Earlier today I spoke with a friend I hadn't talked to in a while and was surprised to learn that a couple of weeks ago he bought a Sportster. He is a fan of BMW touring bikes, had recently owned a Fat Bob he replaced with a new Beemer, and was shaming Harley's "Start out with a Sportster and trade up when you're ready for a real bike" promotion. I know that's not really the promotion, but what they're definitely doing is promoting the Sporty as an entry-level bike.
I had to agree with his argument. It might be lighter and easier to ride than my Twin Cam Road King, but it's much more than a "starter" bike. After several years on a bigger Twin Cam and now a few months on my 2008 1200C, I feel pretty qualified to praise the virtues of the Sportster without taking crap from anyone—including my riding buddy Jim, who insists on calling it a "girls" bike, although I don't think he's ever ridden one.
My friend Dave and I both agreed that the only Harley guys who seem to badmouth the Sportster are those who have never thrown a leg over or want them to be something they were never intended to be—a heavyweight touring machine. In reality, not too long ago, the 1200 cc Sporty would have been considered a pretty big bike compared to the 500s, 650s, or 750s being put out by the other manufacturers.
Cruising down the canyon I made a mental list of the 10 things I loved about my Sporty, so without further ado, here's the list.
She has great lines: I don't think I'm alone when I refer to this little gal in the female pronoun. It's not meant to be sexist at all, it's just that motorcycles, boats, airplanes, and many other machines are often referred to as "she" because, to our eyes, they are exceptionally beautiful. Maybe it's a guy thing. Nonetheless, I really like the lines on this bike. While other makers are turning out more retro-looking bikes or trying to mimic the look of the Sporty, this bike's look has remained pretty consistent since 1957 when it was introduced. It was a looker than and remains a looker today—at least in my opinion.
She has a nice ass: My wife doesn't appreciate this comment, but I really like the way the bike looks from behind (see above photo). Although this could technically be included in the above commentary about great lines, it is one of the particular things about this bike I really like, and since I'm writing this, I decided it deserved special mention.
She's nimble: Both Dave and I agree, the Sporty is a very nimble bike. She weighs in less than her bigger siblings and feels totally "flickable" if that's even a word. I've said this before, but she feels quick—although a metric sport bike she is not. Nevertheless, she doesn't feel underpowered to me and has plenty of umph to get you into trouble if you're careless. She might not go 150 mph, but she'll do better than 100 (although I think her sweet spot is around 55 or 60, but she'll comfortably go 70 or more. Which is plenty fast for enjoying a mountain pass, and some time on the Interstate to get there, for example.
I like the Narrow Glide front end: To be honest, I wasn't sure about it at first. The 21" narrow wheel and tire are very different from the shorter and fatter front end on my Road King. That being said, I think the narrow front end is part of what makes this bike so nimble. And, it's a pretty classic look. I like the spoked wheel and have come to really like the way the package looks. The new 1200C isn't sporting the same wheel and although it looks good, I think I like this better. I'd guess the fatter front tire offers a little plusher ride, but my guess is the bike would handle differently, and I like the way this bike handles.
I like the gas milage: I know there are bikes (and even some cars) that do a little better, but I've been averaging about 48 mpg which is good enough that I don't feel any remorse for the time I waste on this bike. With gas milage like that, it would make a great commuter if I didn't work from a home office.
The aftermarket is huge: Sportsters have been around for so long that there is a great demand and appropriate resources to customize the bike to make it your own. Do you want to upgrade your rear suspension? There aren't just one or two options available to you, there are dozens. The same is true for saddles, handlebars, saddle bags, engine components, transmission parts, clutch parts, and everything in between. It's really pretty easy to make a Sportster pretty unique to you. If the previous owner of my Sporty were to see this bike on the street without knowing it was mine, I don't think he'd recognize it.
The bike is easy to maintain: The air-cooled V-Twin has been around for a looooooong time. It's a straightforward engine that is easy to maintain. Just about anyone with a little shop sense and the desire to learn can take care of the periodic maintenance of a Sportster. There are lots of resources and at least one or two YouTube video tutorials on just about every project you might want to tackle.
The bike is totally wrench-able: In the same vein as periodic maintenance, I love how straightforward the engine, transmission, primary, and the bikes as a whole are to repair or modify. When I replaced the cams on my Buell Salt Flats Racer, for example, there were literally dozens of videos on how to change the cams on a Sportster—and I watched many of them. The same was true for the big bore kit installation, the clutch pack replacement, and every other project I've tackled on that bike—which is a Sportster at its core. Whenever I was doing something new, I was more intimidated by the project than it was difficult. In fact, I'd tackle just about anything today. I've come to really enjoy wrenching on the bikes.
It's reliable: I know, there are a lot of people out there claiming these bikes are unreliable, but they are referring to the reputation of bikes made when AMF owned Harley back in the 70s. I've got 96,000+ miles on my Road King and 85,000+ miles on my wife's Road King Trike, which sounds like reliable to me. With 11,000+ miles on the Sportster, it feels like a brand new bike. That's not to say the bikes are perfect and that I haven't had an issue or two, but if you keep up on the periodic maintenance, pay attention to how the bike is performing, and nip normal wear and tear in the bud before they become bigger problems, these bikes are incredibly reliable. I don't think I'm the only guy that puts this type of miles on their bike, and I'm convinced "old" doesn't mean bad, if you take proper care of it. I expect this Sportster will outlive me and one of my grandkids might be riding it one day.
It's fun to ride: I've spent a lot of time on the bike this summer because it's just fun to ride. For all the reasons noted above and more, it's just a blast to ride and I probably make far too many excuses to mount up and take off. Don't get me wrong, I love my Road King, but I don't love the Sporty any less. I could make another comment comparing the two bikes to different types of women, but I'd probably get myself into trouble. Suffice it to say, this bike is fun to ride. Period.
I enjoyed talking to Dave today about what we liked about the Sportster. This little gal has earned a permanent place in my garage.