6 Bad Ass American Military Bikes



6 Bad Ass American Military Bikes

The American military has had a contentious relationship with the motorcycle: in World War II they were replaced by the Jeep, and for half a century they didn’t turn up much. But the iconic motorcycles that did serve are ingrained in American culture: returning servicemen with surplus bikes gave us bobbers and choppers, and dirtbikes in the 1980s gave us Delta Force. It’s up to you to decide which one of those is more significant.

Harley-Davidson WLA

Harley-Davidson WLA
Harley-Davidson eased slowly into WLA production in 1940, before the US entered World War II. The firm would go on to build 90,000 examples of the Army bike, taking the civilian WL and stripping the paint, adding blackout lights, and relocating the crankcase so it could ford water. It was cheap, it was built en masse, and when the war ended, so many soldiers rode around newly-freed Europe that the bike became known as the “Liberator.”

Harley-Davidson XA

Harley-Davidson XA
Into the war, the government asked Harley to build a bike that was similar to the BMWs used by the Germans. So they did—to exacting specification. The 740cc flat twin and shaft drive aped the R71 perfectly. Harley built 1,000 XAs and even used the platform to test its first telescoping fork. Alas, the Army replaced the motorcycle for the Jeep, and the latter subsequently fell into world history.

Indian 841

Indian 841
In 1941, Indian was tasked with building motorcycles for the desert, and they came up with this: girder forks, a V-twin like a Moto Guzzi, and shaft drive. Like the Harley above, it was influenced by the BMW R71. And like the Harley, the government also passed up the Indian—for the same reason. But the 841 did set the template for future Chiefs that would roll out of Springfield after the war ended.

Harley-Davidson MT350

Harley-Davidson MT350E
It took Harley-Davidson four decades to go back into the military motorcycle business. And they did so with some help from the British: the Armstrong MT500, a Rotax-powered single, served with the British Army during the Falklands War. Harley licensed the rights in 1987 and evolved it into the MT350E, which had a smaller engine, but at least it came with electric start. They’re quite popular in England, where civilians storm through traffic with minimal fear of getting nicked by shiny Vauxhalls.

Hayes M1030

Hayes M1030
You can buy one of these badass diesel motorcycles, with its 670cc, four-stroke diesel single inside what’s basically a Kawasaki KLR650 chassis. It has 33 horsepower, it can ford two feet of water, and it can go 400 miles before refueling with the nastiest rotgut diesel (or biodiesel, or kerosene, or jet fuel) you can toss in it. It won’t be cheap, however: $18,500, which might explain our national deficit.

Because…Chuck Norris

Secret Stealth Motorcycle
DARPA is funding a secret, hybrid-electric motorcycle that has two-wheel drive, runs on diesel and gasoline, and can operate on batteries alone for complete stealth. Imagine creeping into enemy territory for an hour in complete quietness. Imagine powering your batteries with tasty, tasty JP8. Imagine firing rockets like Chuck Norris. If you take back the last part, that’s the future of the American military motorcycle. In fact, we’re probably not allowed to talk about this.

[Cover Photo: Harley-Davidson Archives]

  • http://metabomber.com/ Jesse

    A diesel KLR is pretty much the definition of apocalypse motorcycle.

    • Riedl

      Correction: A bi-fuel KLR is pretty much the definition of apocalypse motorcycle.

      There used to be one of the harley dual sports at my local dealer and I wanted it pretty bad.

      • Richard Gozinya

        Actually a diesel engine is the way to go. They can run on damn near anything. A bi-fuel would just have a lot more crap attached to it, with no real gain in functionality. That M1030 in particular is designed to run on basically anything that’s liquid and combustible. From diesel, to biodiesel, kerosene, JP8, WVO, and probably a few other things. A bi-fuel would be able to also run on natural gas, propane or hydrogen, but those things wouldn’t be particularly easy to access, let alone store properly. And, at about 96 mpg, it’s not exactly a thirsty bike anyways.

  • atomicalex

    I cannot decide between the Diesel KLR and the Harley Rotax thingy. Holy crap, either one would be all kinds of awesome. Ok, the Diesel KLR is a little bit more awesome, but I would rock that Harley like a hurricane. Or the entire city of Detroit.

  • Nemosufu Namecheck

    Can you really purchase bikes from Hayes Diversified Technologies? I thought they solely sold to the military.

    • E Brown

      There’s a commercial model waiting list but none have been delivered afaik.

  • PeteN95

    What about the Christini AWD Military 450?! This will go places none of the others will!


  • Davidabl2

    Can anybody say…Rokon? It has been used by the US military because of it’s ability to go anywhere that you can go on a mule.