Monday, December 5, 2005

Harley Davidson FXR

An ode to the Ugly Glide culled from the r.m.h archives and various historical accounts.

Author's 1982 FXR. Photo by W.J. Garlinghouse, all rights reserved.

Designed with a lot of input by Eric Buell, the FXR had the lightest weight and stiffest frame of any big twin. The computer-designed, all-welded frame had a massive box-section backbone, thicker diameter tubing, and massive gusseting around the steering head. The result was the stiffest frame Harley had ever produced.

81.6 ci, reduced compression to burn anything you might put in the tank and an oil consumption package. This was coupled to a new five-speed tranny w/shorter shift linkage for more agressive shifting. All mounted to the frame utilizing Harley's Tri-mount system - an adaptation of the FLT's rubber mounts.

The 19" front wheel was mounted between a narrow-glide front end and suspended on stiff 35mm Showa forks with a 32 degree of rake. Stiff rear shocks were mounted to the end of the swing arm, vice in the middle as was done on other FX models. Total wheelbase was 64.7". Dual 10" disk brakes on the front, and a single 11.5" rear disk provided stopping power. New master cylinders improved braking performance.

A relatively raked out front end, combined with a long wheelbase is usually a recipe for straight line stability and resistance to turning. However, the low seating and engine positions place the center of gravity low and centered. This results in a bike that turns easily and predictably. With it's high ground clearance, it's capable of some aggressive cornering.

It was the fastest, best handling bike Harley ever built, and it dripped less oil and vibrated less intensly than previous shovels. However, it was shunned by function-follows-form poseurs who dismissed the exposed frame, side panels and exposed shocks as "too Japanese." It has been said that the FXR was designed to appeal to the rider, not to appease the bean counters ... or Willie G's design department - which ultimately led to its demise.


1981 Harley buys the company back from AMF. Facing huge debt and a reputation for poor quality, they embark on quality improvement, employ just-in-time inventory, petition for tariff protection, layoff ~50% of their staff, freeze salaries, design an evolutionary new engine, and conduct a $3m PR campaign - to both the Harley community and to their own employees. And, they prepare to launch production of a new class of bike - The FXR.

1982 The FXR/FXRS Super Glide® II debuts sporting the improved 80CI Shovelhead engine, a new five-speed tranny, improved suspension, wire-spoked wheels and dual front brakes. Also debuting is the FXRS Low Glide with cast wheels, contrasting tank panels, stepped seat, sissy bar and polished covers. Total production = 6255 units.

1983 FXRs were treated to belt drive.
  • FXRT Sport Glide Debuts - A sport tourer, based on FXRS, with a frame-mounted fairing, frame-mounted panniers, anti-dive front suspension, adjustable air rear suspension, enclosed rear chain, duel-disk brakes and 4.2 gal tank.
  • A story goes that the Motor Company was testing the yet to be released Evo in the FXR chassis, and that a snafu at the factory allowed some of them be sold to the general public as 83's.
  • 1984 Harley-Davidson unveils the 1340cc V² Evolution engine on five models. The result of seven years of development, the Evolution engine produces more power at every speed,across the band, runs cooler, cleaner and is nearly oil-tight. '84 was the official year that the FXR went from the 5-speed shovel to a 5-speed Evo with a belt drive and diaphragm clutch. However, there were a lot of parts left-over after the late-84 transition resulting in 'Early' and 'Late' model revisions, (like EVO vs Shovel, wet vs dry clutch, wiring differences, chain vs belt finals...etc).
  • FXRS "Low Glide" Debuts with shorter fork, lowered shocks and a single disc front brake.
  • FXRDG Disc Glide is launched as a limited edition with solid spun aluminum back wheel and spoked front; tank emblazed with "Genuine Harley Davidson" in ornate script; and chromed engine, primary and gear box covers. It had a chain final drive, and a diaphragm spring clutch. The early model was dry clutch, later versions had a wet clutch.
  • FXR was dropped from lineup.
  • FXRP Police Model debuts based on FXRT. 
  • H-D brand beer is sold.
1985 By now, *most* FXRs have an Evo motor, a 5-speed tranny, a belt and diaphragm clutches. But early in the model year, the factory shipped any combination of engine/ tranny/ final drive. The differences between these "transition" 85s and later FXRs can be annoying. They still have tapered drive shafts, a dry clutch with a shovel-style clutch actuating fork, and may even have a chain drive - Plus a fair amount of cosmetic stuff that doesn't "transition".
  • FXRC Low Glide Custom launched as one-year limited edition based on FXRS in Candy Orange w/ Root Beer trim, chrome engine covers and wire spoked wheels, and a skinny XR-1000 style front fender.
1986 The first year one might consider the Evo-powered FXR a mature product, though later years bring further refinements. Federal noise statutes drove new exhaust systems for all models. New turn signals debut. HD goes public with sale of 2 million company stock shares, and purchases Holiday Rambler RVs. Colorado's American Society of Quality Controls awards HD the Corporate Quality Award.
  • Stripped-down Superglide resurfaces as the FXR
  • FXRS Low Glide renamed FXRS Low Rider. Optional Sport Package with longer-travel suspension and dual front brakes.
  • FXRD Sport Glide Grand Touring based on FXRT with rubber-mounted bars, premium stereo, full luggage, 2=>1 exhaust, and special trim package released as a revival of the original - the last Big Twin with a chain final drive.
1987 First year with the ball & ramp clutch actuator, & the "sport" front fender. The ball & ramp is a better clutch actuator system, but some feel it lacks the aesthetic appeal of the old "clutch arm". Lubing, or changing the cable is a PITA, but over all, it's still a better system. The "sport" front fender is a design change of which you may, or may not approve. HD asked that tarrifs be rescinded. HD stock valued at $11/share.
  • FXRS-SP Sport Edition Low Rider debuts with longer suspension and duel-disc brakes.
  • FXLR Low Rider Custom debuts with a solid rear wheel, 21" front wheel, an XR1000 front fender, a small XL type headlight, 2 piece high handlebars w/2 cross-braces, speedo mounted between bars, one filler tank with no center console, black cylinders and crankcases w/chrome rocker, gearcase, primary covers, highway pegs, belt final, single rear/front brakes.
1988 FXR line gets 39mm front forks.
  • 85th Anniversary Edition FXRS in Black & Gold. 850 numbered bikes produced.
1989 FXR line gets new starter, one piece pinion shaft and right fly wheel.
  • FXRS-Conv based on FXRS is launched with quickly removable windscreen and panniers.
1990 FXR line is treated to 40mm Kehein CV carbs, one-piece right-hand flywheels, and redesigned diaphragm clutches.

1991 The Dyna line of motorcycles debuts with the 1991 FXDB Dyna Glide Sturgis®. Evos get Kevlar base gaskets, graphite head gaskets, new gas cap gasket, self canceling turn signals, extra hole in transmission access door, two dowels on transmission end cover, air/oil separator in air duct tube, four sided fuel inlet valve, transmission sprocket lock plate, locating dowel pins for the transmission support blocks, and black and chrome engine treatment. HD has 80% of the > 800 cc market. Stock price hits $56/share and is split 2:1.

1993 FXRS Low Rider and FXRT Sport Glide dropped. FXR now priced at $9950.

1994 FXRS-SP dropped. Between 91 and 94, FXR's and Dyna's were both produced and 1994 was the FXR's last model year.

1995 Remaining FXR models dropped.

Depending on who you ask, Harley discontinued the FXR either because the frame was too expensive to make (a hand-assembled frame with many components and many welds), because it was too expensive to assemble the drivetrain, or because it was unpopular.

1999 The new CVO produced the FXR2 & 3 as their first offerings. The FXR3 was a poseur's FXR2 with a flame paint job, new chromed H-D wheels, and a load of chrome. HD built ~900 of each model. The well-debated myth, denied by HD, is that Harley used up remaining FXR inventory to reissue the FXR.

2000 FXR4 goes further than the previous CVO versions. The chassis and 1340cc Evolution powertrain, and most of the mods that were made to the FXR2 and FXR3 are carried over, but the FXR4 boasts more goodies. Tear-drop-shape floating brake rotors, laced 19-inch front wheel, chrome drag bars, a solid FLSTF rear chrome wheel, a chrome rear sprocket cover, billet mirrors, a chrome lower guard, wide-band billet footpegs, grips and shifter peg, electronic speedo, a new seat, dual four-piston calipers, P&A rear shocks, sealed wheel bearings and a sealed battery. The production run was set for 970 units, and were available in either Screaming Yellow Pearl or Candy Tangerine paint schemes with new Eclipse graphics.


In early models, the FXR & FXRS Lowrider have the same seat height and differ only in Paint, trim and wheels. The Lowrider Sport is an inch higher due to 2" longer front forks. It has a longer jiffy stand and speedo cable as well as dual front disc brakes. The exclusive Sport parts are located in the back of the Parts Manual in the "High Performance" section <go figger!> along with parts exclusive to the FXRC.


It's been said that the FXR was designed by Eric Buell, the Dyna was designed by HD accountants.

The original Dyna was an EVO and flexed excessively if pushed hard while cornering. When HD bolted the stiffer Twinkie drivetrain to the frame, the chassis flexing diminished somewhat.

The FXR had a "3-point" engine mounting system considered by many to be superior to the "2-point" design used by the Dynas.

However, the FXDX has a higher and more compliant suspension compared with the "regular" FXR models which have shorter forks and shocks. And, the FXDX comes with the TC88 engine and the fuel injection option. You can easily go to 95", add a cam, a Power Commander ...


Some feel the FXR battery location is a PITA. Others disagree. If you still have a seat with a hinge, it's quite easy to get to. One Asshole ™ suggests you find an old inner tube, cut a strip out of it the width of the battery & long enough to wrap completely around, and you'll have a sling to raise and lower the battery into the holder. Lengthen the battery cables by 1 or 2 inches & the sling will allow you to lift the battery enough to access the bolts. The sling simply folds over the battery & rests under the seat adding a little wear protection & vibration isolation. Further, switch to an AGM, or gell cell battery, and eliminate the overflow tube.

The early FXR oil filter location under the transmission is difficult to get at, but at least it never dumps oil on the bike while being changed. OTOH oil changes are much easier with the FXR's drain tube than the damned bolt-holes other bikes provide. The location of the oil filter base meant having to remove the rear end to tighten it up when it loosened (Which it always did). That same Asshole (Its Jinks) suggests that the first time your filter mount gets a little loose pull the starter (yep, you heard right) & locktite the nut with at least Red, if not Purple.

92 and 93 FXRs had INA camshaft bearings vice the Torringtons used in earlier models. The INAs had half the number of rollers in the bearing, and would fail after 10-20k Miles - taking the right crankcase and cam with them and leaving bearing chunks and metal case fragments throughout the engine. Not much info came forth from the MoCo on this issue, but most believe Torringtons were used again in 94 and later models. The consensus among riders was to replace INAs with Torringtons asap.

If you find yourself in possession of an early model with the tapered shaft, there's a steel ring you can press on the back of the clutch basket. It'll prevent cracking. That & a little care & common sense whenever you install the basket, & the clutch will last indefinitely. Jink's '86 is still runnin' the tapered shaft on an 89" stroker.

The FXR horn was a POS and located in an absolutely wretched location. According to another Asshole (TM), changing the horn every time you change the rear tire is normal preventive maintenance. Jinks suggests FIAM as louder & lasts longer. LESDL disconnected the old horn and replaced same with a new '04 sporty horn, mounted in the bolt hole of the plate in the frame at the top of the downtubes, at the front of the bike. The new location means you can actually HEAR it.


82-83 gets you a Shovel. After that, you're looking at EVOs. 82s have chain final drive, 83s have belts. '82s embody the spirit of a reenergized, post-AMF, "The Eagle Flys Alone" workforce.

84-85 buys you any number of hard-to-support variants. However, as of this writing, the MoCo still stocks lots of parts for 84 and later FXRs.

FXRs built in model years 88-94 can be considered a "mature" product, as most of the bugs/upgrades are worked out by then.

When looking at 93 & 94 models, be sure to ask whether original IMA camshaft bearings were ever changed.

If you've got a silver engine, chances are any chrome is aftermarket. The silver engines were trimmed with polished aluminum, with exception of the limited edition FXRC. Dunno what year the black n chrome engine became available.

Secret to telling exactly what you've got is in the VIN. The 5th & 6th position tells you the model:
EA - FXR Rubber Mount Super Glide EB - FXRS FXR Sport EC - FXRT FXR Touring ED - FXRP Police windshield EE - FXRDG FXR Disc Glide EF - FXRP Police Fairing EG - FXRS-SP Low Rider Sport Edition EH - FXRD 5 Sp Low Rider EJ - FXRC FXR Custom EK - FXRP Police C.H.P. California Highway Patrol EL - FXLR Low Rider EM - FXR Conv
The 7th digit tells you the engine type. "K" is a shovel, L is an Evo. The 10th digit gives you the year with "B" starting in 1981. So, 1HD1EBK1XCY115880 would be a 1982 FXRS Shovel.

Owner's Manuals are still available through dealers, or from

MSRP for an FXRS in 1982 was $6990, and evidence shows they've retained their value. Here's a number of common valuations compiled in Fall of 2005:

Blue Book Retail 8250
Trade in 5720
NADA Lo Retail 3545
Avg Retail 4665
eBay* Low 4050
High 8800
Avg 6537
* (8 Completed Auctions)
When buying the FXR, remind the seller that it *is* the "ugly" Harley, that they are NOT popular and that the seller is lucky that you're even interested in looking at the bike.

There are two types of people who own FXRs...The type who doesn't know what the heck they are (in which case, the above tactics may work), and the kind who *do* know what they are...In which case they're usually not for sale ...

Topics FXR owners discuss:
  • My horn quit working and I can't find it! 
  • I found my horn but I can't reach it to fix it! 
  • How come nobody sells a chrome plated battery case and cover for my FXR? 
  • How to keep from losing it to m/c clubbers. 
  • Does your seat flip up like that?? 
  • It doesn't really look like a Brit bike, does it? 
  • Why do Swedish people think it's a Dyna? 
  • If it's so much better than a softail, why is it only worth $8500? 
  • Why the fxr is too pretty for a Thunderheader but a softail is just right. 
  • Why doesn't HD stock more parts for my FX***? 
  • On what day of the week did God make the first FXR? 
  • Will the new FXR 2's, 3's, and 4's make mine worth more $$$?
Jesus rides an FXR …