Harley launches first major V-Twin redesign since ’98
Milwaukee — Harley-Davidson Inc.’s all-new engine, the Milwaukee-Eight, is named for the city where the company was born.
Harley says it’s only the eighth time in the company’s 113-year history that it has done a complete redesign of its classic V-Twin engine.
The Milwaukee-Eight, unveiled at a dealership meeting, in Boston, will power the company’s 2017 touring bikes and trikes. Those motorcycles already are being shipped to dealerships, according to the company.
Harley says it’s the biggest engine-product launch for the company since 1998, when the Twin Cam engine made its debut.
It’s a product milestone comparable with Harley’s “Evolution” engine, introduced for the 1984 model-year, and the “Knucklehead” engine in 1936, said Bill Jackson, archivist at the Harley-Davidson Museum.
“People inside the company are comparing it to those two engines,” Jackson said.
There are three versions of the Milwaukee-Eight, two of them liquid-cooled, as Harley adopts new technologies in its venerable product lineup. The 107-cubic-inch version comes in air-cooled and liquid-cooled versions, while the 114-cubic-inch liquid-cooled version is available only in the CVO Limited and CVO Street Glide models. The changes come as Harley faces increased competition from rival Indian Motorcycle Co., based in Minnesota, and foreign heavyweight motorcycle manufacturers.
Each Milwaukee-Eight produces 10 percent more torque than the engine it succeeds, according to the company, resulting in stronger acceleration at both city and highway speeds.
The Milwaukee-Eight is a bit quieter, too, as Harley says the new design and improved components minimize mechanical noise while still allowing the rumble of the exhaust note to resonate.
“There’s more of what you want to hear,” said Randy Christianson, general manager of the Harley-Davidson Powertrain Operations, where the engines are manufactured, in the Milwaukee suburb of Menomonee Falls.
“It still feels like a Harley, which is outstanding, but this is the next-generation V-Twin engine. It is a big deal for us,” Christianson said.
The Milwaukee-Eight produces less vibration than Harley’s other V-Twins, adding to rider comfort in stop-and-go city traffic. The exhaust-pipe system has been modified to move heat away from the rider and passenger.
The new engine has four-valve cylinder heads and other upgrades from current Harley engines. Dual spark plugs per cylinder contribute to more efficient combustion, according to the company, and a single, chain-driven camshaft is lighter, mechanically less complex and quieter.
Another feature: The new engine’s electrical charging system delivers 50 percent more output to the battery, at idle speed, to better support things like accessory lighting, heated riding gear, and high-output audio systems.
Harley’s engine plant employs 1,000 people. It has taken about 18 months to get the plant ready to produce the Milwaukee-Eight, while also manufacturing other Harley engines.
The company didn’t have the luxury of being able to move its regular production to another location while hundreds of machines were modified to accommodate the new product line, Christianson said. “It has been a lot of work, literally hundreds of people associated with it,” he said.
The launch of the Milwaukee-Eight could be a once-in-a-career experience for some Harley employees.
“It’s like a newborn coming to the family,” said Pierre McDowell, who has worked at the plant for 19 years and whose father worked at Harley for 36 years. “We are getting to experience what our parents and grandparents felt” with prior engine launches, McDowell said.
The transition has been surprisingly smooth, said Suzanne Casper, who has worked at the plant for nearly 20 years. “We have had a ton of training … but we are all set now,” Casper said.
Harley and other makers of cruiser and touring motorcycles have seen their U.S. sales fall as the economy has faltered in some states and consumer confidence remains unsteady.
The U.S. heavyweight motorcycle market was far weaker than expected in the recent fiscal quarter, Harley CEO Matt Levatich said in July.
The company also has been dogged with product recalls affecting hundreds of thousands of motorcycles.
“I think a lot of consumers will have a wait-and-see attitude” about the new engine, said Tony Sanfelipo, a Harley rider and co-founder of ABATE of Wisconsin, a motorcyclist rights group.
This year, Harley has said it plans to increase spending on marketing by about 65 percent and spending on product development by 35 percent — both areas aimed at boosting sales for years to come.
The company’s 2017 product lineup includes touring bikes with improved suspension, in addition to the Milwaukee-Eight engine, according to the company. Many of the changes have come as Harley courts new customers, including women and younger riders.
There’s definitely a market for more powerful, yet quieter, bikes, said Ann Zube, president of Stilettos on Steel, a Milwaukee-area women’s motorcyclist group.
The Milwaukee-Eight could help fill that niche, according to Zube. “I give it a ‘thumbs up.’ I think it’s a great idea,” she said.