The 2015 model year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide. But, the bike didn’t just appear out of thin air in 1965.
A new version of the “Knucklehead” engine was offered for the 1941 model year, and the motorcycle designated “FL.” In 1949 an all-new telescopic hydraulic front fork began to replace the old “springer” front end, and the bike eventually became commonly called the Hydra Glide. For 1958, rear suspension was added and the name changed to Duo Glide.
The next big improvement came in 1965 with the addition of an electric starter. The name Electra Glide was a perfect fit.
Wrestling with a kick start engine would become a thing of the past. As the 1965 sales brochure read, “We’ve taken a few of the kicks away, but none we thought you would miss.” A new era was dawning for the rider who had miles to cover.
With their removable windshields and hard saddlebags, the Electra Glides of the 1960s gave rise to the iconic H-D touring motorcycle that carries into the present day. Within four years of the introduction, designers crafted an accessory fairing specifically for the Electra Glide to keep more wind off of the rider. The “windshield fairing kit,” as it was first listed in 1969 became a standard feature for 1971. It’s more commonly known today as the “Batwing” fairing.
Numerous features now accepted as standard on H-D motorcycles were first used in the touring models, such as disc brakes and electronic fuel injection. It was with that spirit that the Project Rushmore upgrades for the 2014 came to fruition. The Batwing fairing was redesigned to reduce buffeting, but the classic shape remained. Saddlebags and Tour Pak were streamlined while increasing capacity. These features and many others marked the single largest product launch in Harley-Davidson history.
The importance of the Electra Glide goes far beyond its versatility and popularity. It is the modern standard for touring motorcycles. Competitors have increasingly tried to copy everything from the fairing to the luggage units, but always missing the mark. H-D remains the dominant force in North American touring and is gaining ground in other nations.
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This 1968 Electra Glide is on display in the Museum.
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Rider Al Ver Cruysse, shown here in 1984, rode his Electra Glide for hundreds of thousands of miles, raising awareness for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and other charitable organizations. His motorcycle is now part of the Harley-Davidson Archives collection.
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Today’s model, the 2015 Electra Glide Ultra Classic, combines modern technology with classic styling features.