Harley XLCR Café Racer

The Harley-Davidson XLCR was Willie G. Davidson's one and only brush with the cafe racer set, and it created a classic for all time

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Harley-Davidson XLCR

Years produced: 1977-1979
Total production: 1,923
Claimed power: 61bhp @ 6,200rpm
Top speed: 110mph
Engine type: 998cc, two-valve, 45-degree V-twin 
Weight: 234kg (515lb) wet 
Price then: $3,595 (1977)
Price now: $7,500-$11,000

The city streets were thick with traffic, but it was still a memorable ride. With deceptive speed, the slim, black Harley-Davidson XLCR carved a swath through the miles of slow-moving metal. The slightest twist of the throttle sent the torquey V-twin stomping effortlessly forward. Everywhere the menacing black Harley XLCR Café Racer went, its booming bass exhaust note cleared cars from its path, turned pedestrians’ heads and threatened to turn buildings to rubble.

Magical stuff — and I wasn’t even riding the Harley, just following behind on a modern Honda while the XLCR’s owner led the way through his neighborhood with practiced ease. Even before I got to ride it, the original Harley-Davidson Café Racer had charmed me with its unique style and presence. But if that’s the V-twin’s great strength, then it’s also the Hog’s fatal flaw. For if ever a motorcycle was built for image rather than performance, this is the one.

Read about Tony Long's experience of riding and owning a Harley XLCR Café Racer 

Form over function

That was not quite what was intended when the Harley-Davidson XLCR — pronounced "Excelsior," one awe-struck tester commented — was launched in 1977. Back then, the advertisements talked excitedly of 120mph top speed, and how this was the most powerful production bike Harley had ever built. But even then, it was the Café Racer’s mean and moody all-black looks that set the bike apart.

The Café Racer concept was dreamt up by Harley design chief Willie G. Davidson, and he took the idea to the limit. Almost every part of the bike was pure black: the bikini fairing, the fuel tank, the tapered flat-track style seat unit, the side panels and mudguards, the frame, the exhaust system and most of the big 45-degree V-twin engine itself. The effect was stunning, and unlike anything Harley had done before.

2/19/2015 3:35:37 PM

owned my 77 XLCR since new....Bought it in Aberdeen Scotland. Toured Europe on it and brought it home to Western Canada where it enjoys the beautiful hiways around the Coastal and Rocky Mountain ranges.

1/11/2015 10:21:22 PM

Harley hasn`t But Buell has. I owned and road an xlcr as my main for a few years in the mid-late 80s. Then i did not ride for about 20 years, family and finance did not allow. I just got back on, with the bike I dreamed of when I had to sell the CR. A Buell S2, same wieght as the old xlcr, but with mods on it about 25% more power all around. It handles very well in a sport touring role and is even better looking, better sounding, rarer, easy to maintain and more fun than the XLCR was. Best of all, it cost me less in 2014 than the xlcr did in the mid 80s by 1000$. (the CR was mint though 800 miles when I bought, the Buell had 42,000k and had been dropped on both sides, still pretty stock but for chain conversion and other performace stuff. lucky I an very good with fiberglass and paint it looks very nice now)

Marc Lawrence
3/4/2013 4:53:39 PM

Owning the first 77 XLCR in California - I was told- since I ordered it off the cover of Cycle Magazine in October after first seeing it and received it the following February from Ranuios' HD in Stockton, Ca. I can offer a few firsthand comments. It was stunning. Nothing like it was around then or since. It was also fast in a straight line compared to the Harley boys I ran with - none could stay close. Beyond that it wa a pain to ride around town and on the road. I put 3,000 arduous miles on it in 3 years and sold it knowing I would be selling a future classic and also saving my life. I miss it to this day and wished I had kept it. It was beautiful with all its' faults a unique machine.

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