Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown

Monday, April 17, 2017

Harley-Davidson XR750 By Gabriel Wapachee

Pic © Silodrom: Gasoline Culture
In 1969, Harley-Davidson had no competitive racing machine because of a rule change in the sport (Harley-Davidson.com, N.D.). It is in the following year that the company released its first Harley-Davidson XR750. The motorcycle had many flaws in its first years but still had great potential. The XR750 won its first AMA Grand National Championship in its release year. The company saw its potential and took back the bike to improve it. Two years after its initial release, the company re released the motorcycle and from that point on it has dominated the racetracks accumulating more titles than any other motorcycle to this day (Gingerelli, Michels, & Everitt, 2010).  Evel Knievel, a great daredevil, used the XR750 in many of his stunts and also accumulating a lot of world records with this motorcycle. These records are still being beaten today by new stuntmen using the same motorcycle. These many records and titles gained by the many years of racing and jumping with this motorcycle has created a very important social history for the bike.

Pic © Silodrom: Gasoline Culture
In its early and rough beginnings, the Harley-Davidson XR750 had no other choice to go through major modifications in order to be successful. This is why Dick O’Brien and his team completely gutted and remade many aspects of this motorcycle then rereleased it in 1972. (National Motorcycle Museum, 2015). The great racing manager spotted the issues that the motorcycle had. Not only did he solve them, but he also greatly improved the bike. One of the major issues on the bikes’ first release in 1970 was the engines’ vulnerability to overheating during the races. In order to fix this, O’Brien took apart the entire engine and all its components. The materials and components used were mostly lighter and more efficient (National Motorcycle Museum, 2015). The new and improved XR750 was not only fixed but greatly improved. The weight of the motorcycle was lowered due to the new materials and modifications also added horsepower to the engine. O’Brien used an alloy head on the engine to not only help with the overheating but also to reduce weight. Many pieces that were originally made of iron were changed to alloys, which also removed some weight from the bike (National Motorcycle Museum, 2015). The overall lightness and power was the perfect combination to begin conquering the racetracks. 

Pic © Silodrom: Gasoline Culture
The re-released version of the XR750 became one of the most dominant racing motorcycles of its time. Harley-Davidson XR750, from its re-release year in 1972 until 2008, has won a total of 29 out of 37 AMA Grand National Championships which is, still to this day, the most wins collected by a motorcycle (Gingerelli, Michels, & Everitt, 2010). This record-setting motorcycle has brought many of its riders to the spotlights such as Jay Springsteen, Cal Rayborn, Chris Carr, Ricky Graham, etc. (Harley-Davidson.com, N.D.). The dominant performance of the XR750 allowed it to stay on the tracks for many years. The XR750 has gone a long way from first winning in 1970 to still be seen on the tracks today (National Motorcycle Museum, 2015).

Evel Knievel 19 Car Motorcycle Jump 
(World Record for 27 years)

Not only did the XR750 dirt racer set so many records on the track, it was also taken out of the tracks and thrown in the airs with legendary stunts performer Evel Knievel. Not only did Evel perform stunts with the motorcycle, but he also set world records with it. One of his most well known exploit was his 19 car jump in 1971 setting a world record which was only beaten 27 years later (in 1998) by Bubba Blackwell who also used an XR-750 (Cycle Jumpers, N.D., & CNN Interactive, 1998). Knievel’s many stunts with the Harley-Davidson XR-750 led the motorcycle to be displayed under the name of “Evel Knievel’s Harley-Davidson XR-750” in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (National Museum of American History, N.D.). Knievel’s many stunts and world records made him one of the most famous motorcyclists in the world. (National Museum of American History, N.D.)

Evel Knievel Pulling A Wheelie on His XR750
Pic © The Selvedge Yard
Evel Knievel’s exploits created a desire in people like Bubba Blackwell, Doug Danger, and Evel’s own son Robbie Knievel to not only be like him but also better. To do so, just like any world record, they must acquire the same bikes as Knievel in order to break the records. This means that the many records set by Knievel using an XR750 must be beaten only by another XR750. Avoiding doing so will lead in the similar situation as Robbie Knievel, who has beaten a lot of XR750 exploits using a Honda CR500 motocross bike and being dismissed by the critics (Harley, 2009). This means that if a stuntman would want to be recognized for beating Evel’s XR750 jumps today, the individual would need to use a similar 1972 Harley-Davidson XR750 that Knievel used. Evel’s use of the motorcycle has basically started a trend for this motorcycle and that trend is still done today. A very recent exploit by Doug Danger, he accomplished a 22-car jump on Thursday August 6th 2015 on Evel’s 1972 XR750 (The Wire, 2015). Because it is still being used on the tracks and in airs today, and the many exploits it carries, the 1972 Harley-Davidson XR750 is considered the most dominant motorcycle of its time (Harley-Davidson.com, N.D.).

Pic © The Selvedge Yard
The Harley-Davidson XR750, from its first appearance, has been a very successful motorcycle on the tracks accumulating many victories from its first release in 1970 to today. When Knievel decided to make this motorcycle fly using it in many of his stunts, he only increased the popularity of the motorcycle and made it even more memorable by adding records to the bikes history. Knievel’s use of the bike made it seem eternal by setting records with it that can only be beaten by other XR750’s in order to be recognised as a defeated record. Evel’s popularity created the desire for other daredevils to want to beat his records and in order to do so; they must also use an XR750. The many exploits of the XR750 and the many records it has created and defeated over and over have created a very important social history for the motorcycle. 


Evel Knievel's Harley-Davidson XR-750. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2016, from http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1001261 

Evel Knievel - United States. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2016, from http://www.cyc lejumpers.com/evelknievel.html 

Gingerelli, D., Michels, J. M., & Everitt, C. (2010). 365 motorcycles you must ride.  Retrieved March 11, 2016, from https://books.google.ca/booksid=Kabox9JS1OEC&pg=PA106&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false 

Harley, B. (2009, December 16). Robbie Knievel to Jump 16 Buses on XR-750.  Retrieved March 11, 2016, from http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/2009/12/ article/robbie-knievel-to-jump-16-buses-on-xr-750/ 

Harley-Davidson XR750. (2016). Retrieved March 11, 2016, from http://www.clas sic-motorcycle-build.com/harley-xr750.html 

1972 Harley-Davidson XR750. (2010). Retrieved March 11, 2016, from http://www.motorcyclemuseum.org/asp/classics/bike.asp?id=50 

Leap into the daredevil record book. (1998, April 27). Retrieved March 11, 2016,  from http://www.cnn.com/US/9804/27/daredevil/index.html 

National Motorcycle Museum. (2015). Harley-Davidson XR750 Cut away bike.  Retrieved from: http://www.nationalmcmuseum.org/featured-bikes/feature -bike-harley-davidson-xr750-cut-away-bike/ 

The Wire. (2015, January 6). EVEL KNIEVEL’S XR750 TO FLY AGAIN AT STURGIS.  Cycle World. Retrieved March 11, 2016, from http://www.cycleworld.com /2015/01/06/evel-knievels-xr750-to-fly-again-at-sturgis/ 

Harley-Davidson History – The XR-750 Racing Motorcycle (n.d.) retrieved from http://www.harleydavidson.com/en_US/Media/downloads/HD_Museum/members/this-day-in-hd-history/1010_XR750_history.pdf 

About The Author

Gabriel Wapachee studied at Champlain College Lennoxville located in Quebec, Canada. Harley-Davidson XR-750 was written as part of a class project for Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Studies in the Department of Humanities.

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