The Demise of the Sportster?

After dinner I took the Sporty out for a quick blast up the canyon to escape the heat and because I’d been cooped up behind the desk all day with my nose to the grindstone. On the way home I fell in behind a group of riders on what looked like a sport bike or two along with a couple of naked streetfighters (which I think are very cool looking, by the way). As I followed them down the road I couldn’t help but think that none of them would likely ever throw a leg over a Sportster like mine or any other current Harley-Davidson in the line.

I think this is the reality staring the MoCo right in the face.

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I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m a fan of the Sporty and there are a lot of reasons I really like this bike. Unfortunately, many of the reasons I love this bike are the very reasons it might be on the chopping block in the same way the V-Rod and the Dyna are no more.

I’m a big fan of the content Revzilla puts out and recently caught what Lemmy (their resident Harley guy) had to say about 2020 and beyond for the Sportster—one of the oldest names in motorcycling.

Lemmy offered three potential scenarios for the Sporty:

  1. The bike goes away like the previously mentioned Dyna and V-Rod

  2. They cut back production to make another bike for the rest of the world while still making the current Sportster for the US market

  3. They co-op the name and put it on a newer updated bike

Although H-D sells a lot of Sportsters in the US, I’m inclined to go with what’s behind door number three.

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I don’t know about you, but this 1250 cc bike they are calling the “Custom” looks a lot like a Sporty to me. This might be an unpopular opinion, but I’d guess this is where the Sporty’s going.

Although I’m not a luddite, I have really liked the air-cooled v-twin on the current mill of the Sportster because it’s so easy and straightforward to work on. That being said, it might really be time to retire the 100-year old tractor motor for something more fuel efficient, cleaner running, and cooler running to appeal to a younger audience.

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Personally, I’m pretty interested in seeing what finally arrives in dealerships in the naked streetfighter configuration Harley is calling the “Bare Knuckle”. It reminds me more of my X1 Buell I race on the Salt Flats than a Sportster, but if it comes in at a reasonable price point, this is one old geezer who could see himself blasting up the canyon on one of these bad boys (provided it performs as Bad-A as it looks).

This is a bike that could do very well with the younger audience Harley is trying to entice. I’ve often thought Harley was premature to sever ties with Erik Buell. Erik was a man ahead of his time. I think I read somewhere that the V-Rod engine was really intended for the Buell.

That would have been some bike.

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The adventure bike is not something I would be interested in, but I’ve lately been counting the number of similar bikes I see every time I’m in the canyon or on the highway and there are a lot of them out there. Harley will be competing with BMW, Triump’s Tiger, and other bikes like the Africa Twin, so they will need to price accordingly. I don’t know if the MoCo will be able to get the nut they charge for one of their Road Glides or Ultra Classics, but if they’re priced comparable to the bikes mentioned above, they may get new riders into the brand—which will lead to these new riders buying t-shirts, jackets, and other Harley branded stuff.

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These bikes will likely not appeal to the sleeveless old guys with hairy backs that refuse to wear a helmet, but that’s not who these bikes are for. I’m only a couple of months away from my sixth decade and am really an old dog that doesn’t want to learn any new tricks too, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to like what I want, ride what I ride, or get their hands dirty working on old air-cooled v-twin engines.

I don’t see the value in bagging on Harley-Davidson for trying to evolve with the times.

I’ve heard and read a lot of older riders bemoan how the MoCo is abandoning the loyal customers they’ve had for years. I don’t think that’s anywhere near what’s happening. I’m afraid if they don’t do this, they’ll be following us old geezers right into the grave in the coming years. What’s more, I don’t think Harley has any intention of abandoning their big twin touring bikes. You’ll still be able to buy a fully dressed geezer glider, if that’s what you want.

There will simply be other choices if that’s not what you want.

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