The Sportster nameplate is iconic in Harley Davidson folklore. Stretching back to 1957, these legendary motorcycles remained in continuous production right up until 2020, with the model line gently evolving throughout the generations but always retaining that original ethos of rebellion and uncompromising presence combined with deep swells of torque and a thudding soundtrack.
In 1986, an evolution of the 45-degree V-twin was introduced; named, appropriately, the Evolution engine, its 1200cc displacement was about more than brute force. This air-cooled curio has a valvetrain like no other engine, squeezing in a cam for each individual valve so that it actually has four separate camshafts. The configuration allows for pretty aggressive cam profiles, hence the inimitable lumpy idle and raucous gargle under throttle load. Performance is, by consequence, surprisingly vivid. You want wheelies? You got ’em. And what you also get is a fabulous piece of design. No self-respecting collection is complete without a late-eighties XL1200 – it’s as much art as bike, and is truly sublime to ride.
The current owner bought this as a London bike. Having previously owned a Triumph akin to Steve McQueen’s in The Great Escape, it had become increasingly apparent that riding a motorcycle equipped with drum brakes through the metropolis on a regular basis wasn’t a brilliant idea, and he wanted something that combined a classic design with more modern appointments: enter stage left, the 1989 Harley Davidson XL1200 Sportster. An old-school cruiser with a sweet ride and reassuringly large disc brakes.
As is so often the case with Sportsters, a certain level of customisation was desirable from the get-go. For one thing, these bikes sit quite high at the rear in stock form and the owner wanted a sleeker look, so the rear shocks were swapped out for something shorter to get it nicely low-slung. To complement the vibe, the rear mudguard was bobbed – not too much, as it still has a job to do, but just enough to give a bit of custom flair. A set of broader handlebars were fitted, along with some tasteful indicators front and rear and some extended front foot pegs. And with that, the transformation was complete. In recent years, however, the bike has found itself sidelined by other toys and it’s just not seeing a whole lot of use, so the decision has been made to pass it on to a new keeper who can enjoy it for what it is: an effortlessly cool cruiser with style in spades.
The correct V5 is present, showing just two former keepers. We can see that the date of first registration was January 17th 1989, and that the VIN on the document matches the one on the frame. There’s a sheaf of old MOTs present, which helps to verify the impressively low mileage. We also find in the file sales receipts from its former keepers, reassuringly highlighting that it was supplied by Warr’s Harley Davidson – the Chelsea-based specialist that’s been operating since 1924.
The owner has paid a lot of attention to the details, and it shows. The chrome gleams, the paintwork is spotless, and everything is very straight and true – the bike has evidently never been dropped or knocked about, it’s lovely throughout. The smattering of custom touches really coalesce to create something special too; the red-and-black factory paint works so well with the bobber tail, the lowered rear, the wider bars and pegs and the hunkered-down stance, it makes for a Sportster with a lot of road presence.
An optional pillion seat pad is included, which easily attaches behind the main seat, and there’s also a neat side-bag for stowage. And a nice little detail is the hinged mount for the number plate, allowing you to obscure it for shows and so on.
Overall, a beautifully presented bike with a fabulous mild-custom flavour.
This brawny V-twin really does run very well. These motors are inherently strong and robust, and it’s an interesting quirk of the Sportster that, while Harley Davidsons are usually renowned for having rumbling motors that transmit very little resonance throughout the rest of the bike, this model has the engine mounted directly to the frame so you always feel totally at one with the experience.
The motor fires up willingly, and settles into the characteristic brap-brap idle that makes these bikes so desirable. It sounds utterly magnificent through those straight pipes too; a set of Screamin’ Eagle silencers are also included, but to help the 1200 find its voice you really do need to run something as shouty as this, it just completes the scene perfectly.
The owner reports that it’s a lovely bike to ride, no issues with anything mechanical, everything working as it should.
The question isn’t really ‘why would you want this Harley?’, but ‘why wouldn’t you?’
Just look at it – truly a thing of beauty, isn’t it? Every stylistic decision that’s been made here has been well thought out and completed with finesse, and it all adds up to an ineffably stylish package. With very low mileage and just two former keepers, it’s a bike that’s lived a gentle life, and with it running and riding superbly today, it’s ready for a new owner to fully unleash the beast into the summer of 2021.
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