One of Harley-Davidson’s most iconic, and most successful, motorcycles is turning 50 years old this year—but you’ll never see one on the street.
We’re talking about the XR750, a machine that has been winning races ever since its introduction in 1970. It was brought out in response to AMA racing rulebook changes in 1969, and while some versions were used in roadracing in earlier years, this machine is best-known for its flat track heroics. According to Harley-Davidson, the XR750 won 28 out of the AMA’s 37 Grand National Championships. between 1972 and 2008. It also won more races than any other bike in the AMA’s racing history, leading some to call it the most successful race bike in history.
Now to be fair, the XR definitely got some help from the AMA rulebook over the years, and bikes that did well against it – say, Honda’s move back in the 1980s to build a better tracker with the RS750 – were booed when they won. But so what? The XR still performed its role admirably, and while it wasn’t street-legal, Harley-Davidson did spin off a street-legal version of it, sort of, the XR1000.
When it was introduced, the XR750 used a Sportster-based engine, with cast-iron heads and cylinders (boo!) and improved oiling and charging systems. Later, in ’72, the MoCo went to an all-aluminum alloy engine, which improved performance and reliability and reduced weight. Before dirt bikes and supersports took over the stunt scene, it was also commonly used by the likes of Evel Knievel.
Harley-Davidson had big plans to celebrate the XR750’s anniversary with its factory flat track squad this year. Unfortunately, the season is a bit of a question mark, due to COVID-19, but hopefully something will be salvaged out of this mess, and we’ll see the tribute run on-track this season.