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.
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.
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.
|2015 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom Specs|
|MSRP Base / Bike pictured
|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|
|Fuel System||Electronic Fuel injection|
|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|
|Seat Height||28.0 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|