This is a Harley-Davidson MT500 from 1999, it has just 8 miles on the odometer, and (arguably) it is still the toughest off road motorcycle to ever carry the Harley-Davidson name.

The MT500 originated in Europe, it’s essentially a badge-engineered version of the British Armstrong-CCM military motorcycle, which itself was a descendant of the earlier SWM XN Tornado from Italy. All used a reliable Rotax 482cc four-stroke, single-cylinder engine with a built-in 5-speed transmission.

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 Military Motorcycles Of Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson has produced military motorcycles in-house in the past, in fact they were building motorcycles for the US armed forces all the way back in WWI with the J model. It was a simple F-head design with a 3-speed hand shifted transmission, no rear suspension, limited front suspension, no front brake, and a gas-powered headlight (rather than electric).

Harley-Davidson MT500

Image DescriptionThe two front panniers are water-resistant and designed for carrying a wide array of gear, including documents when needed.

Motorcycles proved their worth during the Great War, often used by dispatch riders to facilitate rapid communication between the various fronts and central command positions. By the time WWII came around motorcycle technology had moved much further ahead, the Harley-Davidson WLA military motorcycle was produced in vast numbers during the war – over 90,000 were made in total.

The other motorcycle that the Milwaukee manufacturer had in limited production at this time is often forgotten Harley-Davidson XA. XA stands for “Experimental Army,” and it certainly was experimental by Harley’s standards – it was powered by an air-cooled flat-twin engine directly inspired by the German military’s BMW R71.

The Harley-Davidson MT500 was unique compared to the above listed models as it wasn’t actually developed in-house. The MT500 can trace its history back to Italy and the SWM XN Tornado, which was redeveloped by the Brits into the Armstrong MT500 military motorcycle, and then repurposed in the USA through a little badge-engineering into the Harley-Davidson MT500.

The Harley-Davidson MT500

The European heritage of the Harley-Davidson MT500 turned out to work in its favor, the four-stroke Rotax 482cc was incredibly tough and reliable making it ideal for military use. This engine has a single overhead cam, four valves, and a built-in 5-speed transmission sending power out to the rear wheel via a chain drive.

Power output wasn’t particularly impressive, with 32 bhp at 6,200 rpm with 28 lb ft of torque at 5,500 rpm, but military motorcycles have never been designed to be fast, reliability and ease of maintenance is a priority above all else.

Harley-Davidson MT500 1

Image DescriptionWith a curb weight of just 161 kgs (355 lbs) the MT500 is well-suited for dual sport use, and that single-cylinder Rotax 500 engine is known for its toughness and reliability – making it idea for military deployment.

The weight of the MT500 was remarkably low by Harley-Davidson standards, at just 161 kgs (355 lbs) it was one of the lightest Harley-badged bikes of the last 30 years. The fundamental design of the MT500 was relatively standard, with a tubular steel frame, telescopic forks up front, dual rear shock absorbers, front and rear disc brakes, a rear luggage rack, a high-exit exhaust, and elevated front and rear fenders.

Unusually the MT500 has its panniers fitted to the front of the bike under the handlebars, this was because a hard plastic rifle case was fitted to the rear on the right side, and the exhaust silencer on the left side would have melted a plastic pannier case in short order.

Sadly, no major military contracts were awarded for the Harley-Davidson MT500, as a result it’s believed that just 500 or so were ever made. Today they’re considered highly collectible but only within a relatively niche community, so pricing is still on the lower side and affordable to many.

Given the 2020 release of the Harley-Davidson Pan America, an adventure motorcycle designed to work both on and off road, some interest has been revived in Harley’s easier forays into dual sport and off road bikes like the MT500.

The 1999 Harley-Davidson MT500 Shown Here

The MT500 you see here is the lowest mileage example we’ve seen come up for sale, and certainly the lowest mileage one we’ve featured on the site, with just 8 miles on the odometer. This bike comes with the correct original front panniers and the rear rifle carrier, as well as the luggage rack, and all the lighting required for road registration and street riding.

This is about as close to a brand new MT500 that anyone is likely to find, and so it presents a unique opportunity to enthusiasts and collectors. The main decision will be what to do with it after buying it, do you keep it preserved as is or add some miles to it and have some adventures.

Harley-Davidson MT500 8

Image DescriptionHere you can see the water-resistant rifle case, it’s designed to accommodate a number of different weapons, the most common of which would be the M-16 – an assault rifle that was in use with the US armed forces from 1969 for decades.

It’s now being offered for sale out of Streetsboro, Ohio with an owner’s manual, a Rotax tool kit, saddlebag liners, specifications sheets, a manufacturer’s certificate of origin, two keys, and a bill of sale.

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

Harley-Davidson MT500 9 Harley-Davidson MT500 7 Harley-Davidson MT500 5 Harley-Davidson MT500 4 Harley-Davidson MT500 3 Harley-Davidson MT500 2 Harley-Davidson MT500 6

Images courtesy of Bring a Trailer

Published by Ben Branch -