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When was the last time you or I for that matter really looked at one while perusing the more exotic machinery in the local Harley showroom? Even when a helpful salesperson directs your gaze towards this bargain basement beauty, do you not find your attention wandering, eyes drawn away to rest more easily on a much more expensive object of desire. And yes, stood up alongside their bigger, brasher brothers, they are remarkably easy to walk past. Because outside of that showroom, out on the street, where any bike really belongs, the XLH easily holds its own.
Take a proper look now. In isolation the XL really has become a handsome motorcycle. Subtle changes over the five decades that Sporties have been in continuous production have culminated in a quite brutal looking, back-to-basics bike which also can boast a fine standard of finish and even sophistication. Look at the new style And the redesigned single seat looks better and is much more comfortable than the amorphous lump they were previously afflicted with.
Not necessarily! Also impressive is the overall finish of the motorcycle, nothing comes across as cheap, ill-designed or tacky, perhaps due to the nothing-but-the-essentials ethos, everything that actually is on the XLH Sportster has the look of being well designed, well made and well put together. Looks wise, the XLH, like any other Sporty, is dominated by its motor. Shoehorned into the frame, the uncluttered motor is intimidating, huge and impressive the only real focal point of the machine, and none the worse for it either.
Not a little lump at all really then. The power, what there is of it, is delivered well down the rev range, and allied to a fairly light and long action clutch and low comfortable bars the XL allows for stress free ride-aways from the lights and a sympathetic stonk-a-bility around town. Alright, alright, submph. Anything above 85mph is hard to come by in truth and really only explored by perverts with a sick vibration fetish. Funnily enough though, the motored Sportster is a much nicer bike to ride on a motorway than its bigger brothers, the Sporties.
As long as you stay under 80mph, the motor is noticeably smoother than the twelves. Is that vibrating white blob overtaking me a police car or a swan piloting a fast fridge freezer? From cold the XL does start lumpy and bad-temperedly - a bit like my beloved. The skinny inch fashion statements on the likes of the Sportster 53C, Custom or Dyna Wide Glide for that matter, do nothing for my confidence in the wet or dry. Maximum rubber up front as well as back might sound a bit pervy, but it also makes pretty good sense if you intend to get the most out of the bike.
I actually prefer the look of the chunkier front wheel on the Sportster from a purely aesthetic point of view too. Ah well, back to it. The XL is a stiff ride, make no bones about it: gone are the spongy rear shocks of yore, there seem to be stronger springs up front too and there are some of us about that have no problem with that at all. The handling generally was a delight, true you were rarely going fast enough to get into serious trouble anyway, but round town, the fairly short wheel base, low rise, mid-width bars and engine combined to make riding through traffic actually enjoyable.
And out in the country the neutral, upright riding position, sensibly placed pegs, decent brakes and firm, sure-footed feel of the bike allowed for enthusiastic, confident and flowing riding.
All that was missing was the power. Overtaking on A roads with the stock XLH was an essential knack to master, needing plenty of road, plenty of time to wind the motor up in anticipation and split second timing. Although it would sound totally berserk and massively irresponsible to your average Joe Nazi, I would argue passionately that releasing the pent up power in an is just as an essential safety measure as are decent tyres, good brakes, leathers and a skid lid.
Money Talk Finally then we get down to it, the price. The even more impressive thing is that the bike itself is extremely good. Buy a new XL, preferably run it in carefully first to get the full benefit, then return it to the dealers for the stage one tune. A price which already compares extremely favourably with say a stock 53C and of course, that tuning really does make a load of difference to the motorcycle.
It only comes after the first spell of familiarisation, which is very subjective and is all about personal likes and dislikes, and it includes the impression you have of a bike before even swinging a leg over it. I love the engine characteristics, am grateful for the rubber-mounted engine, and their chuckability is enough for their power delivery in corners: slow in, power out. Preconceived ideas are as often the making, as well as the breaking of any bike.
As it happened, I much preferred the Deuce to ride, in spite of my misgivings about a number of the styling cues, which takes the factory custom too far for me. And so it was that I swung a reluctant leg over the - the things we do on your behalf!
Small, light, narrow, great gobs of low-down power compared to anything else of similar size and a riding stance that is just right for the job. Not bad at all. I agreed. If I were to be critical here, it is that it over-steers in the bends, but that is only based on expecting to be travelling faster, and rolling the power on when exiting the corner, which would ordinarily go some way towards straightening the bike up again. It was also making a top end squeaking noise from the top end - evident from the airbox and identified as coming from the engine breathers, but potentially attributable to the lighter performance airbox being more open to the elements.
It was fine when cold but it was squeaking at tickover with less than five minutes of heat. I am almost certain that is was the ignition timing being way too far retarded, but that was the final diagnosis during the hundred miles run back to Towcester.
There, it was switched for the bog-stock XL53C Sportster Custom, and that confirmed that our Stage 1 was not a happy bunny. The brakes, like the chassis, are not tested much by the engine, even in Stage 1 tune, but that should come as no surprise anymore now that Harley have got their act together with their 4-pot callipers.
To put a second disk on the front would be unnecessary: the Sport gets the twin disk treatment and is, if anything, overbraked. The last I rode was fitted with the diminutive 2. I think it gets away with it because it has adopted the larger tank without necessarily the role that was thrust upon the earlier bike when so fitted: namely a scaled down medium-haul tourer. The big tank with the streetbike style works well for me, and in this case is perfectly complimented by the semi flat-track bars that give plenty of control in the urban environment.
The single seat might be a sticking point for some - it was for me when the first trip I had to make with the Sportster in my shed meant dragging my own bike out for an overdue gallop round the hills. You could go the XL53C route, sure, but that is a very different bike in so many ways with bars and footrests compromising the streetbike stance of the All too often, the is seen, quite wrongly, as an entry level Harley.
We do know of a brace of s which, last time we heard, comprised a stocker and a Stage 2 , and we have a promise of a feature putting the two against each other. The Stage 2 is reported to be smoother than the but without any lack of poke, so we look forward to that for the future. A pair of Fatbobs and Wides Glides does not a big-twin make, but by the same token even the Dyna-framed big-twins make better muscle-bikes than back-lane scratchers. As a small industrial town dweller, the urban sprawl is gone in every direction before the choke is fully home, so the Sportster is still unlikely to fit my requirement.
It has the same build quality, same after sales support and a massive array of things you can do to it. If it were a Japanese wannabee it would have cost the same when new, but half as much in twelve months time.
Download: Sportster Service Manual.pdf
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