Is Harley Building A VR1000-Inspired Sports Bike?
Part by Alan Cathcart
New patents and old promo video suggests that the makers of the Sportster
very well may have a full-on sportbike in the works
Last Summer (2019) Harley-Davidson made its biggest announcement of the decade when it revealed it was embarking on a new journey to enter a handful of markets previously untapped by the MoCo. In the press release, which included a video, revealed that the Milwaukee firm will be releasing an ADV model, a street fighter, and several smaller electric offerings. In the three minute video, the company showed off these rather un-Harley Harleys and even gave us a peek at some of the designs being developed behind-closed-doors, which included a brief glimpse of what looks like a half-faired H-D sportbike.
Circling Back Around
Nobody paid much attention to the bodywork-adorned V-Twin concept, though this proto-sportbike just got a lot more interesting as Harley filed patents that show a mid-‘90s-inspired fairing. The patent images bare a striking resemblance to the partially-faired, sport-oriented models briefly shown in a video, and while patents by no means guarantee that these items will ever enter production, it definitely suggests there’s a chance they might.
What’s Old Is New
On the heels of the Harley AMF debacle, the higher-ups at the company decided they wanted to go road racing, setting their sights on the AMA Battle of the Twins series. Originally the plan was to use an air-cooled oversquare engine based on the iconic XR750 flat track racer and fitted with a five-speed transmission. Harley recruited some of the best and brightest minds in the industry to help develop the new racer — dubbed the “VR1000” — with Mark Miller tasked with producing the engine (with some help from Cosworth and Jerry Branch of Branch Flowmetrics fame) and a young Erik Buell being responsible for the chassis. The project remained in development for well over a decade, during which time the machine became increasingly competent on the racetrack.
Enter: Willie G.
Wanting the new machine to stand out from the rest of the Japanese and Italian-made bikes on the grid, big boss man Willie G. Davidson decided to personally design the VR’s bodywork, culminating in a relatively narrow 3/4 fairing that wraps around the forks and clip-ons before swooping down and shrouding the oversized radiator. The idiosyncratic front-fairing was paired with a monocoque tank and tail section. The VR1000 was powered by a liquid-cooled, 996cc, four-stroke, DOHC, V-Twin that was wrapped in a twin-spar alloy chassis. Running gear was all of the top-shelf race-grade variety, including six-pot calipers and inverted forks. Tipping the scales at just 355lbs (161kgs), the liter-sized twin was good for an impressive top speed of up to 190mph.
Too Little, Too Late
Unfortunately, by the time Harley was finally ready to campaign the VR1000 in 1994, it had grown incredibly long in the tooth and was no longer the competitive machine it was when development had started years before. Despite its lack of competition success, the VR1000 nonetheless obtained an iconic status, and is now an extremely valuable, (and rare), and sought after motorcycle. More on the 1994 H-D VR 100 in our next edition.
A Sportbike, Not A Sportster
So, as Harley continues its efforts to expand into additional areas, it appears the company maybe looking again, to re-enter the sport bike game. Instead of whipping up a completely new bodywork design, Harley’s designers opted to draw inspiration from the once-promising VR1000. The new fairing shown in the patent renderings is slightly more streamlined and includes a notched out section in the center, presumably for an LED headlight, though it unmistakably based on the VR and still boasts the cutout sections on the sides a la the VR1K.
The Motives Behind The Move
In recent years Harley has been struggling to maintain its share of the market as its core customer base ages out of the sport/hobby/way of life. The introduction of these unorthodox models should help the Bar and Shield brand to attract new riders, as well as seasoned bikers who haven’t previously been interested in the company’s cruiser-oriented offerings. This new patent is just the latest in Harley’s current conquest into uncharted territory. Last year, two months before the release of Livewire — Harley announced it had formed a partnership with the Chinese manufacturer, Qianjiang Motorcycle Company, to develop a 338cc model based on the Benelli 300 TNT platform. This new patent further demonstrates Harley’s commitment to bucking the status quo as it enters new segments but, times are changing and we will see what harley’s new CEO does.
It should be interesting to see what, if anything comes of this VR-inspired sport Harley. There’s a chance it will fade into oblivion, never seeing the light of production, though based on the full-size clay model and new patent images, we’d wager there’s a good likelihood that a bubble-faired Harley will roll into dealerships in the coming years.