Harley Challenges Technical Innovations

Oxford (11 January 2011) - Harley-Davidson may value its heritage and traditions but it employs cutting edge technology to keep its motorcycles ahead of the chasing pack. Anti-lock braking systems, fly-by-wire throttle control, and intelligent indicators are just a few of the 21st century applications that prove how sophisticated modern Harleys really are.

Technology changes, engineering evolves. But an icon stays the same. When you have a heritage as rich as that of Harley-Davidson, one of the greatest challenges is to continue improving your motorcycles with the latest technology while retaining the classic look and feel of a Harley. That's why, with a Harley-Davidson, it's just as much about what you can't see as what you can see, and that's why our engineers go to great lengths to hide ugly wires and electrical components.

Two good examples of the art of keeping clean lines on a motorcycle are the ingenious ways in which the ABS (anti-lock braking system) and fly-by-wire throttle systems are hidden. Dennis Lodise, manager of electrical and electronic systems, says: "It's not easy to do. The idea is to hide the harness (wiring loom) and all the packaging and electronics as much as possible in order to show the jewels of the motorcycle the motor, the fuel tank, and all the other aesthetics that you have on the vehicle.

Instead of having throttle cables, with a mechanical linkage between the throttle and the throttle body, we actually put a sensor inside the handlebar where you can't see it to send electronic signals down to the throttle body where a motor runs the throttle back and forth. It's all done by signals rather than mechanical cable which gives you many advantages. It means our cruise control system can be smaller and more sensitive than those of our rivals and it also allows us to achieve a cleaner look with the motorcycle because there are no throttle wires".

Harley-Davidson's anti-lock braking system is another good example of how Harley's engineers have managed to discreetly hide unsightly electronic equipment which can spoil the lines of a motorcycle. Not only is the system hugely effective, it's largely hidden in the front wheel hub as experienced Motor Cycle News road tester and racer Bruce Dunn found out when Harley asked him to test the ABS and non-ABS versions of the Fat Boy. "The best stopping distance I achieved with the non-ABS Fat Boy was 55.77 metres from 80mph, which compares to the best from the ABS bike of 50.71 metres", Dunn reported. That means whatever your experience level, ABS can help. What is also impressive is the way the ABS system has been packaged. All you really can see if the front wheel control unit between the frame downtubes. There are few wires and no toothed brake rings. It's all hidden in the wheel hub.

ABS is now an option on all 2011 Softail models except the Cross Bones.

Another great example of Harley tech are the firm's indicators which are amongst the most sophisticated on the market. Bill Davidson explains why. One of the really neat things on our motorcycles are the turn signals. Our system is fantastic because it's very intuitive; it's very simple to use yet it's probably the most sophisticated, from a technology standpoint, on the market today. The turn signals are self-cancelling and they also have the capability of judging distance from a turn so, coming into a turn, they know how long to stay on. They take into consideration your speed, the angle of the motorcycle; there's all kinds of things that are giving input to the system.

Dennis Lodise, Harley's manager of electrical and electronic systems, explains further. "The system uses a little box which is very similar to an accelerometer used in cars for air bags. There's a little sensor inside so as you turn the corner and come out of it, it actually measures that and cancels the indicators".

Harley-Davidson has a long history of innovation and the company holds literally hundreds of patents stretching right back to the early years. William S Harley patented a spring motorcycle fork as far back as 1918 and the tradition continues; on January 1, 2009, Harley employee Mark T Fischer (et al.) patented a rear fender assembly and added to the vast archive of Harley patents. It's an archive that proves that, while the spirit of Harley-Davidson remains the same after more than 100 glorious years, the technology that goes into building the Milwaukee machines most definitely does not.

* To learn more about technical innovations on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, visit