2017 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Sportster Review

Ryan Burns
by Ryan Burns

Do not go gentle into that commercial-carpeted cubicle

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.

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
Ergonomics/Comfort 6.5/10
Appearance/Quality 9.25/10
Desirability 9.0/10
Value 8.0/10
Overall Score79.25/100

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

2017 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Specifications

MSRP$11,299 in Vivid Black
$11,649 in color
$11,749 in Hard Candy CustomSecurity Option +$395
ABS Option +$795
EngineAir-cooled, Evolution®
Bore & Stroke3.5 in. x 3.811 in. (88.9 mm x 96.8 mm)
Displacement73.4 cu in. (1202cc)
ExhaustChrome, staggered shorty exhaust with black dual slash-cut mufflers
Fuel Economy48 mpg (Combined City/Hwy, claimed)
Engine Torque70.8 ft-lb at 3500 rpm (claimed)
Front WheelBlack, Split 9-Spoke Cast Aluminum w/ Machined Highlights
Rear WheelBlack, Split 9-Spoke Cast Aluminum w/ Machined Highlights
Front Tire130/90B16 73H
Rear Tire150/80B16 77H
Brakes, Caliper TypeDual-piston front, Dual-piston rear
Lean Angle, Right (deg.)27.1
Lean Angle, Left (deg.)27.1
Fuel Capacity2.1 gal.
Oil Capacity (w/filter)2.8 qt.
Weight, In Running Order551 lb. (claimed)
Length85 in.
Seat Height, Laden 726.2 in.
Seat Height, Unladen 727.3 in.
Ground Clearance3.9 in.
Rake (steering head) (deg)30.2
Trail5.3 in.
Wheelbase59.3 in.
ColorsVivid Black
Bullet Silver
Corona Yellow Pearl
Crushed Ice Denim
Hard Candy Black Gold Flake
Hard Candy Hot Rod Red Flake
Ryan Burns
Ryan Burns

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2 of 44 comments
  • Ellis Tomago Ellis Tomago on Sep 30, 2017

    I would rather have a Scout 60 for considerably less $$.

  • Lenny Freilich Lenny Freilich on Oct 01, 2017

    Another HD review that makes me think "why would anybody in their right mind buy one of these"? There are so many compromises and just bad design choices on HD's in the name of styling. Why can't they have good brakes. It's not like the Japanese and Europeans haven't been designing bikes with great brakes forever! And anybody that tells you that the feet forward stance is comfortable is lying. To the faithful, anything with the letters "HD" on it is the best. Mass hypnotism at its most powerful.
    Oh, and it's air cooled. Didn't most engine designers abandon air cooling like a century ago?