Older Harley Radios Were Not Popular
Older Harleys did not have the advantages of modern radio technology and were not as prominent between the handlebars. The desire for music, news, talk, and the weather was lacking on motorcycles which makes a lot of sense.
Perhaps it’s today's constant culture of diversion and clamor for entertainment (even when you’re already being entertained) that make motorcycle radios a necessity, but there was a simpler time when people rode for the experience of riding. Technology has introduced us to the possible. That new “possible” is now more important than the actual need. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should, but still … we do. So not only were pre-1980 motorcycle radios inefficient, but most people didn’t see the need. If they did, however, there were a plethora of problems.
Older Harley Radios Were Too Heavy
During the early evolution of motorcycles in the 1930s and 1940s, radios were rare. One-way tube radios on military or police bikes used to communicate emergencies were incredibly heavy and could throw off the balance of the motorcyclist. These devices became a little more popular after World War 2, but it wasn’t until after the transistor and small circuit technology were developed by Bell Labs in 1947 that they became more feasible. On October 18, 1954, The Regency TR-1 began selling in electronic stores. This allowed the placement of a much lighter AM radio on motorcycles although it was only a factory option.
Older Harley Radios Were Too Expensive
Before the invention of the lighter and smaller transistor radio, the heavier tube-style radios were too expensive for the average biker. Even in mass production, the TR-1s were introduced for $50.00 which comes out to over $400.00 by today’s standards. It was a luxury that just wasn’t worth it for most people. Even today, to upgrade your Harley radio or add amps and new speakers, the average cost is from $800 to $2000.00 (Booom! Box GTS) depending on the system.
While some argue that the factory stereo is not powerful enough, it does depend on your style of riding and your personal expectations. While I prefer not to have a radio on when riding, my own experience is that the clarity is quite compromised when trying to listen to music and especially when listening to talk. The throttle will invariably drown out the sound of the radio even with the automatic volume control that raises the volume when accelerating.
For those that are satisfied with the original stereo equipment, here are the Harley-Davidson models that come standard with stereos, cd players, auxiliary jacks, or blue-tooth capability.
- Street Glide Standard
- Ultra Glide Standard
- Road Glide Standard
- Ultra Limited Standard
- Tri-Glide Standard
- Road Glide Special
- Ultra Limited Low
- Street Glide Special
- Ultra Limited
- Ultra Limited Low
- Tri-Glide Special
- Ultra Classic
- Road Glide Ultra
- All CVO models
Motorcycle Radios Were Too Sensitive To Weather
Older radios made for motorcycles were notoriously delicate. The wind alone could pull the wires out. Add rain and you have a real problem. Water and electronics have never mixed well, and without the plastic, rubber, and weather-proofing of today’s technology, the radios often succumbed to the weather.
Of course, it’s not just the physical elements of rain and wind, but the cold and contrasting heat will also do a number on an outdoor radio. The early Harley-Davidson radios were known for not lasting and constantly breaking under various weather conditions.
Motorcycle Radios Were Too Weak And Quiet
The amount of power it took to blast a radio was too much in the early Harley radio days. The engine noise alone made the radios virtually useless. Finally, When radios condensed and the batteries caught up with the amps in 1980, an AM/FM stereo became an option on the Electra Glide. In 1986, this radio system became standard on the Electra Glide Classic.
Today Harley-Davidson has a quiet 40-watt per channel music system put together by Radio Sound Inc of Louisville on the Ultra Classic Electra Glide and Electra Glide Classic. Many Harley fans upgrade immediately to a system that boosts power between 300 and 600 watts.
Some purists only want to hear the sound of their engine transitioning through gears, other traffic, and the wind whistling by, but they are becoming rarer these days. The most popular option is blue-tooth technology and in-helmet headsets. The problem is that it’s easy to lose focus and safety is compromised when you can’t hear traffic. Earbuds can be dangerous on the road and are illegal in some states. So our technology has changed the bike culture, but some aren’t sure if it’s for better or for worse.
About THE AUTHOR
Benjamin Rathbun has been hooked on motorcycles since 1987 when he bought his first bike, a 1973 Honda CBR450 for $300. Since then he has been through countless bikes and continued his two-wheeled hobby passing it down to his 21-year-old son who rides with him on the weekends in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Benjamin believes that nothing clears the mind faster than flying 26 inches above the asphalt on his Harley-Davison.Read More About Benjamin Rathbun