It seemed like they came out of nowhere. Then, one day, around 2009, we got a call from U.S. Highland, and some guys from Oklahoma announced they had an American-made ATV with some awe-inspiring performance numbers. So within a few weeks, we had one to test.
If the chassis looks familiar, it’s because it had family ties going back to Cannondale.
U.S. Highland didn’t spring into being overnight. The story begins almost 34 years ago with a Swedish company called Folan. In the years after Husqvarna motorcycles were purchased by Italians and moved out of Sweden, a handful of former engineers started on a new project. The result was a V-motor that was light and made crazy horsepower. The history after that gets so complicated that we can’t begin follow it. Cannondale, ATK, and a new company called Highland were all involved. But the bottom line is that now the tooling for the V-twin engine and a single-cylinder version was in Oklahoma, where they were preparing to produce a line of ATVs and motorcycles. The single-cylinder motor would be available in various configurations, depending on the customer’s preference. It could be a 450 with mild output or a 70-horsepower 507. It was designed with a six-speed with EFI and a complicated electronic brain that keeps track of every rpm the motor turned from the first time it’s started. It even has a G-meter that remembers how hard it landed from each jump
The heart of the beast is the Swedish-designed EFI motor. A V-twin version was also in development.
The chassis for the ATV can be traced back to the Cannondale 450. It has an aluminum frame with Elka and Ohlins suspension. If you remember, the Cannondale was regarded as one of the best-handling performance ATVs ever. We got to ride the Highland, and we were impressed, to say the least. Unfortunately, the excitement would be short-lived.
Justin Jones sends some Glen Helen dirt into a low earth orbit during Dirt Wheels testing.

A plane crash took the lives of three pivotal figures from Highland Motorcycles. Mats Malmberg, founder and managing director of the company, president Chase Bales and CFO Damian Riddoch were on a private aircraft returning from a business trip to Michigan when the crash occurred. The NTSB investigated the accident, and speculation centered around fuel exhaustion.

Malmberg was a motorcycle racer who founded Highland over 24 years ago in Sweden. At that time, he purchased the V-twin Folan engine from the company that developed it and then used it in a chassis of his own making. After a short period, Malmberg redesigned the engine until very little of the original remained. Shortly after that, he developed a single-cylinder engine. Over the next few years, Highland built about 300 units, primarily sold in Sweden.

Malmberg became partners with Bales, an Oklahoma businessman who specialized in corporate acquisition and finance. Bales was a motorcycle enthusiast, and the two of them moved the company to the outskirts of Tulsa. There, the plan was to develop motorcycles, ATVs, side-by-side utility vehicles and eventually produce them entirely in the U.S.

It’s frustrating to think of what might have become of Highland, which appeared to have every base covered for success. But it’s also interesting to think how a company like Highland might excel today, with far less competition building sport quads. Perhaps the timing is ripe for another company like U.S. Highland.

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