Guide price: £5,500- £8,500
・Iconic look, sound and riding experience
・Bobber conversion with hardtail and sprung seat
The Sportster is one of Harley-Davidson’s longest-running models, debuting in 1957 and continuing to this day, although in Europe, the manufacturer’s inability to get the big V-twin engine to satisfy Euro5 emissions regulations has meant it is no longer available on the Continent.
When it launched in the late 1950s, it used a 45° V-twin engine mounted directly and solidly to the frame. This transmitted vibrations to the rider and in 2004, the revised Sportsters adopted rubber mounting to try to reduce the vibrations and improve comfort.
A variety of engines have been used in Sportster models over the years, with capacities ranging from 883cc to 1200cc and in side-valve to overhead valve layouts.
This particular XLH 1200 Sportster has undergone a sympatheic and retro-style program of modification and is now presented for auction from a private collection. Its 1200cc V-twin engine benefits from the later steel barrels as opposed to the less-reliable aluminium versions and it has covered a very low – for its age – 34,000 miles in total.
It has had its telescopic front forks replaced with a set-up from an earlier Softail Springer model, with the cantilever arms operating four springs mounted on the headstock. It has also had the twin rear shock absorber/spring units removed and replaced with solid bars, turning it into a hardtail variant and a sprung leather ‘bobber’ single seat fitted to provide some insulation from the road surface. However, the original suspension units are included in the sale and can easily be re-fitted.
The rear mudguard has been cut down and shortened to expose more of the rear tyre and the original oil tank replaced with a fabricated, custom version. The front mudguard was also removed from the Springer front end but clearly, this will need replacing for the bike to be used regularly.
The original wheels have been replaced with smaller Fat Boy steel-spoked wheels, which have been powder coated and fitted with whitewall Avon tyres and the fuel tank from the Fat Boy was also fitted, using the same bike’s central controls and speedometer – hence the odometer reading differing from the bike’s true figure.
The bike was also fitted with cowhorn wide handlebars with internal wiring for a clean look and it uses a Beringer front-brake master cylinder and lever and clutch lever.
The bike is accompanied by only its V5 UK registration document that shows the current owner’s details.
The bike is in very nice, original condition with a degree of styling and sympathetic patina to it. The aluminium and chrome on the Springer front end is bright and undamaged while the wheels – centres and rims - appear to be in very nice condition, as are the polished stainless-steel spokes. The Harley-Davison badges on the side of the tank are bright and the paint is in nice condition though the chrome is scratched in places.
The engine cases seem to be in nice, original cleaned and polished condition and the end case on the right hand side is chromed and very bright. In fact, the rest of the chromework is very nice; the custom headlight, central control panel, throttle grip, air filter housing, horn and indicators all showing excellent lustre.
The paint on the petrol tank shows some signs of swirl marks but this appears to be resolvable with perhaps a machine polish and there are marks on the handlebars commensurate with the bike’s age. There is also evidence of wear around the switches on the handlebars but again, this is hardly surprising given the bike’s age and mileage.
Both the leather strap on the fuel tank and the seat appear in very good order and the enamelling on the engine barrels, frame and ancillaries appears in good condition. The pushrod tubes show some signs of paint coming off but this would appear to be cosmetic only and the rubber components – the grips and footpeg and gear-lever rubbers – appear in excellent shape.
Although the MoT expired in May of this year, the bike’s history would seem to suggest that it should be able to gain a successful pass with little or no trouble and the owner is of the same opinion.
The engine fires up promptly and idles smoothly – as smoothly as a 1200cc V-twin will – with a distinctive burble from the open-header exhausts. The owner confirms us that the bike was used on a daily basis until recently and that he believes there is no reason why it should not do so again. The four-speed transmission works exactly as it should, according to him and the forward-mounted pegs put the rider’s feet between the two heat-wrapped exhaust pipes.
The brakes show no signs of corrosion on the discs and again, according to the owner work exactly as intended. The ride is surprisingly smooth with the leather sprung seat and Springer front end though the rear suspension would make it more compliant if a softer ride was desired. The riding position is also remarkably comfortable with the foot-forward controls and wide handlebars.
Everyone knows a Harley; from the look to the exhaust note, you cannot fail to be impressed with this bike. Certainly, as we were photographing it in the sun, it stopped every passer-by, the majority of whom knew someone who used to own one or knew someone who did.
And that was before the owner fired the engine up. The bark and burble form the big V-twin is as iconic as the look and aura of a Harley. The straight-through pipes take none of the energy of the engine out by the time it reaches the atmosphere so the sound of the bike’s heart is there for all to hear.
This is a very interesting bike; the treatment it has received means it is everyday useable, according to the owner, but it has a very retro feel to it despite thoroughly modern systems and mechanics. It is, according to him, a bike that is crying out to be used as it is wonderful to ride and is very easy and forgiving – the seat is low enough that moving it around or low-speed riding is unintimidating and the clutch is light enough for everyday use or traffic.
In a world of super-efficient engines, lean-sensitive traction control, connected dashboards and adaptive cruise control, this Harley strips it all away for a visceral riding experience that will turn heads and put a huge grin on your face.
If you love motorcycles and big, loud engines, you owe yourself this bike.
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