Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Sport - Motorcycle.com

Tom Fortune
by Tom Fortune

Harley Sportsters have been with us for many years now, and with the 1996 1200S Sport edition you could say they've come full circle. First introduced in 1958, Sportsters were based loosely on the K-model racer of the middle to late 50's. Stripped down, narrow, and light-weight, they were considered the Sixties superbike. During the AMF days of the 70's and early 80's, though, the Sporty evolved into Harley's econo-cruiser. With the arrival of the 883 Sportster, and now the Sportster 1200S, Harley has brought the Sporty back to where it started, to compete with semi sporting bikes.

The XL 1200S is an all new model in the Sportster family for 1996. The first road-going Harley to be factory equipped with full-on

adjustable sporting suspension, the 1200 Sport features many other enhancements not found on the likes of any other Harley-Davidson. Items such as new 13-spoke cast aluminum wheels mounted with Dunlop K591 Sport Elite tires, flat, sport-styled handlebars, sport-styled seat with textured insert and embroidered Sportster logo, larger 3.3 gallon fuel tank, and dual front, floating-disc brakes turn this Sporty into a serious backroads scratcher.

The addition of fully-adjustable suspension to the new 1200 Sporty is a radical update for the Motor Company. Of course, in the grand scheme of motorcycle building, adding spring- and damping-adjustable suspension components isn't a big deal -- for instance, designing and tooling up a new motor, like Harley did with their five-speed Evolutions a decade ago, is much more costly and labor intensive. No, the new 1200 Sport is a big subjective gain for many.

"Harley-Davidson has finally admitted that some of their owners might actually want to go blitzing up a twisty canyon road as well as lazily cruising down a boulevard. Call it a sport-cruiser, if you will."

But if a Harley is what you want, and carving canyons is what you crave, then this Sporty is the bike for you. The new Showa suspension offers a wide range of adjustments, and each click of a dial at either end has noticable effect on suspension action. Handling-wise, the 1200S offers no cause for concern when flicked about in the corners, once properly set up.

If the settings aren't right, the Harley can be a bit twitchy, but proper care and patience while dialing it in will reward the rider with a light-feeling, stable handling machine with quick turn-in and loads of ground clearance. The K591's are grippy and fully up to the task; once banked over, the Sporty holds its line well. Equipped with the best brakes we've ever had the pleasure of squeezing on a stock Harley, a firm pull on the lever returns impressive reduction of speed.

The big 1200cc Evo mill delivers smooth, torquey power with no surprises. Not a real powerhouse, this Sporty relies more on its light weight (497 lbs. dry) and cubic capacity than all out horsepower for its back road performance. All '96 Sportsters feature a new high-contact-ratio gearbox that makes the slick-shifting 1200S a real delight to row through the gears between bends in the road. Ergonomics are mildly sport oriented (for a Harley), with an excellent bar-seat-peg relationship that offers surprising comfort even over longer distances, and makes a great platform for those occasional banzai runs around the local fast sweepers.

"The 1200 Sport is an enjoyable, easy-to-ride motorcycle with no real vices, and without the extreme riding position."

If riding in the twisties at anything more than a good clip is your idea of fun, you should take a hard look at the new 1200S Sportster Sport. Assuming, of course, that you want a Harley -- because compared to almost any modern sport bike, the 1200 Sporty doesn't stand a chance in hell of staying close when the going gets tight.

The 1200 Sport is an enjoyable, easy-to-ride motorcycle with no real vices, and without the extreme riding position. It's just the best handling, most competent H-D Sportster ever to come out of Milwaukee.

Specifications: Manufacturer: Harley-DavidsonModel: 1996 XL1200S Sportster 1200 SportPrice: 10Engine: ohv, 2-valve, V-TwinBore x stroke: 88.8 x 96.8Displacement: 1200ccCarburetion: 40mm Keihin CVTransmission: 5-speedWheelbase: 60.2 in.Seat height: 28.9 in.Fuel capacity: 3.3 gal.Claimed dry weight: 497 lbs.
Tom Fortune
Tom Fortune

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