2017 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight

Editor Score: 79.25%
Engine 17.0/20
Suspension/Handling 10.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10
Brakes 7.0/10
Instruments/Controls3.0/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 6.5/10
Appearance/Quality 9.25/10
Desirability 9.0/10
Value 8.0/10
Overall Score79.25/100

Having just graduated college, I had my father’s jalopy of an R1 repo’ed back to him – leaving me bike-less in San Diego as I began my full-time cubicle dwelling life at a large biotech company. It has been a rough transition into the downhill portion of life that has stripped me of my ability to wake up at 11am and spend the occasional weekday of my choice playing video games alongside the cheapest 12-pack the gas station on my block has, which is usually High-Life and I’m okay with that.

But I get it. Time to contribute to society or whatever.

Actually the R1 didn’t get repo’ed as much as it got swapped for a new Harley. I’ve been able to pretend I’m the owner of a 2017 Sportster Forty-Eight the last few weeks, which has seemed to spiral out of control and involved purchasing unnecessary amounts of H-D branded products including an “If You Can Read This The Bitch Fell Off” shirt that is actually a bit inappropriate with the solo seat the Forty-Eight comes standard with. But then again it never really was appropriate anyway. (Accessory passenger seat sold separately.)

Endless coffee and TPS reports.

Endless coffee and TPS reports.

In my opinion this bike has a whole lot going for it in in terms of styling, and is right up my admittedly hipster-leaning alley. With the underslung mirrors, big gurgling Twin, slim 2.1-gallon peanut tank (that magically disappears gasoline), single round headlight, and solo seat, it has a low and mean profile, and on paper she’s everything I look for in more traditionally styled bikes. The old R1 never got as many compliments or looks from the ladies, just balding old dudes asking me about the Sapporo-can fluid catcher.

I’m very much into the cafe look, and the Forty-Eight comes close-ish: Ditch the rear fender and put some clip-ons and some rearsets (which will together run you $949.90 through H-D) on the old girl, and my god I’d be a happy and poor man.

H-D chose to supply the “Hard Candy” edition for this bit, which isn’t so bad if you don’t think too hard about the name or look close enough to see the pretty flames or remember that you paid an extra $450 for it. Your options according to the H-D online bike builder are Metal, Yellow, White, Black (the base color that won’t cost you extra over the $11,299 MSRP), and the other “Hard Candy” color, Black Gold. Despite the interesting desert gas station lipstick that has been applied to the tank, she’s badass and a got-damn proud American. That’s pretty cool to me.

Obeying posted speed limits with low shutter speeds.

Obeying posted speed limits with low shutter speeds.

Comfort on this bike is a bit of an unraveling mystery to me and my Hardy Boys. I’ve never been a fan of the cruiser-style peg position (out in front of you like a set of birth-facilitating stirrups), which the Forty-Eight has attempted a happy medium with by veering toward a standard-style position. The pegs are out in front but aren’t as far out as other cruisers I’ve ridden. It straddles that line between cruiser and standard position like a divorcee that insulted the operator of a mechanical bull at that weird country bar you went to once and promised yourself you’d never return to. In short, a bit sloppy. I find my legs to cramp occasionally which sucks on the highway, but at other times it’s not so bad and can be rather pleasant. Subjective perhaps, or just takes some getting used to.

In this same context the bars are in a nice position and are comfortably in reach, but with the lowest seat among the Sportster range at 27.3 inches working alongside those cruiser stirrups, a bit of a hunchback situation occurs for six-foot tall me that becomes uncomfortable over long hauls and with daily riding. Saddling atop the Forty-Eight for work everyday isn’t the most comfortable. However I will say that with my legs positioned just right, I can catch a cool breeze up my pant-leg that dances gently across one’s unmentionables.

Not bad ergos all in all, and a nice breeze up the pantalones.

Not bad ergos all in all, and a nice breeze up the pantalones.

Instruments are bare, which for this bike I am fine with. You get your standard giblets: an analog speedo with a low fuel indicator and a small LCD that cycles through an odometer, trip A, gear-position, rpm, and time. Those cool underslung mirrors I mentioned earlier aren’t the most functionally focused design choice of the bike. For some reason only one side would let me adjust properly to be able to glance down to see behind me, which even at a glance takes your eyes completely off of what is in front of you, and the other one requires a head dip. I’ll blame myself for not getting that side properly set up, but the mirrors aren’t great even when properly adjusted.

Just what 1948 looks like in my imagination. Not that I’ve ever imagined it.

Just what 1948 looks like in my imagination. Not that I’ve ever imagined it.

The brakes are at that same country bar. They’re decent, but not enough to say I’m perfectly comfortable telling my friends about the experience. At the front you’ve got a lonely single disc doing most of the work to stop a claimed 551-pound wet motorcycle, with the rear pulling its fair share. You’ll be pulling that lever in real hard when it comes time to hit the brakes in a hairy situation, but they do a solid job of bringing ol’ Bessy to a stop when she starts rustling your jimmies.

Suspension is also okay; it does its job. You’ve got a whopping 1.6 inches of rear travel via a pair of preload-adjustable shocks and 3.6 inches of travel from the 49mm fork. And with its peg position, sitting up for that big-ass dip on your highway commute is a little tricky, so you should prep your back for a mild realignment on the burlier bumps. Around town it does okay soaking up irregularities and handles quite good at lower speeds and through traffic, as well as stepping it up in the twisties. The Forty-Eight is fairly nimble and can be a blast on the road. It has truly grown on me beyond just its looks and despite its traditional H-D shortcomings.

Shiny things that sound good.

Shiny things that sound good.

Now I do love those 1200cc, or… excuse me, 73.4 cubic inches of air-cooled V-Twin asphalt-scrunching power. Sure she doesn’t rip away like the old R1 did, but there’s still giddy-up there and it sounds pretty good even with the stock exhaust. The 1200cc Evolution motor that H-D has been using in the Sportsters for some time does its job well and provides plenty of joy when you pull down on that twisty thingy on the right side of the handlebar. And the transmission is real smooth, which I wasn’t expecting for some reason. Hopping through gears is a satisfying breeze, much like the one earlier mentioned.

Nice one hair.

Nice one hair.

I have had tons of fun on the Forty Eight. Its old-school charm has provided me a beacon of light that I ride to and from work each day. Luckily my commute involves a section that’s a little twisty with some elevation changes that either starts or ends my ride and allows the Forty-Eight to step it up a bit, which it enjoys doing in moderation. It’s a nice break from the soul-crushing freeway traffic. Luckily the new corporate job is pretty casual, with plenty of co-workers riding to work and even a company motorcycle group, where others like myself can try to milk that last drop of anti-yuppy/lemming sentiment you tell yourself you’ll never lose.

For some reason the Forty-Eight’s traditional styling and burly powerplant makes that lie a little easier to believe. Plus it feels good at the end of the day to pass everyone in the carpool lane and split your way home to your freezer full of Hungry-Man dinners. While the Forty-Eight might not be the most practical or ergonomic choice, it is still a satisfyingly simple one that has helped wean me off the college dirtbag teat, one trip at a time.

2017 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight
+ Highs

  • You can imagine what it’s like to be cool
  • Very fun to ride
  • Titillating breezes
– Sighs

  • Tiny fuel capacity
  • Hunchback / birth-facilitating stirrups
  • $450 sparkley flames
  • JMDGT

    Suum cuique.

  • Gruf Rude

    Pretty much nails why I’ve never owned a Harley.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      You don’t know what you are missing.

  • Buzz

    Perhaps one too many package references but otherwise well done.

    Where is the Burns spawn living in SD County? I may be able to ride with the boy and deliver that carton of Mexican cigarettes I promised the old man 15 years ago.

    My bro in law is a scientist for a large Bio firm in town

    • john burns

      He’s renting one of Mitt Romney’s subterranean garage spaces. I’d rather have a case of Mexican Coke. Does it rhyme with “aluminum”?

      • Buzz

        No it rhymes with celgene.

        You can get a case of Mexican Coke at Costco unless you’re referring to the powdery kind.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    The chip doesn’t fall far from the block.

  • spiff

    Of course you’re good with the High Life. It is the champagne of beer. Geez, when are these kids going to realize that is as good as it gets. 🙂

    • Born to Ride

      I prefer Dos Equis…

      • spiff

        I always thought you were kind of interesting.

  • SirCoffeeaLot

    12 grand for that hunk of overweight s*#t with 1.5 inches of rear travel? No thank you.

  • SRMark

    It’s just a long travel set of shocks, a new frame, a bigger tank…Well it sorta sucks doesn’t it! But if it puts a smile on your face, good enough. You write like your father and that’s a very good thing. Enjoy life as a prisoner. Forty years from now it will all be over and you can live again.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      You only become a prisoner once you marry and have kids.

  • lennon2017

    The forty-eight is strangely strangled more than HD’s entry-level “badass” Sportster the Iron 883 with that peanut tank. It will be a close call to try for 100 miles with it in one shot, which I suppose is a substantial distance for in-town and inter-town cruising, but joyriding is significant curtailed by such regular concern over refueling. The Iron’s 3.3 gallons seems to me a sensible minimum. Also, if you really are doing stoplight riding exclusively, you might be surprised at how adequate the 883 is, especially after a reasonable ecu flash with a commander to properly avail you of the potentials with that engine with respect to torque and rev limiting.

    • psychobueller

      Agreed. My Iron 883 is plenty of fun, especially on short hops which is what this bike is made for. The Stage 1 made a nice difference.

      • Sayyed Bashir

        Are you over 65? Everyone here seems to think only older people buy Harleys.

  • Starmag

    Nice colorful review Ryan although you may wish to consider Buzz’s first sentence.

    You played nice with Harley here, I won’t be as kind. Weak brakes, 50hp, lame ergos, short range, spine compressing suspension, useless mirrors, over priced, viewed as a girl’s bike by other Harley riders, etc. What’s not to love? If I just had to have a Harley or a Sportster, it would be a used XR1200.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      The bike that no one bought?

      • Starmag

        Harley buyers apparently don’t like bikes with more than 2″ of rear suspension travel and real brakes, and for everyone else it had, well, a Sportster engine designed in 1957, even if Buell coaxed it to an acceptable 80 RWHP. Compared to this model, it had power, brakes, ground clearance, good ergos, good suspension, usable mirrors, bigger gas tank and was better looking to my eye. It’s the only Harley I would consider.

        • spiff

          I totally dig tubed Buells.

        • TheMarvelous1310

          Dynas ride pretty good once you get the rear end a few inches taller. And the aftermarket is… We, it’s a Harley.

    • TheMarvelous1310

      Everything you said could also be said about a Moto Guzzi V7. I know, I rode one and I said it.

  • MountainK1ng

    So, it’s not horrible, but pretty much any other bike at that price is far and away a better choice.

    • gjw1992

      But wouldn’t get the attention – and a sportster’s fun despite the long list of shortcomings. And the 883’s as good and cheaper.

      • MountainK1ng

        Correct. People buy it to get attention despite its significant shortcomings relative to other bikes at that price range, or even bikes for thousands less. I guess if you’re only buying it to ride to Bike Night at your local pub so you can play dress-up in your Harley-branded leather gear and be allowed to hang out with all the other people playing Harley dressup that the performance doesn’t really matter. It’s really the perfect bike for that scenario, almost like it was specifically made for it.

        • Sayyed Bashir

          Essentially you would be riding it everywhere you go since it will be your primary mode of transportation. And you would be riding a Harley.

          • MountainK1ng

            For most buyers in the US, a bike like that is more of a weekend toy rather than a primary mode of transportation. Not for all buyers, mind you, but for most.

  • Bubba Blue

    I think you can get a Dyna Low Rider for almost the same money. Much better bike.

    The real problem with the Touring Harleys is that they’re the same price as a new Camaro.

    • Douglas

      ….I druther have the EGlide, even with all its superfluous gee-gaws….

      • Sayyed Bashir

        Money is subjective. If you buy what you like, the cost is soon forgotten.

        • Douglas

          Money is a medium of exchange and is only subjective if it’s relatively abundant. What I meant was that I don’t find the Camaro (except for 70-72 models) desirable at all.

  • Eric

    Fun review, thanks! If you end up buying one yourself, you might look into swapping out the forward pegs for the mid mounted pegs from an iron 883; more comfortable, and you can stand on the pegs more easily over bumps. Unlike most other bikes, Harley’s are easy to modify to meet your needs. Keep writing occasionally; you’ve inherited some of your father’s abilities, which is high praise!

  • Craig Hoffman

    The motorcycle in question is well worn subject matter and any article on it could easily get repetitive and boring, but not this informative, entertaining, and pretty damn funny write up. Writing ability evidently is a genetic trait. Ryan is a chip off the old block, and that is a good thing.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Too bad he won’t give up his well paying biotech job to come work for a pittance at MO.

  • lundque

    I certainly hope the “if you can read this…” tshirt wasn’t an HD branded or licensed product. The women I used to work with at the General Merchandise department would probably go ape if someone tried to approve that! And shame on Ryan if he wears that T on the bike without a jacket, especially in our ATTGATT world!

    • Born to Ride

      Live in your world, play in ours.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      You should see some of the t-shirts at the HD dealership. And our world is not ATGATT. I see many motorcyclists in shorts, t-shirts and sneakers. In Alaska there is no helmet law and bikers ride with sunglasses and their hair blowing in the wind. The only ones wearing helmets are from the lower 48.

  • Steve McLaughlin

    A 1 1/2″ rear shock travel? Tiny gas tank ? There is nothing on or about this bike the Indian Scout doesn’t do better. Plus it has 100 horse power for the same price, or less.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      But its not a Harley.

  • Gary

    I wouldn’t hit my dog in the butt with it.

  • Scott Silvers

    I wish more reviews were written in such a manner. Real world expectations and refreshing analogies…..hope to see more reviews from this lad

  • Bubba Blue

    He likes it! Hey Mikey!

    Harley models are going to be changing. Lots of new scat com’n’ down the pike.

  • Eddie

    Nice looking bike. I am surprise you do not see semi active suspension or traction control on Harley’s especially the heavier bikes! Europe sales of bikes starting 2017 to be equipped with ABS standard!