Harley-Davidson 338R and 500R take a step closer

harley 338R


Way back in 2019 Harley-Davidson announced plans to make a 338cc parallel twin bike – the 338R – in partnership with China’s Qianjiang but despite a series of spy pictures and even photos of a 500cc follow-up model there’s been no sign of the machines getting an official launch since then.

Now that looks set to change because a joint venture company set up between Qianjiang and Harley-Davidson has finally been given official Chinese government approval to manufacture motorcycles.

Qianjiang is a powerhouse in Chinese motorcycle making. Most famously it’s the owner of the Benelli brand, and another of its marques – QJMotor – has been launching new models at an astounding rate over the last couple of years and is now launching in European markets. The Harley 338R and 500R are both expected to use versions of parallel twin engines that are already in mass production. The smaller 338cc bike uses a version of a parallel twin engine that’s already sold in 300cc form in the Benelli 302S and in 350cc and 400cc forms under the QJMotor banner. It’s also closely related to the twin that powers the Benelli Leoncino and TRK502 in 500cc form and the MV Agusta Lucky Explorer 5.5 as a 550cc engine. In fact, the 338cc capacity originally planned for the Harley can be reached by combining the short stroke of the 300cc version with the big bore of the 500cc engine. In the Harley 338R, it's bolted to the same trellis frame that’s used in the Benelli 302S and the QJMotor SRK350 and SRK400. Meanwhile, the Harley 500, which has never been officially announced but has been photographed in completed form undergoing dyno tests in China, uses the same chassis chassis as the Benelli Leoncino 500 and QJMotor SRV550.


benelli harley

Above: Under the skin, the Harley 338R is essentially the same as a Benelli 302S


While Harley-Davidson has remained quiet about the project over the last couple of years, each of its financial reports over that time have confirmed that the Qianjiang partnership is ongoing, saying that the firm is intending to “develop and maintain a productive relationship with Zhejiang Qianjiang Motorcycle Co., Ltd. and launch related products in a timely manner.”

Now it appears that the hold up to the project has, in part at least, been one of red tape. Back in 2021, Harley and Qianjiang established a joint venture company called Zhejiang Jisheng Motor Vehicle Co., Ltd, with the specific aim of manufacturing the small-capacity Harley models, but only now has the new company been awarded an official licence to produce motorcycles. With that permission in hand, it now appears there are few barriers to the project taking the next step forward and for the small Harleys to start rolling off Chinese production lines.


Harley 338R spy

Above: Finished-looking Harley 338R was spied in China years ago


You might have thought that such machines would be restricted to Asian markets, but there are clues that the small Harley modes could have a broader sales base in the future. Not only do Qianjiang’s machines already meet international standards for emissions, making them suitable for sale globally, but the company filed documents with the NHTSA in America (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) to explain the structure of its Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs). In that submission, it showed an example VIN starting with a three-digit World Manufacturer Identifier code of ‘1HD’ – the WMI for Harley-Davidson.

The same document suggested that the engine used in the bike would be the 353cc twin already featured in several QJMotor models, not the 338cc version originally planned by Harley-Davidson, but that’s the sort of detail that may well have changed over the three years that have passed since the project was originally announced.


HD 338R design 1


In terms of appearance, there’s no question over what the bike will look like. As well as sketches released by Harley-Davidson back in 2019 when the project was announced, there have been design registrations for the 338R’s appearance (above), showing detailed line drawings of the bike from all angles. They confirm the Benelli/QJMotor chassis and engine are wrapped in unique bodywork for the Harley project, with overtones of flat-tracker and a large, circular headlight. While there’s been no design registration for the 500R yet, spy shots (below) show it takes a more traditional, cruiser-inspired approach to its styling.

With government permission now granted for production, there appears to be no barrier preventing the 338R and 500R from finally getting an official launch.