Harley-Davidson is more than a motorcycle brand. It’s a global icon that’s referenced throughout popular culture, from movies and TV shows to t-shirt logos. For many people, especially non-riders, Harley-Davidson is the first brand that comes to mind when they think of motorcycles. And as cool as Harleys look and sound, they’re more than a status symbol for riders. There are both rational and emotional reasons to choose a Harley: they’re stable with sturdy, long-lasting engines and are easy to customise. Because of how they look and feel, riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle can make you feel like you’re living the dream.

But here’s some good news: Harley-Davidson motorcycles are not the only bikes that can give you this feeling of freedom and rebellion. If you want more intensity from your ride, including greater horsepower and torque, you always have the option of modifying and customising your motorcycle. You can even make your motorcycle sound like a Harley. The way a Harley-Davidson motorcycle sounds is such a distinctive feature that in 1994, the brand filed a trademark application to copyright the sound. Their efforts were unsuccessful, though, and you can model your own bike’s sound on the low syncopated vibration that comes from a Harley without fearing legal repercussions.

What Gives Harley Davidson’s Their Sound?

Harley-Davidsons are easy to identify from the unique rhythm of their sound, which comes from their V-twin engines. The crankshaft has a single pin, and both pistons are connected to it via rods, with an angle of 45° between the cylinders. Most motorcycles have engines with two separate pins for the crankshaft so that the pistons fire one at a time on alternate revolutions of the crankshaft. This makes for an engine sound that’s smooth, even and rhythmic.

Harley-Davidson shakes the order of things up with the design of their engines. With a V-twin design controlled by only one pin, the engine can’t fire at even 360-degree intervals. Instead, a piston fires, then another fires at 315 degrees, there’s a 405-degree gap, and on it goes. So the sound goes pop pop… pop pop… pop pop in a staccato bass rumble.

The result isn’t just a unique sound but a vibration that Harley riders are familiar with and that many love. For a lot of Harley enthusiasts, that familiar rumble and shake is an important part of the real, raw, authentic experience of owning a Harley.

Part of the joy of customising your motorcycle is being able to tailor the experience to exactly what you’re after. If you want to make your motorcycle sound like a Harley but still want to retain the look and feel of the bike brand you have, you can. If you want to radically alter the way your bike looks and handles, that’s an option too. And if you want to start by shopping for a motorcycle that sounds most like a Harley, the choices are out there for you.

Motorcycle Upgrades for that Harley Sound

A Harley-Davidson motorcycle sounds like nothing else on the road, and its unique engine noise is a hard sound to replicate. If you want to get as close as you can, though, here is how to make your motorcycle sound more like a Harley:

Put in a V-twin engine

A Harley-Davidson’s rumble comes from the design of its V-twin engine. Putting in an aftermarket V-twin engine is the most effective way to mimic the sound of a Harley-Davidson. There are plenty of brands whose aftermarket exhausts are designed to modify a motorcycle’s sound.


You don’t even need to install a complete engine to hear changes in a motorcycle’s sound. Slip-on mufflers are a lot easier to install and can still make your motorcycle sound more like a Harley with less effort and expense.

Air intake

Upgrading the air intake on your motorcycle can lead to extra airflow and a deeper sound.


Changing your camshaft has an impact both on how your motorcycle performs and how it sounds.


Removing or replacing the baffles on your motorbike can modify the sound. As long as you don’t break any noise restrictions in your area, replacing your baffle can be an easy way to find a new sound.

A tip: save videos and sound clips. A professional can customise your bike or modify the exhaust system to make your motorcycle sound like a Harley. To give your motorcycle mechanic an idea of the kind of sound you want, it helps to save videos and clips of Harley Davidson motorcycle sounds.

Best Motorcycles to Upgrade

Which other brands of motorcycle sound most like a Harley? Are there any other bikes out there that come close to how a Harley-Davidson motorcycle sounds?

While there are probably a number of factors driving your decision to choose one motorcycle over another, here are some of the top bikes to check out if you want to make your motorcycle sound like a Harley:

Indian motorcycles

One of Harley’s largest competitors, the Indian company, has manufactured motorbikes with V-twin engines. The throaty rumble of these engines definitely bears more than a casual resemblance to Harley-Davidson’s bikes.

Victory motorcycles

Although Victory stopped producing motorbikes in 2017, its V-twin cruiser models have a rumbling Harley sound. If you can find a Victory v-twin second-hand, it’s a good bike to have if you plan to make your motorcycle sound like a Harley.

Yamaha V-Star 1300 and Stryker

Sometimes a simple aftermarket exhaust is all it takes to give a simple Yamaha cruiser a sound like a Harley-Davidson motorbike.

2022 BMW R-18

With this two-cylinder boxer engine-powered model, BMW aims to compete with the likes of Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycles. As you might expect, this motorbike offers a smooth ride and more than a touch of luxury, but it’s also an easy bike to customise.

Custom Builds and Services at Taverner Motorsports

Whether you have a Harley-Davidson motorbike or you don’t, an upgraded exhaust system is one of the most exciting ways to customise the look and feel of your bike. Upgrading your exhaust can boost your speed, acceleration, power and sound, and Taverner Motorsports provides a wide range of aftermarket motorcycle exhausts.

If you’d rather build your dream ride from scratch, the Taverner team are experts in the field of custom motorcycle builds. We can fabricate a bike that looks, sounds and performs exactly the way you want and make sure it’s 100% legal and complies with ADR regulations.

With 40+ years in the motorcycle industry, the Taverner team has worked on just about every kind of motorbike and are expert in modification. Although we specialise in British, American and Japanese motorcycles, we have the skills (and strong relationships with parts suppliers around the world) to customise any brand. 

For more information about some of our aftermarket exhausts, custom builds and how you can make your motorcycle sound like a Harley, contact the Taverner team and request a free quote.