Motorcycle.com

2015 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom

Editor Score: 80.75%
Engine 16.0/20
Suspension/Handling 11.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.0/10
Brakes 8.75/10
Instruments/Controls4.0/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 7.5/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 8.0/10
Value 7.5/10
Overall Score80.75/100

It’s like Woody Allen says, 90-percent of success is showing up. And the Sportster’s been showing up since 1957. However you feel about it or the Motor Company or post-WW2 America, you have to respect it like you have to respect the `57 Chevy profile or Tony Bennett leaving his heart in San Francisco. Whether TB has gotten better with age is a topic for some late night over a tumbler of fine Scotch, but there’s no question the Sportster’s now about as refined as a motorcycle can get.

It’s the same as it ever was, a raw-boned rock-and-roller that delivers a distinctly vintage experience, but one with all the rough edges removed and polished. Heck, my first Sportster was an `89 four-speed with solid-mount engine and a tiny gas tank. This new Custom is a Rolls-Royce by comparison. What its voice has lost in power and decibels over the years, relative to other motorcycles anyway, is made up for in its phrasing and emotion. On this one, Harley has chipped away everything that is not Sportster, leaving a place to sit 28 inches from the pavement, an (optional) Mini-ape handlebar to hang onto, and a torquey 1200cc, five-speed 45-degree V-Twin to fly you to the moon.

Skulls and bare bones: 1202cc 45-degree air-cooled V-Twin in a twin-tube steel frame.

The 2015 Custom you’re looking at here is named that because it’s part of Harley’s H-D1 customization program, and can be had in Black ($10,649), a pair of two-tone paint versions ($11,199) or two solid colors ($10,999). There’s a person or persons somewhere in H-D who does nothing but come up with paint names: Our bike is Mysterious Red Sunglo Deluxe, and rolls on Black Contrast Cut 5-Spoke wheels. (You could also choose non-contrast, or Steel Laced, silver or black wheels, or a pullback handlebar, or a dual seat.) By the time H-D was done adding options to our test unit, including $795 for ABS,  the price was all the way up to $12,999. When the light’s right, you cannot deny the quality of its chrome and paint, its over-the-top presence. Subtle it’s not. It does take you right back, whether you want to go or not.

Riding it’s not nearly so bad as many would have you think either (see Gabe Ets-Hokin on Hate). No matter how many crotch rockets you’ve flogged over the mountain, you have to admit there’s something to be said for a bike you just ride and 569 pounds of road-hugging steel. You’re not going to win many dragraces against other bikes with 62 horsepower, but you’ll be right there for the first 50 feet courtesy of the 1200’s torque and stout clutch, and the gearbox is solid but fluid and never leaves your left big toe in doubt. Those blade-style control levers are non-adjustable but seem to fit everybody’s hands anyway, and 2014 saw a bigger front brake disc, more powerful front caliper with 34mm pistons, more efficient all-aluminum master cylinders with reduced friction, and braided steel lines add up to a harder-stopping Sportster. ABS is a $795 option.

Rumbling along in the fast lane is surprisingly stress-free and even comfortable, thanks to the rubber engine mounts; it’s easy to break 100 mph if you need to, though you’ll never escape the past. There’s still just 2.1-inches of rear-wheel travel, but you only notice over really bad pavement. Harley does make bikes more suitable for touring, but they’re not Sportsters, are they? When it’s cold outside, the Mini-Apehanger handlebars on our bike (another HD-1 option) might be a bummer, but when it’s hot they’re great for keeping your pits aerated, and they don’t detract from the bike’s surprisingly light, linear handling characteristics. In fact they encourage you to throw it over in corners and skim the pavement with the forward-set pegs.

Upgraded brakes for 2014 only add to the Sportster’s well-rounded performance package.

The Sportster. It is what it is and it really doesn’t care if you like it or not, which is one of the finer things about aging, and it still draws a crowd of admirers spread out over a surprisingly wide, deep demographic. If you find yourself among them, you won’t be the least bit disappointed.

+ Highs
  • Outstanding paint and chrome
  • Surprisingly refined ride and controls
  • Improved brakes for 2014
– Sighs
  • How can it ever be vintage if they keep making new ones?
  • We’d trade an inch-higher seat for longer shocks and more travel
  • No place for groupies to sit on our test unit
2015 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom Specs
MSRP Base / Bike pictured
$10,649/ $12,999
Engine Capacity 1202cc
Engine Type Air-cooled 45-degree V-Twin
Horsepower 61.6 @ 5800 rpm
Torque 67.6 @ 4100 rpm
Bore x Stroke 3.5 x 3.811 in
Compression 10.0:1
Fuel System Electronic Fuel injection
Transmission Five-speed
Final Drive Belt
Frame Double-downtube steel
Front Suspension 39mm fork, 4.3 in travel
Rear Suspension Single, preload-adjustable shock; 4.3-in travel
Front Brakes 300mm disc; two-piston caliper
Rear Brakes Disc
Front Tire 130/90B-16
Rear Tire 150/80B-16
Seat Height 28.0 inches
Wheelbase 59.8 inches
Rake/Trail 30° / 4.2 inches
Wet Weight 569 lbs
Fuel Capacity 4.5 gal.
Observed Fuel Economy 36 mpg
Colors Black, Whiskey, Blue, (2) Two-tones