2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow Vs. Triumph America [Video] - Motorcycle.com

Pete Brissette
by Pete Brissette

According to a 2008 NYTimes.com blog article, the average cost of a new bike in 2007 was in excess of $12,000. Considering the world economic climate of the past few years, there’s not much reason to think bikes have become any less expensive. But all is not lost.

If you’re eager to have a user-friendly ride – specifically in the ever-popular cruiser category – that won’t break the bank and yet still offers reputable performance, quality craftsmanship, appealing styling and is welcoming of new and/or returning riders, then gaze upon the Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow and Triumph America.

Both motorcycles provide comfortable riding positions. The Harley is better suited to riders with short inseams, which might include plenty of female riders looking for that first motorcycle. The America’s layout is such that it accommodates a wider range of statures, including folks standing six-feet-plus. But that’s not to imply the America is too big for petite frames, as its seat height is only 0.3 inch taller than the SuperLow’s 26.8-inch saddle.

Complementing friendly ergos is ease-of-use. Each bike’s overall performance reveals that Harley and Triumph have imbued these comparatively basic motorcycles with appreciable levels of refinement learned from decades of building bikes: everything, from braking to throttle/fueling response to handling to shifting, operates reliably, allowing the rider to focus on and enjoy the ride.

Harley-Davidson’s Sportster SuperLow and Triumph’s America retail in the $8000 price range. They offer lots of name-brand value to the consumer in the form of quality construction, good performance and friendly ergonomics.

Perhaps most appealing, though, is that the SuperLow and America bring their respective qualities to the table with bargain MSRPs: The Harley starts at $7999 in Vivid Black, with color models a few hundred dollars more, while the Triumph rings in between $8299 to $8599 depending on color choice.

Take that, high-average-price-of-a-new-motorcycle statistics!

The SuperLow and America fit the bill as entry-level cruisers, but experienced riders should also find them enjoyable.

Besides sharing low price-points, these cruisers are also similar in that each has a twin-cylinder engine in the 800cc range; both are fuel injected, have five-speed transmissions, low seat heights and a single (rather than dual) disc front brake. Yet for these similarities, and others, the SuperLow and America are markedly different in numerous ways. Let’s look at some of the commonalities and disparities ‘tween the two, starting with their powerplants.

Two peas from different pods

Other than by its own name, a Harley is most readily known by its engine: a 45-degree, air-cooled V-Twin in a displacement ranging from 883cc to 110c.i. (1802cc) depending on the model. As a Sportster model, the SuperLow bears the admirable burden of continuing the long-running Harley heritage that sees all Sporties powered by either an 883cc or 1200cc Twin. As a descendant of the 883L, the SuperLow is supplied with the humble but stout 883cc V-Twin.

The SuperLow’s 883cc air-cooled, fuel-injected V-Twin is a well-known engine.

After decades of successfully imposing itself upon the knowledge base of the modern motorcyclist, the Harley engine is a known quantity. It provides a loping quality during idle, emits a low rumbling thunder from its exhaust and, for its displacement, generates substantial torque right off idle.

Following the burst of acceleration (torque) nearly the instant the clutch lever is released, the SL’s power otherwise builds gradually but deliberately, which is to say the engine makes its power in a very predictable manner. And predictability is good in any scenario, but all the more so in motorcycling, especially in the SuperLow’s case when it’s highly probable the person accessing the engine’s power is a new-ish rider. A rider is empowered with confidence whenever power delivery can accurately be anticipated.

However, as noted above, as well as in the SuperLow’s single-bike review, the smack of torque the engine delivers just as the clutch lever is released may catch some riders unawares. If we were to give the Harley’s engine a demerit, it would come in the form of this abrupt power delivery at low rpm. Otherwise, the 883, she’s a classic gem of a V-Twin.

The Harley’s 45.5 peak horsepower falls about 10% short of the Triumph’s 50-ish horsepower. The amount of twisting force (torque) each bike produces is essentially a dead heat, with less than 1.0 ft-lb and only a couple hundred rpm between their peak torque results.

The Harley’s engine is strong right out of the gate, keeping pace with the Triumph for several thousand rpm. However, the design of the America’s engine allows it make more power and maintain its additional power long after the SuperLow has peaked.

To most riders considering these motorcycles as potential modes of transport, the difference between those figures is merely a statistical nuance. But for the right rider – perhaps a rider with a more refined sense of what he or she desires from an engine’s character – what may come across as appealing from the America’s engine architecture is how it makes its power.

The America’s 865cc parallel–Twin is a less familiar platform in the cruiser world where V-Twins still rule the day. However, the Triumph’s engine design allows it to “spin up,” or rev, quicker and longer than does the Harley’s V-Twin. And while each engine’s linear power and torque curves are closely matched for several thousand rpm in the beginning, the Triumph’s engine continues to build on its power, eventually outpacing and outlasting the SuperLow long after it hits its stride.

When it comes to cruisers the overwhelming choice of engine is a V-Twin. The Triumph’s parallel-Twin is a refreshing break from that mold, and its performance is on par (or better!) with V-Twins in its class.

Ultimately the Triumph has the advantage, at least on paper, but both bikes have strong acceleration out of the gate, like when pulling away from a stop. Each bike enjoys the benefit of excellent throttle response provided by trouble-free fuel injection, and each has a slick-shifting gearbox.

If you fancy a revvy engine, perhaps because some of your buddies’ racy sportbikes have influenced your tastes, then the Triumph might hold greater sway with you. Furthermore, the America is one smooth operator. The British Twin is virtually silent and vibration-free compared to the Harley’s shaking and rumbling engine. On the other hand, if you’re less interested in peak power figures than you are how effortlessly the bike’s engine can launch from a dead stop and keep the bike churning ahead, even in top gear, then the SuperLow’s iconic V-Twin, with a classic rolling-thunder exhaust note and genuine visceral character, is your ticket.

While a motorcycle’s engine is a leading aspect that draws in riders, it isn’t the single most important defining quality of a bike, especially within the cruiser realm where other qualities carry considerable weight in the mind of the rider. Let’s move on to other areas of consideration that separate these class-comparable rides.

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Pete Brissette
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