Harley Teases 2004 Motorcycles: New Sportsters, More VRs

Long-awaited upgrade for Sportster line and new V-Rod model announced. By _ Art Friedman.

Entirely new Sportsters and an additional VR-powered motorcycle were promised in a Harley-Davidson press release offering a glimpse of its 2004 model line. Those models were shown to Harley's dealers in July, and a couple of loyal readers have offered some comments on what's coming, although Harley has not offered us any details directly. Those details will apparently be released at Harley's August 13 press announcement, and, if so, we will have them here at that time.

First, the new VR-powered model is apparently simply a rather minor change to the V-Rod, not a significantly new model. Some of the slick (and expensive) polished and plated parts of the original V-Rod have been replaced by paint or other lower-cost finishes. The basic bike -- ergonomics, chassis details, etc. -- are apparently unchanged except for a handlebar, but you will have a color choice and, we assume, pay less for this variation. When the VRSCA V-Rod was introduced for 2002, it was obvious that the engine would be used in additional motorcycles, and we have been waiting for a machine that uses the impressive liquid-cooled 1130cc engine in a better handling, more ergonomically friendly application. There was lots of speculation about a touring model for 2004, and we have some reliable reports that a shaft-drive version is in the offing, but neither of those possibilities are reality yet.

The Sportsters, Harley-Davidson's oldest engine family, have been regarded as overdue for a major revamp. Though they are popular and affordable, the unbalanced 883 and 1200cc machines vibrate heavily and show their ages in other ways. Sales have reportedly been slow recently -- or at least Harley-Davidson dealers seem to have plenty in stock, perhaps because of increased production.

From what we gather from an email exchange, the new Sportsters have the same basic engines as previous models with some updates from the Buell variation. However, the chassis is all new, with a substantially different layout, new brakes and suspension and (drum roll) rubber mounts for the engines. These should make the 2004 motorcycle much more comfortable and exorcise many vibration-related problems. However, the new bikes "still look just like XLs should," according to one source.

The newest Harley Sportster is reportedly a 1200cc version of the XL883R shown here (but with the new chassis). One source says that it replaces the Sportster 1200 Sport, though the other did not think so. We also have conflicting reports on whether the basic 1200 has been discontinued. It sounds like the Sportster Custom, in one or both displacement versions, will finally have the fat tank that we expected to see a few years ago. The new frame design apparently allows the larger tank.

For Big Twin fans, we are told that there will be a new Road King Custom, a dressed up version of the popular bagger, in the 2004 line.

One of our sources with access to the dealer materials says he is trying to send us scans of the new models, and we will post them if we get them.

Harley's official press release on the 2004 models follows:

Redesigned Sportster Series and VRSC V-Rod Model Featured in 2004 Line-Up

MILWAUKEE (July 14, 2003) - As Harley-Davidson kicks off its second century, the Motor Company is preparing for an exciting new chapter in the Company's history. Today, Harley-Davidson introduced a completely redesigned XL Sportster line and a new model in the VRSC V-Rod family to the dealer network at the company's summer dealer meeting, held this year in Las Vegas.

"Harley-Davidson now has 100 years of experience designing and producing the greatest motorcycles in the world," said Bill Davidson, Harley-Davidson director of marketing, motorcycle product development. "Our 2004 motorcycle line-up will lead us into a promising new century at Harley-Davidson."

Harley-Davidson will unveil the entire 2004 model line-up to the general public on Thursday, August 28 during the Company's 100th Anniversary celebration in Milwaukee, WI. The Company extended the 2003 model year to 14 months in order to meet anticipated demand for its 100th Anniversary models. Shipments of 2004 motorcycles to the worldwide dealer network will begin in September 2003.

Harley-Davidson's potent VR liquid-cooled twin will power a less pricey version of the V-Rod in 2004.
The 2004 line will reportedly include the dirttrack-racer-style XL-R with the 1200cc engine and a completely new chassis.