2012 Harley-Davidson Liquid Cooled Engines?

At least 5 years that the rumor comes and go. But this time the rumor that Harley-Davidson would release very soon a liquid cooled line up, or at least a few models, is stronger than ever. Some even speculate that the 2012 models year could be Harley-Davidson historic switch from air to liquid cooled motorcycles.

All rumors have an origin and this one comes from the fact that years ago the entire motorcycle industry already knew that future emissions regulations would get more stringent and that air cooled motorcycle engines, sooner or later, would not be able to meet the new standards established by the government. Change in engine design to meet these standards while providing the extra horsepower that bikers want has already created a generation of air cooled bikes running hotter and hotter. And of course, all manufacturers are concerned by the risk of an overheating engine with the damage which could result.  

Harley-Davidson, like all manufacturers, is always working on prototypes. From time to time I receive info about some of these projects with the author assuring me, of course, that his or her source(s) is the most reliable. During these last months I got several precise descriptions, not all in agreements, of what type engine Harley engineers are supposedly working on. An uncovered secret prototype warehouse, spy drawing or pictures, even documents filed by Harley-Davidson with CARB (California Air Resources Board) and EPA to request certification are never enough to be certain that a prototype will go in production.

So, why the rumor of a possible release of a complete liquid engine Harley-Davidson line up is stronger now than ever? Of course because we are close to the reveal of the 2012 models, but also because year 2013 is the new deadline for all manufacturers to abide by new much tougher EPA regulations. I need to mention that EPA doesn’t regulate engines and the way to make them, but emissions. It means that all motorcycle manufacturers have different options to meet all Federal regulations, with for Harley-Davidson an extra huge constraint: continuing to make any new engine sound … like a Harley…(to follow)

52 Responses to “2012 Harley-Davidson Liquid Cooled Engines?”

  1. 1 Luis Jun 17th, 2011 at 8:35 am

    even porsche eventually had to go liquid cooled.

  2. 2 Shifter Jun 17th, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Don’t know when, but liquid cooled HD’s are coming.

  3. 3 Hamilton Jun 17th, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Think that Harley main issue is the sound, not how to manufacture liquid cooled Harleys. Easy to do.

  4. 4 Dave Blevins Jun 17th, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Actually, H-D designed and built a prototype bike called Nova during the latter AMF years, but never went to production with it. Also during this time the Evolution engine was designed, and the choice was made to use the Evo after the buy-back of H-D from AMF. Producing both air and liquid cooled models was not financially an option at the time.
    Interesting to think how different things might have been if the Nova was chosen way back then!

  5. 5 Dave Blevins Jun 17th, 2011 at 9:13 am

    I always saw the V-Rod as a way Harley was testing the waters as well… it has its followers, but not really a big audience. I feel Harley would do well stay air cooled as long as possible to retain its core market.
    Or they could just build a Honda Shadow clone.

  6. 6 Rhyde Jun 17th, 2011 at 10:15 am

    They need to update electronics if they go to water cooled motors.

  7. 7 Troy Jun 17th, 2011 at 10:40 am

    The liquid cooled V-Rod Destroyer motor should have been put in both a Buell & a FLH.

  8. 8 deadwood1783 Jun 17th, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Rhyde. What do you mean update the electronics. The Delphi Drive By Wire “Freebird” ecm is as, if not more advanced than any other ecm by any manufacturer. The water cooled option has been in the software/firmware for years.

  9. 9 Peter Jun 17th, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Tell me if i’m stupid, but what the sound or the elctronics got to do with water cooling?

  10. 10 badams Jun 17th, 2011 at 1:15 pm


    Will the water cooled lineup reflect a new paradigm for HD or should we brace ourselves for V-Rods in drag, with fairings and bags?

    Will MV and Buell R&D elements pollinate into the WC bikes?

  11. 11 Marc Frantz Jun 17th, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    When I first saw the ‘Revolution’ motor in the V-Rod, I saw it as
    a “shade of things to come” across the entire Harley-Davidson

    This would be the easiest and most cost efficient way for the
    motor company to become compliant with the federales.

    It’s a great powerplant, and they already own it. I doubt
    Mr. Wandell would sign off on R&D of a new motor,
    when he already has a jewel called the Revolution.

    We will soon see!

    Hope everyone is well and enjoying the sun!

    Kind Regards,


  12. 12 Boomer Jun 17th, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Something is afoot. I live near the HD testing grounds in Yucca, AZ and just found out they laid everyone off except for 10 people. That means road testing is done. The core ten people are the engineers, management, and office people.

    I predict they come out with a water/air-cooled Ultra, and maybe Ultra Classic, for this year and next year all touring models will have them. I have no idea on the time line for the rest of the line up. Possibly an oil/air cooled motor with the same design as the water cooled.

    If HD is tuned in to its base customers; the motors will still look air cooled with fins. The fins would add to the cooling so the radiator could be much smaller. Maybe a coolant/air cooled motor. It won’t look like the V-Rod motor at all.

    It would definitely retain the classic HD sound. I know for a fact that was a prime concern when building and testing new designs.

  13. 13 tundra Jun 17th, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    The rumor in late 2007 was water-cooled heads. A source (yeah, I know, I know) told me he had seen running prototypes of the engine and that they were starting to tool the line for them. Also said that it would have limited release with certain models for the ’09 release. Later on, he told me that the project was shelved, not scrapped for future development.

    Could the ’12 models be using this model?

  14. 14 CafeSportyTC Jun 17th, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    I agree with boomer. in order to keep some of the classic looks as well as assist in the cooling of the motor it would be likely to see the new water pumper with fins to remind that “yes, it still is a Harley Davidson.” One thing that most everyone in the harley world knows and likes is the noise factor of a H-D. water cooling will in a way muffle the original sound of a aircooled motor. The same thing happened when porsche developed the M96 motor (the 911 and boxster motor), to them it was an added benefit for european sound regulations (which are more lax than most laws we have here) Im sure Harley will do something to retain the noise factor for its many future customers… its just as sad to me as when it happened to porsche

  15. 15 Lambo Jun 17th, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    CafeSporty – you are spot on about Porsche – water cooled came from noise restrictions on engines, which began in Switz.. HD will have a challenge keeping that iconic sound. Will be interesting to see.

  16. 16 J Jun 17th, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Whew, just in time! I was having trouble breathing the air and talking over the clatter of vibrating fins of air-cooled motorcycle engines….

    Funny how this country was founded on the basis of people getting pissed about ridiculous legislation being jammed down their throats, yet today, everyone is panicking because CARB is running out of funding….

  17. 17 deadwood1783 Jun 17th, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    C.A.R.B. out of funding??? That would be like hitting the lottery for folks in any transportation related industry doing businees in California,,,make that in any state. lol..One can always hope I guess. HD has had the “advanced cooling” stuff on the shelf for several years. Look at the oil cooler on XR 1200 and jacketed heads for “adnanced” cooling. Will this be the year. We’ll all know soon. You know what they say,,,” those that talk don’t know, those that know don’t talk”. I don’t know. Always fun to speculate though. Kinda like NasCars “silly season”‘ aint it?

  18. 18 1550tc Jun 18th, 2011 at 12:06 am

    water cooled came from noise restrictions on engines, which began in Switz

    that 911 flat 6 i had my 911sc to me was pretty quiet

    that is unreal to real that……WTF are they trying to do, make the cars as quiet as a Rolex?

  19. 19 mityr22 Jun 18th, 2011 at 1:53 am

    If I’m forced to wear an ugly car radiator on my bike i’ll just buy a car.

  20. 20 Wiz Jun 18th, 2011 at 6:30 am

    Deadwood1783, What’s this “Freebird” ecm stuff about? Do I gotta/get to, sue Harley-Davidson? Wiz CEO Freebird Custom Motorcycles LLC [Registered with the Federal Government]

  21. 21 jonesy Jun 18th, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Wow, you guys worried about the sound are really dumb. The “H-D sound” comes from a combination of the engine firing both plugs when only one cylinder is actually on the power stroke and from the cylinders firing on a rotation that is not exactly 360 degrees. None of this has anything to do with the cooling system used. I mean, jeez, guys, put your thinking caps on: the air/fuel mix explodes in the cylinder, goes out the header and through the muffler. How on Earth would adding passages for liquid to circulate in the block have any affect on that?

  22. 22 deadwood1783 Jun 18th, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Wiz, just an internal name for the latest Delphi ECM..ECM-2, the next major evolution was the VooDoo ECM circa 2005,,and now the Freebird..Get your lawyers runnin,,,,,

  23. 23 pabstbluerigid Jun 18th, 2011 at 8:33 am

    as an OEM HD with 2 stores…we got “word” to move all softail & dyna product out ASAP -you do NOT want carryover in these models as per the hdmoco…now this could be analyzed in 2 (two) ways? 1) serious new dyna & softail product coming (liquid cooled or?) and “no one” will want the 2010’s or 2011 leftovers, or one might otherwise say 2) if they radically change the bikes and they are “not well received by core customers,” then wouldn’t that make folks SEEK OUT yet to be titled/new 2010’s & 2011’s. TIME WILL TELL..ANAHEIM, CA JULY 20th….

  24. 24 toby Jun 18th, 2011 at 11:38 am

    As for that classic HD sound, a water cooled 45 degree engine will make the same sound. The current revolution (v-rod) engine is 60 degrees and does not make the same loping sound. Which raises another set of questions. The revolution engine will not fit in any of the current frames. It is too tall and long. So will HD be manufacturing a whole new water cooled engine or modifying frames to fit? I personally love the revolution engine, I just can’t tolerate the v-rod bike. One needs the spine of a 25 year old to ride the things which is why they have not sold as well.

    And to add more fuel to the fire, the S&S X-wedge engine which is about 52 degrees will meet EPA requirements. Will HD go to a 52 degree air cooled engine? It does not sound like much, but the dynamic difference and efficiency from 45 to 52 degrees is huge. Of course “that sound” will be a little different.

  25. 25 Campesino Jun 18th, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    2011 air cooled harleys and BMWs can manage already the strict requirements of exhaust emisions but not of the engine temperature. Due to crisis, both makes will start from next summer to promote watercooled engines for 2013. Possibly HD will presents only a T version of its V-rod Muscle, apart of a basic abs system on al its 2012 bikes. That´s the reason of the silence of the MoCo: 2012 models with ABS mean that dealers can´t get rid of its 2010 and 2011stock models.

  26. 26 Hawk Jun 18th, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    What is they were saying about the silly season. If the new bike looks good and has HD on it,people will buy it. Just look at the retail stuff they sell.

  27. 27 Spaz Jun 18th, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Two words: Helloooooooo Victory!

  28. 28 deadwood1783 Jun 18th, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Ahhh,,c’mon guys,change is good. Were it not for change we’d all be on foot or horseback. Although I don’t expect a MAJOR refinement or revolutionary development from the MoCo this year. I’d welcome watercooling. I’ve been in this industry for twenty six years now full time. Some will always resist change. When the Evo was introduced, the nay sayers were at full throttle saying it was the demise of the real HD. As it turned out, although underpowered, it may be the most reliable engine we have had to date. Have fun speculating,,,but don’t close your mind to the future. Only one thing is for certain,,,and that is CHANGE.

  29. 29 Tom aka THUG CUSTOM CYCLES Jun 18th, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Make it rain !! Wet is in … LolApq

  30. 30 Bob Jun 18th, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Water cooling has no affect on emmissions. Water cooling has no affect on sound. Water cooling has no affect on electronics.

  31. 31 Toby Jun 18th, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Sorry Bob but water cooling has a huge effect on emissions. This is why HDs are running so hot right now, in order to meet EPA standards. A water cooled engine will allow a much leaner mixture as the cylinders can be efficiently cooled. Water jacketing also has an effect on engine mechanical sounds (not the tailpipe exhaust) which are part of the EPA noise regulations. As for electronics, that is correct, it is simply a different engine map.

  32. 32 Boss Hawg Jun 19th, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Cool these Twin Cams some and I am all for it. Proper thought and design does not require an oversize obtrusive water cooler. For that matter I am all in for a cooler motor period!

    Boss Hawg

  33. 33 chicagojohn Jun 19th, 2011 at 8:57 am

    I’ll stick with my evo, thanks.

  34. 34 American-V magazine Jun 19th, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Dealers are being told to shift Dyna and Softail models ‘cos they’ll be running 103s for 2012 according to documents in the public domain (well, the Fat Bob and Wide Glide and the new Switchback will be 103s, the Street Bob and Super Glide Custom look like staying at 96).

    The bigger issue with watercooling will be where to put the radiator, and I can’t see where it’ll fit without fundamental changes to every bike except the bagger range, and EFI running at stoich will mean a lean burn and high exhaust heat, radiating from the exhaust headers as much as the heads: it’s your right thigh that cooks, not your left one..

    If they put a Revolution into everything, they’ll send used prices through the roof, and I’ll be scouring the used bike columns for my next one: the waterhog doesn’t do it for me – the engine’s too busy – but our long term Victory is another matter: stunning engine.

    The sucker punch – over here at least – is the suggestion that bikes older than 2005 (or thereabouts) will be barred from city centres at certain times because of emissions.

    Solution? I’ll be seeing if the TEZ Hybrid kit produces the clean burn and minimal emissions that it’s claimed is possible on my 70,000 mile Low Rider (got a stock 2011 Fat Boy to compare the emissions with), and if it does, I’ll move heaven and earth to help get it certified.

  35. 35 Phillip Jun 19th, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    There won’t be anything new, just a parts bin special “Switchback” which 10:1 is an FXDF with the Dark Custom treatment. Not sure what is going on that new product development center but I doubt there’s anything not assembled from existing parts allowed at the moment. HDMC is firmly tucked inside their shell. On the bright side, 103 inches is the optimal displacement for the Twin Cam and the prices shouldn’t go up.

  36. 36 hoyt Jun 19th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    @Toby – the X-Wedge is 56 degrees not 52, which makes a difference when talking about the classic 45-degree aesthetic and sound. Plus, when the heads are that wide (front-to-back), every degree of separation makes a difference. I like the X-Wedge a lot, but it is massive looking.

    Somehow, some way one of the clever after market companies will still meet regs with the iconic 45-degree twin. Whether this can be done economically for mass production is just one big question.

    The power subject is also interesting…HDs have never been about hp, but usable torque (at least production motors). Consequentially, will riders be content with the hp of a 96″ and allow the factory to continue to figure out ways to keep it around longer as an air-cooled motor?

  37. 37 American-V magazine Jun 19th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    @Philip: The Switchback will be a new ‘Convertible’, surely? Would be a silly name to use otherwise. It will inevitably have one unique assembly of new parts – as did the Blackline with its new headstock arrangement – and I’d be surprised if the 103ci upgrades don’t justify a price increase: why else leave the Street Bob and Super Glide Custom at 96ci? Unless, of course, they’re going to drop those prices to make a more affordable entry level. Would be nice if they introduced a new air-cleaner too, so the 103 gets to breathe properly, or is it just HDI models that are strangled?

  38. 38 Phillip Jun 19th, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    A new FXDS-Conv? I guess I was optimistic with my Dark Custom Fat Bob idea. In all the forums I frequent, people are crying out for something new, not everything new, but at least one thing new. And with Victory dead set on copying Harley-Davidson, it appears we’ll never have anything new or different manufactured in the USA. At least there’s Motus, building on America’s muscle car past with a completely new model. Seems to me our currency is headed south, Japan’s and Europe’s north. Might be time for Harley to venture out a grab some of their market share. A fully funded MV Agusta may have been able to compete nose-to-nose with Japan and Europe and the bikes be housed in different buildings from the big twins. But even that would have been Italian effort and imagination, just American funding. I think it would have worked though, made the company as a whole larger and stronger. I still don’t accept that Harley can’t grow into a Ford, making all types of vehicles for a wide variety of customers. The Ford Econoline Van doesn’t decrease the value of the Corvette.

  39. 39 Phillip Jun 19th, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Before I get hammered, I meant to say, “The Ford Econoline Van doesn’t decrease the value of the Mustang.” Guess I’m not a car guy.

  40. 40 toby Jun 20th, 2011 at 12:43 am

    Keep in mind that the Softail engine is balanced, so adding the 103″ is a bit more that just swapping in a touring model 103″. It is a logical progression as the Softail line got the fly by wire electrical system this model year. Maybe in 2012 the Dyna family will get fly by wire.

    Hoyt, I stand corrected, the X-wedge is 56 degrees. It does appear to be a good engine though capable of meeting 2013 EPA regs.

  41. 41 Jason Jun 20th, 2011 at 10:25 am

    This is total irresponsible speculation but I think L/C would have happened a lot sooner had the Revolution engine been popular. From a mechanics standpoint it is a tough engine to modify. It is expensive, requires more than $1,000 in tools alone to rebuild and is not something that the average Joe can make an evening or even a weekend project out of modifying. It just isn’t cool at all. It sounds lame, it looks “metric” (because it is) and to me I feel like it was “phoned in”. Porsche had a large hand in the final product and that is a betrayal to HD purists.

    I know that we all need to embrace the future now just like the real bikers had to embrace the RUBS 10-12 years ago. If Harley is in fact engineering and building a liquid cooled monster they have my confidence as long as “THEY” do it this time instead of out-sourcing it to a country that thinks American engineers are half wits.

  42. 42 cwglide Jun 20th, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Oh its comming, no rumor, its a matter of when!,and how much we fight off CARB!!!!!: Eventually all air cooled motors will go away just like 2 stroke engines, thanks to CARB!!!!! just a matter of time!
    To add to this CARB compliance is getting tighter and tighter. OMG when will they (CARB) realize that motorcycles only account for 1% of transportation compared that of the auto’s and truck’s on the road. If you take into account ships, airplanes, that 1% is less. CARB has some purpose, wasn’t for emission controls we would be wearing masks in the cites. But CARB is going way to far in my opinion. The fight is CARB not HD!

  43. 43 Stephen Jun 20th, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Don’t stress about water cooling, it’s a good thing. Take a look at what Honda did with the Fury and the 1300 custom line. The Fury is water cooled but it does not look like it is and the radiator is virtually hidden. (Note: you don’t have to like the Hondas but they did the water cooling right) A water cooled HD will be a great advance and it will get rid of the overheating problems we have in summer down here in Australia.

  44. 44 Scott Jun 21st, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    I have a 2012 Night Rod Special on order. And I can’t wait for it to come in. It’s liquid cooled. It’s bad @ss looking. And I can’t wait to get it out on the road.

    I highly doubt having a liquid cooled bike is going to take away from the enjoyment I get when I’m out on the road. I only wish the bike also came with rockets to take care of people who are texting while driving. That would be a great feature.

  45. 45 tedder Jun 24th, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Radiators suck!!

  46. 46 Randy Jun 26th, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    Based on the drawings from the USPTO site, it looks like they might put radiators in the fairing lowers on the touring models. Just what I want…..hot air blowing through the radiator onto my shins!!

  47. 47 VROD Pete Jul 2nd, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Thanks to California Air Resources Board (CARB), it’s time to stop riding bikes and buy cars. At least you’ll be comfortable! But seriously folks, Cali is flat broke and out of money: Emission controls is simply a means & methods of extracting taxes and test fees from riders. You WILL see bike emission tests in Cali; just a matter of time.

    Revolution engines are the single most significant event in recent HD history.
    They are impeccably engineered and complex because they need to be to redline at 9K and cruise at 6K. As such, they leave big-displacement airhead V-twins in the weeds, dust and generally by the roadside as in roadkill. Acceleration between 60mph and 130mph is virtually incredibly quick. That’s why there’s a step in the seat: to hold your ass on the machine. Try that with your airhead. The machine is not for everyone. You must be physically strong & quick-witted to survive on one. Therefore, the slow, lopey, cool-sounding airheads are safer for most. Think fighter pilot vs truck driver.

    Liquid cooling is good and a must for high-temp/low-emission combustion.
    Yes; it does attenuate top-end mechanical noise. EPA says no noise. We have become soft and sensitive like Euro.’s. No more hard-ass. Just a bunch of “green”, chai-sipping, Twitterers, laying around Starbucks wondering where the next meal is coming from.

  48. 48 Sid Jul 2nd, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Gee Fella’s have a bit faith in HD!
    I have a 2001 Twin cam and love it, also I was lucky enough to get a V rod, and yes I love it too!
    Guess what both are different yet great bikes.
    I have faith in Willy & the team, that they will build another great model and steer HD into the future.
    Stop being luddites! (google that one)

  49. 49 barefootjerry Jul 24th, 2011 at 5:54 am

    water ?

    okay : no problem :

    just add some “RICARD” , two ice cubes and it will be fine for us , in Provence .

    ( please , don’t forget the green olives )

  50. 50 A.J. 2012 FLHX Sep 6th, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    The new water cooled engines look just like the air cooled Twin Cam. They only water cooled the head and around intake. Twin radiators are hidden in the crash bar mounted leg fairings. My 2012 FLHX is not water cooled but rumered to be shortly.

  51. 51 Mike Greener Feb 1st, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    I agree with V-Rod Pete’s comments about the Revolution engine and water-cooling in general. It just makes good engineering sense. My guess is the Motor Company will find a way to make all of the faithful pretty happy with what the come up with….possibly a combo of oil and water cooling. IMHO, California wackos should not be calling the shots for the other 49 states…. motorcycles, mowers, weed wackers and leaf blowers should be at the bottom of the list (or not even on the list) when it comes to emissions. As far as the V-Rod goes, I love mine. I may be out of the demographic a tad (I’m a 67 year old grandpa with a pot gut), but I don’t care …. hard to beat rolling on that throttle at about 55 MPH and just letting it wind. It is scary, though … it’s a lot more bike than I am a rider … but it is great fun toasting other H-Ds put putting along with great sturm and drang … . I may have to hang up the 2009 Muscle and get something more tame … if I do, I know I’ll regret it … love that bike.

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