’s meant to be a sportier bike and an aggressive riding posture naturally comes with that, but the Street Rod has a funny way of making it even less comfortable than if you were on a stretched supersport. The bike is unrealistic for long rides but isn’t even that great for short trips on the freeway; you’ll be clinging to the handlebars to fight the amount of wind resistance. It’s definitely better for city driving with its ability to weave through traffic, however, its acceleration also has a funny way of lunging inexperienced riders forward.
18 2008-2012 FSTSB Softail Crossbones (Embarrassing)
If you’re all about looks, then the Softail Crossbones is, hands down, your bike. Sure, it could use a set of new handlebars and maybe even a different rear fender to meet the liking of more bikers, but the majority of riders love the Crossbones, primarily for stylistic reasons. Unlike its Softail name, though, this ride is anything but; it’s not the best with handling in the world and the shifty is clunky. Plenty of riders have even claimed that the Crossbones rides very uncomfortably and will begin shaking if you take one hand off of the bar. Not to mention, it was around $13,000 (base price!) when it was brand new… That’s a hefty toll for the limited features that are included. It's no wonder that Harley had to do away with it.
17 XR1200 (Embarrassing)
Harley Davidson doesn’t really receive much credit for being innovative, primarily because the only bikes that have really ‘worked’ for them have been their iconic cruisers. And yet, the renowned brand has experimented with everything from electric bikes to sport cruisers, and the XR1200 was another unique attempt that never fully satisfied the consumers. The XR1200 is a fla- tracker that was initially made for Europe, Africa, and the Middle East but it was eventually reunited with the US. Taking a look at the body, it’s evident that Harley doesn’t normally design bikes of this scope; it’s ugly and doesn’t even come close to many of its competitors. In fact, based on style, you’d never guess that this bike was made from 2008-13. Despite the fact that it’s a flat-tracker, the bike is very bulky and heavy. It’s fairly reliable and handles okay, but it's nothing to rave about.
16 FXDR 114 (Embarrassing)
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the FXDR 114 except that it’s incredibly plain and handles horrendously. The ‘fancy’ extended forks only hinder your ability to turn by making the bike stiffer and the fat tires don’t help much. Packed with specifications that nearly mirror the Fat Bob, but at a significantly higher price (the most out of all of Harley’s Softails) and with a less tasteful design, it’s a hard sell for knowing bikers. Plus, the FXDR 114 has the cursed Milwaukee-Eight engine that has accrued quite a few recalls in the past couple of years. It’s not a terribly unreliable bike, it just seems like it’s outmatched by its own sibling rivals.
15 2006 VRSCSE2 Screamin' Eagle V-Rod (Worth It)
Now, the 2006 Screamin’ Eagle V-Rod may not suit everyone’s tastes, especially if you enjoy executing your own mods to get that unique look. But it’s hard to deny the beauty of this bike. It’s fully loaded with all of the bells and whistles and leaves little need for performance upgrades. Brembo brake calipers, an elegant paint job, and a highly comfortable seat are just a few of the luxuries that owners experience. It was also one of Harley’s highest horsepower production bikes; you can pretty much just get on it and go. The issue with V-Rods isn’t so much about their lack of power, but how unrealistic they are for the short-legged rider, and that big, pretty exhaust (and foot pegs) can actually get in the way when riding tight corners. In other words, depending on each individual’s riding style, the VRSCSE2 is either an amazing piece of art or an impulse buy that may become a garage ornament.
14 XR-1000 (Worth It)
The XR-1000 is a relatively small bike that has a tendency to be underestimated quite often. But when given the opportunity to redeem itself, the XR-1000 really takes a rider by surprise. It’s one of those classic throwbacks that some riders have mixed feelings about, especially if they’re sold on the XR-750 flat track version. But the XR-1000 is arguably the precursor to the torquey bikes that we see on the road, today; 98 pound-foot of torque may not be impressive now but is still fun on the street. Of course, the XR-1000 didn’t make it out of the Harley assembly line completely unscathed of flaws; it has an unfortunate exhaust position that tends to get your leg pretty hot if you’re not cautious. But it’s a highly enjoyable bike to own, and who doesn’t want a classic?
13 2016-2019 FLHR Road King (Worth It)
Ever since the Road King came in to take the place of the Electra Glide, Harley-Davidson loyalists were able to breathe a sigh of relief. The Electra Glide was a solid bike for many, but its build quality eventually faltered toward the end of its existence. Where the Road Glide left off, it has only since improved and is now one of the more popular tourers (if you can call it that, since it’s also somewhat of a cruiser). The latest generation has even improved its torque by 11% and the Milwaukee-Eight is considered to be a steady improvement, though nothing drastic since it’s also had a few recalls that have botched its clean record. Exactly as the name implies, the Road King dominates with its 1745cc engine, and it’s smooth and brakes exquisitely (even with a full load).
12 FXFBS Fat Bob (Worth It)
The Fat Bob hasn’t quite captured the hearts of all Harley fans, purely because of its semi-radical changes. However, in the short year that it has undergone some drastic style changes, the Fat Bob has grown in popularity, tremendously. Not to leave out older iterations of the Fat Bob (because they deserve some recognition as well), the latest iteration has made some noticeable strides in quality. From new equipment (clocks and lights) to an improved powertrain, the Fat Bob has really become neck-and-neck with some of Indian’s offerings. However, the price of Harley’s Fat Bob seems to be one of its faults (that exists for each of the bikes), especially considering that it doesn’t have much to offer for electronics. You’re still looking at one of the most popular bikes on Harley’s showroom floor right now, and it has definitely earned that reputation.
11 VRSCA V-Rod (Worth It)
The early V-Rods were a huge step in a completely different direction for Harley…and that was sort of the point. The original V-Rod debuted in 2002 to attract new customers that didn’t fit the Harley-Davidson mold. While it’s certainly not going to win any races, it makes up for any perceived sluggishness with a nicely-positioned chassis that keeps the V-Rod’s center of gravity when you jam the throttle. The cool part about the V-Rod is its defiance of Harley’s traditional designs; it has a liquid-cooled 1250cc with dual-overhead cams with a lot of horsepower. It’s also excellent at cornering and is equipped with great ABS. The V-Rod is one of those muscle cruisers that will keep you grinning the entire ride from its gutsy power, and it just may be the first Harley that will unintentionally wheelie on you. It's a superb bike unless you're a die-hard Harley traditionalist.
10 FXDWG Dyna Wide Glide (Worth It)
The Wide Glide isn’t known for the amount of power it puts out but it shouldn’t be counted out completely. The Dyna Wide Glide is a loud and proud torque machine that will keep you grinning ear-to-ear throughout the duration of your ventures. Like other Dynas, the Wide Glide received a nice improvement in displacement (1450cc) and a 17% increase in torque with the introduction of the Twin-Cam 88 engine. With a longer, raked front end, the Dyna Wide Glide rides more comfortably in a straight line, however, the tradeoff is a sacrificed turning radius and handling. But the raked front end gives the bike that easy riding feel that was popularized in the 1970s. It’s not the most comfortable bike and isn’t meant for long rides, but it has ABS, among other luxuries. The newer bikes have the influence of dark custom-style bobbers and will certainly impress all who watch it glide by.
9 FLHT Electra Glide (Worth It)
Say what you want about baggers but the Electra Glide is a real bike that makes you feel like you’re riding on a couch. It’s absolute comfort on a muscle bagger, complete with a beautiful-sounding exhaust. The only real downfall of riding on an Electra Glide (aside from the stigma of baggers, in general) is how easily you can rack up miles on one of these. This fuel-injected piece of heaven has really demonstrated that Harley has found the sweet spot between the cruising comfort of a bagger and the power of a smaller performance bike. In fact, many who ride the Electra Glide are oftentimes pleasantly surprised that the 1450cc engine feels like it has more power than it should.
8 FXSTB Night Train (Worth It)
The Night Train is arguably one of the coolest bikes that Harley Davidson has ever made. It’s not your typical 'bells and whistles' cruiser that comes complete with a plethora of unnecessary extras that the hipster riders would half expect. However, the Night Train is an excellent bike for a die-hard Harley fan who enjoys executing their own modifications. The excess of chrome may be a bit off-putting, but that’s nothing that can’t be changed to meet the desires of any potential owner. The Night Train has an old-school Harley look and when paired with the right mods (like a Springer front-end), it can become a unique masterpiece. The best part about a Night Train is its Harley-Davidson heritage and that amazing, carbureted Evo motor that’s pleasing to the ears. It’s much slower than a sportster and can’t really be built up much more because of its weight, especially if you put a springer front end on it. However, it’s not a bike that will typically disappoint the traditionalist.
7 1985 FXRT Sport Glide (Worth It)
The 1985 Sport Glide is a bit of a Frankenstein bike, as the frame was built to be a lighter, more rigid version of a touring model and with the suspension derived from the popular sportster. The increased ground clearance, taller seat, and raised profile made this a bit different than many of its Harley predecessors. Unfortunately, though, the original design wasn’t attractive enough to potential buyers, which led to the Sport Glide’s eventual discontinuation. However, it wasn’t at all a poorly-crafted bike. The smallest details received ample attention from Harley designers; for instance, having three instead of two mounting points on the motor prevented extensive vibrating, and it had a five-speed transmission instead of a 4, and it even came with hard bags and front fairing. Needless to say, this was a pretty cushy bike that made raking up the mileage no big deal.
6 FLSTF Fat Boy (Worth It)
Whether you’re talking old or new, the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy is one of the most eye-catching of their lineup. And while the older models are certainly not going to win any races—nor were they built with comfort in mind—they have an exquisite style and enough power to keep any biker happy. The recent editions of the Fat Boy don’t have much to offer for electronics but they have improved upon that traditional style, with even more power and a new softail frame, with the exception of that hardtail look of the rear suspension. While the older generations, generally, had pretty good longevity, the verdict is still up for debate for the recent models which have the new Milwaukee-Eight.
5 XL1200N Sportster Nightster (Worth It)
The 1200 Sportster is a great bike not just because it’s the underdog of the Harley family, but for its overall versatility. In some cases, the Sportster is even a great option for a first bike (for the right person). What makes the Nightster different? It’s still the same, cheap bike that many bikers have a soft spot for, but it has a strikingly different style that attracts more of the right attention to the Sportster. The fuel-injected engine makes a world of a difference for bikes like these, and the Sportster completely leaves behind its bad name with Nightsters from the last decade. It’s also one of the best value Harley’s that a rider can get their hands on. It may not have the most extensive list of extras but the Sportster Nightster leaves a lasting impression.
4 1964 Duo-Glide "Panhead" (Worth It)
During its peak, the Duo-Glide had the most powerful engine in Harley’s stable and came with all of the bells and whistles that a rider could dream of. But one of the greatest distinctions of the Harley-Davidson Duo-Glide was its included windshield, front and rear suspension, and hard luggage that declared itself Harley’s first tourer. The Duo-Glide has Harley’s traditional ‘V’ cylinder arrangement that gives off that delightful sound that has defined the brand. It has a huge 1200cc overhead valve big twin engine—the second one ever to leave Harley’s production line, in fact—that has attained incredible value in the past few years alone. We have to admit that this Harley is more of a collector’s special than anything because it’s quite outdated (if left in stock configuration). Nonetheless, this is one of the most notorious bikes that would be an honor for any hardcore Harley-Davidson fanatic to own.
3 Softail Deuce (Worth It)
The Deuce is a raw cruiser with a beautiful style that’s begging for custom upgrades. Unfortunately, the Deuce was discontinued prior to Harley’s release of its Big Twin; instead, it brandishes the 1450cc Twin Cam that offers a predictable, albeit an unwieldy ride. It has some of the best build quality of any Harley since it is also one of the more recent models; the paint is incredible and reliability is in the bag, especially with its bulletproof engine. However, the best part about a Softail Deuce is its reputation; it has built a name off of its classy style and has attracted many wealthy riders who don’t take it out very often but service it regularly. Needless to say, used models are typically babied and hold their value very well (although they would anyway).
2 Dyna Super Glide (Worth It)
The craftsmanship of the Dyna Super Glide is above average. It’s one of the most solid Harleys ever made and if you happen to stumble upon a more recent model, then it probably has the Milwaukee V-twin with an upgraded 1584cc engine. The Dyna Super Glide is a heavy lug that is a bit flexible but rides more like a solid truck than it does a sport bike—though that’s not what anyone is really looking for when they purchase a Dyna. Of course, no Harley-Davidson is a cheap investment, but the Dyna Super Glide is the best bang for your buck of all of the Big Twin bikes. Plus, who can resist that stunning Harley cruiser style of the Dyna Super Glide? It’s iconic for a reason; it’s one of the best value motorcycles in the Harley-Davidson stable.
1 VRSCDX Night Rod Special (Worth It)
The Night Rod is a special version of the V-Rod, which was a special bike that was the result of a collaboration between Porsche and Harley-Davidson. This is, obviously, completely out-of-the-box for Harley, especially because it’s closer to a sportbike than the stereotypical cruisers you often see pull off of a Harley lot. The Night Rod Special redlines at 10,000 RPM, has a fat rear tire (240mm) that was first introduced on the VRSCAW, a luxuriously cushioned seat, and improved styling of the instrument cluster (also with better functionality). However, previous iterations of the V-Rod had tiny, three-gallon gas tanks that countless consumers complained about, but the Night Rod Special received an increased tank size (five-gallons). Basically, everything that people disliked about earlier V-Rods was completely improved in this edition that was completely redesigned in a sleek, black façade. The Night Rod Special is a 'bells and whistles' bike that is atypical for Harley’s lineup but that will appeal to anyone who wants more power.
Sources: Wikipedia, Motorcycle News, and Top Gear.