Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown
Representing the 99%!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Understanding Harley-Davidson's Classification System

Photo © BugSpatteredJacket
What makes Harley-Davidson an exceptional option for many motorcyclists is the endless array of parts and accessories available. Harley-Davidson has released over 30 unique motorcycles for 2011 alone. Harley has developed a system whereby each motorcycle is sub-classed into further sections based on a variety of differences between bikes. Although these differences can be subtle when considering bikes from the same family, nevertheless, it is important to ensure you have the appropriate abbreviation for your bike when ordering parts and accessories.

Current Model Designations

Photo © Harley-Davidson
Harley enthusiasts will recognize their particular models by their given family names: Sportster (XL), Dyna (D), Softail (ST), V-TWIN Racing Street Custom (VRSC) and Touring model (HT or LT). Add to this Harley-Davidson’s line up of Trikes and Custom Vehicle Operation (CVO) specials and owners are spoilt for choice. However, these abbreviations are only part of the key to understanding your particular bike model. For instance, for 2011 there are six Sportster variations alone: The Nightster (XL1200N), the Superlow, the Iron 883, the XR1200X, the 1200 Low and the wildly popular Forty-Eight.

Model Features

Harley-Davidson FXRP Police Edition
Photo © HDFXR.DK
According to Factory-Fat.com, each Harley-Davidson motorcycle is further designated with special abbreviations that denote engine series, front end (except Sportsters), frame style and the model within the frame family. For example, the abbreviation ‘FXDFB’ stands for Harley-Davidson’s big twin-engine (F) with Sportster telescopic forks (X) and a Dyna frame (D). The model of the bike is a Fat Bob (FB). Other abbreviations are not as straight forward. For example, the abbreviation ‘FXRT/P’ stands for Harley-Davidson’s big twin-engine (F) with Sportster telescopic forks (X) and a Road King frame (R). This bike has a frame mounted fairing (T) and is a Police special (P). However, the letter ‘R’ could also stand for 'race' or 'rubber mounted.' Hence, be certain that you understand correctly what each letter stands for in your bike’s series abbreviation.

Early Harley-Davidson Models

Photo © Harley-Davidson
If ordering parts and accessories for earlier model Harley’s, it is important to remember that the letters and abbreviations differ for these bikes as well. According to Almighty-Hog.com, the first letter of the model designator E, J, K is specific to 1950’s small twin Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Other engine series include "G - Servicar three wheeler, 1932 to 1972, E - Overhead valve 61 cubic inch "big twin" (Engine/trans separated), F - Overhead valve 74,80 or 88 cubic inch "big twin", FL - 80 to 88 cubic inches and a fat front tire, K - Side valve 45 and 55 cubic inch sports bike that replaced the WL in 1953 and then, the Sportster in 1957, U - Side valve 74 or 80 cubic inch "big twin", V - Side valve 74 cubic inch made prior to 1936, W - Side valve 45 cubic inch made 1934 to 1952, X - Sports and special construction. Applied to 1918-1922 opposed twin Sport, 1944 military opposed twin, and 1957 to present Sportster.” In essence, these abbreviations act as a unique fingerprint allowing owners to pin point parts and accessories.

Ordering Parts and Accessories

Photo © Harley-Davidson

Ordering parts and accessories for a Harley-Davidson without understanding these abbreviations can leave you feeling bewildered. It is important to learn the abbreviations, as they will ensure that you can source your parts effectively and with ease.


Almight-Hog.com: Harley Davidson Motorcycles Reference  

Factory-Fat.com: Harley-Davidson letter designation and a list Harley model names.  

Home-Ctlnet.com: Harley-Davidson Alphabet  

Weeks-Motorcycle.com: Harley-Davidson Names

Nota Bene: The above article was originally published in 2010 through Suite 101.com now known as Suite.io. 

Corbin, M.R.J.  (October 20, 2010), Understanding Harley-Davidson's Classification System. In Technology.  Creative Marketeam Canada Ltd. Suite101.com. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  


  1. I remember back in the late nineties, when I was getting in to Apple products. There were over 40 different computer models and configurations to choose from. There were so many I could not make a choice. And apparently a lot of the customers felt the same way, because when the product lineup was reduced to 4, the sales skyrocketed.


  2. Thanks for sharing this nice information regarding the Harley Davidson accessories. An online store frequently displays Harley Davidson Softail Parts for sale every now and then at best prices in order to satisfy their customers need and demand. If you are looking for Harley Davidson parts accessories then you can easily get at Shiny Wing. Keep blogging like this.

    Brendan Marcus