HARLEY-DAVIDSON SPORTSTER 1200 & WHY YOU SHOULD BUY ONE

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“Not a girl’s bike anymore!”

No Engine Defects:  The Sportster Evolution engine is perfected with zero mechanical flaws, defects, troubles of any kind which is amazing for an air-cooled V-Twin.  Read this article, What You Need To Know Before You Buy A Harley-Davidson Motorcycle and you will understand what defects we are talking about.  Most Harley riders have no idea the bike they are riding is doomed for expensive failures.

“It’s time to ride, so let’s ride!”

Belt Drive:  Take a good look at the Sportster and you can see the drive belt is on the right side of the bike opposite the primary case.  It means two things; you don’t have to remove the entire primary system and you don’t have to split the swing arm apart to change the transmission drive pulley and the drive belt.  You will save $1,000 right here alone when it comes time to change your drive belt.  Yes, drive belts and pulleys do wear out!  They also can fail after 60,000 without warning.  You can drive over a depression in the road and the belt slip off the wheel pulley and become damaged.  With a Sportster all you do is remove an exhaust pipe and a belt guard, loosen the rear wheel and slip the belt right off.  A fifteen minute job that only cost you the price of a belt!  The Twin-Cam Harley’s?  It will be a three hour job with over $1,000 bill and you won’t have the bike for a few days as it will be in the shop.

Engine Oil:  Changing the engine oil on a Sportster is quicker because one engine compartment has been eliminated.  The transmission and primary chain case oil is the same and drained from one 5/8″ drain plug both using the same oil.

“More Harley-Davidson Repair Technicians Ride Sportster’s These Days!”

Fuel Mileage:  You will get more miles per gallon of fuel with the Sportster.  The engine is fuel injected and computer controlled.  The bike is lighter in weight so it saves gas.  As fuel prices keep on rising this gas savings will be immense and should not be overlooked.

Ride Quality:  The new Sportster’s comes with better shocks so the ride is smoother, much, much smoother!  Better handling due to the fat 16″ tire on front of some models is a feature you should not overlook with cast wheels.  Stay away from spoke wheels.  They are troublesome, high maintenance and you can’t fix a flat tire while on the road.  It will strand you to call a tow truck.  Get the model that has the option of installing forward foot controls for that typical Harley-Davidson sitting posture most all of us love.  The best result is for you to take one out for a test drive and you will see just how nice the new Sportster’s truly are.  They are nothing like the old ones!  You’ll get a smooth ride, a great engine, and the handling is just plain fun.

Rubber Mounted Engine:  Yes, the new Sportster’s have rubber isolated engines just like the Big-Twins!  Vibrations are not jarring your brains out like the old Sportster’s did giving the bikes a prolonged bad reputation.  This is a huge improvement to the Sportster line up and people are now buying Sportster’s who would never have done so before.  Along with the new styles of bikes to choose from and better suspension systems and wider tires, bigger gas tanks, great handling and ride quality the new Sportster is driving a new cult of ridership.  I am impressed every day I ride my Sportster.

Powerful Engine:  Don’t let the smaller 1200cc (74 cubic inch) engine fool you into thinking you will have less power than the bigger Twin-Cam engines as those bikes are super heavy and gobble up and absorb power due their lofty mass.  When you open the throttle on the Sportster you will know why it is called a “Sporty” as it will slam you backwards and give you that V-Twin torque feel the big bikes can never give you.  Again, test ride one and you will be convinced.

“The Sportster is an amazing bike!”

Fun to Ride:  I had many huge displacement V-Twin motorcycles from 88 c.i. to 125 c.i. and not one of those big bikes ever gave the thrill of acceleration and quick handling I get on my Sportster 1200 Custom.  In fact, riding the big bikes is boring.  They ride too smooth like big Cadillac’s taking the fun out of riding a motorcycle.  On long rides the new Sportster’s are equal to the task for riders in the 5 foot range in height.  If you are tall the Sportster may not fit you as well as the bigger bikes.  A test ride of the bike will determine that.

Low Cost to Purchase & Maintain:  You will love the lower cost to buy the bike.  You’ll also love the lower cost to fill the gasoline tank and most of all you will truly enjoy not having to fix the engine due to defects and failures.  Even the cost of routine tires and brake pads are way lower in price than the larger bikes.  My Sportster has big 16″ tires and I still pay less than the same 16″ size tire used on the larger bikes, like $100 less per tire!  Insurance is cheaper.  DMV fees are cheaper.  Imagine having more fun and paying less for it… the Sportster is an amazing bike!

Great Sound:  Just listen to a Sportster 1200 with pipes and can you tell the difference?  It has that Harley sound you want (if you like that low-thundering Harley sound).  Even the 883′s sound great.  Slip-on pipes is all you need to save money instead of buying an entire pipe system.  Yes, you must add a higher flowing air cleaner element and a power management fuel system to tune up the fuel mixture.  Today, the aftermarket devices just plug in and learn themselves or you need to set in parameter numbers using push buttons.  Easy to do.  No need for a dealer to install the pipes and flash the ECU.  I installed the Vance & Hines Straight Shot slip-on pipes.  I also found the stock baffles are too loud and bothersome, but the fiberglass wrapped quiet baffles lowered the octave of the sound to resemble exactly the Big-Twins which is still a bit loud, but a wonderful deep and decent tone of sound is emitted instead of a high-pitch raspy, neighbor-busting, irksome emission.

“Have you noticed more custom bikes are now Sportsters?  You can see them in the magazines and at motorcycle rallies.”

What Not To Buy:  When considering buying a Sportster consider the following points:

Engine Size:  The 883cc is underpowered.  It is okay for the beginner rider to learn on, but soon that rider will want the added power the 1200cc engine has.  Many who buy the 883 version already have in mind to upgrade the pistons and cylinder head with the 1200 bore kit.  There is nothing wrong with this formula except that with some good shopping and hard dealing you can buy a 1200 for near or even below the price of an 883.

Tire Size:  Stay clear of spoke wheels, but go with cast wheels with those big 16″ tires front and rear. They absorb road bumps, will not grab cracks in the road making for a nice straight-line smooth ride even on old roads in need of repair.  Stay clear of those skinny 21″ wheels as they will make for a horrendous arm-workout.  The bike squiggles down the road with those skinny tires constantly tiring you out just like the old dreaded Sportster’s used to do.  Get the upgraded wide 16″ tires as they run cooler and last longer too!

Fuel Tank:  Many Sportster’s still have those tiny 2-gallon “peanut” gas tanks.  Buy it only if you plan not to ride the bike over 60 miles one way.  These are city bar-hopping bikes.  They don’t have the range to initiate touring mode unless you are willing to carry portable gas containers. Hint:  You can carry gasoline in saddlebags if in a proper container that will not leak and is approved for such use.  This will help extend your range.  Your best bet is to purchase a 1200 Custom which comes with a 4-gallon or larger gas tank.

Click here to read about the book.

Pistons:  The pistons are cooled with oil jets that removes heat from the undersides of the pistons.  Only the big cubic inch high energy engines use this system, yet the Sportster has it!  It means Harley-Davidson is really going all out to make the Sportster engine double bulletproof.

Primary Chain:  Adjustment is easy to do without having to remove any covers, just remove a two-screw inspection plate, loosen a lock nut, adjust the chain with an Allan wrench to 1/4″ when hot, tighten the locknut, install the inspection cover and it is done for the next 10,000 miles.

Transmission:  It is so reliable H-D removed the trap door so there is no access to the transmission.  However, if anything were to go wrong the engine requires a complete teardown to access the gears.  A lot of bikes are like this so it is not a drawback.

Clutch Pull:  The clutch lever is easy to pull on the Sportster than on the Twin-Cam engine so there is no need to purchase a remedy kit to avoid hand cramping.

Shaft Bending:  There is no shaft bending and bearing failures taking place as in the Twin-Cam engines.  Why?  The shafts in the Sportster Evolution engine are short and supported by strong bearings.  Placing the transmission output on the right side of the bike solves the crankshaft and transmission shaft bending problems.

Accessories:  H-D has a ton of accessories for the Sportster.  The aftermarket also has even more.

Parts Prices:  It is amazing how much cheaper it is to buy engine and transmission and frame parts for the Sportster.  In many cases they are half-price of the Twin-Cam prices even for expensive items.  Very nice!

How to Buy a New Sportster:  Shop out of town, even in another state and you will get the best deals!  Just rend a U-haul if need be to haul your bike back home.  You can ride it home, but you won’t likely be breaking in the engine properly if you do.  Start with an e-mail and just say,

“Dear Fun Ride Harley Dealer,  I am ready to buy.  I live in Texas and I want a no-nonsense low out the door price that is worth my effort to come to Arizona to buy the bike from you, so just give me your lowest price for the bike and your best discount percentage for any accessories I may also want to buy from you.  I want the new blue color Sportster 1200 Custom with mini-ape hanger handle bars, chrome engine, forward controls and banana seat.  If your price is low I will buy the bike right now.  Sincerely, YouKnowWhoIAm.  Contact me by e-mail at:_______.  Thank you.”

My Personal Testimony

Arizona is a nice place to buy motorcycles as they are about $3,000 cheaper than Nevada, California prices.  I believe it is to attract out of state buyers.  I know I saved buying in Arizona.  Other states also have low prices.  Consider buying out of state and see if you can save money.   I bought a new Victory Kingpin in 2011 and got a great price in Yuba City, CA nobody could beat in the state I reside in.   I bought a new “factory ordered custom” Sportster in 2012 in Folsom, California and I saved $4,300 from dealers in the state I reside in.  It pays to shop around.  I was just in that Folsom Harley-Dealership in August and the prices of their bikes were awesomely low on the “price tag” yet.  I will most certainly buy another bike from Folsom H-D.  I had a recall notice, took it to a local H-D dealer and they were “too busy” to see my bike.  Next day I take it to Folsom H-D without an appointment and in 1.5 hours the bike bike was fixed (voltage regulator replaced due to a bad batch in production) and I was on my way.  If you live near California or just want a great deal no-nonsense Harley-Davidson, new or used go to Folsom, California and get ready to ride home with a bike at a nice price.

Advice on Dealing With Some Dealers

Some dealers may not even respond to your e-mails or they respond and don’t answer you back and it is because they have “stupid” sales persons (and owners with dumb general managers) who do not check or even answer their own e-mails!  You want to deal with a business that knows how to run a business so this is a good first sign if they e-mail you back and keep in touch with you.  If a salesperson drops the communications?  Drop him from your shopping quickly and seek out another dealership.  Not all H-D dealerships are professionally operated as they should be.  Also, when you have cinched a deal with e-mail it is a written record of the deal prior to the purchase contract for your protection.  It helps everybody get on the same page knowing what is being ordered and what is to be delivered.  I purchase my bikes all by e-mail and I pay by check in the postal mail, then I go pick up the bike.  It is a formula that works and weeds out the flaky salespersons who don’t even know how to type their own name!  I rather deal with higher levels of competence than that, don’t you?  Dumb salespersons will screw up the order and they will also not give you a good price deal.

If you prefer to do business in person face-to-face don’t let any sales person approach you and don’t take their business card.  Once you do, they will always steer you to that person.  He has claimed you as his and that takes away your choice!  Talk to each salesperson, but don’t take no business card from them, yet.  Talk about bikes and features and technical details and how certain accessories you want will fit the bike you want.  Watch out if they say, “I think, it should, likely will fit.”  If the salesperson is not professional here you will find out.  You want a salesperson who has studied his products and knows what will fit and what will not fit.  Do not accept liars and dummies as your sales person.  Find out who the general manager is and tell him you want an “experienced and honest salesperson who does not give sales pitches then go from there.  It still does not mean you will get one!  If not, go to another dealership right away!  Even if that dealership has won H-D Top Dealership awards (they all seem to win some sort of recognition) go shop around for a better buying experience.  You should reward those salespersons who are professional, fair and willing to give you deep discounts in their dealings to “earn your business.”

When you do find a professional salesperson who wants to “earn your business” when it comes time to fix problems with the bike he will use his influence to give you better service, better treatment, better pricing.  When it comes down to trading-in your bike to buy another the deal will go smoother too.  Everything is better when you deal with professionals.  I know as I have bought over 20 motorcycles so far in my lifetime with more to come!

A big problem I see is buying a bike from your home town dealership.  They work on the friendship principle of gaining your friendship and trust which “obligates” you to buy from them, but they are not so friendly giving you deep discounts!  You may feel like a “traitor” or “disloyal” customer if you do not buy from them, but you must resist such intense psychological “persuasions” and go with the best deal you can get from a distant dealership.  The farther away you travel the better the deal should be.  When you see the low price is fading at least you know just how low some dealers can go to sell you a bike.  Low price is not everything.  It is okay to pay a bit more as long as you know you are dealing with professionals.  What good is a low-ball deal if when you show up to get your bike it is not ready to be delivered to you?  Or there is a paperwork screw-up preventing you from taking the bike home with you?  Lost DMV documents?  Improperly filled in data in purchase contract agreement?  A changed, altered, inflated purchase contract agreement on the day of delivery?  Last moment price changing trickery?

If you find a dealership that has reliable e-mail communications you will find your professionals!  It is one of the greatest indicators of professionalism I have found when buying a new vehicle.  And it makes sense doesn’t it?  Diligence should be rewarded.

One more thing.  Buy from a dealer’s salesperson who really likes you and is willing to spend time to talk to you and get answers to your questions.  Do not accept answers like, “Well, you got to go to the service department and ask them.”  That does not fly.  The salesperson needs to “earn the sale” and do the research for you to guide you into the sale.  Make sure the sales person really does like you and will smile and be friendly.  Stop rewarding unprofessional sales persons.  Those sales people will only steer you into the wrong product to buy anyway.

Optional Accessories:  When you find the bike style you want, make sure the accessories will fit.  Example: If you factory order or have dealer-installed ape-hanger handlebars make sure they give you extra slack in the wiring and cables and hoses to also install 4″ riser & 4″ pullback riser without having to cut wires.  I bought one and forgot to ask and I had to cut electrical wires and route cables and houses to give me that extra lean-back sitting angle I needed.  Better yet, see if a factory order will permit risers to be installed at the factory with the ape-hanger bars.  That will solve many problems.  I recommend buying H-D accessories because they fit right and will not interfere with saddlebags, rack, back rest, etc.  Ask for and later agree with at least a 10% discount when buying accessories.  If you are paying retail prices ask another dealer for discounts and you will buy from them.  They usually cut you a deal.  One thing you will find that H-D dealerships generally do not like each other as much as we perceive them to be in unity.  Again, out of town bargains are to be had to those who dare to ask for discounts.  I often ask the local dealer for discounts and if they deliver then I buy.  If not, I buy from those who do.  Just because I buy a Harley-Davidson motorcycle does not mean I have given up the shopper’s right to chase discounts, sales and great bargains like everybody else.  Make sure all accessories listed on the purchase contract will indeed fit your bike!  Match catalog numbers to the part number on the purchase contract.

Test Drive:  Try to find the Sportster model you want to buy.  If they don’t have one go ahead and try another just to get a feel for the power of the engine, but do not judge the bike.  That bike may feel and handle awful due to the low handlebars, foot peg location, seat position, etc.  When the bike model you desire arrives then test ride that bike.  Make sure the bike you test ride is stock.  Some dealers may give you a demonstrator that is hopped-up or has expensive modifications.  Take two test drives before you buy just to make sure you like it.  When I test drove my first Sportster it was a 1200 Custom but it had low bars which I hated.  I was stooped down like a drag racer when I wanted to sit upright like sitting on a couch, the typical Harley stride.  But I got the feel for the handling and power and with 4″ pull-back risers and mini-ape bars it came out “perfect” and the Sportster is now one of the best bikes I have ever owned.  It is no wonder many Harley-Davidson technicians ride Sportster’s.  They don’t want to be fixing their bike since they do that for a living every day.  It’s time to ride, so let’s ride!

What Is Wrong With The Sportster?  The 1200 XL custom is the model that is best for touring.  It looks like the Fat Boy Twin-Cam engine style of bike.  The XR 1200X modle is like a Buell crotch rocket and does not fit me or my riding style, but if a hot-rod or bar-hopper is your cup of tea the other versions of the bike will be to your liking.  Overall, regarding the 1200 Custom the front forks still need a few degrees more of rake as the handling is still a bit too lively for my tastes, but it is a vast improvement over the older Sportster’s and is not bothersome.  I would like to see indexing marks on the swing arm to adjust the rear wheel alignment easier.

I prefer easier access to internal transmission gears and shifting forks.  As it is now, if a transmission component fails the engine cases must be split to repair them (H-D removed the transmission trap door because failures are not frequent).  I would like to see more wire and cable length when factory ordering ape-hanger handlebars bars as there is not enough room to install 4″ pull-back risers without cutting and soldering wires to the speedometer LED readout.  A larger headlight diameter would be nicer, but even some Big-Twins have small Sportster style headlights.  LED headlight come stock on the bike.  I paid almost $400 for my H-D LED headlight, but it lights up the road like daylight which makes night driving on dark country and mountain roads pleasurable.  You got to see it to believe it!  There is some fleeting engine vibrations that are strong at between 50 and 60 mph that are not overpowering, but enough that you want to lower or increase speed to make it go away and it does disappear below 50 and above 70 mph.  It is very smooth running otherwise.  These vibrations decrease after the break-in period.  At 8,000 miles on the bike these vibrations have completely gone away.

There could be one weak spot on the engine and it is the valve lifter bores in the crank cases.  If the valve lifters wear out the bore holes you may have to replace the crank case, that is if there is no aftermarket oversize lifter available.  However, I would be willing to bet these bores do not wear out below 200,000 miles especially if synthetic oil is used and is changed each 5,000 miles or less.  If this is the Sportster’s weak point its not weak at all.

I found the negative battery terminal is one inch too short in length so it makes battery removal troublesome, but not impossible.  I did not appreciate the side post battery terminals with a steel screw that threads into soft lead.  This is not good as it is too easy to strip soft lead threads and vibration could wiggle terminal connections loose.  A better aftermarket battery cable will fix this inconvenience.  There is not much room to fit a wider tire on the rear.  A wider fender would be helpful, but also the drive belt is too close to the tire so you need to be careful in buying aftermarket tires that they do not exceed 150mm width or the tire will hit the belt (stock tire is 8mm away from the drive belt).  Be aware that aftermarket tires may be rated as 150/80/16 but may actually be wider than its rating!  So, measure the new tire width before installing.  On most bikes over-sizing is not a problem, but the Sportster 1200 Custom already has a wide tire on it and will not tolerate a wider tire than 150mm.  Other than these minor issues there is nothing wrong with the Sportster to complain of.  It truly is close to perfection in what you want in a Harley-Davison.

“Sportsters used to be called ‘girl bikes’ but not anymore.  They are totally new design with better looks, handling, suspension and function along with big fat tires and cool styling to a appease the eye.”

If you do some Internet searches and talk to Sportster owners you are going to find out that it is the Sportster that is the most reliable Harley-Davidson you can buy.

Sportster is too small for me?  Maybe not.  First, find a dealership that has a Sportster model with extended foot controls and ape hanger handle bars.  This will accommodate most tall riders.  If not?  You can research to get extended foot controls that extend out further than stock models do or have a set custom built and installed by a custom bike builder.  Same with ape hanger bars and maybe a new custom seat.  This will get the bike to fit you and not void the factory warranty.  Is the stock 1200cc engine powerful enough?  At 75 horsepower it is plenty powerful.  Remember, the much bigger bore Twin-Cam engines not so long ago (and still running the streets) only had about 64 horsepower!  Test ride a new Sportster, you’ll see!  The Sportster also feels powerful like a big 125 c.i. engine.  I know, I had two 125 V-twin motorcycles.  Those big bikes are heavy beasts while the Sportster is light as a race machine so it gets up and goes right now!  Just take a 1200cc Sportster for a test ride.  Don’t test ride a 883cc Sportster it is underpowered compared to the 1200cc.

Can I buy an 883 and later bore it to a 1200?  You can, but it is not worthwhile.  Just take the plunge and get the 1200 engine and there will be no regrets later with added expense, parts compatibility or warranty issues.

My Recommendation:  Buy the Sportster 1200 Custom with 16″ cast wheels, forward controls, mini-ape-hanger bars with 4″ pull-back risers or go with 12″ apes.*  Check out the H-D rack, side plate and back rest then add saddlebags (I used Leatherlyke brand which cost less and fit perfectly and look real nice and last forever never dulling their appearance).  The 1200 Custom has the power, immense torque, extended touring range and the ability to fix a flat tire beside the road due to the tubeless tires installed.  And, it is totally customizable by H-D accessories and the aftermarket has all the parts and supplies you want or need at low prices to boot!  I recommend you test ride and buy one.  You’ll save yourself a ton of grief compared to the defect-riddled Twin-Cam contraptions that bleeds wallets dry from never-ending repairs.

* You need to reroute the throttle cables by removing the tie strap on the fork and use a loose-fitting wire tire so the cables will stay slack.  You need to solder or install wire connector for 3+” extension of wires feeding the speedometer’s accessory indicator light assembly which is easy to do.  It’s just a LED light bar that needs to be extended as it won’t reach its specified location.

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© by James Russell.  All Rights Reserved.  Posted on:  JamesRussellPublishing.com Reprint Rights:  Enthusiasts and Motorcycle Dealers may post and reprint this article and use it to help them sell motorcycles as long as they do not make any changes to the document.

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