This is a Harley-Davidson MT500 and if you’ve never heard of it before, that may be because just 500 or so were made before production was ceased – making it one of the rarest Harley production bikes in history.

It’s not known how many of the original 500 remain, we only see them come up for sale relatively rarely, and given the recent release of the Harley-Davidson Pan America adventure bike the interest in earlier Harley dual sport motorcycles seems to be increasing.

Fast Facts – The Harley-Davidson MT500

  • The Harley-Davidson MT500 is a direct evolution of the earlier Armstrong MT500, a British military dual sport motorcycle. The Armstrong MT500 itself was an evolution of the earlier SWM XN Tornado and it used the same 500cc Rotax engine.
  • Executives at Harley-Davidson were hoping to use the MT500 to win contracts with various branches of the US military to supply motorcycles – potentially tens of thousands of them, which would have greatly helped the company’s finances.
  • Ultimately the MT500 wouldn’t see widespread adoption, and the requirement that diesel be the common battlefield fuel brought the project to an end.
  • The surviving examples of the Harley-Davidson MT500 are now sought after by collectors and enthusiasts, and they remain one of the rarer HD production models.

The MT500: A Design That Went Around The World

The origins of the Harley-Davidson MT500 actually span three countries and three decades. The model started out in the early 1980s as the Italian-designed SWM XN Tornado which was powered by an Austrian-built Rotax 504cc single-cylinder engine.

Harley-Davidson MT500 Military Motorcycle 2

Image DescriptionThis is the Rotax 504cc single cylinder air-cooled engine, it has a single overhead cam, four valves, and a built-in 5-speed transmission.

When SWM encountered financial difficulties British motorcycle company Armstrong-CCM bought the rights to the design, made a small number of changes, and created the Armstrong MT500 which was sold in small numbers to the British, Canadian, and Jordanian militaries.

By the late 1980s Harley-Davidson had bought the design, added some of their own branding, and offered it to the US military as (essentially) a modern version of the classic Harley-Davidson WLA from WWII.

The Harley-Davidson MT500: Specifications

The specifications of the Harley-Davidson MT500 are largely the same as the two earlier bikes that it’s based on. It’s powered by the Austrian-built Rotax 504cc single cylinder air-cooled engine with a single overhead cam, four valves, and a built-in 5-speed transmission.

Power is somewhat modest at just 32 bhp at 6,200 rpm with 28 lb ft of torque at 5,500 rpm, however the relatively low weight of 161 kgs (355 lbs) helping things along. Military vehicles are rarely designed for speed after all, they’re designed for simplicity, ruggedness, and reliability and the MT500 had all three of those in spades.

Harley-Davidson MT500 Military Motorcycle 4

Image DescriptionAll of the MT500’s body work is plastic as it’s cheap to make, lightweight, and easy to replace.

The chassis is a simple tubular steel affair that uses the engine as a stressed member for additional rigidity. Telescopic forks are fitted up front and there are twin shock absorbers in the rear. Much of the MT500’s bodywork is made from plastic for reasons of low weight and easy maintenance – including the fuel tank, side covers, front and rear fenders, and headlight cowl.

Reasonably small drum brakes were fitted front and back on earlier bikes, these are fine for off road use but when on road riders tend to find you need to use both brakes in unison to ensure adequate stopping power. Later bikes, like the one shown here, have front and rear disc brakes.

Some examples of the bike were offered with plastic side panniers for carrying documents or supplies, and a front-mounted plastic rifle case was also used occasionally.

The Harley-Davidson MT500 Shown Here

The Harley-Davidson MT500 you see here has just 81 miles on the odometer, it’s a 1998 model and though the listing doesn’t say it’s likely it existed in a private collection due to its low milage.

It’s now due to cross the auction block with Mecum at the Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction in late January. There’s no price guide but it’s being offered with no reserve.

If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here.

Harley-Davidson MT500 Military Motorcycle 7 Harley-Davidson MT500 Military Motorcycle 6 Harley-Davidson MT500 Military Motorcycle 5 Harley-Davidson MT500 Military Motorcycle 3 Harley-Davidson MT500 Military Motorcycle 1


Images courtesy of Mecum

Published by Ben Branch -