What Do You Think of the Sportster?

I'm not sure why so many riders have maligned the Sporty over the years—probably because they've never been on one. Granted, there are a lot of things this bike is not (my Road King for instance), but the EVO Sportster is a fun little bike, a great platform for modification, and with the 1200 engine it doesn't do bad on the Interstate.

Without making excuses for what it isn't, I actually like the Sportster for what it is and what it does well.

The first motorcycle I ever rode wasn't a Harley, but the first Harley I ever rode was a friends 90s vintage 883. It was a nice bike and I have to admit, I didn't really notice the engine vibrations that translated into the seat or the handlebars—until I had a chance to ride another buddy's new 2004 1200 Custom. With the rubber-mounted engine and the additional ponies due to the larger displacement (there's no replacement for displacement), I think that ride convinced me that I wanted a Harley.

When I started looking for bikes, I learned that some guys called them "Skirtsters" implying they were a girls bike—or maybe a starter bike. I don't think either of those descriptions are very accurate. Yeah, it's a few hundred pounds lighter than my Road King, the engine isn't as big as a softail or one of the the other touring bikes, but I'm not sure I think it would be the best bike to learn how to ride on nor do I think it should be relegated to "Skirtster" status.

Tell the guys drag racing Sportsters...

... or Jim Fisher who has taken his "Skirtster" over 189 MPH, on the Bonneville Salt Flats, that they're riding girl's bikes and see how far that gets you. What's more, tell the girls that are drag racing or setting records on the salt that a "girls bike" is less than any other bike and they might just kick your ass.

Needless to say, I think the Sporty is a great platform.

I have to admit, although I have liked the Sportster for a long time, I really started to appreciate this engine working on my own Bonneville Race Bike the last many months. Although the Buell X1 has its differences from a traditional Sporty, the core of the engine isn't one of them—and the Sportster engine is the guts behind these tube-frame Buell motorcycles.


With that out of the way, what are the things I like about my (new to me) Sporty?

  • It's Not Sophisticated: By that I mean, the riding experience is very different than the Road King or one of the other bigger Harleys. It's not as refined—and I like it. Although the bike, even with the smaller 1200 power plant, doesn't pack as much horsepower punch on paper, it's light enough that it still has enough grunt to get up and go. Granted, it's not a four-cylinder Japanese racing machine or a big Twin Cam, but it's more than enough power for buzzing around town or up one of the nearby canyon roads. The suspension isn't bad, but it's not as smooth as one of the Harleys that outweigh it by a couple hundred more pounds (to be honest, that's one of the modifications I'll likely make this summer). I like this bike as a single rider, rather than thinking about putting a passenger on the back. If I want to ride somewhere two-up, I'll put the pillion on the back of my Road King.
  • Twist the Throttle and Go: I noticed right away that the throttle response felt much quicker than the King. Probably due to the weight and size difference. I can't tell if it is really jumping up to speed quicker or not, but it doesn't matter. It feels quick. It feels nimble. And, when pulling out onto the highway, there's plenty of torque and I don't have to worry about having enough power to get up to speed with the rest of traffic.
  • It Cruises at Freeway Speed and Doesn't Miss a Beat: It's not a touring bike (nor is it meant to be), but I jumped up to 75 or 80 MPH and cruised along with traffic for several miles. My Sporty doesn't have a windshield, so I was glad I had my full-face modular helmet on, but with that said, I was comfortable and still had plenty of throttle left, and felt very stable on the road.
  • It Rolls Over Into a Turn Incredibly Easy: It's probably the narrow front tire and the Narrow Glide front forks, but it doesn't take much to roll into a turn. It feels very nimble by comparison to the Road King. I like that too. 
  • The Bike is Good Looking: If you're not a fan of cruisers, you probably wouldn't like it, but you probably wouldn't be reading this either. I like it and I really like the looks of my Sportster. It's not hard to figure out why the Japanese cruisers have copied the Sporty. It looks like a motorcycle is supposed to look to me.

When I told Kelly I had the bike ready to go, he suggested, "When we were kids and couldn't afford a bigger Harley [like one of the panheads], we'd add 12 inches to the front fork and put a sissy bar on the back—maybe you should do that."

I'm not interested in making a chopper out of it, but it would be a good bike to do that to. I'm thinking I'd like to put a sidecar on it to tool around with the grandkids—have some fun introducing the younger generation to the thrill of the open road. In the meantime, I'm planning on enjoying the bike as she is right now for this summer, getting Bonneville over with for the season, and getting serious about the sidecar idea this fall.