10 things only real bikers know about the Harley-Davidson Sportster

The Harley-Davidson Sportster is one of the best Harley-Davidson motorcycles of all time. Not only does it have a long tradition, where we’ve seen the Sportster grow and develop, but it’s also proven to be a solid player. From the early days of the Sportster XL to today, we’ve seen the evolution of a champion. Some of these bikes were even built with racing in mind.



The Sportster tradition has certainly produced some impressive bikes. For example, the 1969 XLH Sportster was one of a kind, while the later Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two exudes chopper style and attitude. But then browse the latest Harley-Davidson Nightster and you’ll witness the next chapter in Sportster lore. Let’s take a closer look at the Harley-Davidson Sportster.

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ten Harley-Davidson Sportster and the Model K

The Model K arrived in 1952. We had celebrated the innovation of the EL Knucklehead, but now we were excited about this new design. Harley now faced the competition with a lighter motorcycle, powered by a 45 cu. ft. side-valve engine. But we wanted more.

The Sportster XL hit the scene in 1957. It had the sporty look we loved from the Model K, but over time it was going to offer so much more.

9 1957 Sportster XL

The 1957 Sportster XL was touted as a blend of beauty, power and adventure. It would go on to become one of the most important Harley-Davidson motorcycles in history. The Model K 750 flathead motor did not perform as expected. An overhaul was needed.

Harley introduced their 1957 Sportster XL with a 55 cu. ft. overhead valve engine. The Sportster XL looked sporty like the K model. However, the previous KHK model received a high-performance upgrade, with its improved headwork and high-lift cams. The KHK produced over 50 horsepower, while the 1957 Sportster XL model lagged by 40 horsepower.

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8 The XLCH – The Peanut Tank

The 1958 Harley-Davidson XLCH was ready to race. There is speculation as to what the CH means. Some say ‘Competition Hot’. Others say the C stands for “California.” And yes, that’s just speculation. But no matter what, the XLCH was built for trail racing, scrambling and to leave the competition in its wake.

The XLCH came with the 2.25 gallon “peanut” tank. The original XLCH had no lights but featured a domed rear fender, straight pipes and magneto ignition.

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seven The XLH gets an electric starter

In 1967, an electric starter was installed on the Harley-Davidson XLH. We saw the electric starter come into play with the Electra Glide.

Like the Electra Glide, the oil reservoir was moved to the right to accommodate the new battery. The XLCH model continued to use the kickstart.

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6 A new evolution for the Sportster

The eighties were here. The Sportster’s old Ironhead engine was about to be replaced. The 1986 Sportster was to be powered by a new Evolution (or Evo) engine.

The 1986 Sportster was offered with an 883 cc engine and a 1100 cc engine. But the Sportster engine was soon to be improved.


5 New era of the Sportster 1200cc

1988 saw the introduction of the 1200cc Sportster. The bore has gone from 3.35 inches from the 1100 cc to now 3.5 inches.

The changes would continue throughout the 90s. For example, in 1991 we saw a new five-speed transmission.

4 Harley-Davidson XR1200

Released in 2008, the Harley-Davidson XR1200 will not arrive on the American market until 2009. Its performance is hailed. It received an upgraded suspension for better handling.

The XR1200 was a Sportster with flat-track racing style, with echoes of the XR-750 track racer, from which it took inspiration.


3 Harley-Davidson 72 – Chopper in Attitude

The Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two evokes a chopper-style motorcycle. Just check out the 30.1-degree rake with the front forks, but then there’s that prominent 21-inch front wheel.

The name “Seventy-Two” derives from Route 72, or Whittier Boulevard, a popular cruising spot in Los Angeles. It was inspired by the chopper era of the 70s.

2 Harley Davidson Sportster S

We love the Harley-Davidson Sportster S, not only for its aggressive design, but also for its performance with its Revolution Max 1250T engine.

The Harley-Davidson Sportster S is a giant leap in the exciting history of Sportster. It brings in the tech sweeteners we love, like the high-mount exhaust, while retaining the heart of the old-school Sportster.

RELATED: Roadster Showdown: 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S vs. 2021 Indian Scout

1 Harley-Davidson Nightster

We love the Sportster S, but there are some very good reasons why we prefer to ride the Nightster. The Nightster is powered by the Revolution Max 975T, delivering impressive acceleration and the handling we crave.

The Harley-Davidson Nightster is built on a rich Sportster tradition. From the XL’s debut until now, we’ve seen the Sportster mature. Now we are waiting for the next exciting chapter.

Sources: Rafferty, T. (1997), The complete Harley Davidson. MBI publishing company; Youngblood, E. (2003). Harley-Davidson heroes. Motorbooks International.

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