H-D 101: Learning the Harley-Davidson Bike Lineup

A person is shown riding a 2022 Harley-Davidson Low Rider S after leaving a Houston Harley-Davidson dealer.

Harley-Davidson traces its origins to the early 1900s when William Harley and Arthur Davidson formed a fast friendship over their fascination with bicycles. Adding Arthur’s older brother, William, to the partnership, the brothers built their first motorized bicycle in 1904. The Harley-Davidson legacy was born, forever impacting the future of motorcycles and venues like Republic Harley-Davidson, your Houston Harley-Davidson dealer.

Harley-Davidson’s prototype was relatively straightforward with its single-cylinder engine, leather drive belt, and buckle crank. Over the last century, that design has remarkably (and thankfully) evolved as Harley-Davidson built a loyal following of riders looking for powerful, customizable, and capable bikes. Harley-Davidson answered the need, expanding its lineup with sport bikes, cruisers, touring bikes, and trikes. The company even launched a new genre––Grand American Touring––that forever changed the industry and riders for the better.

But what are the differences between these bike segments? What does it mean to learn your Harley-Davidson ABCs? Which bike is best for traveling through the city and on all the highways surrounding Houston? It’s time to find out as we take a deep dive into Harley-Davidson’s lineup to look at the key features and most popular models that distinguish each segment. Welcome to Harley-Davidson 101; class is in session!

Meet the Harley-Davidson Sport

The Sportster has a unique history in the motorcycle industry because it’s one of the world’s longest, continuously produced motorcycles. Designed as a “do it all bike,” the Sportster debuted in the late 1950s and was meant to rival speed demons like the Triumph 650 cc Bonneville. The Sportster not only put its rivals on notice but led the segment, skyrocketing to popularity as one of Harley-Davidson’s top sellers.

Over the years, Harley-Davidson’s Sport lineup has evolved to include modern marvels like the 2022 Nightster and the 2022 Sportster S. These bikes are instantly recognizable by their engines, relying on a four-cam setup that positions the pushrod tubes parallel to one another. You won’t find this layout in any other bike in the Harley-Davidson lineup, making these sport bikes easy to spot at a glance.

The 2022 Sportster S pays homage to its rich heritage. It delivers top-of-the-line performance with its all-new Revolutionary Max V-Twin engine that guarantees exceptional off-the-line acceleration and agility. In contrast, the 2022 Nightster relies on a double overhead cam design but opts for the Revolution Max 975T to deliver high amounts of torque at low RPMs for robust mid-range power.

A white and black 2022 Harley-Davidson Sportster is shown parked in a tunnel.

Meet the Harley-Davidson Tourers

Harley-Davidson touring bikes are easily recognizable by their heavier frames, large saddlebags, and 16 or 17-inch wheels. While sport bikes like the Nightster and Harley-Davidson are designed for speed and performance, Harley-Davidson’s Grand American Touring bikes balance capability with comfort. They’re meant for touring, cross-country adventures, and joy rides where comfort is king.

Fairings and Windshields

Touring bikes are characterized by their fork-mounted or batwing fairings, sharknose fairings, or windshields. Let’s get the easiest out of the way first––windshields. The Road King is currently the only touring bike in Harley-Davidson’s Grand American Tourers that comes with a full windshield. So, where does that leave other models like the Electra Glide Standard, Street Glide, Road Glide Limited, Ultra Limited, etc.?

You’ll find these touring bikes distinguished by their fairings. So, what’s the difference between a fork-mounted fairing and a sharknose fairing? A fork-mounted or batwing fairing, like what you’ll find on the 2022 Electra Glide Standard, is mounted to the forks, which means the fairing moves with the handlebars. In contrast, a sharknose fairing, like that on the 2022 Road Glide, is mounted to the frame and remains fixed even when the handlebars are turned. In either instance, the fairing position distinctly impacts the quality of the ride, giving the rider more precise steering and a greater sense of control.

Accouterments

Harley-Davidson’s Grand American Touring bikes are designed for comfort, giving riders more reason to say “yes” to longer adventures. This comfort is guaranteed and immediately noticeable by the rider’s upright position, plush passenger seat, and large saddlebags that offer plenty of cargo room for gear and travel necessities. Harley-Davidson takes this comfort even further, adding an adaptive air suspension in the rear that’s hand-adjustable based on passenger and luggage weight. You’ll also find floorboards or foot pegs for added comfort and heel-toe shifters for convenience.

Adventurers

Harley-Davidson bikes have always been rugged road warriors, but that ruggedness has a new meaning among Adventure Touring bikes like the Pan America 1250. Adventure Touring bikes are Harley-Davidson’s version of dual sports, which can handle the pavement and the trail with their higher ground clearance and unique design. The Pan America 1250 lives up to the category, with the 2022 model boasting an off-road aesthetic with its rear tail and an exceptional powertrain that can withstand any terrain and speed.

Meet the Harley-Davidson Cruisers

Harley-Davidson’s cruiser segment is incredibly diverse, stretching from icons like the Softail Standard and the Low Rider to the Fat Boy, Heritage Classic, Forty-Eight, and the Iron 883. These bikes are designed for cruising around town, with their lower and often stretched seating position giving them a unique appeal. But what else differentiates these models?

Classic Aesthetic

Models like the Softail Standard and Street Bob offer an old-school look and plenty of personality that reflects the rich heritage of Harley-Davidson. They’re also easy to customize, giving Harley-Davidson a stellar reputation for providing riders with a blank canvas to bring their visions to life. Beyond the seemingly endless options for customization, these cruisers are lighter than touring bikes, making them a popular choice among riders who prefer shorter trips where they can enjoy the scenery and the classic performance that comes from being in the saddle of a Harley-Davidson icon.

Of course, the Softail Standard and Street Bob share the spotlight with other icons like the Heritage Classic and Fat Boy. The Heritage Classic is the quintessential American cruiser renowned for its vintage details and exceptional handling. Likewise, the Fat Boy builds on its legacy as a custom hot rod with its fat tires and squared headlamp, making it instantly recognizable in any lineup.

Meet the Harley-Davidson Trikes

Harley-Davidson has always thought outside the box, proving that the sky is the limit when it comes to motorcycle design. The same can be said for its trikes, which include models like the Freewheeler and Tri Glide. These models differentiate themselves with their three-wheeled configuration that optimizes safety, rideability, and comfort so more people can enjoy the open-air freedom of sitting in the saddle.

These trikes feature Harley-Davidson’s classic design, blending a hot rod attitude with a broader frame that puts the rider in an upright position and adds a plush passenger seat for optimal comfort. In addition, models like the Freewheeler and Tri Glide come with floorboards for added convenience and a large rear trunk that can store everything from groceries and gear to travel necessities and more.

While these trikes are often heralded for being easier to ride because of their three-wheeled design, they require a different approach or technique than their two-wheeled counterparts. The additional wheel in the rear must be accounted for, especially concerning the bike’s placement on the road, how it corners, and how effectively it stops. These adjustments are relatively easy to make, leaving many riders more confident from the stability of the added wheel and incredibly proud to get in the saddle that bears the name of one of America’s favorite motorcycle brands.

A black 2022 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special is shown from the side on a cloudy day.

What Will You Ride?

Harley-Davidson’s lineup is as diverse as its history, from its bare-bones prototype in the 1900s to icons like the Heritage Classic and Pan America. These bikes are renowned for their customizable designs and unique styling, but more so for what they offer riders. Whether you are cruising up Route 69 to head into the city or just out for a drive on the Sam Houston Tollway, your bike needs to be capable and comfortable. You can’t exactly put it into words because what you experience in the saddle is entirely up to you and where you’re headed. Harley-Davidson only provides the means to get you there, but whatever bike you choose, it’s one heck of a ride.