Harley-Davidson WL 45

Harley-Davidson WL 45 1940s American classic motorcycle

The Harley-Davidson WL 45 was definitive 'old school'. '45' referenced its engine's capacity - in cubic inches. A forerunner of Harley's high-tech 'Evo' powerplant, the side-valve 45° V-twin pushed the WL up to a top speed of 75mph. That was probably plenty, given the bike's suspension - or lack of it. The WL was a classic 'hard-tail' ... no hidden soft shock absorber here! The sprung saddle did its best to keep things comfy at the rear. At the front, it was a different story. '49 saw the introduction of Harley's 'Girdraulic' damping set-up. It was duly fitted to the WL's 'springer' front fork assembly. Friction damping was thereafter consigned to the Harley history books.

The WL 45 served up a steady 25bhp. That was an increase on the W model's output - engine compression having been upped a tad. 4,000rpm were available from the new machine. The 3-speed 'box was operated via a hand shift and foot clutch. Performance, then, was not earth-shattering. It fell to Harley's WR racebike to take care of that side of things. To be fair, the WL's motor had its work cut out. It was heaving 528lb wet weight - though that was not too excessive for a bike of the WL 45's size. At the time, carbon fibre was no more than a glint in a scientist's eye!

The WL45 could be viewed as a bridge between Harley's vintage crop and the modern age. 45ci equated to 750cc - somewhat short of the big beasts in the company's current range. '45'-powered bikes were hugely importance to Milwaukee's finest. They helped see the firm through the Great Depression. Were it not for the '45' bikes, the Harley brand - on which so many lives have been based - may not have existed long. That is a measure of how much is owed to the Harley-Davidson WL 45 - and its trusty predecessors.


  1. The Harley Davidson WL 45 is a beast of a bike. We detailed one yesterday, and I can't even begin to describe how fun it was to ride the bike even 50 feet.

    1. Sounds like a lot of fun, for sure, HAD ... bet it looks even better now, too!


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