Harley Davidson’s late ’70’s MX Failure – PulpMX


For this version of Basic Ink, we’re going to look again on the promotional materials for Harley-Davidson’s failed try at breaking into the motocross market within the late ‘70s.

Within the mid-Seventies, off-road driving was exploding in recognition in America and AMF/Harley-Davidson was hungry to get their lower of the profitable motocross market. 

Immediately, Harley-Davidson is as soon as once more at a crossroads. In some methods trapped by their success, they’re tied to an ageing buyer base that doesn’t appear to need them to alter with the occasions. Even Harley is aware of, nevertheless, that if they don’t reinvent themselves quickly then the marketplace for their merchandise will proceed to dwindle. Electrical, hydrogen, or another various gas will finally supplant gasoline and the times of the large Milwaukee V-Twin can be previously. 

Harley’s first try at a motocross machine was extra of an experiment than a mainstream product. Solely 65 had been constructed and it’s remembered at the moment extra for its quirky rear suspension setup than something it achieved on the observe. Photograph Credit score: Le Massive 

Whereas this unsure future is actually daunting, it’s removed from the primary time America’s most well-known motorbike model has confronted an uphill battle. Within the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, it was the inflow of cheap and dependable machines from Japan placing on the squeeze. Again then, Harley’s reply was to purchase Italian motorbike agency Aeronatica-Macchi to provide small and cheap two-strokes to fill out its product portfolio. This gave Harley a foothold on the entry-level aspect of the market that they hoped would translate into Tremendous Glide gross sales down the street. 

Within the late Nineteen Sixties and early Seventies Harley-Davidson’s product portfolio was surprisingly various, together with a number of small and cheap two-stroke fashions. By 1978, nevertheless, Harley was rapidly shifting away from the two-strokes to concentrate on their core V-twin four-stroke market. The MX-250 could be the final hurrah for Harley’s Italian two-stroke connection. 

With motocross and off-road driving exploding in recognition within the mid-seventies, Harley determined the time was proper to leverage their Italian operation’s expertise with two-strokes to develop an “American” motocross machine. In 1975, the primary MX-250 made its debut in restricted numbers as an experiment to gauge curiosity and asses the viability of shifting ahead with a full-scale motocross operation. Solely 65 of those unique MX-250s had been constructed and they’re remembered at the moment extra for his or her odd rear suspension which featured entrance forks instead of conventional shocks than something that was achieved on the observe. 

Whereas not a world-beater, the ’78 MX-250 was surprisingly well-finished for a first-year design. The machine featured top-quality parts all through and could possibly be aggressive with some motor and suspension fine-tuning. 

Whereas the ’75 MX-250 turned out to be extra of a curiosity than a contender, the extent of curiosity it generated satisfied AMF/Harley-Davidson’s administration {that a} motocross program could possibly be a worthwhile funding for the model. In 1976, Harley employed journeyman professional “Rocket” Rex Staten to assist develop an all-new machine and set about bringing the model’s dust observe success to the motocross enviornment. 

Handsomely styled and well-finished, the MX-250 wanted broader energy, much less weight, and a better-sorted suspension to tackle the category leaders in 1978. Photograph Credit score: Le Massive

Two years later, the all-new MX-250 made its debut with a formidable spec sheet and completely trendy design. The machine used parts from all around the world with Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, and the USA all contributing to its development. Kayaba forks and shocks mimicked these discovered on the class-leading RM250 and a strong 242cc Italian motor beat at its coronary heart. On the dyno, it pumped out a really aggressive 32 horsepower and on paper, it aggressive with something out there on the time from Europe or Japan. 

Harley fielded a staff to race the machine with Rocket Rex, Marty Tripes, and Wealthy Eirstadt piloting the orange and black machines on the AMA circuit. On the observe, the manufacturing MX-250 turned out to be, fairly expectedly, a piece in progress. The bike’s weight was as a lot as 25 kilos better than its 250 opponents and that hindered each its dealing with and suspension efficiency. The inventory settings had been fairly tender and underdamped for the machine’s 240-pound girth and the bike wallowed and bottomed out severely if pushed. Sluggish-speed consolation was good, however the bike was designed for motocross racing, not plonking by means of the countryside. The motor’s spectacular dyno numbers didn’t translate to an efficient motocross powerband as properly and the machine was fairly tough to handle with its mild switch-like supply. Its match and end, nevertheless, had been fairly good with the machine that includes top-quality parts and spectacular construct high quality for an inaugural outing. 

Harley-Davidson’s flirtation with the motocross market ended with the sale of their Italian operations to the founders of Cagiva in 1978. Photograph Credit score: Le Massive

Sadly for Milwaukee lovers all over the place, the Harley-Davidson motocross experiment could be short-lived. At $1695, the MX-250 price $200-$300 (the equal of $900-$1300 at the moment) greater than its Japanese competitors and was backed by a seller community extra involved in saddle luggage and chrome than knobbies and increase bottles. It was an experiment doomed to fail and in 1978, AMF/Harley-Davidson would unload its Italian operations to the Castiglioni brothers who would rebrand Aermacchi as Cagiva and take the model to the 125 World Motocross title in 1985.