harley davidson different models explained

Harley Davidson Different Models Explained & Listed

With an abundance of models to choose from, finding the right Harley-Davidson motorcycle for your riding style can be a daunting task. As America’s definitive name in motorcycles, Harley-Davidson provides riders with a wide selection of bikes that cater to different types and levels of experience. To aid you on this journey, we’ve assembled all the Harley Davidson different models explained and listed to help determine which one is perfect for you!

Harley Davidson Different Models Explained – Current models and letters

With five distinct model families, Harley-Davidson bikes can be tricky to differentiate. But don’t worry! Once you learn the naming pattern of letters and numbers associated with each family, it’s a breeze—Touring models begin with “FL,” Sportster feature “XL,” Dyna motorbikes are designated by “FXD,” Softail variants include an initial “FXST” or “FLS” designation, and V-Rods commence with just one letter: VRSC. You’ve got this!


It’s easy to spot a Harley-Davidson Sportster – all of them start with “XL” and have four cams. Be aware that additional letters may be included, plus numbers might stand for displacement. A distinguishing characteristic is their unitized motors, while the parallel pushrod tubes provide an unmistakable engine identification. Even after all these years since its launch in 1957, Sportsters remain just as recognizable today!

Touring bikes

Harley-Davidson Touring bikes come equipped with strong frames, abundant luggage and 16 or 17 inch wheels (non-CVO). CVO stands for “Custom Vehicle Operations,” which is Harley’s performance department that introduces powerful engines before they are released to the public. Depending on your preference, you can pick between a batwing fairings model, windshields design or sharknose fairings option.

If your handlebars move and the headlight follows, that’s a batwing. On the other hand, if you wiggle those bars but the light stays put- pointing down the same road – then you have yourself a sharknose Road Glide. And, in case of Touring bikes with windshields or plexiglass shields? That makes it an FLHR Road King!

If you’re after a Road Glide, be sure to select the model code FLTR as it comes equipped with the frame-mounted fairing. If a different Touring bike is more your style, then opt for an FLHT.


Softails have a concealed suspension system that looks like rigid motorcycles without any springs on the rear, but they do indeed provide your wheels with cushioning and bounce. The Heritage Softail, Fat Boy, and Night Train are three of the most popular varieties available.

Are you an avid biker eager to find the perfect Softail for your needs? You’ll be pleased to know that Softails come in two distinct varieties: FXST models, with a narrow but thick front tire and FLST styles featuring a wider and thinner front wheel. The exception is the FLS-inspired Slim and Blackline’s FXS design. If antique aesthetics are important to you, then consider investing in Heritage Softails; these timeless bikes echo Road King designs yet feature Hydra-Glide inspired suspensions at both ends of the frame for optimal comfort!


The Harley-Davidson V-Rod is like no other motorcycle you have seen before; boasting a liquid cooled engine and the letter code VRSC, it will take your ride to entirely new heights.


The Dyna is the most cost-efficient way to purchase a Big Twin and stands out because of its visible rear shocks and slender front ends. The models all start with an FXD, except for the recently released Switchback which has been classified as an FLD due to its small front wheel size; it’s also noteworthy that this model was designed with wider Touring forks than others in the same product line.

Harley engine names

Accurately dubbed “Big Twins,” Harley-Davidson bikes are celebrated for their powerful engines, as well as their distinct transmission assemblies and left-side final drives. Not only is the powerplant name inextricably connected to these classic motorcycles but it has become part of its identity.

Big Twins – Honorable Mentions

Established in 1909, the Atmospheric engine was a remarkable Big Twin that held a 49 ci displacement. From 1911 to 1929, F-head engines were offered with 61 ci and 74 ci capacities. During 1930 to 1948, Flathead engines came on the scene with both 74 and 80 cubic inch variations available for purchase.

From 1936 to 1947, the Knucklehead engine was created and initially came in a 61 cubic-inch version. It eventually evolved into an even larger 74 ci variant. In 1948, the Panhead engine went into production with two varieties – 61ci and 74ci versions. Finally, from 1966 until 1984, Harley Davidson produced its Shovelhead motor which had both a 74ci option as well as an 80 ci edition available for purchase.

The Blockhead engine – otherwise known as the Evolution or Evo – had a production run of 15 years, spanning from 1984 to 1999. It was an 80 ci displacement machine that has since been replaced by the Twin Cam range in 1999, with different versions being made up until 2017. These included 88 ci, 96 ci, 103 ci and 110 ci variant models; while a 120ci crate engine is additionally available for purchase too. The current powerhouse on offer is the Milwaukee-Eight which began its life back in 2016 and comes packaged at either 107ci or 114ci displacements respectively.

All Other Notable Engines

The renowned Flathead 45 was developed in 1929 and served motorcycles until 1952. Afterwards, it found its way into the Servi-Car G, a 3-wheeler popularly used for urban delivery purposes by automobile dealerships. This iconic engine continued to power these vehicles up until 1973.

Don’t be mistaken, it’s not one of the Big Twins. The Ironhead was designed between 1957 and 1985 as a part of XL models (Sportsters) with four cams instead of just one and its unitized construction makes it stand out from other engines in its class.

For over 35 years, the Evo Sportster has been a staple of American motorcycling culture with its two models: 883 cc and 1200 cc.

Finally All Harley Davidson Different Models Explained

If you’re a Harley-Davidson enthusiast, understanding the range of models that are available and their distinct features can be perplexing. From Sportsters as entry level bikes to Touring motorcycles with heavier frames, bags, and windscreens – there’s something for every taste! Don’t let the letters and numbers overwhelm you; if in doubt just ask an expert.

Softails offer a concealed rear suspension, and V-Rods are like nothing that Harley-Davidson has produced before. Moreover, if you’re looking for the most economical way to get your hands on a Big Twin, Dyna is it.

A wide array of magnificent powerplants grace the Harley-Davidson series, and all are distinguished by their unique monikers. Amongst them you’ll find the Atmospheric engine, F-head engine, Flathead engine, Knucklehead engine, Panhead engine, Shovelhead engine, Blockhead engine as well as two modern additions: Twin Cam and Milwaukee-Eight engines. All of which serve to amplify your riding experience like never before!


Here are some frequently asked questions about Harley-Davidson different models:

What are the different Harley Davidson model families?

Currently, Harley-Davidson offers an array of model families to choose from – Touring, Sportster, Dyna, Softail and V-Rod. Whether you’re looking for a classic ride or something contemporary and cutting edge – there’s sure to be one that meets your needs!

What is the easiest way to identify a Sportster?

If you’re looking for a Sportster, make sure it begins with “XL,” as this indicates the model. In addition to that, these bikes feature unitized motors- other letters or numbers following the XL may indicate displacement but are not necessary to know when picking out your perfect ride!

What are CVO models?

Harley-Davidson’s Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) is the company’s performance division. These custom bikes boast bigger engines than usual production models, as well as outrageous paint designs, hot rod parts, and trick wheels. Unfortunately they come with a hefty price tag due to their limited annual production runs – all of which makes them incredibly desirable!

What are the three types of touring bikes?

Whether you’re searching for a touring bike, there are three possible options: those with batwing fairings that attach to the forks, bikes equipped with sharknoses mounted on the frame, and lastly Road Kings donning only windshields.

What is the difference between FXST Softails and FLST Softails?

In comparison to FLST Softails, FXST ones have a slimmer front tire with a larger diameter. On the other hand, FLSTs feature wider tires but they are also of smaller dimensions.

What is a V-Rod?

Experience the power of Harley-Davidson with its genre-defying V-Rod model. This bike features a liquid cooled engine, as well as an alphanumeric code starting with “VRSC” that identifies it from other classic Harleys. Get ready to break boundaries and ride in style!

What is a Dyna?

The Dyna is the most affordable way to own a Big Twin. To identify it, look for exposed rear shocks and narrow front ends with “FXD” in its name – this exception being the new Switchback with its mini front wheel and wide-ish Touring forks that are indicated by an “FLD”.

What are some notable Harley Davidson engine names?

Harley-Davidson’s engines have a long and distinguished history, ranging from the atmospheric engine to the iconic Milwaukee-Eight. Amongst these renowned Big Twins are F-head, Flathead, Knucklehead, Panhead, Shovelhead and Blockheads models. The 45 (Flatheads), Ironheads and EVO Sportsters also hold their place in Harley’s motorcycling legacy.

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