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Alphabet Soup: Decoding Harley-Davidson Letter Codes & Model Designations

May 09, 2024 Comments Comment

Ask a Harley-Davidson® motorcycle owner which model they are riding, and they may answer “a Street Glide®” or “a Road Glide® ,” or the name for another model. But beneath that name is a second alpha-numeric code that has been assigned to just about every Harley-Davidson motorcycle throughout the company’s 121-year history. Today, few owners would say they are riding an FLHXS or an RA1250, but for many years the Harley-Davidson model code was often the only designation assigned to specific Harley-Davidson bikes, and knowing the logic behind that code was a point of pride for serious Harley fans.

Logic, however, often has not always applied to the code name assigned to new models. Which is why, even for experts, the “alphabet soup” of Harley-Davidson model codes can be confusing. From year to year, or decade to decade, the prefix, or first letters, in a model designation gave a pretty clear indicator of which platform or family to which the model belonged. For many years Harley-Davidson model name prefix derived from the engine family. In 1936 when the 61-cubic inch overhead valve V-Twin engine debuted, it received the designator “E”, and the base model with this engine was simply called the Model E. The letters following the prefix that designate the specific model sometimes made sense but could also seem to be totally random. The Model ES was the same bike with sidecar gearing, and the Model EL had the more-powerful, high-compression version of the E-series engine. 

What we might today consider model names in the past often described a feature. So for example, Hydra Glide described the hydraulic front suspension introduced in 1949 across a line that included 10 models and two engine displacements – E for 61 cubic inches and F for 74 cubic inches. 

Most letters in the alphabet have been used multiple times to designate certain models or their derivatives. To complicate things further, the meanings or designations of individual letters have changed over the years or meant different things in the same year on multiple models. For example, in 2005, the R suffix may be for a Roadster (XL883R) Road King® (FLHR) or Racing (VRSC). Or the C suffix may denote a Custom (FXDC) or Classic (FLHTC).

Some of the more popular letter codes featured for recent models inlcude:

  • F: Any model powered by a Big Twin engine, currently the Milwaukee-Eight® 
  • FL: A Touring or Softail® model with a 16-inch front wheel
  • FLH: A Touring or Softail® model with a fork-mounted fairing or windshield
  • FLTR: A Road Glide® model
  • FXD: A Dyna® model
  • FXST: Softail® model with a 19- or 21-inch front wheel
  • LW: LiveWire® model
  • R: A model powered by the Revolution® Max engine
  • SE: A suffix that denotes a CVO model (SE for Screamin’ Eagle®)
  • VRSC: V-Rod® and other models powered by the Revolution® engine
  • XG: Street models
  • XL: Sportster® models powered by the Sportster® Evolution® engine 

Today, an alpha-numeric motorcycle code is applied to each Harley-Davidson motorcycle and is often used in motorcycle parts and accessories fitment. It’s good for a rider to know their bike’s alpha-numeric code so they can better understand what part or accessory will fit their bike when they’re looking for a replacement. Here’s a list of 2024 models with the alpha-numeric code and the model name:

Here’s a list of 2024 models with the alpha-numeric code and the model name:

Adventure Touring

    

Sport

    

Cruiser

    

Grand American Touring

    

Trike

Explore the 2024 motorcycle lineup

Below is a list of some popular past and present Harley-Davidson bikes by model code and the model name:

You don’t have to be fluent in Harley-Davidson model codes to shop for new and used Harley-Davidson motorcycles online at. Or visit your local authorized Harley-Davidson® dealer to learn more about motorcycle codes and find the right fit for your riding style today. You can also check out the latest motorcycle parts and accessories to complete your bike. 

Did we miss your favorite Harley Davidson model code designation? Leave your favorite bike and its letter code in the comments below! 

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