did harley davidson make a dirt bike

Did Harley Davidson Make a Dirt Bike? The Baja 100 and the Ill-Fated MX250

Harley Davidson is the unequivocal leader in American motorcycle manufacturing, having produced a plethora of classic models such as the Harley Softail, Sportster, and Fat Boy. These iconic bikes have become synonymous with freedom and adventure for millions across the country.

Are you aware that Harley Davidson took a foray into the world of dirt bikes? So, did Harley Davidson make a dirt bike? Yes, now, let’s explore the two unique models they produced – the Baja 100 and MX250.

The Harley Baja 100: An Italian-Sourced Dirt Bike

In the late 1960s, an explosion of demand for small-bore two-stroke trail bikes was occurring. This is when Harley Davidson saw Hodaka selling 10,000 bikes yearly and decided to join the 100cc trailbike market.

Even though the Harley Baja 100 had a tall body, short wheelbase and was under-powered, Harley refused to ditch it. This dirt bike was made from the Italian Aermacchi factory that Harley owned and quickly became famous for its poor performance. Despite this fact, Harley chose not to give up on their product.

The Harley squad astutely employed some of the most lauded desert racers in SoCal, including Bruce Ogilvie, Terry Clark, Earl Roeseler, Larry Roeseler and Mitch Mayes. Consequently they achieved massive success at the Baja 100s within their trailbike category: a result that was quickly translated into an impressive spike in sales. As luck would have it however, what the eager customers obtained wasn’t necessarily representative of what these champions raced with on track.

The original Baja 100 was equipped with inflexible footpegs, a tank that looked like an old-fashioned lunchbox, and had the unfortunate combination of inadequate horsepower AND extremely uncomfortable seating. To make matters worse, it also featured oversized sprockets on its rear wheel which often came undone during rides as well as poorly designed handlebars with street bike style grips.

When Harley Davidson stepped into the offroad market, Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki had already infiltrated it. Customers quickly discovered they were being misled as soon as these other competitors arrived on the scene.

Harley Davidson took two additional attempts at entering the dirt bike market, first in 1976 with a 250 sporting a rear fork and then again 1978 with the doomed MX250. When it was first released back in 1971, you could purchase the Harley Baja 100 for $670. At present, however, these beloved machines are gaining traction as collectible items – if cared for properly they can even be sold up to $7500.

The MX250: A Failure in the Motocross World

For a period of one year, Harley Davidson was among the most notable names in motocross racing. With Marty Tripes, Rex Staten and Rich Eierstedt as part of their factory team and an all-new production bike ready to take on tracks around the world, hopes were high for this American brand’s success – albeit in Italy where it had been manufactured.

In 1961, Harley saw an opportunity with the Italian Aermacchi firm and acquired 50 percent of it to provide customers with budget-friendly motorcycles. Ten years later, Harley seized full control over Aermacchi in order to tap into the rapidly growing American motocross industry by 1973.

In 1975, Harley Davidson created a limited production of 65 motocrossers as proof that they could make competitive dirt bikes. Manufactured in the racing department in Milwaukee and owning shortened front forks instead of shocks, this remarkable feat unfortunately failed to win over many dealerships.

In 1978, Harley Davidson made another attempt to regain their foothold in the market with the MX250. To ensure success, they mandated that all U.S dealers had to take on this 1977 manufactured bike; production of which is said to be around 900 units.

Just like its predecessor from 1975, the MX250 failed to make a lasting impact in the market and only stayed for one model year. Although much money was poured into advertisement, promotion, and celebrity riders of great caliber, it couldn’t save this bike from failure. Rumor has it that there were 900 models made yet most of them remained unsold with very few making their way across stateside.

The Harley Davidson clientele were unlikely to be searching for dirt bikes, and simultaneously motocross racers were not likely to venture into a dealership in search of one.

Subsequently, the Harley MX250 became a rarity in motocross. Motocross Action refused to test this 1978 model due to Harley Davidson’s fear of potential negative reviews; however, they still advertised it on their platform.

The MX250 was unfortunately overpriced at $1695, as it featured an Italian-built engine, 5-speed transmission and Ceriani forks; however the handling, underpowered engine and sheer weight made serious motocross racing impossible.

In 1976, Harley Davidson released the MX250 and their attempt at two new dirt bikes – a 250cc and 400cc. The 250 had an innovative dual shock configuration located in front of one another on the rear suspension. Despite this design feature, sales were unsuccessful which led to its discontinuation after just 12 months.

Conclusion – Did Harley Davidson Make a Dirt Bike?

To wrap up, Harley Davidson attempted to produce a dirt bike but didn’t make it in the market. Despite its failure, both the Baja 100 and MX250 have become collector’s items that are highly sought after by vintage motocycle fans.

Harley Davidson’s first attempt at dominating the off-road market in the 70s wasn’t successful, yet their commitment to creating top quality motorcycles never wavered. Nowadays, Harley Davidson is renowned for its heavy cruisers, touring bikes and all American manufactured motorbikes. Despite not succeeding initially within the dirt bike industry, people still highly esteem and venerate this motorcycle company.


Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) related to did Harley Davidson make a dirt bike:

Did Harley Davidson make a dirt bike?

Indeed, Harley Davidson ventured into the realm of offroad motorcycles in the 1970s with two remarkable models: The Baja 100 and MX250.

What was the Harley Baja 100?

The Harley Baja 100 was a humble, yet infamous off-road motorbike that made its debut in the 1970s. It featured an Italian Aermacchi engine with only 100cc of power and came equipped with solid footpegs, as well as a peculiar tank design resembling a lunchbox.
This ill-proportioned vehicle suffered from difficult handling due to it’s remarkably tall height and short wheelbase that left riders struggling to find their footing while navigating treacherous terrain.

Was the Harley Baja 100 successful?

Initially, the Harley Baja 100 was a smashing success in its class and sold rapidly. Yet customers soon discovered that it did not live up to their expectations, eventually resulting in its collapse from the market. Presently, however, this motorcycle has become something of a collector’s item with vintage motorbike aficionados searching high and low for one.

What was the MX250?

The MX250 was a dirt bike produced by Harley Davidson in 1978. It featured an Italian-built engine, 5-speed transmission, and Ceriani forks. However, the handling was poor, the engine was underpowered, and the bike was too heavy for serious motocross racing.

Why did Harley Davidson stop making dirt bikes?

With its unsuccessful venture in the off-road market, Harley Davidson ceased production of dirt bikes. Trying their hand at the Baja 100 and MX250 models proved to be futile in terms of profits; thus, they refocused their efforts on crafting iconic heavy cruisers and touring motorcycles specifically designed for a U.S.-style ride experience.

Are Harley Baja 100s and MX250s valuable today?

With a huge demand from vintage motorcycle aficionados, both the Harley Baja 100 and MX250 have become highly sought-after collector’s items. A meticulously restored Baja 100 can even be sold for up to $7500 – an impressive sum.

Did Harley Davidson make a dirt bike ever again?

In the 1970s, Harley Davidson made one final effort to show their capabilities in off-road motorcycling with their 250 and 400cc dirt bikes. Unfortunately, they failed to find success on the market and had to discontinue these motorcycles after just a single year of sales.

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