5 Of The Most Underrated Harley-Davidsons Ever Made

Harley-Davidson has been a motorcycle pioneer for more than 100 years. Founded in Milwaukee in 1903, the brand has long produced iconic bikes that riders across the United States swear by as their primary mode of transportation. Many of Harley-Davidson's bikes are built for cruising or touring and feature a low-slung seat and handlebar positioning that places the rider in a comforting, upright position. This is a perfect option for motorcyclists seeking a comfortable ride over long journeys and the ability to relax in the saddle and take in the views.

While Harleys are often centered on this celebrated design aesthetic, the brand has experimented with many other stylings and bike options throughout history. Indeed, many of the motorcycles produced in Harley-Davidson factories have gone out to the market with little fanfare and minimal adoption from the general public. 

Some bikes, like the SX-250, strayed vastly far from the typical Harley and represented an attempt to branch out meaningfully and significantly. Others didn't get the recognition they probably deserved due to comparisons with other Harleys or competitors' bikes, such as the FXRT Sport Glide.

Street Rod 750

Harley-Davidson's Street Rod 750 was produced between 2014 and 2020. The company discontinued the bike as a result of lagging sales. This may have resulted from the bike's unorthodox style compared to the brand's typical offerings. The motorcycle is decidedly a street bike that doesn't sport the traditional wide handlebar and low seating position of the prototypical Harley. Instead, the Street Rod places riders in a lower, street-appropriate horizontal-type position for tight cornering and precision handling across the range of street maneuvers.

Street Rod 750s were powered by a 753cc V Twin engine that produced 64 horsepower and 47 lb-ft of torque. The bike isn't the typical product from Harley-Davidson, but it is a killer entry-level motorcycle for someone looking to take the plunge and get into biking. The Street Rod achieves a top speed of 110 miles per hour and weighs just 525 pounds, making the whole production a quality, understated option for those in the market for something new. 

The Street Rod also gets an estimated 54 miles per gallon, making it a quality choice for those concerned about increased spending at the pump. The bike is a solid addition to the Harley-Davidson lineup but didn't achieve the success it perhaps deserved because it wasn't built for the typical Harley rider.

Softail Custom FXSTC

The Softail Custom FXSTC was produced in two spurts, from 1986 to 1999 and 2007 to 2010. The Custom model was less expensive than the Softail Standard (about $1,900 cheaper), but for this price difference, buyers had a less potent bike on their hands. The primary stylistic differences were in the weight (a heavier ride in the Custom version) and a slightly higher seat and slimmer front tire profile. Aside from these minor differences, The Softail Custom was outfitted with a 1,584cc engine rather than the 1,753cc powerplant featured in the Softail Standard. 

Ultimately, these minute differences and toned-down power production led the Softail Custom FXSTC to worse performance on the market. Still, the bike is a classic example of Harley-Davidson engineering and could be a great addition to a collector's garage. The Softail Deluxe has remained a fan favorite, but the Custom didn't garner the same attention as other model options. 

The V Twin engine is a four-stroke variety, and the bike produces 93.7 ft-lb of torque. It utilizes an air cooling system for the engine and is driven through a six-speed transmission. The motorcycle offers drivers a fuel economy rating of 35 miles per gallon.

[Featured image by Amused4u2 via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | Public Domain]


The SX-250 was an off-roading offering from Harley-Davidson. It was produced between 1975 and 1978 and was built by Aermacchi for Harley-Davidson. Harleys aren't known as lightweight off-road dirt bikes, and yet for this snapshot in time, Harley-Davidson dipped its toes into that segment of the motorbike marketplace.

The SX-250 came as a successor to the 125cc and 175cc models and was piloted to a Baja 500 win in the motorcycle class by Larry Roeseler and Bruce Ogilvie in 1975. But, for all the excitement brought on by the engine (an air-cooled two-stroke that produced 20 horsepower), the bike fell short of its target. Motorcycle World conducted a road test of the bike in 1975, and its review wasn't all that flattering: "Somewhere between the drawing board and the retail outlets, something went wrong." John Burns of Motorcycle.com identified a different problem with the SX-250. Buyers weren't accustomed to Harleys when seeking this type of bike, and therefore "dealers mostly didn't know what to make of the SX when they weren't outright hostile toward it."

At any rate, the SX-250 was heavily produced during the few years it was built, with a little over 14,000 bikes rolling off the line. As a result, combined with its somewhat lackluster performance as a true off-roader (potentially saving the bikes from the pounding that their compatriots surely would have been put through), finding one on the resale market may not be a tall order.

XR 1200X

Harley-Davidson's XR 1200X is a unique bike. The motorcycle was one of the fastest sportster-type bikes produced by the company, and its fairing-less front end offers a stripped-down aesthetic that many motorcycle enthusiasts crave. The XR 1200X utilizes an air-cooled, 1,202cc V Twin OHV engine. The power output is 91 horsepower and 73.7 lb-ft of torque paired with a five-speed transmission. The bike offers a top speed of 125 miles per hour to riders seeking to push the sporting vehicle to its upper limit. Even with a few problematic elements, the XR 1200X is a classic motorbike that puts out significant performance metrics.

Harley-Davidson lost out with this quality motorcycle in the combination of riding position and price tag. The bike was listed with a starting price of $11,899, exceeding the base price marks for other similar motorcycles on the market. Competitor bikes in this category were cheaper, and some were faster and better for thrill seekers in the market for a new ride. 

The seat configuration was also problematic. While this is a cruising street motorcycle, its seat height is 1.5 inches lower than the average model of this kind and almost 3.5 inches lower than the tallest seat in the category. Combined with the low handlebar orientation, the XR 1200X placed riders in a somewhat awkward position when piloting the motorcycle.

[Featured image by Ronald Saunders via Wikimedia Commons |Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 2.0]

FXRT Sport Glide

The Sport Glide is often underappreciated on the whole for several reasons. The modern iteration (1999 to 2021) was a great cruising motorcycle. However, its price tag turned buyers away from the bike in droves (starting at $18,599). The primary difference between this newer Sport Glide model and other Harley-Davidson cruisers is the addition of standard saddlebags rather than added storage.

The real tragedy of the Sport Glide range is the FXRT model from the mid-1980s. The T designated the FXR Harley as a Touring model, and from 1984 onward, the bike was powered by an aluminum Evolution engine rather than the outgoing cast iron Shovelhead. These motorcycles' engines were a four-stroke V-Twin design with a measured displacement of 1,337cc. The bike produced 64 horsepower and 67 lb-ft of torque. 

"Harley traditionalists of the time reportedly poo-pooed all the FXRs as being too sporty and even Japanesey," offers Motorcycle.com's John Burns. The large, scooped design of the fairings was a holdover from an alternative radiator inclusion that didn't survive changing designs, yet "the FXRT was ahead of its time" and didn't get the respect and admiration as a quality touring vehicle that it deserved.