by Pete Schultz
We are all guilty of looking down our noses at Sportsters. The narrow frame and front end, along with the integrated motor and transmission separate it from being amongst the elite Hogs. Sometimes called “starter” or “entry level” bikes, the Sportster has received both disrespect and acclaim. Some riders revere Sportsters as the best handling and quickest factory Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Other riders regulate the Sportster lineup to duty as “chick bikes”. Let’s take a look at the Sportster in general and decide if they are worthy of the most hardened biker, or if in fact they are just “chick bikes”.
Up until a few years ago, the Sportster motor was a solid mounted. Vibration was transferred from the motor through the frame, up into the handlebars through the rider’s hands and into their jawline. These vibrations accentuated themselves at highway speeds making long trips on Sportsters downright miserable. Most Sportster riders were not enthused about touring on their bikes. But now that Sportsters are rubber mounted, bring on the highway! The motor is isolated from the frame keeping the vibes from ruining the ride – same as the counter balanced and rubber mounted big twins.
Sportsters started out with a 900cc motor, and they still are available as an 883, but can also be had in a 1200 (74 cubic inches). For decades the 74 cubic inch overhead valve motor was considered a “big bore”. So why would anyone view the 1200 Sportster as an underpowered chick bike? These bikes are quick from the factory, but with a little head work and a set of cams, they are downright powerful machines. Combined with the lighter weight frame and front end, the Sportster has a decided advantage performance wise. Less weight also means easier braking, and better overall maneuvering. There are numerous reasons for riders wanting a lighter motorcycle, some as simple as stature, others are out of need – such as age or disability. The Sportster provides an American made motorcycle for riders who can’t handle the big twins; it also introduces riders looking for a quick and maneuverable motorcycle to Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
I know of many dedicated Harley-Davidson riders who have always ridden Sportsters, either because they were far more affordable than the big twins, or because the Sportster was just what they were looking for: a nimble and quick bike that could get the job done. They never took offense to the “piglet” comments. They knew that they were riding American iron and had nothing to be embarrassed about.
Harley-Davidson has continued to modify and improve the Sportster through the years. The bike is no longer an around town or short trip motorcycle that is ridden by devoted legions of “chicks”. The Sportster is a refined, smooth running, quick handling Harley-Davidson motorcycle that is snubbed and overlooked by many because of historical stereotypes.
I have always wondered when the Motor Company would evolve the Sportster into a lightweight touring bike. If they would equip the 1200 Sportster with floorboards, hard saddle bags, five gallon fuel tank and a fairing, they would have a definite winner. Bring on the Sportstour!
What do you think? Is the world ready for the Sportstour? Or are Sportsters just “chick” bikes? Shout off in the Forums!