Buying a motorcycle takes preparation, research, and Savvy. Here’s 12 keys to making YOUR FIRST HARLEY the Bike YOU’LL ALWAYS REMEMBER. Plus, a Buyer’s Guide to riding gear and an aftermarket upgrade Primer
So, you’re buying a motorcycle. Maybe it’s your first bike ever, maybe not, but it’s the first time it’s gonna be a Harley Davidson.
Welcome to the club, Rider. You won’t regret it.
Buying a new bike is work though, we’ve been there. So in this Epic Guide to buying your first Harley, we’ll show you—
- What joining the Harley life is all about.
- What to expect when you buy a Harley, and why being informed makes such a difference.
- 12 things every rider should know about buying (and owning) a Harley Davidson.
- Tips on gearing up to ride, and where to begin with your aftermarket upgrades.
By the time you’re done, you’ll know everything you need to find a Harley and feel good about how you bought it. Let’s get started.
Why Being a Smart Buyer Matters for Harley First-Timers
Knowing what you’re doing makes sense when you’re spending 15 to 30 thousand dollars. Too many buyers don’t, which is why we thought a guide like this was long overdue.
Being a smart buyer means knowing which Harley model best suits your riding preferences. It’s knowing what questions to ask, about the bike and its history. It’s managing the seller, which can be difficult, because no matter who they are, their interests are never the same as yours.
Navigating the entire buying process, from dream through delivery, is a challenge. But you’re smart, and you’re in the right place, so we’ll say it now—
Welcome to the league of Harley Davidson riders worldwide.
What You Should Expect When Buying a Harley Davidson
A smart buyer knows what to expect before she heads to the dealership. Here are 5 things that make buying a Harley different–
Depending on where you live, finding your preferred model and color of Harley can be tricky.
Local inventory makes delivery convenient, but offers less negotiating flexibility. Buying online creates more buying options, though it’s always ideal to see the bike in person before you buy.
Tour the dealerships. Get on Cycle Trader and set your search radius. And be patient and flexible in the search process.
Purchase, servicing, and aftermarket customization, Harley Davidsons are more expensive than any other make.
And yet, it’s iconic lifestyle speaks to the enduring popularity of the brand. So expect to pay more.
If you’re entirely new to Harley, relax. Dealerships are pretty good at orienting you (and your partner) to most everything about riding.
Right down to how to dismount the bike.
Just be up-front about your experience. The last thing you want to do is drop the bike in the showroom.
That said, if you’re one of many aspiring new riders, walk across the showroom and sign up for the Harley Riding School first.
Stock (OEM) Accessories
To love a Harley Davidson is to customize it. But unless you’re buying preowned, your bike is coming stock. And with the exception of the CVO models and some choices in color, Harleys don’t come with options packages.
Which means that monthly payment is only part of the expense of owning a Harley.
Don’t let the vests, bandanas and badass marketing scowls psyche you out. You’re paying fair dollar for your ride, and whoever doesn’t give you the 2-fingers down salute cuz you don’t look the part is a dick.
That said, if you find yourself growing your hair out, and rocking a goatee, welcome to the club, Prospect.
12 Keys to Buying the Perfect First Harley
1. Know Your Budget
First bike or fifth, every motorcycle buyer should start here. Let’s take a quick stroll through the 2023 catalog and get the sticker shock out of the way…
The Cruiser Bikes—
The Street Baggers–
The Touring Baggers–
So yeah, they ain’t cheap. Harley is as overpriced as it is iconic, but The Motor Company (Harley-Davidson’s official moniker) does produce a quality-intensive product. So pick your jaw up off the floor and let your revised affordability index be your guide.
2. Know How (& Why) You’re Riding
Your Riding Experience
Ridden a bike before? What kind? Cuz it makes a difference. Sure, everyone knows Harleys are heavy, but until you’ve been on one, it’s hard to appreciate the difference.
This is where digging into older magazine reviews can bring you up to speed. That, and getting into the showroom to find out for yourself.
Your Riding Style
A few years back, I was ready to trade my 2016 Heritage in for a Road King. Life had other ideas, and before I knew it, the wife and I were leaving with an Ultra Limited.
Beautiful bike, bad decision. You see, I love the highway, she’d rather tool around town. And though I enjoyed that Ultra Limited, I never got ride-in-my-sleep comfortable it.
Takeaway? The best time to be real with yourself is while you still can save yourself money and regret. And that’s before you buy.
Know HOW you’re gonna ride, and let that guide your selection.
Your Riding Habits & Wolf Pack
Commuting with your bike? Or just a weekend rider? Got a pack to run with? Or you a lone wolf?
How you ride, how MUCH you ride, makes a difference. That 300 miler up north is a breeze on an Ultra. And those trips to the beach seem quicker on a Softail.
And, that MC you were hoping to run with? You’ll look more the part on a Street Glide.
3. Know the Catalog
They’re not the newest raw data, but as of September, 2021, these were the Top-5 bestselling Harley Davidson models–
Part of the Touring family, the Street Glide is designed equally well for long rides or city cruising. It features a batwing fairing, a Milwaukee 8 engine in either 107 or 114CI, and spacious hardside saddlebags.
And for the longest time, the SG has been the best-selling bike in the world.
Known for its distinctive vintage styling, the Softail is a classic Harley Davidson cruiser that features a low-slung design, a 107 or 114 Milwaukee 8 power plant, and uniquely comfortable suspension. It’s a very diversified model family, and includes what models Harley kept in production when it infamously scrapped it’s iconic Dyna family in 2017.
The biggest seller in the Softail family? Used to be the Softail Deluxe, but nowadays it’s the Street Bob, a stripped-down, minimalist cruiser that features a classic Harley Davidson look. Its Milwaukee-Eight engine and low-rider design makes it a popular choice among riders who are looking for a no-bells-and-whistles bike for cruising around town.
Before the low-height, lighter weight Street family (500 and 750) was introduced in 2014, the Sportster enjoyed a reputation for being The Motor Company’s My first Harley Harley.
The Street didn’t quite take off with the Millennial crowd as hoped, and the Sportster remains where it began. A solid beginner’s choice, lightweight design, smaller engine, Harley Davidson rebel look and feel.
The Road Glide is a very popular member of the Harley Touring family, perfect for fatigue-free local and long-distance riding.
Road Glides stand out in the crowd with their distinctive Shark-Nose fairing, a unique frame-mounted fairing that allows the bike to steer without the cumbersome weight of the fork-mounted Batwing fairing that comes on the Ultra and Street Glide models.
The Road Glide comes with the same power and appointments of other Touring models.
Ultra Classic/Ultra Limited (Electra Glide)
Officially, it’s the Electra Glide, but it’s known on the floor as the Ultra Classic or more highly appointed Ultra Limited. Ultras are classic touring bikes known for their uber-comfortable ride, spacious saddle and tailbags, and way cooler than a Goldwing Harley appeal. Ridiculously well-appointed and powerful, it’s made for the highway, and two-up riding.
Things You Should Know
The Harley Twin Cam & the Milwaukee 8
Unless you’re buying a motorcycle new, chances are you’ll be looking at bikes that come with either a Twin Cam or Milwaukee 8 engine. And since the legend of Harley Davidson IS their engine, it might help to know enough to speak intelligently on the showroom floor.
Here’s a quick spin on the Twin Cam and Milwaukee 8—
Harley Davidson Milwaukee 8 Engine
- First introduced in 2016 as a replacement for the Twin Cam engine.
- A V-twin engine that comes as 107 cubic inches (1753 cc) or 114 cubic inches (1868 cc).
- Touted by The Motor Company (TMC) as providing more power, torque, and smoother operation than the Twin Cam engine.
- Has four valves per cylinder (Twin Cam has two), allowing for better airflow and combustion, and increased power and efficiency.
- Has a higher compression ratio than the Twin Cam, which results in better performance and responsiveness.
- Riders report issues with excessive heat in hot weather-slow speed riding and idling (an eternal Harley issue remedied by resignation, grit and midframe heat deflectors), oil leaks and excessive oil consumption.
- Riders universally appreciate the sound and feel of the Twin Cam over the M8.
The Harley Davidson Twin Cam Engine
- A V-twin engine introduced in 1999 and last built in 2017.
- It came in sizes ranging from 88 cubic inches (1450cc) to 110 cubic inches (1802cc).
- Known for durability, power, and classic Harley Davidson rumble.
- Strengths– designed to produce a lot of low-end torque, making it ideal for cruising and touring. Its comparatively simple design also makes it easy to maintain and repair.
- Weaknesses– excessive heat in hot weather slow traffic or idling, oil leaks and excessive oil consumption.
- A very proud moment in the Harley story, a reliable, powerful engine well-suited for The Motor Company’s touring and cruising motorcycles.
4. Make the Bike Match You
Your Body Size and Experience Matter
You can always ADAPT to a bike that isn’t a perfect fit. In the end, though, it’s a pretty stupid waste of money.
So, how you enter the Harley market should base itself on your physical size, your experience with motorcycles, what feels good in your hands, and between your legs (sorry, no other way of sayin’ it).
If you’ve been riding baggers like a Kawasaki Vulcan, a Suzuki Boulevard, Honda ST or Yamaha Star, welcome to your new Street Glide. Or Ultra.
If you’ve been riding metric bikes for a while and you’re ready to go low and slow, the cruiser bikes are ideal. I cut my teeth on a vintage Kawasaki KZ750 (1981), so the Heritage Softail Classic was a perfect entry point. Heavier, yes, but more powerful and a dream in terms of balance and torque.
The Softail Deluxe or, if you can find one, the Dyna Low Rider, are also great for making the transition.
However, if you’re entirely new to riding, may we thoughtfully encourage you to take a Harley Rider Course . You’ll learn how to ride safely, meet some cool people, and you’ll get a free pass to your M-Endorsement.
From there, we’ll suggest the Iron 883. Affordable, comfortably low-riding, the Iron is powered by a blacked out 883 Evolution V-twin engine. Matching exhaust, chopped rear fender, tuck and roll single seat with slammed suspension, it’s the ideal entry-level Harley with attitude.
And for those who prefer a more legacy Harley look, the Sportster SuperLow is their bike.
Ultimately, it’s your call, and a few road test rides will help that decision.
Things YOu Should Know
Twin Cams & The Rushmore Project
Many of those who get out to the Sturgis Rally (held every August in Sturgis, South Dakota) will make a point of riding into the hills to gaze upon the Mount Rushmore monument.
That Sturgis ride was the inspiration for the Rushmore Project, a monumental pivot forward for Harley, its Touring bikes, and the Twin Cam engine.
Launched in 2013, the Rushmore Project was a major initiative to update and improve its touring lineup. With its sights set on performance, comfort, and technology, the Rushmore project produced the following–
- A new engine– the High Output Twin Cam 103—that offered better acceleration and passing power.
- Upgraded suspension systems, including a new front fork design with better damping and a rear air suspension system that allowed riders to adjust ride height and firmness.
- Enhanced infotainment systems with larger touchscreens, Bluetooth connectivity, and improved GPS navigation.
- Improved aerodynamics and wind protection, with new fairings and windshields designed to reduce buffeting and improve comfort on long rides.
The Rushmore Project was a groundbreaking success for TMC, and boosted its position as the leader among touring motorcycles. As well, it generated a newer following of enthusiastic riders.
5. Know Why You’d Buy a Motorcycle New (Or Preowned)
Buying new? Or preowned? Let’s check out the advantages of each—
Advantages of Buying New–
- Brand-new condition, has never been ridden by anyone (except dealership staff)
- The warranty period is longer, more inclusive, offering greater peace of mind
- Buyer is free to customize in their own style
- Financing options are more favorable to new bikes
Disadvantages of Buying New–
- Bike comes with OEM (Original Equipment from Manufacturer) lighting, seat and exhaust
- A prescribed break-in period must be followed on new bikes (RPM and speed limitations in the first 50-500 miles)
- New motorcycles are more expensive than used
- Value of new Harleys depreciate quickly
Advantages of Buying Used–
- Used motorcycles are typically less expensive
- Harley first-owners can be very active with aftermarket customization, which can save you money
- Harley values stabilize considerably after the first 2-4 years
- Lower price allows you to buy higher-end than if you were buying new
- Remaining Factory Warranty and Extended Service Plan (if purchased) transfer with the sale.
Disadvantages of Buying Used–
- Inventory is not always more flush in the used Harley market
- You’re buying a bike that was broken in and cared for by someone else
- Bike may have hidden mechanical issues
- Financing options are considerably less attractive for used Harley buyers
- Full bike history (accidents or tips) may not be available or disclosed
Harley quality endures, so buying new vs used may come down to your budget, and who you’d rather buy from.
6. Know Why You’ll Buy From the Dealership (or Private Seller)
Dealership? Or private seller? There’s an upside to each if you’re thinking of buying a preowned bike. Here are a few–
Advantages of Buying from a Dealership–
- Wider selection to choose from
- Dealerships may offer financing options for used motorcycles
- Dealers typically perform a thorough inspection and make necessary repairs before putting the bike up for sale. They’ll often offer a 90 day warranty supporting quality inspections
- Dealership may also offer an extended warranty on the used bike
Disadvantages of Buying from a Dealership–
- Dealerships will often sell used Harleys for more than private sellers
- Taxes and fees that dealerships must collect may not be part of a private party sale (not saying it’s okay, but….)
- Buyer may experience more pressure at a dealership than from a private seller
Advantages of Buying through a Private Party–
- Private sellers typically price their bike lower than a dealership
- Private sellers may be more willing to negotiate
- Private sellers are more casual and low-pressure
Disadvantages of Buying through a Private Party–
- Private sellers may price their bike unrealistically
- Private party sales are as is, meaning the buyer has far more at risk
- Nondisclosure of defects and accidents with nothing to warranty the bike after the sale raises the risk factor
Ultimately, you’re trusting one seller or another.
I’ve owned three Harleys, and bought each of them off the showroom floor. I think its cuz my first bike purchase went so well, I never reaIly thought about going the other way.
It’s your call.
7. Know Value When You See It
Safety Features to Look For
Harley Davidson motorcycles comes with the same safety risks as other bikes– the lack of protection they provide the rider.
There are, however, Harley-designed safety features that mitigate these risks, including–
- Anti-lock Braking System (ABS): Helps prevent wheels from locking up during hard braking.
- Traction Control System (TCS): Helps prevent the rear wheel from slipping or spinning during acceleration.
- Electronic Stability Control (ESC): A newer technology that helps prevent the bike from tipping while cornering.
- Electronic Linked Braking (ELB): Applies braking effort to both wheels when the rider uses either the hand lever (front) or foot pedal (rear) brake control, allowing for more balanced front and rear braking, an essential to motorcycle safety.
- Vehicle Hold Control (VHC): Uses brake pressure to keep the motorcycle from rolling, making it easier to ride away when starting on a hill, a bridge or a parking ramp.
Some of these safety features come only on Touring bikes (ABS is common across families) so it’s worth asking what your target model includes.
Assessing high or low mileage is going to vary between families.
Cruisers like Softails and Dynas might reasonably be expected to show 2500-3000 annual miles. Touring bikes, on the other hand, will often show 10-15 thousand miles, especially the Ultras.
So, the smartest way of assessing mileage for a Harley isn’t the average number of miles per year, but the total number of miles on the odometer. And based on a survey of different Harley dealerships, the HIGH MILEAGE HARLEY will show 50,000 miles or more on its odometer.
As with other used bike factors, the mileage you can live with will be influenced by the condition of the bike, the nature of the miles (commuting versus touring), and if known, the disposition (and age) of the previous owner.
Lighting, saddle, pegs, pipes, air intake and headers, if you’re buying new, you can look forward to thousands of dollars in upgrades.
This is where buying used, or private seller, can really make a difference.
If the previous owner was like most Harley owners, there’s usually at least one upgrade. If they were PASSIONATE about their bike, it’s a bonanza. For this reason alone, finding a sensible seller who’s given their bike love and accessories is priceless.
If you’re buying preowned, look for slipon muffler upgrades and OEM headlight and Tailight-Directional swap-outs.
8. Know Your Bike’s Condition & Maintenance History
As a Harley Davidson Prospect, if you only know 4 things about your targeted bike’s history, know these–
Accidents and Damage
- Has this bike been in any accidents?
- How many times has it been tipped/dropped?
- Can I see your maintenance record and paperwork?
Ask these questions. Be as blunt as you need, and let ’em know you expect full disclosure. Your bike’s history not only becomes part of your knowledge base, it’s also the basis for negotiations moving forward.
It may also mean finding a new seller.
Oil changes, interval servicing at 1K, 5K and 10K, tire replacements, any and all maintenance records are deliverable by the seller, on the spot.
Certified Harley-Davidson servicing matters, because it’s verifiable maintenance history that gauges the overall condition of the bike, I.D.s any potential issues, and presents a profile of the seller’s diligence as the owner of that bike.
If he didn’t give a fuck, walk. He, and regrettably, the bike, are no longer worth your time.
Modifications are great. Modifications that may have voided the factory warranty are not.
Admire the mods, and then start asking questions. Get a full Customization History, including when they were done, by whom, and the certification merits of the installer.
Ownership History & the H-D VIN Report
Regardless of what the seller ‘fesses up to’, use the Harley-Davidson VIN report to uncover the whole story.
The VIN Report gives you detailed historical data of the bike including–
- former owners
- vehicle accident history
- sales record
- loan and lien records
- repair history
It’s worth noting that the number of previous owners really matters– it affects the consistency of care and maintenance, how it was stored, and how it was ridden (commuting, weekend riding, long trips).
Use the VIN Decoder to decide how you’ll negotiate the price, or if the trip to the seller is even worth your time.
Things You Should Know
Can I Ride It Before I Buy It?
Before we get into negotiating a price for that bike you’re falling in love with, we should explore the issue of test riding.
Dealership or private seller, if you buy a car, you always get a test drive. Same rules don’t apply to test riding bikes.
That gives the seller the advantage.
A private seller won’t take the chance of seeing the love of his life get disfigured. Which means you’re buying a private seller’s bike on what first impressions you get from it.
A dealership may let you test ride, but even then, it’s not a given.
Your best bet are Dealer Demo Days. These are nice weather, early in the season events at Harley dealerships where factory reps come in and answer questions while ride captains take groups out to test-ride specific models.
Assuming, of course, you have an M-Endorsement. No license, no ride.
9. Know How to Navigate the Seller’s Arena
You’re buying on the Seller’s home turf, but these strategies can put the odds back in your favor–
Get Clear On Fair Market Price
Before negotiating, have a Fair Market price in mind. These services can help—
- Kelley Blue Book (KBB): A popular resource for determining the value of motorcycles. You can enter the year, make, model, mileage, and condition of the bike to get an estimate of its value.
- JD Power: Like KBB, a solid resource for determining fair market pricing for the bikes on your radar.
- CycleTrader.com: An online marketplace for buying and selling motorcycles, research tools help you search models you’re considering to get a sense of fair market value.
Create A Level Playing Field.
There are plenty of sellers out there, so expect the dealership to play ball fairly. Hang tags should be available on the bike, clearly displaying features, list price, fees and an out-the-door price.
You should expect freight charges of between $330 and $850, setup fees from $350 to $500, documentation fees of $350 to $500. These are costs incurred by the Dealership and passed on, customarily, to the buyer.
Cash creates leverage because sellers are more willing to negotiate when they know they’ll receive immediate payment. If you’ve got cash, use it.
Use The Bike’s Condition to Your Advantage
We’ve all been there. You’re falling in love by the minute, and then you see the small scratch, the unnoticeable ding. Your heart sinks.
Don’t let the illusion of perfection give your power away.
Instead, accept it, and point it out. That scratch just conveyed you as a discriminating buyer. You’re setting the tone of negotiations, telling the seller each imperfection will be accounted for in the final (discounted) price. It may even have the seller offering to make good.
Your demeanor also makes walking away that much easier.
Be Prepared to Compromise
The object of negotiation isn’t to win, but to come away happy. So, be ready to concede something you want but the seller can’t or won’t give you, in exchange for something they can.
Payment terms, accessories thrown in, whatever that may be, the idea is for both sides to be satisfied.
Sleep On the Bill of Sale
Here’s a great tip from our friends over at Beartooth Harley Davidson in Billings Montana—
Always insist the dealer write-up the deal for you to take HOME and review. Getting everything on paper where you can see it means hidden fees, interest rate mark-ups and missing sales tax won’t have a chance of being slipped in later.
Remember, you have the right to know everything, before you say YES.
Be Willing to Walk Away
You really want that bike. The seller knows, and they’re counting on that to be enough. But, only you know what you want more—the bike, or a purchase negotiated in true faith.
When you know that, you’ll know how this whole mating ritual will end.
Feel free to bring help with you too. I’m not good at negotiating, but my wife is. So, I give her the price I’m willing to pay, and I let her take over when she’s ready.
Salesman might not like it, but they know they have to sell it to someone.
10. Know Your Way Around the Finance Guy’s Office
Price is agreed upon, handshakes all around, it’s time to go see the Finance Guy.
Yeah, been there too. Extended warranties, tire protection, service and maintenance plans, key fob replacement, get sloppy here and you’ll easily add thousands (Extended Service Plans alone cost >$3,000) to what you’re financing.
You worked hard to get where you are, don’t blow it in the finance office. Here’s how to make sure–
All Terms– Clearly Stated
Every financing institution, Harley-Davidson® Financial Services included, work with the SAME loan terms—
- Amount loaned
- Interest rate
- Length of loan
- Monthly payment
- Date payment will be made
- How payment will be made
- Interest Rates
Don’t sign anything unless all the terms are there.
Your Bike, Your Bank, Your Loan
The bank that finances your bike is the bank YOU choose. So, the burden’s on you to do your due diligence and get preapproval.
Know what interest rates are going for, and know they’ll vary between banks, credit unions, and Harley Davidson financing. Be clear on the length of loan term–begin with your monthly payment sweet spot and use a calculator to determine price point and months til payoff.
Getting all of this done before you buy means the only thing the finance manager needs to do is call your bank, print the forms, and arrange for delivery.
Saying no to everything else is easy when you’re ready. Speaking of which–
The Add-Ons…Know What You Want, and How You’ll Say NO
Financing add-ons include discounted service plans, extended warranties, or special warranties for items (Tires, rims, key fob replacement) not covered by general waranties.
Every new Harley-Davidson comes with a two year, unlimited mileage warranty. You can extend the length of that warranty by purchasing an Extended Service Plan (ESP).
Preowned bikes may be sold As-Is, with a limited dealership warranty, or a Harley-Davidson factory warranty.
Best advice? Know thyself, and how you prefer to roll the dice. Because whether you say YES to the extra coverage or NO, you’re making a bet that Harley quality and luck will either be on your side, or it won’t.
And nobody knows your luck better’n you.
Extended Service Plan? I’ve owned three Harleys, bought the ESP for each of them, never had a claim.
Nervous, stupid, or both, that’s me.
As to the ESP itself? It’s transferable, expensive, and tricky, with reports of Harley owners unknowingly voiding their warranties with aftermarket performance upgrades. The Motor Company itself has been in court for their handling of the ESP, so be sure that if you DO buy the ESP, the finance people are clear what you must do to keep the warranty in force.
11. On the Way Out–Helmet, Boots & Other Riding Gear
Things You Should Know
Helmet Laws–Check Here
If you live in any of these states, you’ll need a helmet–
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
- Connecticut (<18 years old)
Required or not, it’s smart to ride with a helmet. Here are your options—
Full-face helmets offer the most protection– the whole head is covered, and the chin bar protects the lower face.
Best brands offer adjustable air vents at the ridge and backside, with room in the lining to stash your InterComm set. They’re arguably the most aerodynamic, but they can be wind-noisy, heavy and bulky.
Just the same, if you spill, your head’s intact.
Modular or Flip-Up Helmet
Similar to a full-face helmet, a lockable hinge allows the chin bar to be lifted up when you’re fueling up or needing a drink. Mods are super-popular cuz they offer the protection of full-face helmets and the convenience of an open-face hat.
You should know that Mods are a bit heavier and bulkier than full-face helmets, and the hinge mechanism means there’s no room for quality-cutting– make sure you get a solid brand.
Next to the half-helmet, this style is tops with Harley riders. It covers the top and sides of the head but leaves face and chin exposed. And most open-face helmets offer a flip-down, impact-resistant shield.
They’re lightweight, comfortable, and offer the ventilation you’d expect. And you can get a great open-face topper like the Bell Mag 9 Sena for under $200. ,
You’ll see a lot of these worn in states where helmets aren’t optional.
The half-helmet covers only the top of the head. Ears are somewhat covered though not protected, with face and chin completely exposed. Drop down visors protect the eyes from impact and sun.
The lightest, most comfortable helmet. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to riding without one.
Helmet Safety Standards
There are many different helmet safety standards, and a good helmet should have the stamp of approval from at least one of them. DOT, Snell and/or ECE-Rated, the more the better.
And remember, a helmet is only good if it’s worn. It performs only as well as it fits.
Things You SHould Know
Brand really matters in finding the right helmet. You can spend wildly on a great helmet, but there’s no reason you cannnot find a very good helmet for under $200. Here’s a roster of the best brands–
- Arai: A very well-known Japanese brand known for high-quality, comfortable helmets
- Shoei: Another Japanese brand, very high-quality helmets known for their durability and advanced safety features
- AGV: An Italian brand known for making stylish helmets popular with the sportbike crowd
- Bell: An American standard in helmets, they do very well with every style. Their Pit Boss is the iconic half-helmet
- HJC: An outstanding Korean brand, HJC offers a wide range of affordable but high-performing full-face and modular helmets
- Shark: A French brand known for helmets with unique designs and advanced features
- Schuberth: A German brand, very high-quality helmets with advanced safety features and excellent ventilation
- Nolan: An Italian brand, full-face helmets with solid performance at a reasonable price point
- Icon: An American brand, full-face helmets with unique designs and excellent ventilation
- Scorpion: A very solid Korean brand offering full-face and modular helmets
It could be said a good helmet matters more than boots. Just the same, your feet pretty much do everything but think, so take care of them.
The following brands will give you a ton of options for riding, including a rider-approved sneaker that’s skid proof and made for riders like Jax–
- StylMartin—try the Rockets if you’re looking for a very cool Harley Boot style
- Dainese—try the StreetRockers, for a very street-safe sneaker look
Any of these brands deliver high-quality, durable riding footwear that offers protection, comfort and all the style you need.
As a general rule, try to have all of you covered when riding. Jeans are a given, but at the least, long sleeves too.
Yes, there will be times when the heat says forget it. Just the same, a great jacket will do all it can to ventilate you. And that’s to say nothing of how they’ll help in the rain and cold.
Here’s a few brands to keep in mind as you shop. Incidentally, the Genuine Harley Davidson brand jackets are not bad—
Gloves will be the last thing you put on before going out, but from protecting your skin to reducing fatigue, their value is without debate.
Full or open-ended, good gloves matter. Here’s a few brands to run searches on—
- Racer Gloves USA
12. The Aftermarket—Putting an Upgrade Plan into Action
The bike is in the garage, you got gloves, boots, a jacket, helmet and shades. Now what?
You’re kidding, right?
The aftermarket upgrade is as native to Harley as Apple Pie and Hot Dogs are to Summer in America. Here are the 5 most common ways Harley owners customize their ride–
A distinct improvement in sound and appearance can come from a simple set of slip-on mufflers. You’ll get a slight boost in performance as well.
Dial up the sound samples, get to rallies and demo days, and find the pipe that’s right for you. Rinehart, TAB, and Cobra are names you’ll come across, but there’s many more.
Going taller with the handlebars is a common early mod.
Bars leave the factory at roughly 8 inches. First bars usually take that to 12-14 inches. Yes, there’s lots of talk about numb hands, but more riders than not say taller bars make for easier handling and a def uptick in overall appearance.
How high you go will be dictated by preference and your own personal height. Factory 47, KST and Siouxicide Choppers and Dominator Industries are outstanding fabricators.
It’s a fussy installation, so expect much of the cost to come in the form of labor.
This typically involves air intake, fuel management and headers, but will also include high-performance cams, all of which significantly improve power and acceleration.
Arlen Ness, Cobra PowrFlo, Vance & Hines FP3, and Dynojet Powervision are solid names in this upgrade arena.
Ride 100 miles in the stock seat, and I don’t care how good it looks, you’ll know you need to do something more.
You can go with either Two-Up or Solo, balls-out comfort to street-stylish. Mustang, Corbin, LePera and Saddlemen are brands you’ll want to look up.
Generally speaking, the OEM lighting on Harleys is kind of an embarrassment. The headlight isn’t terrible, but considering the adequacy of their Daymaker LED, you wonder why it doesn’t come stock.
It doesn’t, but… a very inexpensive investment of just over $100 can make a measurable difference in lighting the road up and bringing style to your bike.
Ditto taillights and directionals.
Like any other upgrade, you can spend tons on a headlight upgrade and add chasing under-body accent lights as well. Bottom line, inexpensive LED’s can and should replace the bulb they give you when you first buy the bike.
There are many choices, lots of opinions and more than a few headlight factors to consider when buying. What matters most is that you make the upgrade.
Solid brands include Custom Dynamics, Rogue Rider Industries, Sunpie, Eagle Lights, and Hogworkz.
Make lighting your first upgrade. You won’t regret it.
The Road is Waiting–Buying a Motorcycle Is Just the Beginning
So there it is. A very comprehensive breakdown of buying a motorcycle, with the Harley Prospect in mind.
Take your time as you zero in on the bike that’s gonna be yours, and put knowledge on your side. Know your bike, your budget, and how to manage the seller, and you’ll be well on your way.
Smart buying only begins when they give you the keys, though. That lure to upgrade is powerful, trust me, but take your time here too. It’s more fun to see your bike evolve into the machine of your dreams.
See you out on the road.
Further Reading on JBetley.com: In the market for a new headlight? Don’t swipe the card until you read this Headlight Buyer’s Guide. Wondering what headlights other riders have on their bikes? Check out this Top-10 Rundown of Harley Daymaker Alternatives. And if you’re looking for a new taillight approach to your bike, here’s a First Look feature on Ciro 3D’s Latitude Taillight with Lightstrike technology. Finally, if you’re interested in adding accent lighting to your bike, along with new headlamps, check this post out on the ProGLOW Accent Underglow Lighting System by Custom Dynamics.
In the meantime, Ride Safely and Be Well!
About the Author
Jim Smurawa is a full-time blogger and enthusiast of all things that require him to get off his ass. Jim loves bikes, so much so that he sold his 2019 Street Glide to study advanced blogging and digital communications so he could write full time about the Harley Life. He looks forward to getting back on a bike of his own, and he’s currently deciding on whether he should get a Softail, an Ultra or another Street Glide, since he’s owned one of each in the past.