The other day when JT Nesbitt was frothing at the mouth over Indian being bought by Polaris he said, "The continued Harley/Indian wars would have produced some amazing motorcycles, and the American motorcycle landscape today would be far more sophisticated. There can be no argument that competition, especially in motorsports results in superior products." Sadly, Indian went out of business, and it's been a long time since Harley built a bike with anything more than branding in mind. But back in 1968, they hadn't quite given up. This 1968 Harley Davidson KRTT is owned by Yoshi of Garage Company.
Photos: Sean Smith Video: David Diamata-Stacey
Grant already showed us that there's no shortage of amazing motorcycles at Garage Company. Wild Customs, ultra-rare vintage bikes, and racing machines. The KRTT falls into both of the last two categories. It's not often you see a full-on Harley Davidson racing machine, let alone a road racer. The motor company built only 7 KRTTs in 1968 and Yoshi found this one in a tiny ad way in the back of a 90s Cycle News. Expecting the owner to be a racer or collector, he was surprised to find that an older woman was selling the bike. The story goes that she was the ex-wife of a Harley factory racer. She sold it to Yoshi who, unbelievably, took this irreplaceable specimen racing. With an extremely low seat and a forever reach to the bars, the chin pad is there for a reason. For a soft-spoken Japanese man, Yoshi has some serious balls.
This bike is the last of a handful of examples of impressive motorcycles in Harley racing history. In 1969 they went on to build the XRTT, replacing the KRTT's flathead with a fancy overhead valve motor. Unfortunately, the bike sucked. Motors blew up left and right because they were poorly designed and couldn't shed heat quick enough. The bikes weren't competitive, and instead of building a better motor, Harley quit road racing.
It may be just a silly 'what if...', but I can't help but wonder how different Harley would be today if they'd decided to compete with the Japanese factories. Would they still need to sell the bad boy image, chrome everything, and offer up "Made in America" as an excuse for crappy performance? Or would they be more like the Japanese and European companies who build a variety of bikes for a variety of riders and use racing to both develop new technology and prove their worth.
I got to talk to Yoshi for a few minutes about his KRTT, and he shares his thoughts in this video interview.