Why are Harleys so Heavy? Or are They?


I’ve ridden all kinds of motorcycles and one thing about Harleys stand out. Their weight. Why is it that Harleys are so heavy?

Harley Davidson motorcycles are heavy due to their large displacement engines (107-117 cu), big transmissions and steel frames. Harleys are designed for looks and comfort, not agility and speed, and have big fairings, hard luggage and long tail pipes. The average Harley weighs 732 lbs, while the heaviest Harley CVO Limited is 944 lbs.

Let’s take a closer look at Harley weight (we’ll use wet weight throughout the post, unless otherwise stated).

6 Reasons Why Harleys are so Heavy

Let’s start with six reasons why Harleys are so heavy:

#1: Harleys have big engines

Part of the Harley heritage is their air-cooled twin cylinder engines with push-rod valve trains. It is very much a looks thing (big cooling fins and no radiator and fan). Due to the design of these engines, the motor cannot rev very high. And since power is a function of engine RPMs and torque, without RPMs Harley’s need a lot of torque.

To find out why cruisers (and Harleys) are so slow, read this detailed article I wrote.

In order to get these heavy machines moving, big displacement engines are used to deliver large amounts of torque low in the RPM range. Most Harleys have either a 107 cu (1 753 cc), 114 cu (1 868 cc) or 117 cu (1 923 cc) motor. That is nearly double the size of your average top-of-the-range, 200 mph supersports bike (the Honda CBR 1000 RR has a 999 cc engine).

The engine and transmission are the two heaviest components on any motorcycle, and a large displacement engine usually requires a big-ass transmission. The engine layout is also responsible for Harley’s distinctive sound while idling. To learn more, read this detailed post I wrote.

#2: Harleys have comfort and luxury

Harleys are primarily designed to look good and in the case of the touring models, to be super comfortable. Every additional part that is fitted to a motorcycle adds to the overall weight of the bike. Harleys tend to have long twin chrome pipes, wide handlebars, multiple big head lights and large gas tank covers.

At 944 lbs, the Harley Davidson CVO Limited is the heaviest of the touring family (Image: HD USA)

The heavy touring bikes also feature massive fairings for wind protection, hard luggage cases on either side of a fat comfy seat for two. Safety features, like cruise control, ABS brakes, and traction control are also standard on all high-end Harleys. Every extra component adds to the already high reading on the scale.

#3: A Harley is a lifestyle bike: cruising and touring

It’s no secret that Harley Davidsons are not made for racing up a mountain pass or around a track. Instead, Harley riders cruise the highways or up the boulevard to the nearest saloon (or is that coffee bar?). The tourers are designed to sit comfortably at the freeway speed limit, mostly in a straight line or gently bends.

There’s no need to shed weight or be nimble. You are not going to race your riding buddies around the twisty backroads to see who gets there first. Everything comes at a compromise. If you want quick handling and a fast top speed, you need to sacrifice comfort (and possibly a seat for your pillion). But if it is comfort and good looks you’re after, who cares how slow and heavy your ride is.

#4: Harleys have extras

Harley’s website is full of custom accessories that can be fitted. On the high-end touring bikes most of these parts are standard equipment. These includes mod-cons like radio and integrated speakers, a back rest for the passenger, floor boards for your feet, and a very large trunk on the back with a luggage rack.

I once rode a fully spec’d CVO Limited to a wedding in a wildlife reserve. Navigating this beast with my wife on the back, the luggage boxes full of suits and dresses, and the road muddy from the morning’s rain, had me sweating bullets. I knew if I dropped it, there was no way we’d get it upright again. Parking on a steep, moss-covered cobblestone driveway was even worse. I had two friends stand on either side to make sure I don’t loose my footing when I had to turn it around the next morning.

#5: Harleys are positioned as BIG

Harley Davidson is famous for manufacturing loud and big motorcycles. Even after Honda challenged them (and won) in the 70’s with the little CT 50 Super Cub that appealed to the average person, Harley’s smallest bike is still the 883 Iron weighing 564 lbs. This is supported by a quote from Harley Davidson’s website:

“The pursuit of adventure begins with a ride on a Harley-Davidson® motorcycle. Make any weekend epic. Turn your commute into a daily thrill-seeker. A Harley-Davidson® blows things wide open. Pure freedom. As BIG and real as it gets.

Harley Davidson

#6: Light-weight materials are expensive

Harley Davidson uses steel tubing for their chassis frames, while most Japanese bikes have aluminum frames. Aluminum is lighter but more expensive. Performance bikes, like sports bikes and dirt bikes are purpose built for speed and agility. Every part on these bikes are designed with weight-saving in mind. Harley prioritizes strength and good looks instead.

Harleys also make extensive use of chrome. Tail pipes, handlebars, mudguards, wheels. Everywhere you look you can see your own rugged face reflecting back at you in some chrome piece. These sleek-looking components are much heavier than the plastics (or carbon fiber if you’re lucky) on most other bikes.

If Harley were to use the same lighter alloys and materials all over the bike, it might make these already expensive machine unaffordable.

Are Harleys Really Heavier than Other Bikes?

Harley Davidson is known for their massive cruisers and touring motorcycles. The Harley range includes 11 cruisers and 13 tourers, with only one electric bike, one sports (well, sort of) bike, and two adventure bikes. The average cruiser weighs 650 lbs, while the tourers tip the scales at a porky 864 lbs.

At 728 lbs, the Harley Davidson Heritage Classic is the heaviest of the cruiser family (Image: HD USA)

To put this into perspective, the big BMW R 1250 GS Adventure weights 591 lbs and the quickest Honda supersports bike, the CBR 1000 RR is only 428 lbs. These bikes were built for a very different purpose than a cruiser or tourer. Supersports bike designers do everything they can to keep the weight down, while adventure riders don’t want to fight a heavy bike in the dirt.

What about other brands of cruisers and tourers?

The huge Honda Gold Wing 1800 weighs 787 lbs which is much lighter than the average Harley touring bike (like the Street Glides, Road Kings or CVO models). In fact, the Gold Wing is lighter than the Road King Special, Harley’s lightest touring motorcycle (807 lbs). The 6-cylinder BMW K 1600 Grand America is 802 lbs.

Honda’s heaviest bike, the Gold Wing 1800 is lighter than Harley’s lightest tourer (Image: Honda USA)

The heaviest Japanese cruiser I could find is the Suzuki Boulevard M109R B.O.S.S. 1 783 cc cruiser that tips the scales at 764 lbs. Interestingly, this is not only heavier than the average Harley cruiser (657 lbs), but 5% heavier than the Harley Heritage Classic 114 cu, the heaviest Harley cruiser (728 lbs).

It is necessary to point out that the Harley Touring models are really big cruisers with large fenders and luggage bolted onto it. They are very different from the street touring bikes that BMW and Honda make, for instance. BMW’s heaviest cruiser-tourer, the R 18 Transcontinental is 942 lbs, almost exactly the same as Harley’s heaviest tourer, the CVO Limited (944 lbs). So it’s the cruiser-style that is so heavy to build.

What about Harleys adventure bike?

The long-awaited 2021 Harley Davidson Pan America 1250 Special is Harley’s first dip into the very popular adventure bike market. At 559 lbs, the HD Pan America 1250 Special is surprisingly 5% lighter than its closest rival, the BMW R 1250 GS Adventure (591 lbs).

Harley’s first adventure bike, the Pan America 1250 Special is lighter than it’s rivals (Image: HD USA)

How Much do Harleys Weigh?

The heaviest Harleys, apart from the trikes (those ugly and awkward-to-ride/drive three-wheelers), are the touring models which range between 807 lbs (Road King Special) and 944 lbs (CVO Limited) with an average weight of 864 lbs.

The cruisers are slightly lighter and start at 556 lbs with the old-school Forty-eight (pictured below). The heaviest cruiser is the Heritage Classic at 728 lbs. The new HD Pan America 1250 (534 lbs) and 1250 Special (559 lbs) adventure bikes are on par with their closest rival, the BMW R 1250 GS (549 lbs).

I love the look of the Harley Davidson Forty-eight. But with rock-hard suspension it is not the most comfortable.

The table below sets out all the weights of all the different Harley Davidson models including their engine capacities and model family. The table is sorted from the heaviest (ugly) trikes to the lightest Sportster S.

Harley Davidson ModelFamilyEngine capacityDry weightWet (curb) weight
CVO Tri GlideTrike117 cu (1917 cc)1239 lbs (562 kg)1269 lbs (576 kg)
Tri Glide UltraTrike114 cu (1868 cc)1204 lbs (546 kg)1243 lbs (564 kg)
FreewheelerTrike114 cu (1868 cc)1085 lbs (492 kg)1118 lbs (507 kg)
CVO LimitedTouring117 cu (1917 cc)906 lbs (411 kg)944 lbs (428 kg)
Road Glide LimitedTouring114 cu (1868 cc)897 lbs (407 kg)932 lbs (423 kg)
Ultra LimitedTouring114 cu (1868 cc)880 lbs (399 kg)917 lbs (416 kg)
CVO Road GlideTouring117 cu (1917 cc)860 lbs (390 kg)893 lbs (405 kg)
CVO Street GlideTouring117 cu (1917 cc)831 lbs (377 kg)866 lbs (393 kg)
Electra Glide RevivalTouring114 cu (1868 cc)824 lbs (374 kg)862 lbs (391 kg)
Road GlideTouring107 cu (1753 cc)820 lbs (372 kg)855 lbs (388 kg)
Road Glide SpecialTouring114 cu (1868 cc)818 lbs (371 kg)853 lbs (387 kg)
Street GlideTouring107 cu (1753 cc)796 lbs (361 kg)829 lbs (376 kg)
Road KingTouring107 cu (1753 cc)794 lbs (360 kg)828 lbs (376 kg)
Street Glide SpecialTouring114 cu (1868 cc)792 lbs (359 kg)827 lbs (375 kg)
Electra Glide StandardTouring107 cu (1753 cc)781 lbs (354 kg)820 lbs (372 kg)
Road King SpecialTouring114 cu (1868 cc)774 lbs (351 kg)807 lbs (366 kg)
Heritage ClassicCruiser107 cu (1753 cc)697 lbs (316 kg)728 lbs (330 kg)
Heritage ClassicCruiser114 cu (1868 cc)697 lbs (316 kg)728 lbs (330 kg)
Sport GlideCruiser107 cu (1753 cc)670 lbs (304 kg)699 lbs (317 kg)
Fat Boy 114Cruiser114 cu (1868 cc)671 lbs (304 kg)699 lbs (317 kg)
Low Rider SCruiser114 cu (1868 cc)650 lbs (295 kg)679 lbs (308 kg)
Fat Bob 114 Cruiser114 cu (1868 cc)653 lbs (296 kg)676 lbs (307 kg)
Softail SlimCruiser107 cu (1753 cc)642 lbs (291 kg)671 lbs (304 kg)
Streetbob 114Cruiser114 cu (1868 cc)634 lbs (288 kg)659 lbs (299 kg)
Softail standardCruiser107 cu (1753 cc)630 lbs (286 kg)655 lbs (297 kg)
Iron 883Cruiser54 cu (883 cc)545 lbs (247 kg)564 lbs (256 kg)
Iron 1200Cruiser73 cu (1200 cc)547 lbs (248 kg)564 lbs (256 kg)
Pan America 1250 SpecialAdventure76 cu (1250 cc)527 lbs (239 kg)559 lbs (254 kg)
Forty-eightCruiser73 cu (1200 cc)545 lbs (247 kg)556 lbs (252 kg)
LiveWireElectricn/a549 lbs (249 kg)549 lbs (249 kg)
Pan America 1250Adventure76 cu (1250 cc)503 lbs (228 kg)534 lbs (242 kg)
Sportster SSport76 cu (1250 cc)486 lbs (220 kg)502 lbs (228 kg)
Table of weights and engine capacities of all the 2021 Harley Davidson models (Source: HD USA)

Conclusion

It is true that Harleys are heavier than most other brands. The main reason for this is the design of a cruiser and most Harleys are cruisers. Compared to similar designed cruiser-style bikes from the Japanese and Germans, the Harleys actually weight a bit less.

I’ve ridden a lot of Harleys over the years and they always handle better than expected. The low seat height also means that the weight is not that intimidating.

Say what you like, Harleys would not be as cool if they were designed to weigh half as much.

Francois Steyn

I've been riding motorcycles since I was in school and have traveled thousands of miles on various bikes through more than 10 countries. For more info, check out my about page: https://adventurebiketroop.com/about-us/

Recent Posts