Do Harleys Have Reverse Gear?

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Harley-Davidsons don’t have reverse gear. Most bikers are opposed to such a concept, but for certain situations, the reverse gear might be a nice addition.

Think about it: you’re meeting your friends at a concert, and you’re running late. Luckily, there is one parking spot left; it’s narrow, but you’re Harley will fit with no problem. You’ve got a 900lb Road King, and the parking lot is at an incline. There’s no room to back in, and you’re late, so you just nose into the spot, hit the kill switch, and look for your friends. After the concert, you realize you have no room to turn around, and you’re parked with your front end lower than your back. The bike is too heavy to move backward on the incline. You’re stuck. The chances of a scenario like this happening to you are remote, and most Harley owners will never have to worry about it. Still, wouldn’t it be nice to just hit reverse and go?

The old-school Harley owners will never accept a reverse gear. Just … nope. But the next generation isn’t as willing to push half-ton bikes backward. Options exist to mechanically move your Harley in reverse if you’re willing to ignore tradition and put down some serious money.

Many circumstances exist where bikers need to move their heavy machines backward in difficult situations. Whether it’s senior riders, women riders, lighter riders, younger riders, or just riders that are weary of moving an almost 1000lb machine in reverse without mechanical aid, it’s imperative that options are available besides just “duck-walking” it. If it’s on wet grass or slightly uphill, forget about tradition. Other solutions need to be considered.

I’ve researched the latest technology in reverse-gear operations for motorcycles as well as the opinions of long-time Harley owners in H-D forums. I’ve also checked out the spec sheets for the newest reverse-gear machinery to present the optimal options for those researching what to do with their Heavy Harleys.

In this article...


What Motorcycles Have A Reverse Gear?

Some would suggest that Harley-Davidson motorcycles do have reverse gear in their Freewheeler and Tri Glide Ultra. But these are trikes and not motorcycles; they resemble buggies more than motorcycles, and their weight and use demand a reverse gear. But no Harley motorcycle (two-wheeler) has reverse gear. The BMW K 1200 LT and the Honda Goldwing are the only two bikes that I can find that come from the factory with reverse gearing. The feedback from the forums is mostly positive, but these two bikes are not Harley-Davidsons. The Harley way cannot be compared with other brands.

Why Are Reverse Gears Not Standard For Motorcycles?

Most Motorcycles Are Lightweight

Heavy touring motorcycles comprise 40% of all motorcycles which means most bikes are lighter, more nimble, and can move backward unassisted. Averaging between 400–600lbs, most bikers can walk their motorcycles back when necessary. The non-touring bikes have a better turn radius which makes reverse gears superfluous. Compared to a car that averages 4,000 lbs in weight, these lighter vehicles can easily be moved forward or backward in neutral.

Motorcycles are Not Built For Riding Backwards

The rake angle of a motorcycle’s front forks leading to the front tire is made for stability and straight steering when moving forward, not backward. The mechanics and engineering of motorcycles are all about balance, but you lose that trait when moving in the opposite direction. The weight, the steering, and the back wheel all prevent good reverse steering. A reverse gear would make the transmission more complex and make the motorcycle heavier and more expensive, which is not ideal.

Motorcycles Are About Tradition

Because a reverse gear has not been a part of the Harley-Davidson tradition nor has it been a part of any motorcycle’s tradition, it would be seen as offensive to add this extra gear as a standard feature to a two-wheeled vehicle. In fact, if this is news to you, and you’re unaware of how offensive this addition would be, especially to a Harley-Davidson, then you may be a biker novice that needs to spend some time researching the iconic culture of the Harley.

What Electric Motor Options Are Available?

The next generation of bikers may have heard of the unwritten Harley code of do’s and don’ts that are standard operating procedures for owning this classic ride, but they may not have the same values. Convenience takes precedence over tradition for the up-and-coming gen x and gen z bikers, and it’s no surprise that more biker hobbyists are jumping on this reverse gear bandwagon.

Michelin is producing a patent to reverse-assist any motorcycle. It comprises of an electric motor attached to the back fender and the wheelbase. The motor runs off of the main battery and gives limited power to a mechanism controlled by a switch at the handlebar. Unfortunately, the 3.6 Volt motor with the 7.2-Wh battery can only turn the wheel with the torque of about 3 ft/lbs at a reverse speed of 0.6 miles per hour and can’t manage a grade of more than 10%.

Most electric motor kits that allow a bike to back up are unreliable because of how they are powered. They are pulling electricity from the main battery and can drain it quickly. It’s normally a small motor that turns a gear that turns the rear wheel. This taxes the motor substantially and may shorten the life of that motor.

Champion has a cable clutch after-market reverse gear for any Harley Davidson manufactured in 2009 and beyond. It is an improvement over the electric motor because there is no battery drain and is a part of the hydraulic clutch in the transmission chassis. It has a safety switch protecting the transmission when going from reverse to forward gear. The low gear ratio keeps a slow and smooth reverse ride. Installation is about five hours and does not change the transmission dimensions or modify the exhaust.

What Other Options Are Available Besides A Reverse Gear?

Another option that preserves your dignity while keeping your self-respect intact is the practice of reversing your bike manually. Here are a few pointers:

  • Back into your parking spot. When at all possible, especially when you are parking at an incline, roll past the spot and then tap your clutch into neutral and guide your bike back between the lines. When it’s time to go, you’ll be able to just power forward up the incline.
  • Learn the art of the Three-point Turn. Sometimes it will take more than a three-point turn and may even become an eleven-point turn, but the small amount of moving the bike back and forth will eventually turn the bike around so that you won’t have to kick-paddle the bike backward for a long distance.
  • Walk your bike with balance. When your heavy, oversized Harley needs to go a short distance in reverse, put it in neutral, hop off, and with both hands on the handlebars, walk slowly and carefully backward. Another strategy is turning around and moving forward with one hand on the handlebar and one hand on the seat. Simply lean the bike slightly towards you (very slightly) and with great balance, walk your bike safely until you’re able to turn it around and go. This will take practice, balance, and strength. It could even take two people, but don’t let that discourage you. It will give you the perfect opportunity to tell your friend how you’ve not given in to installing an aftermarket reverse gear and becoming everything that’s wrong with the new generation of compromised, convenience-driven Harley bikers.