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The biking world is saturated with various types of bikes. You have low riding classic cruisers by Harley and superfast bikes by Yamaha, Suzuki, BMW, Aprilia and Honda. The decision to get a Harley or Sportbike will depend on your desired speed.

When it comes to owning your first bike it can be tricky choosing between a low ride Harley and a superfast bike like the Kawasaki H2 or the Yamaha R1. Superbikes are designed with one purpose in mind – speed. You get to ride them in a crouching position and this reduces drag while boosting aerodynamics. When it comes to speed you need to choose wisely otherwise you may find yourself been thrown off the bike.

Harley has established itself in the cruiser market for centuries. It produces some of the most iconic and classic low-rider cruisers. You will find Harley clubs spread across the country where biking legends share some of their collection. If you are still undecided between a Sportbike and a Harley, then this article clearly brings out the differences.

What are the differences between Harley and Sportbikes?

Model Harley Sportbikes
Performance High torque low power High horsepower
Seating position Low rider Crouching position
Electronics Moderate Latest electronics
Body design Old fashioned classic looks Sharp curves
Weight Heavy lightweight

Harley vs. Sportbike – How do they compare?


When it comes to performance the superbikes will outperform the Harley in races. Superbikes are designed for speed. The engines are capable of high horsepower of up to 200 HP and can do more than 200 mph. This makes them ideal for many track races. Superbikes also have very fast acceleration that enables them move from 0 to 60 mph in under 3 seconds. If you are a beginner in then an entry level bike like the Yamaha R3 would be ideal. Once you get the feel of raw horsepower that superbikes offer you can upgrade to the 600cc category then to the 1000cc, their massive engines distinguish Harley. The CVO for example comes with a displacement of 1700cc. This means it generates lots of torque but little horsepower.


When it comes to suite of electronics then the superbikes are on a class of their own. You will get some adorned with quick shifters, traction control, ABS as standard, wheelie lift control, slide control and ride modes. For the Harley it will depend on the model. Some will come with the latest LCD screens with Bluetooth connectivity while others will sport classical analogue speedometers.

Frame and riding position

You can easily distinguish a Harley cruiser from a Sportbike by the riding position of the rider. Harley’s are often ridden in a low riding position that is meant for comfort. Sportbikes are ridden in a crouching position that is ideal for reducing drag and boosting aerodynamics. The riding position for the Sportbike can be a bit hard to get used to at first and can be uncomfortable for long rides. The Harley comes with very comfortable leather seats, with saddlebags and at times a passenger seat. You can modify your Harley with numerous customization options to suit your taste while the superbikes often come factory ready with little need for modifications.

Harley vs. Sportbike – A Comparison Overview

Harley – Overview

Harley-Davidson started operation in 1903 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was the brainchild of Arthur Davidson and William S. Harley. Since then the company has established itself as brand for heavy engine cruisers and bobbers. The company has survived the great depression, intense competition, and quality standards to become one of the motorcycles most iconic brands. Today, it has ventured into various Harley branded merchandise like motoring gear, various apparel, video games and even company sponsored museums.

In 1983, the company established its own branded Harley owners group commonly referred to as the HOG. The club enables Harley owners to interact and purchase various branded Harley merchandise. It is in the cruiser market that Harley has really made its presence known. Cruisers are low riding bikes that often come with noisy exhausts that announce their presence. The bikes are low seat, often classic styled and with heavy engine that delivers high torque. You also notice lots of chrome on the bike and some saddlebags or backrest for the passenger seat.

Sportbikes main domain is in the high performance category while cruisers are low speed and easy to ride. You can strip most cruisers to their minimum and customize them as you wish. However, do not expect to win in a street race against a superbike with a cruiser.

Let’s take a look at some of the most iconic Harley bikes ever to be produced.

Harley Davidson Forty-Eight

This bike represents everything Harley. It comes with low seat that is ideal for long distance travels, peanut-shaped tank, chrome plated in some areas and it has spoked wheels. Like most Harley bikes the forty-eight comes with a massive 1,202cc engine that is capable of generating 60 HP of power and at a torque of 96Nm. Transmission is via a five speed gearbox. You have front and rear discs to bring all that power to a halt. Like most Harley bikes you can customize the forty-eight as you wish and you get to choose from a variety of colors like industrial gray, vivid black, blue max, wicked red denim, black denim and scorched orange. The bike weighs a modest 252 kg. This is a great beginner bike for anyone willing to join the Harley club. The downside is it comes with a small fuel tank measuring 8 liters.

Harley Davidson CVO limited

If you have been waiting for long to join the Harley Davidson club then the CVO should make a statement. The bike is the ultimate touring cruiser and it comes with one of the most powerful V-twin engines. The CVO on the bike stands for Custom Vehicle Operations and this means nothing has been spared in designing this iconic cruiser.

The CVO is operates through a massive 1,868cc engine that is powered by a six speed gearbox. Weighing in at 431kg, the bike consumes 15 liters per kilometer. At a first glance you will notice its batwing fairing and full LED headlamp that distinguishes it as a classic. It is reported that the Milwaukee twin cooled engine is one of the biggest and most powerful by Harley. It is capable of delivering 168 Nm of torque.

The CVO while sporting a classic look still sports some awesome electronics. You have a 6.5 inch display for all your instruments, ABS, hard panniers, Harley security system and cruise control. You can customize your CVO to four color combinations.

Sportbike – Overview

Sportbikes not only look cool and aggressive but they come with massive engines capable of delivering very high speeds. They are created for speed and most do not disappoint. Some of the bikes like the Kawasaki Ninja H2R are capable of reaching speeds of up to 200 mph and with acceleration of 0 to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds. If this is your first time to ride a superbike then you can start your journey with something that is 300cc. The Kawasaki Ninja 400, Yamaha R3 are some excellent beginner bikes to choose from. This helps you get the feel of riding in a crouching position while enjoying the first acceleration that the bike offers. You can then upgrade to the 600cc. Here you get both increased horsepower and better handling. At the top of the scale are the superfast 1000cc bikes. Here you have brands like the R1, Hayabusa, BMW among other brands.

Yamaha YZF R1

Yamaha most popular superbikes are the R1, R3 and the R6. The R3 is a liquid cooled 321cc twin cylinder bike that is designed for bikers. It looks great and comes at an affordable price. While not as powerful as its older brothers the R1 and the R6, the R3 is capable of generating 42HP @rpm of 10,750 while having a torque of 21.8 foot pounds @rpm of 9,000. This pushes the R3 to a top speed of 111 mph. You can use the R3 for commuter rides as its consumption is moderate at 56 miles per gallon.

If you are in need of more horsepower and want to upgrade to the middleweight category, then the R6 is your ideal companion. The bike has received some upgrades so that it now looks like the R1. You get some exterior styling to reduce drag and an updated electronics system. The R6 features a sixteen titanium valve 599cc DOHC engine that delivers 116.7 horsepower @rpm of 14,500. This engine enables the R6 to have a torque of 45.5 foot pounds @rpm of 10,500. It will hit a top speed of 160 mph. Transmission is through a six speed gearbox. An aluminum deltabox twin-spar chassis houses the engine system.

The YZF-R1 is Yamahas flagship superbike in the highly competitive 1000cc category. The bike is aggressive looking and you can tell it will leave you speechless on the track. The R1 comes with liquid cooled 998cc DOHC engine that is capable of delivering 441 pounds of wet torque while achieving 200 horsepower @rpm of 13,500. All this horsepower is housed by an aluminum deltabox frame. When it comes to electronics you get the very best from Yamaha. The R1 has wheel lift control, launch control, quick shifter, ABS/unified braking system, and traction control. The R1 represents the very best in terms of superbikes. It is fast, good looking and quite aggressive at higher rpm. It competes well with other 1000cc bikes like the Hayabusa, BMW S1000RR and the Kawasaki Ninja H2.

Kawasaki Ninja H2R

The H2R is one of the fastest production bikes ever produced. The street legal version is the H2 while the H2R is a track only bike. This bike is capable of over 200HP and can reach speeds of over 200mph. When it was released to the public at the EICMA show in 2014, biking enthusiasts could not wait to get their hands behind the wheel. The street version the H2 comes with a 998cc engine that is capable of 197 worth of horsepower. It also delivers a torque of 134 Nm and weighs just 238 kg. A six speed transmission transfers power to the rear.

Suzuki Hayabusa

The Hayabusa is Suzuki response to competition in the 1,000cc. To remain competitive Suzuki choose a higher displacement 1,340cc engine. This helps the Hayabusa to deliver over 197 HP @rpm of 9,500 and torque of 155Nm at rpm of 7,200. All this power is delivered to the rear wheel courtesy of a six speed transmission.

When the Hayabusa was introduced in 1999 it raised quite a show and even got crowned the fastest production bike in the world. The title was however short lived with the introduction of the Kawasaki H2R. The most common Hayabusa color is the red but you can also get it in metallic thunder gray. The Hayabusa comes with front and rear disc brakes and ABS is standard. The display panel of the bike is a cluster of both analogue and digital instruments. You have in analogue the speedometer, tachometer, coolant temperature, and fuel meter. For the LCD you get to know your gear position, clock, EOMion indicator, and S-DMS map. The braking system consists of front 310mm discs and rear 260mm discs.

Now lets compare two Harley and Sportbike models

Model Harley Davidson CVO Ducati Panigale V4 R
Displacement 1,868cc 998cc
Maximum Torque 165 Nm @rpm 3250 112 Nm @rpm 11,500
Bore (mm) 102 81
Stroke (mm) 114 48.4
Compression ratio 10.2:1 14.0:1
Kerb weight 431kg 193kg
Wheelbase (mm) 1,625 1,471
Seat height (mm) 760 830
Fuel capacity (liters) 22.7 16
Speedometer Analogue Digital


Harley-Davidson has established as a solid brand when it comes to comfortable, high displacement engines. The bikes are known to announce their presence whenever they check in to a parking lot. Harley has a community of bikers spread across the world. Sportbikes are designed with one sole purpose – speed. They are higher performance than the Harleys are. You can expect to hit speeds of up to 200 mph.