Savage Roads

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Harley-Davidson Sportster

2008 XL1200N Nightster 

The Sportster is a line of motorcycles produced continuously since 1957 by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Sportster models are designated in Harley-Davidson's product code by beginning with "XL". In 1952, the predecessors to the Sportster, the Model K Sport and Sport Solo motorcycles, were introduced. These models K, KK, KH, and KHK of 1952 to 1956 had a flat head engine, whereas the later XL Sportster models use an overhead valve engine. The first Sportster in 1957 featured many of the same details of the KH including the frame, fenders, large gas tank and front suspension.

                                                       Harley-Davidson 45° V-twin, 
                                                         Sportster Evolution engine

Sportster motorcycles are powered by a four-stroke, 45 degree V-twin engine in which both connecting rods, of the "fork and blade" or "knife & fork" design, share a common crank pin. The original Sportster engine was the Ironhead engine, which was replaced with the Evolution engine in 1986. Sportster engines, the 45" R, D, G & W Models 1929 side-valve motors, and the 'Big Twin' side-valve motors, which were: the flathead 74 cu in (1,213 cc) Models V, VL etc. (1930–1936), Models U and UL (1937–1948), and the 80 cu in (1,311 cc) models VH and VLH (1935–1936), models UH and ULH ( 1937–1941) have four separate cams, sporting one lobe per cam.
The cam followers used in Sportster engines, K models, big twin side valve models, and the side-valve W model series were a slightly shorter version of the followers used in the larger motors, but with the same 0.731-inch (19 mm) diameter body and 0.855-inch (22 mm) diameter roller follower since 1929. The company used similar cam followers for decades with minor changes, from the 1929 to the Eighties.

                                          5-gear, foot-shift transmission on an HD Sportster

Sportster engines retained the K/KH design crankcase design, in which the transmission is contained in the same casting as the engine, and driven by the engine with a triple-row #35 chain primary drive and a multi-plate cable-operated clutch. Models since 1991 have five speeds; 1990 and earlier models had four speeds.

The engine was mounted directly to the frame from 1957 through the 2003 model year. While this system allows the bike to be somewhat lighter with more precise handling, it also transmits engine vibration directly to the rider. Sportsters released in 2004 and later use rubber isolation mounts and tie links to limit engine movement to a single plane, which greatly reduces vibration felt by the rider. Buell motorcycles built with variants of the Sportster engine have used a rubber mount system since 1987.

The Model K, from which the Sportster evolved, was the first civilian motorcycle produced by Harley-Davidson with hydraulic shock absorbers on both wheels. Common usage calls this a K Model.

Model K series

This is developed from the earlier 45 W model, but with the revised flat head engine and new 4-speed transmission contained in the same castings as would become the Sportster. The connecting rods would be inherited by the Sportster along with many other design features and dimensions.
  • Model K and KK 1952–1953: 750 cc side-valve engines, using the 45 model bore and stroke of 2.75" x 3.8125" (69.85 x 96.85 mm)
  • Model KR (racing only) 1953–1969: 750 cc side-valve engines
  • Model KH and KHK 1954–1956: 888 cc side-valve engines, using the 45 model bore, but with the stroke increased to 4.5625" (115.89 mm). This is the only small twin with a longer stroke than 3.8125". The shorter stroke is otherwise universal to the entire 45/K/Sportster line from 1929 to the present (exception: XR750, XB9 Buell ).
                                                   1957 Harley-Davidson XL Sportster

X series Sportsters

  • XL, Ironhead, 1957–1985: 883 cc and 1,000 cc Ironhead overhead-valve engines with cast iron heads, K series frame
  • XLCH, Ironhead, (unofficial "Competition Hot" moniker) 1958–1979: 883 cc, and 1,000 cc 1972 & up
  • XR-750 (racing with the exception of being Evel Knievel's jump bike while sponsored by Harley-Davidson between 1970 and 1977) 1970–1971: 750 cc overhead-valve engine, iron heads
  • XR-750 (racing only with the exception noted above) 1972–1985: 750 cc overhead-valve engine, alloy heads
  • XLCR 1977–1978: Cafe racer 1,000 cc overhead-valve engine, iron heads
  • XR-1000 1983–1984: 1,000 cc street model using XR racing cylinder head and other XR engine parts
  • XLR: 883 cc overhead-valve engines, iron heads
XLS Roadster 1982 -- 1000cc ironhead / 4 speed, stock features -- 2" longer forks, 2 up seat, sissy bar, highway pegs, 3.5 gallon "Superglide" tank
  • XLS Roadster, 1983-1985, 1,000 cc ironhead, 4 gallon fuel tank with console
  • XL, Evolution (also known as the "Evo"), since 1986: 883 cc, 1,100 cc and 1,200 cc Evolution overhead-valve engine, alloy heads
                                                            1971 Sportster XLCH


Introduced in 2007, the XL1200N Nightster included (then) unique features such as a bobbed rear fender, front fork gaiters, and a side mount license plate. The riding position and 25.3-inch (643 mm) seat height of the Nightster are the same as those of the XL883L Sportster Low - UK version (along with Iron 883 and Forty-Eight) has central number plate, 13.5-inch rear shocks, tapered silencers, and combined LED indicator/tail/brake lights.

The Harley Iron was released in 2009 as a smaller displacement version of the Nightster. The major differences are blacked out engine, cast wheels instead of laced; narrower handlebars; and of course the smaller engine displacement.


In the 2008 model year, Harley-Davidson released the XR1200 Sportster in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The XR1200 had an Evolution engine tuned to produce 91 bhp (68 kW), four-piston dual front disc brakes, and an aluminum swing arm. Motorcyclist featured the XR1200 on the cover of its July 2008 issue, and was generally positive about it in their "First Ride" story, in which Harley-Davidson was repeatedly asked to sell it in the United States. One possible reason for the delayed availability in the United States was the fact that Harley-Davidson had to obtain the "XR1200" naming rights from Storz Performance, a Harley customizing shop in Ventura, Calif.The XR1200 was released in the United States in 2009, in a special color scheme including Mirage Orange highlighting its dirt-tracker heritage. The first 750 XR1200 models in 2009 were pre-ordered and came with a number 1 tag for the front of the bike, autographed by Kenny Coolbeth and Scott Parker and a thank you/welcome letter from Harley-Davidson, signed by Bill Davidson. The XR1200 was discontinued on the United States Market for the 2013 lineup.

                                  2003 Harley Davidson XL1200 Custom Anniversary Edition


In the 2010 model year, Harley-Davidson introduced the XL1200X "Forty-Eight" model. It is similar to the "Dark" Nightster style but has the classic 1948 style small peanut tank, wire wheels, forward-controls, a wider front tire with a fat front end and chopped front fender, a slammed speedo with under mount mirrors, low solo single seat, and low suspension.


In the 2012 model year, Harley-Davidson introduced the XL1200V "Seventy-Two" model. It has the classic styling of the early '70s chopper/bobbers that were prevalent during this time. It has the peanut gas tank, wire wheels, white-wall tires, forward-controls, a bit of extra rake and slightly longer front forks, a chopped (bobbed) rear fender, side-mounted license plate, low solo single seat, mini-ape hanger handlebars, and low suspension.

Current models

The Sportster is offered in a number of different models. The 2014 models, which are not all offered in the same countries, are:
  • SuperLow - XL883L
  • Iron 883 - XL883N
  • 883 Roadster - XL883R (U.K.)
  • 1200 Custom - XL1200C
  • SuperLow 1200T - XL1200T
  • Forty-Eight - XL1200X
  • Seventy-Two - XL1200V

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