Harley-Davidson Sportster: Tracing the journey of 60 years


  • Harley Davidson Sportster has been in production since 60 years. It originated from heavy competition from British manufacturers when Harley used the K model (1952-56) with its unit construction crankcases but replaced the side valve heads of the 55ci (883cc) engine with overhead valves. It also retained the front and rear hydraulic suspension, advanced for the time. The Sportster platform quickly gained popularity for its ability to adapt and hence it went on to prove its worth in terms of sales. The Sportster constantly evolved over the years, in line with the changing market trends.

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  • The 1972 XL used a 1,000cc version of the ‘Iron Head’ engine. By 1976 the gear change had moved to the left and the rear brake to the right. In 1977, the XLCR (Cafe Racer), with its XR750-inspired rear suspension, new frame, triple disc brakes, cast aluminium wheels and rearset footpegs, became the sportiest Sportster ever made up to that point. 1983 saw further emphasis on performance with the XR1000, it was the nearest thing to a road-going XR750 you could buy.

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  • By 1986, two new Evolution Sportster engine in two capacities were introduced - an 883cc with an identical bore and stroke to the original ’57 design and a 1100cc (this was replaced two years later with a 1200cc engine). 1987 saw the introduction of the XLH883 Hugger, which came out to be a boon for riders with shorter inseams and the growing number of female riders. All Sportsters got 5-speed gearboxes in 1991, and all but the base 883 gained belt final drive.

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  • In 2000, the XL1200S Sportster Sport was fitted with dual four-piston brake calipers, and another at the rear and the 2002 XL883R featured a 2-1 exhaust, twin discs up front and low handlebars. In 2004, all Sportsters got a new frame design and rubber mounted engines and in 2007, fuel injection replaced carburettors.

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  • Harley-Davidson introduced the XR1200 in 2008, a Sportster with a 90bhp engine, USD front fork and powerful brakes, lightweight cast aluminium swingarm, modern instruments and rearset footpegs. By 2010, the roots of the modern Sportster lineup were emerging, starting with the XL883N Iron, which became the base model, and the bobbed XL1200X Forty-Eight.

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  • Two years later the XL1000V Seventy-Two brought the chopper appeal to the Sportster range once more, alongside the more laid-back custom style of the XL1200C. All four bikes referenced the Sportsters of the late ‘50s and ‘60s that, themselves, had taken their styling cues from even earlier in the last century. The Iron 883 and Forty-Eight were heavily revised with upgraded suspension and ABS braking in 2016.

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  • Celebrating 60 years of thrills, the 2017 XL1200CX Roadster adds a new performance dimension with its 43mm USD forks, premium shocks and powerful front brakes. In terms of Harley Sportster, the Indian motorcycle market has the Iron 883, 1200 Custom, Forty-Eight and Roadster, which is the newest addition to the Sportster family in the country. Roadster is also part of Harley-Davidson’s Dark Custom motorcycles, a movement that expresses the roots of Harley-Davidson.

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