There is no doubt that Harley-Davidson has a unique sound. When you hear one, you know what it is. A classic American cruiser, but what about those of us that are stuck with motorcycles other than a Harley? What can we do? So I guess what we want to know is, how can I make my motorcycle sound like a Harley?
To get that distinct “potato potato potato” sound you need a single pin v-twin engine. The sound is caused by the way the single pin forces the two cylinders to fire at uneven intervals followed by a slight pause. There is no other way to get that specific sound.
I know that seems like all is lost, but it isn’t. You do have options other than a Harley to get something almost the same. Read on to learn how.
What makes a Harley sound like a Harley?
The unique “potato potato potato” sound is caused by the fact that Harley-Davidson uses a single pin crank v-twin. Compared to most other v-twins who use two. Whether one is better than the other is open for debate.
The sound you hear is actually the gases escaping when the exhaust valve opens, after the spark plug has ignited the fuel in the cylinder. With double pin v-twins, it is done at even intervals. So you get a more even and smooth sound.
On the other hand single pins are different. This is due to how the pistons are timed by the crankshaft, they tend to fire one after the other but at uneven intervals followed by a slight pause. This is what makes a Harley sound like a Harley with that trademark “potato potato potato” or “pop pop pause” sound.
I don’t want to go into details, about how the pistons are angled and the single pin forces them to fire at two different degrees. Yadda yadda yadda, it’s all too technical and a bit out of the scope of this article.
Are there other motorcycles that sound like a Harley?
There are few motorcycles that sound similar to Harley. In fact for a brief period of time Harley Davidson actually tried to trademark the sound. This was to prevent others from caashing in on their unique sound.
They actually did this by suing Honda in the 90s. You have to remember that back then, they were the only “true American” cruisers. Indian Motorcycles weren’t around yet and neither was Victory. So your only alternative to a Harley was to get a Japanese “metric” cruiser. Most die hard cruiser fans simply didn’t want to ride them.
Sure they had more reliable engines, and were considerably cheaper to purchase and maintain, but to many riders they lacked character and soul. Kind of like a Toyota Camry, sure it does everything a car needs to do. Some things extremely well, they are reliable and last forever.
So why not go for one? It’s because they lack character and style, something Harley’s whole brand is built around.
So Honda decided the best way to solve this problem was to give their motorcycles that distinct “American” cruiser sound. They set about developing a single pin v-twin engine and stuck in a classic looking American cruiser frame.
There is an interesting point to note here, Honda actually lost 10 horsepower by changing from their double pin to single pin. Deciding that the slight loss was worth it to gain traction in the American cruiser market.
With that, the Honda Shadow ACE was born. ACE standing for “American Classic Edition”. They even went so far as to print “made in the USA” on the seat.
They wanted everyone to know it was a true cruiser and it did exactly what they wanted it to, it had that classic Harley look and the “potato potato potato” sound. Something Harley Davidson was not too pleased about, so they did what most companies would do. They sued.
Harley Davidson argued that not only did Honda copy the styling of their motorcycles, but that they had directly copied their distinct signature sound. Honda argued that you cannot patent the sound of an engine or v-twin. Especially since many manufacturers produce v-twins.
It bounced around the courts for a few years. Then in the early 2000s Harley-Davidson decided to drop the lawsuit. I guess the fact that Honda stopped producing the ACE was a deciding factor.
Whether or not you can trademark an engine sound, it’s clear to everyone what Honda’s intention was. They clearly intended to crack the cruiser market by creating a cheaper more reliable “Harley”. I wonder what the cruiser market would look like if they had succeeded.
Nowadays you have few options, Indian produces single pin v-twins. Victory although now out of business produced single pin v-twins. So those are a few brands that produce similar sounding engines.
What can I do to make my motorcycle sound like a Harley?
Well, the unfortunate answer is nothing. The only way to get the classic Harley “potato potato potato” sound is from a single pin v-twin. Most other v-twins are two pin. So unless you want to do something crazy like swap out your engine for a single pin v-twin. Then you’re out of luck.
While the idea of buying a cheap fixer upper and slapping some new pipes on it to get that signature Harley sound, sounds great, it just isn’t possible. This is simply due to how Harley’s produce that sound.
If the reason why you are looking up, how to make your motorcycle sound like a Harley, is to save a buck, then the most cost effective way would be to try to find a cheap used Honda Shadow ACE.
This would give you a non-Harley motorcycle that has that signature sound. Just make sure you check that the v-twin is a single pin, I believe some of the later models were given two pin v-twins.
Now if you just want to ride an American cruiser and for some reason you don’t want a Harley, then your only main options are Indian or Victory brand bikes. Both produce similar sounding single pin v-twins. There is also is the option to get a Buell, but it’s just a Harley engine tuned and stuck into a sport bike style motorcycle.
So to sum it up, if you want your motorcycle to sound like a Harley, then buy a single pin v-twin. Hope you enjoyed the article. Until next time, happy riding!