This year, Harley-Davidson is celebrating 120 years of selling motorcycles. To celebrate the occasion, it has announced a bunch of limited edition models, as well as new flavors of other models. But it’s what Harley-Davidson didn’t announce is perhaps the most exciting. Filings with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a California Air Resources Board certification suggest that Harley-Davidson is bringing the X350RA to America. This small motorcycle–built by China’s Qianjiang Motorcycle–might be coming to a showroom or a training course near you.
Harley-Davidson has been going on a blitz of changing its image with riders. Since CEO Matt Levatich left the company in early 2020 and was replaced by Jochen Zeitz, the Motor Company has been flipping the script. There’s been a lot of good to come out of this. Harley-Davidson has embraced work-from-home, which is now allowing it to turn a chunk of its headquarters into a public park.
The company has also released a slew of legitimately interesting gasoline and electric motorcycles. The $16,999 LiveWire S2 Del Mar is both unexpected and seems to be competitive. Perhaps the most surprising is when Zeitz announced this month that at some point, Harley-Davidson will become all-electric. He didn’t give a timeline on this, but it’s yet another sign that the Harley-Davidson that we know is changing.
Inexpensive Harleys Get The Cut
As the Motor Company has changed itself, its most inexpensive motorcycles got left behind. Back in 2021, Harley-Davidson discontinued the Street 500, Street 750, and Street Rod from its lineup. These bikes–which were geared towards beginner riders and price-conscious buyers–were the cheapest in Harley’s lineup. Back then, you paid $6,899 for the Street 500, $7,599 for the Street 750, and $8,699 for the Street Rod.
With those gone, the cheapest Harley is the Nightster, which starts at $13,499. It also means that Harley-Davidson’s own Riding Academy is left without a source of new bikes. Back in 2021, a Harley-Davidson representative told me that the company would continue to support the Street 500s used for the Riding Academy. However, if documents obtained by Motorcycle hold true, America’s going to get a new cheap Harley. The Harley-Davidson X350 and X350RA are small displacement parallel twins built in China and appear to be coming to America.
Something Small Brewing In China
Back in 2019, Harley-Davidson announced that it was partnering up with the Qianjiang Motorcycle Company (QJ), a company majority owned by Geely, to produce a 338cc Harley for the Chinese market. The motorcycle was originally a part of the More Roads to Harley-Davidson initiative that was largely canned after the departure of Matt Levatich. More Roads sought to expand Harley’s ridership globally by, among other things, teaching new generations of riders and adding more attractive motorcycles to its portfolio. For Levatich, it also meant building a motorcycle to build ridership in China, one of the world’s largest motorcycle markets.
Harley-Davidson has since been quiet about development, but motorcycle publications have been finding leaks and regulatory filings. Since 2019, the motorcycle’s displacement grew from 338cc to 353cc and it’s joined with a larger 500cc sibling. As reported by Cycle World, Harley-Davidson and QJ formed Zhejiang Jisheng Motor Vehicle Co., Ltd. in 2021. In November 2022, that company was awarded a license to produce motorcycles by the Chinese government.
A New Small Harley In America?
Documents obtained by Motorcycle seem to suggest that Harley-Davidson is gearing up for an American release. Back in early 2022, QJ submitted VIN decoder information to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Then, ahead of Harley’s 120th anniversary reveal, it submitted VIN information to NHTSA which revealed the existence of an “X350RA” for the 2023 model year. Now, there’s even more evidence of an impending release as Motorcycle obtained an official owner’s manual and the executive order issued by the California Air Resources Board regarding the motorcycle.
I’ve been able to obtain the CARB executive order confirming that the engine has been certified, as well as an overview of Harley-Davidson’s 2023 Riding Academy that was uploaded to the Oregon Department of Transportation website.
The Riding Academy Overview claims a “New Training Model” debuting in Q1 2023. That model? The Harley-Davidson X350RA. This training model has large orange bars to protect the motorcycle from the tip-overs that often occur in rider training programs. Harley’s current Street 500 trainers also have orange bars that serve the same purpose. The Overview states that the X350RA trainer also gets axle sliders and a tip sensor for the engine. Power comes from a 353cc parallel twin and the bike is noted to handle well despite its porky 425-pound weight.
This Riding Academy Overview is backed up by the owner’s manual found by Motorcycle, which apparently was briefly uploaded to Harley-Davidson’s portal to download owner’s manuals. According to that manual, the 353cc twin has eight valves and is liquid-cooled. This engine is apparently a larger version of the engine found in motorcycles like the Benelli 302S, another motorcycle built by Qianjiang. The owner’s manual also suggests that the trainers could be even heavier than what the Riding Academy document says at 440 pounds.
The CARB executive order shows that three variations of this engine have been certified.
There’s the Harley-Davidson X350, which Motorcycle reports has an output of 36 HP. Then there’s the X350RA and X350RA Derating Removed. The X350RA training bike is said to make just 23 HP, while the derating removed model presumably makes the full 36 horses. To my eye, this means that the bikes would be derated for the classroom, then have the restriction removed when the bikes get sold after academy duty.
We Await Details
At this time, Harley-Davidson has made no public announcement about this motorcycle. The NHTSA filings, CARB certification, Riding Academy materials, and the alleged existence of an owner’s manual all point to the likelihood that Americans will soon see a Chinese-built Harley-Davidson. However, there’s no confirmation of such happening just yet. It also remains unclear how we would see this bike. Will the X350RA be limited to just training courses? Or will Harley sell the X350 as a new low-priced model alongside the trainer?
I reached out to Harley-Davidson for comment.
If this motorcycle does reach American shores, I’m sure it would ruffle some of the feathers of Harley-Davidson owners. After all, the company prides itself on selling American bikes. I, on the other hand, am hopeful. A small-displacement motorcycle has the opportunity to get more riders on Harleys and I’m always for more cool motorcycles, no matter where they come from.
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When is a Harley Davidson not a Harley Davidson?
When it’s a made-in-China Qianjiang.
What in the hell are they thinking?! This is a worse money-grab than the Buick Envision. GM had sold out years ago, but a Chinese HD is corporate suicide.
If HD is looking to build it’s brand beyond the boomer/cruiser crowd an imported Chinese-made engine could be a disaster. My Brother-in-law is a motorcycle mechanic with his own shop. He’s seen plenty of these new imported bikes come through his place in need of repair. The engines are unreliable trash that breakdown far sooner than their Japanese, US and Euro competitors. Many of the engines breakdown so catastrophically they aren’t worth or able to be repaired and must be replaced. HD could destroy their reputation with the very generation they are seeking as customers with poorly made, unreliable products.
Harley riders are literally not aware that you can make a bike under 1000cc that can reach highway speeds. They think the Sportster, a 1200cc bike making over 100 horsepower, is for girls or beginner riders only. I truly don’t think a Harley person would care if they saw a bike like this at a dealership, because they’d assume it was an ebike of some kind and ignore it.
As I’ve said before, Harly can do whatever it wants, but it won’t mean a damn thing so long as the dealership culture continues to stuff anything non big ass V-twin bagger in the back corner to collect dust.
The Street bikes are a perfect example of this. They were decent bikes, but if you managed to actually find one (emphasis on one) on the floor the sales gorilla would give you shit about looking at a “girl’s bike” and steer you to something costing twice as much and then wonder why you left without buying a bike.
SMH, I think they should be sold not as Harley’s but as something else keep them away from the regular Harley Dealer because lets face it the salesperson in that positions is going to push a beginner to the Nightster.
Also knowing Harley and how they act there will probably be a 20-30% premium on these chinese motorcycles compared to what Honda and other manufacturers offers. I highly doubt that any executives learned anything from the livewire fiasco.
I do think that these are great for the motorcycle classes but thats about it.