Harley XLCR Café Racer
The Harley-Davidson XLCR was Willie G. Davidson's one and only brush with the cafe racer set, and it created a classic for all time
The Harley-Davidson XLCR
Photo by Roland Brown
Years produced: 1977-1979
Total production: 1,923
Claimed power: 61bhp @ 6,200rpm
Top speed: 110mph
Engine type: 998cc, two-valve, 45-degree V-twin
Weight: 234kg (515lb) wet
Price then: $3,595 (1977)
Price now: $7,500-$11,000
The city streets were thick with traffic, but it was still a memorable ride. With deceptive speed, the slim, black Harley-Davidson XLCR carved a swath through the miles of slow-moving metal. The slightest twist of the throttle sent the torquey V-twin stomping effortlessly forward. Everywhere the menacing black Harley XLCR Café Racer went, its booming bass exhaust note cleared cars from its path, turned pedestrians’ heads and threatened to turn buildings to rubble.
Magical stuff — and I wasn’t even riding the Harley, just following behind on a modern Honda while the XLCR’s owner led the way through his neighborhood with practiced ease. Even before I got to ride it, the original Harley-Davidson Café Racer had charmed me with its unique style and presence. But if that’s the V-twin’s great strength, then it’s also the Hog’s fatal flaw. For if ever a motorcycle was built for image rather than performance, this is the one.
Read about Tony Long's experience of riding and owning a Harley XLCR Café Racer
Form over function
That was not quite what was intended when the Harley-Davidson XLCR — pronounced "Excelsior," one awe-struck tester commented — was launched in 1977. Back then, the advertisements talked excitedly of 120mph top speed, and how this was the most powerful production bike Harley had ever built. But even then, it was the Café Racer’s mean and moody all-black looks that set the bike apart.
The Café Racer concept was dreamt up by Harley design chief Willie G. Davidson, and he took the idea to the limit. Almost every part of the bike was pure black: the bikini fairing, the fuel tank, the tapered flat-track style seat unit, the side panels and mudguards, the frame, the exhaust system and most of the big 45-degree V-twin engine itself. The effect was stunning, and unlike anything Harley had done before.
Beneath the styling, though, the XLCR was considerably less exotic. Its engine was the same four-speed, 998cc pushrod lump used in the Sportster model, with not even a hot cam or big valve to be seen. Compression ratio remained a modest 9:1, and even the 38mm Keihin carburetor was identical. The Café Racer’s one novelty, its siamese black exhaust system, made no difference to the claimed peak output of 61bhp at 6,200rpm.
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