The Harley-Davidson Sportster arrived in 1957 with its now traditional 883cc motor, only at the time it was the Shovelhead engine. The Shovelhead had the same displacement as the Flathead engine in use on the KHK model, but the Shovelhead utilized overhead valves and, along with its bigger bore and shorter stroke, gave the Harley-Davidson Sportster more horsepower. Like the Silent Grey Fellow model from earlier in the century, the name, Sportster, was cast into the gear case cover. For the next 50-plus years the Harley-Davidson Sportster would undergo changes and upgrades, but Harley’s model line-up would never once omit the Sportster model.
For 1958 H-D launched four Sportster models: XL, XLH, XLC and XLCH. The H stood for high-compression while the C denoted competition. Both the XLC and XLCH were off-road models stripped of all street-legal requirements (but made street-legal the next year). In 1972, the Harley-Davidson Sportster would receive a bump in engine displacement to 1000cc. Up until 1975, Harley-Davidson Sportster models came with a four-speed gearbox shifted with the right foot. For that year the Department of Transportation mandated that all motorcycles come standardized with a left-foot shifter.
In 1977 Harley-Davidson launched the sportbike-themed XLCR (café racer). The XLCR featured a modified frame with longer frame rails to reposition the rear shocks for better handling, while its bikini fairing, gas tank and tail section were constructed of fiberglass. Traditional Harley riders didn’t understand it, and it sold poorly.
In 1978 Harley-Davidson celebrated its 75th anniversary, and the Sportster Anniversary edition featured midnight black paint, gold trim and limited-edition graphics. The year 1979 marked the last year of the XLCH and the introduction of the XLS, which is the Harley-Davidson Sportster version of the FXS Low Rider and featured a siamese exhaust system.
For 1986 the Harley-Davidson Sportster received Harley’s new Evolution engine in both 883cc and 1100cc sizes, with the 1100 being bumped to 1200cc in ’88. In 1991 the four-speed transmission gave way to a five-speed gearbox, and by ’92 all Harley-Davidson Sportsters were using a belt final-drive instead of chain.
In 2004, the Harley-Davidson Sportster got a stronger but heavier new frame that placed the engine in rubber mounts to suppress the earlier model’s omnipresent vibration. Fuel injection replaced carburetion in 2007. In 2009 Harley-Davidson launched the dirt-track-inspired Harley-Davidson XR1200 Sportster, and in 2010 the American Motorcycle Association introduced a spec racing series for modified Harley-Davidson XR1200s.
View all ReviewsHarley-Davidson Sportster Reviews
2012 Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two ReviewSince Harley-Davidson’s done a lot of the heavy lifting by keeping styling tight and simple, the Seventy-Two strikes us as a blank sheet waiting for a rider to personalize it into a one-off modern-day chopper.
2012 Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two and Softail Slim PreviewHarley-Davidson has just released two new 2012 models that look in the Motor Company’s mirrors for inspiration, the XL1200V Seventy-Two and the FLS Softail Slim.
2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow ReviewAlong with its 26.8-inch seat height, the SuperLow, powered by the venerable 883cc air-cooled Harley-Davidson V-Twin, holds the honor of possessing the lightest claimed dry weight in Harley’s stable in 2012.
2011 Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLowHarley-Davidson’s top-selling entry-level bike, the XL883L Low, just got better. Harley gave the Sportster SuperLow a complete makeover for 2011 to improve its suspension for a softer, more compliant ride while maintaining its low seat height.
2011 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200X ReviewThe Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200X - an up-spec version of the XR1200 - first seen in Europe last year makes its way back home to the U.S. as a 2011 model. The most notable change is Showa’s fully adjustable Big Piston Fork.
2010 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Low ReviewIf you're "inseam-challenged," have a limited new-bike budget and always wanted a Harley-Davidson, you're in luck. The Sportster 883 Low might just be your two-wheeled ticket to Harley-riding bliss. The Sporty series is elemental Harley-Davidson.
2010 Harley-Davidson Sportster Forty-Eight ReviewThe Sportster is a cornerstone of Harley-Davidson’s empire. With a starting MSRP of $10,499 for the 2010 Forty-Eight, Harley adds another cool, affordable and fun-to-ride bike to its stable of Sportsters.
2009 Harley-Davidson Iron 883 ReviewHarley-Davison recently added another shortie to its lineup. No, Willie G didn’t have another daughter, instead the Motor Company amended its Dark Custom line with a modified Sportster 883 Low. Inseam-challenged riders rejoice.
2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 PreviewH-D recently unveiled the latest addition to its phantom Dark Custom line. The underpinning theme of a Dark Custom is pared-down, no-nonsense styling, eschewing chrome and brightness in favor of muted, basic color schemes. The new Iron 883 fits the bill.
2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 ReviewHarley-Davidson has finally decided to bring its flat-track replica to America. We take it for a spin.
2008 Harley-Davidson XR1200 ReviewOur Euro friends are the winners this time as they get something we don't. Thankfully we have someone over there to tell us all about what it's like to ride Harley-Davidson's nod to its own victorious flattrack past with the Europe-only XR1200.
2007 Harley-Davidson XL1200NHave you had your fill of virtually everything under the sun being called "old school" (or old skool, oldschool and oldskool; take your pick)? I know I have. What was once a genuine urban turn of phrase suddenly finds its way into everyday language, and i
First Impression: '98 Sportster SportIf hype kills, then absolute hype kills absolutely. The hoopla surrounding Harley-Davidson's release of their re-designed Sportster Sport was deafening.
Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 SportHarley Sportsters have been with us for many years now, and with the 1996 1200S Sport edition you could say they've come full circle.
Harley-Davidson Sportster Videos
2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow vs. Triumph America [Video]If you’re eager to have a user-friendly cruiser that won’t break the bank and yet still offers reputable performance and is welcoming of new and/or returning riders, then gaze upon the Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow and Triumph America.
- 2000 Valuebike Shootout "Can I buy you a drink, or do you just want the money?" You, being the avid biker with the suave ghetto-smooth moves that you are, naturally end up with a date for the evening with a pick-up line like this.
- 2009 Harley-Davidson Sportster XR1200 Review Harley-Davidson has finally decided to bring its flat-track replica to America. We take it for a spin.
- 2004 Middleweight Standards After reading your answers from our recent "Middleweight Standards" poll, we decided to round-em-up and shoot-em-out.
- Ducati Monster 1100 vs Harley-Davidson XR1200 Review We compare the Harley-Davidson XR1200 and the Ducati Monster 1100, two machines that are literally half a world apart in origin, and probably a galaxy apart in styling philosophy, as America takes on Italy in an air-cooled V-Twin streetfighter shootout.