Buying used - Harley-Davidson
80ci (1340cc) Evolution series
Harley people (we'll include the factory and owners in that description)
are still a bit stroppy about what they see as the general perception of
the brand building slow and unreliable motorcycles. Farm machinery disguised
There was something to that perception in the early eighties, particularly
if you had the misfortune to ride a Shovelhead series bike - one built
in the latter years of the ownership of American Machine & Foundry
(AMF). Once the Evolution series bedded in, it was a different story.
In this article, we stick to the 80-cube Evos - we'll treat the Sportster
variations as a different subject in a future edition.
Things changed dramatically in the mid-eighties when the company released
the Evolution (Blockhead) series of 80-cube (1340cc) bikes. It was still
an air-cooled, 45-degree, pushrod twin with two valves per cylinder, but
quite a different animal to ride. We saw the first of them in 1984, at
the same time Suzuki released its trend-setting sport bike - the GSX-R750
- and Kawasaki the definitive sport-tourer - GPZ900R. This was a really
tough time to release a new Harley.
Sales skyrocketed in the late eighties with the support of the Harley
Owners Group. The latter was a unique factory-supported user club established
in 1983. It was to change the face of motorcycle marketing for the rest
of the century. H-D was the first company to take advantage of a world-wide
trend of recidivist motorcycling. That is, pick up on the people who were
part of the bike boom of the seventies and early eighties, who decided
to get back on a cycle.
The variations on the frames and powerplants are far too numerous to
go through here, and we suspect only H-D has an accurate picture of what
happened. Changes happened on the run, very rapidly. Perhaps the result
of a lesson learned by watching the ability of the Japanese factories to
produce new models at a scary rate while Brit and American enterprises
slowly went under in prior decades.
The last of the big-bore Evo powerplants was officially declared deceased
with the introduction of the MkII Twin Cam 88 powerplant for the Softail
series in 1999, with a balance shaft.
On the road
A modest 60ps (depending on the market) pushing a 250 kilo cruiser
may not sound like a recipe for performance. Compared to a sport bike,
it isn't. However it was a revelation for Harleys, which basically owned
the miniscule local cruiser market at the time.
Steering has always been slow and ultra stable, cornering clearance
highly variable depending on the model, straight line urge modest but enough
to manage 160-plus, braking mixed but generally awful, and suspension response
Dial in the grin factor, which the series has in spades. It's been my
belief, since the release of the Evos, that anyone who fails to enjoy the
experience is dead from the toes up. Having that motopsycho "thump, whump,
thump" happening on a sunny day at a leisurely pace is one of life's joys.
The powerplants, despite what you might hear, have always been good
performers in the cruising world. Mild breathing mods have been enough
to nail the best V-twin competitors from Japan in a straight line, while
the Evo has been unusually efficient with fuel. Mileages of 20km/lt-plus
are common at speeds up to 130kmh.
Riding an Evo hard is a peculiar technique - peculiar to big cruisers
of all brands. Line the corner up and settle the chassis, fire at will
on the exit. The result is surprisingly good point-to-point times.
Generally they have been more consistent in this department than their
Japanese competitors. The only equivalent bike which has consistently beaten
the series in the handling stakes has been the Moto Guzzi California.
In the workshop
As a day-to-day proposition, the belt-drive versions of the bike (there
were a few early chain-drive FXRs) are exceptionally low-maintenance. Hydraulic
lifters and solid-state ignition look after the engine tuning.
Regular changes of oil are critical. Ride it as hard as you like, but
keep that side of the care up to speed.
Radically modded bikes may/will crack their cases, including those
using the full-house Screamin' Eagle kit. Base gasket oil weeps were common
up until the mid-nineties - easy to fix, but common.
The belt drive is very low-care, so long as it doesn't cop a rock or
too much dust on a dirt road.
In theory, this is one of the easiest home-maintenance packages ever.
Change the oil and filter, keep and eye on the belt plus the air-cleaner,
and that's about it.
That depends on who you ask, and why. Heavy Duty mag Editor Chris Beattie
lists his fave Evos as the Fat Boy Softail with the disc wheels ("classic
hard-tail look in a factory custom"), Road King ("sensational all-round
package") and Dyna Wide Glide ("because they handle so well").
Like Chris, I've ridden most of the offerings since 1984. My choices
are the base series such as FXR (early Evo) and FXD (nineties) for their
delivery of the full H-D package at minimal cost, the Road King for its
exceptional mix of comfort and handling, and the full-house ElectraGlide
Ultra as an over-the-top tourer that's more tactile than the equivalent
'Wing. But I can't relate to the Softails, which are universally harsh
in Evo form.
Our advice is to look for a bike that has the minimum number of engine
and chassis mods to make it perform, with a look that suits you.
Beattie adds that it's critical to ensure the mods have been done by
a reputable workshop, and that there's a documented service history. Given
H-Ds have been a popular theft target, make sure you check the engine/chassis
numbers with the local rego people before buying. You should do that regardless
of the brand of bike.
This is a complete and utter can of worms as there is no such thing
as a stock 80-cube Evo on the market. Chris Beattie suggests you should
look at the mods as part of the package and analyse what you want.
I agree with his belief that thoughtful chassis mods are the first priority,
while engine hot-ups usually need to be minimal to work well. A cam and
well-sorted breathing is enough to unlock ample urge in the straight-line
performance department. Going beyond that point will compromise reliability.
Beattie says that there are many good Australian makers of parts these
days, but the overall advice is to look for a brand that's known.
Extras can add value, though it's unlikely to be the equivalent of the
cost. Even Glass's guide, the used bike industry price watcher, admits
that just about any Harley is a "special interest vehicle" ? which means
that judging the value is a can of worms. You need to compare what's available.
Local HOG groups - see any dealer. These groups are well-supported
and have a number of members willing to offer advice. Ronnie Cramer's web
search (http://SEPnet.com/cycle/index.htm) is a gem with lots of resources.
Recent Harley history
This item comes via one of the many sites covered by Ronnie Cramer's
web index. It covers some of the significant points in Harley's history
leading up to and over the Evo period.
1981: H-D managers, led by AMF executive, Vaughan Beals, purchase
Harley-Davidson from AMF for $75 million in a leveraged buy-out and developed
new models and a new image. With improved manufacturing and quality process,
many of the old flaws of the H-D design were resolved.
1982: FXR Super Glide II gets a rubber mounted engine and 5-speed
1983: President Reagan imposed additional tariffs on the import
of Japanese motorcycles, improving Harley-Davidson's ability to compete
against high-quality foreign manufacturers. Harley Owners Group (HOG) inaugurated.
The XR1000 Sportster rolls out.
1984: Introduction of 1340cc Evolution engine and the FX Softail.
1986: By offering stock, Harley-Davidson once again becomes
publicly owned and traded. Sportster 883cc Evolution debuts along with
FL Heritage Softail. The latter sparks industry-wide retro-look styling.
Company goes public with two million shares of common stock. H-D acquires
Holiday Rambler, a luxury motorhome manufacturer.
1987: 30th Anniversary 1100cc Sportster. Electra Glide Sport,
Heritage Softail Classic and Low Rider Custom are unveiled. H-D listed
on New York Stock Exchange.
1988: Sportster grows again to 1200cc. H-D's 85th Anniversary
celebration raises $600,000 for Muscular Dystrophy Association.
1990: The FLSTF Fat Boy is an instant success story. The new
Dyna Glide series is launched with a Sturgis model to commemorate the 50th
Anniversary of the Black Hills Classic in Sturgis, South Dakota. Attendance
at this rally exceeds 250,000.
1991: Sportsters get five-speed transmissions. HOG Chapters
reach 650 worldwide. Daytona Bike Week turns 50.
1992: Belt drives become universal on all models.
1993: To celebrate their 90th Anniversary, Harley pulls out
the stops on Limited Edition models; Sportster, Low Rider, Wide-, Electra-,
and Tour-Glides. Milwaukee hosts a birthday bash and 100,000-plus Harley
riders converge on the city for a weekend.
1995: Harley introduces a new fuel injection system.
1996: Harley-Davidson sells Holiday Rambler and begins construction
of a new distribution facility in Milwaukee for parts and accessories.
Ridden by Chris Carr, the VR1000 finishes a respectable 10th place at the
1998: Harley-Davidson unveils plans for the new twin cam 88ci
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