Motorcycle Rider Basics
15Dec/07

Mistake #2: Don’t Buy A Sportster

Ouch Why not? I like the Harley Sportster. It's relatively inexpensive and it has all of the Harley good stuff. Power, hot looks and the Harley sound. Potato, Potato, Po-ta-to, I can hear it now, I love it!

Hey, I'm with you, I bought a Sportster and I loved it, for the first couple of months. But after about three or four thousand miles I started to focus in on the shortcomings.


Now, I could pick apart any motorcycle and list the shortcomings but that is true for most things. Everything has some pros and cons it's just that the Sportster cons just stay there and don't go away. You experience them each and every time you go for a ride.

For me, the ride was too high. By that I mean that the seat was just too far from the ground. I am a 5'9", 185 lb guy with no abnormal body characteristics (well, maybe a larger nose than most) and I like to have my feet flat on the ground when I am stopped at the traffic light.

2007 Model XL 1200C Sportster FXDB Dyna Street Bob FLSTC Heritage Softail
Seat Height 26.5 25.8 25.5

One inch doesn't seem like much but it makes a difference. You can always replace the seat with a lower profile seat and get right down to the Softail height. Of course you can do the same with the Softail seat and get right on down to some serious lowrider height.

FOonSportsterBut it is more than the physical height of the seat. The Sportster has a higher center of gravity than the Dyna or the Softail. When I ride a Sportster, I feel like I am sitting on top of the motorcycle (Well, that's because you are sitting on top of the motorcycle, idiot), not part of the motorcycle, kinda just hanging on. When I am on other motorcycles, with lower seats and lower center of gravity, I feel like I am part of the motorcycle. I feel more in control, safer somehow. I like that feeling a lot.

This high ride is also a consideration at low speed, maneuvering into a parking spot or just walking your bike from here to there. It always felt like it was ready to tip over and with my feet not really flat on the ground, I was always ready for the worst.

The other thing that I did not like about the Sportster was riding two-up with my wife Irina. Now Irina is only 105 lbs so there was not a lot two-up impact. We would have a great ride in the city on surface streets for an hour or two and everything felt great. But when we got out on the Freeway (or Highway to most of you), the ride dynamics changed. After 100 miles, we were ready to stop and flop onto the ground. It just seemed like work at the higher speeds.

The lighter weight contributed to this feeling.

2007 Model XL 1200C Sportster FXDB Dyna Street Bob FLSTC Heritage Softail
Dry Weight (lbs) 589 634 725

But the real deal was the vibration. My experience was on a new 2003 Sportster and since then Harley has added rubber and made significant vibration reduction improvements to the newer models. My 2003 vibrated so that using the rear view mirrors for anything other than looking for big stuff (cars) unusable. But that was OK. It was at around sixty mph when the vibration started causing problems. I was always keeping my hands and arms tense on the handlebars. If I got up to around eighty mph, it leveled out and ran well. However, then I was always looking in my (unusable) rearview mirrors for the CHP (California Highway Patrol). That didn't work either.

The small gas tank started out being a concern. My 2003 has a 3.3 gal fuel capacity. Which translated roughly into 100 miles. You can see that Harley has fixed this with the newer models.

2007 Model XL 1200C Sportster FXDB Dyna Street Bob FLSTC Heritage Softail
Fuel Capacity (gal) 4.5 4.8 5.0

So, my concern about only having a 100 mile range disappeared when I realized that I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the 100 mile fuel stop so I could get off the Sportster and flop onto the ground. Whew! Thank you for the small gas tank.

Height, weight and vibration were the three biggest things that turned me off to the Sportster after I had some serious riding experience on it. But hey, that's just me. There are a ton of Sportster enthusiasts who will ride forever on their beloved Sportster (the cafe racer) forever.

As it turned out, I put 12,000 miles on my Sportster before I made a change. Before I bought the Sportster, everyone told me that I would be looking for a bigger Harley in about six months, and you know what, they were right.

Even so, if I had a good deal on a Sportster, and I could get it right now, versus saving my money for the big bike, who knows, it's always still better to be riding that to be watching.

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Comments (96) Trackbacks (0)
  1. He didn’t need a new bike he needed to grow some legs. Tippy toeing a sportster? He need a tricycle.

  2. Yeah, so, everyone knows that a Sportster is for “bar hopping”…….What kind of ignorance are we reading? WOW. I have a Sportster for solo riding, and a Heritage for the wife on back………Grow some thicker skin…..

  3. It’s easy to drop the seat height by using shorter shocks. My midget bro is about five feet tall and ran 11″ rear shocks to solve that problem. He’s had his 1200 Sporty for ~15 years and rides the phuck out of it.

    Gearing changes can put the vibration spot where it won’t matter, and the ancient trick of swatting a lead fishing sinker into each handlebar end works too.

    Sporties aren’t originally designed for two-up riding. They were scramblers after all. 1200 is ample HP-wise (remember when big twins were 74″?) but ya better be creative with the seat, bitch bar, and rear shocks if you want reasonable two-up comfort.

  4. Dude you’re an idiot! The Sportster is a great 1st bike that anyone can grow with.. It’s not that hard to add more HP or making changes that fit you the way you want it to.. Parts are cheap and in abundance. Plus if you can’t figure out how to work on it you might as well give up on owning a bike at all.. I was talking with someone that bought an 883 back in 93 or 96 (can’t remember what he said) He still rides it and still likes it.. I think you guys that poopoo Sportster’s must have small genitals and have a need for some huge under powered heavy monster that only sounds fast..

  5. I have a 05 1200 after having 950 bager by Yamaha I love the sportster.No moor jap bikes for this old man.

  6. I have rode bikes since the sixties back when a 500cc bike was big. If you can’t go fast and have fun on any bike no mater what size, stay home. It’s not how big it is it’s all about the talent that’s using it!
    2005 FXDL

  7. Guy sounds like a biotch.

  8. Sportster’s are a great bike weather it’s your first middle or last bike.baggers are for old creepy dudes with bad mustaches and wears wolf tshirts.ewwww

  9. hey….I have a mustache,old and creepy…and have a 2013 Iron 883 sportster. It don’t know I been riding it for 11,000 miles

  10. Hey he’s only being honest. I’m a lady rider and I have a 2000 XLH1200. Mine has been fully customised and looks like a heritage cross Softail standard. she has a wide glide front end on her.
    I agree with him though. High off the ground and I don’t feel like I’m in the bike but sitting on it. I’ve ridden my husbands Softail Shandard 2010 and it’s nice how you ride in the saddle. Also the small peanut tank (which I replaced with a long tank but still rather small) is annoying I have to bring a gas can in my saddle bag.
    All I’m saying is I love my bike it’s awesome! Had it for over 4yrs now but he has a point. Everything he said is what I felt but he wasn’t saying that Sportsters are shit, he’s just pointing out the cons.

  11. Get some forward controllers and buckhorn handlebars if you want to feel lower

  12. Anyone who believes this article or that a sportster is nothing but a bar hopper is not only an idiot, but simply a wannabe. I have a 1992 Sportster which is lowered with a Paugho set up, big bore, forward controls and apes and I ride that f***** on LOOOOOONGGGG RUNS with no problems whatsoever..

    If you think a sportster sits to high and are too stupid to figure out they canbe lowered or that a Sporty is ONLY for bar hopping, go back to a jap bike, you don’t deserve a Harley

  13. I’ll leave the sportys to the young bucks for long runs. My good friends L4 and L5 and the portion of the disc between prefer Short hops on the things.

  14. I learned how to ride on a 900 Kawasaki 30 yrs ago….it was my boyfriends. I’m a 5’9″ female and bought a Dyna Wide Glide. The center of gravity is excellent, handles very well, good on long trips or bar hopping with an attitude. I stayed away from the Sportie for alot of the above reasons and also because alot of men don’t think a woman can handle a larger bike. Looking for a second one…probably the Anniversary edition Heritage.

  15. When you get up and complain about where are the jobs, look at the side of your gas tank and that will give you a clue of the jobs you support. Also look at your shirt tag and notice how many of your shirts were made in Pakistan giving you the chance to support the terrorism that is facing you now.

    The one thing he didn’t mention is that his Sportster is likely worth most of what he paid for it after all the use. The is no Jap, Korean or Euro bike in the World that holds it’s value like a Harley. Like all things you get what you pay for and I would rather trust my body on a bike built proudly by Americans.

    Buy American and Support American Jobs.

  16. His point seems to be that he doesn’t find a sportster particularly comfortable. Im sure he wasn’t trying to hurt any of your feelings. A 1200 sportster is a lot of fun around town but having ridden cross country on one (with 20″ apes, forward controls and lowered shocks for all you tough guys) and the same trip on various dynas, softails, pans and shovels i can say the sportster was the least pleasant. I’m only 5’10” and I always felt way too cramped on a sporty, not to mention it felt like it was going to shake apart at speeds over 70mph or fly across the freeway any time a semi passed the opposite direction. If you like em thats great, they’re fine bikes but theres certain things a larger bike is better suited for.

  17. I have been riding off and on for 30 years. I finally got my own 9 years ago….an ’06 Harley Dyna Wide Glide. I have customized it to fit my personality. I never owned a Sportster but have ridden one for thousands of miles as a passenger. All I have to say is I love Harley’s but don’t like the Sportster at all. It feels small and skinny to ride and it’s a little bike. As a passenger it’s even worse. If you’re learning and want a big bike and want to start on a Sportster, you can find them used and cheap because after 6 months you will want to sell your used and cheap Sportster for something that makes a statement.

  18. Congratulations on the glide. As a pillion I am sure the sporty seemed quite thin and uncomfortable, especially if you were on a stock passenger seat. It may have also seemed underpowered riding two up, especially if it was an 883.To call it a good beginner bike, however, is dangerous advice in my opinion. I would suggest a
    beginner bike that is lighter, has a smaller displacement, and is less likely to make you cry if you drop it.I cut my street teeth on a mid seventies Yamaha XS 360 and got comfortable with the physics before moving to a larger bike.I can honestly say that I would probably be dead had I tried to climb that learning curve on a sporty.

  19. You’re right. I learned on a 900 Kawasaki…hahaha And I’m surprised I’m not dead. Keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down. :-)

  20. This guy is such a puss. Do yourself a favor and go buy a shadow.

  21. I have an 03 XLh1200 sporty 100th anav edition and I love it.always take it in and have it serviced lie clock work.has always been a faith full ride I have put 76.324 miles on her since I bought her new . I just goes to show if u a take care of your ride it will take care of you. And I still have my first Harley it’s an 82 xlh1000 sporty and she still runs like a Swiss watch.

  22. I can’t think of more things that piss me off more than sportsters being called a girl’s, beginners, entry-level bike. I have a 2015 IRON 883. BAD ASS! Period. Not everyone is cut out to ride a sporty. I am about to partake in a ride from las Vegas Nevada to bowling green Kentucky. 1851.4 miles. Change the seat and add performance, highway pegs, and raise the bars a little bit and I am off. Bar hopper, I think not. It takes a special kind of bad ass to ride a sporty. Just ask Sonny Berger. Dont know who he is, he founded a little club called the Hells Angels. He rides a sporty. I think that is all i have to say about that. Yea, there is a lot of difference between a biker and a motorcycle enthusiast.

  23. Here here!! Couldn’t agree more. I might be a girl but totally agree with your comment. I bought my Superlow new in 2012, made a few adjustments, including the 1200 Screaming Eagle upgrade, highway pegs, pillion pad, lumbar pad, better tyres (didn’t like the Scorchers at all). My only future change would be a more comfortable seat. I’ve clocked up nearly 30,000 klms and still enjoying it. Planning a road trip of about 2500 klms just after Easter. Look forward to riding on some great mountain passes that I haven’t travelled before. Enjoy your trip from Vegas to Kentucy! We shipped our Dyna over to U.S. last year, 42 days on the road, over 10,000 miles. Try to get down to the tail of the dragon, you won’t regret it!!

  24. I ride a big V-twin. I know I’ll get hate mail for this but I think Sporters should be renamed…..”Piglets”

  25. Fotflol, well it is original. Kudos Karen.

  26. I ride a sporty and I love it. She’s my first bike, an XL1200R, and I’ve learned to ride with her. Got her used, just paid off the loan.

    Someday I may get another bike, a Dyna or a night train, if I’m lucky, an FXR.

    I came to riding later in life. I don’t just have a sporty, I have a Roadster. She’s a mighty sweet ride. Although I’m in love with my bike, I don’t think I’d talk badly about another’s ride, as nobody’s trash talked my sweet girl.

    Peace, y’all, from Texas.

  27. I have a 79 ironhead. Redone everything, and say what you will about maintenance, but when it runs, it’s perfect even for me (6’3/210). Horsepower; not an issue. I can run at 80 for miles, and with no trouble at all burst to 100. Sure, without a windscreen, it can be work to stay on at 100MPH but it’s the same with all bikes of that size at that speed. AND an advantage of the low weight IS parking and walking it back and forth. I can even park straight into a spot, then flip the rear around manually. OVERALL, if you can’t afford a $40-f-ing-grand street glide, get yourself a $2000 sportster.

  28. I’ve owned sportsters, softtalls, and touring bikes, I currently have a 2012 sportster 72 and a 2014 street glide special- they are very different bikes and that is the point. Ride what you feel good on and don’t worry about the d-bags who say differently, there is no wrong answer here folks. Be true to yourself, don’t be a poser, and enjoy the ride. They’re all badass!

  29. So you’re short and fat and bought the wrong bike for cruising 2 up and you’re dissing sportsters. Actually I’m glad. Because of you and your kind, I can always get a great bike with low miles under $5000.

  30. I just picked up my first Harley Sportster last week – a beautiful 2013 XL1200 C with very low mileage and a nice set of Vance and Hines pipes – what can I say, I love every minute I spend riding it arond the streets of London. I’m 6′-2″ so don’t have any problem with saddle height or centre of gravity. It looks great sounds great, feels like a real motorcycle and it’s got some grunt. I don’t know why I didn’t get one before now.

  31. I bought a 2007 883r after returning to riding from a year off. Before the sportster I had every 600 supersport, a 1000 cbr, dirt bikes , and a 1200 naked bandit. I love the sportster. Second weak I owned it I rode from New Hampshire to New Jersey, rode around jersey all day, had a few drinks and rode back to New Hampshire, got stuck in an hour of traffic near Boston. I’m 40 years old with back problems, what’s everybody complaining about the bike for? I had one of the best rides on the sporty. Almost 700 miles with a smile. The bike has solid torque and trots along at 70-80 forever. Twist the throttle n your at 100 in a few seconds from all that usable torque. The bikes nice n heavy and cut rite through the wind no problem. Yea you have to stretch every so often and the back n neck might give you alittle pain but you end up sleeping real good.I’m getting geared up for a cross country on it. My best friend bought the same sportster as me for his first bike and all he did was complain, but he wasn’t a rider. He wouldn’t go past 60 and thought it was the bike lol. Sportster a great piece of machinery, you just have to be a rider.

  32. Amen Brother. My iron and I did 200+ miles yesterday, and that was just for something to do. Like I said before, there is a difference between a biker and a motorcycle enthusiast. Especially on a SPORTY.

  33. Hello, droppen by to ask and dikker with the harley people……

  34. can a 2013 xlsportsterl, take any other kind of less expensive tire than the original HD scorcher? Front tire Especially…….120/70zr/18 59w …would like some advice here…

  35. Ive got Pirelli Angels. Ride smoother. Corners better. Get more mileage out of the tyres too!! Rear tire is slightly taller profile, which on an 883XL is great, it gives you just little more road clearance. Wouldn’t go back to the Scorchers!!!

  36. So, Im an Aussie. I recently had the good fortune of buying a bike after 10 yrs not owning one due to “LIFE”. I learnt to ride age 4 on a Honda z50. Since then owned so many trail bikes it is to much effort to think of them all. Owned numerous road bikes. My favorite being a ’72 750 Norton “Combat” Commando. The truest cafe racer of them all. That was in 1990. So when faced with the decision to purchased I narrowed down to 2 bikes considering I plan to do regular trips of 500 to 1000Kms.

    1. Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 with trailer saddle bags fully kitted out for touring and had only 18000Kms on the clock. Came with jackets, helmets 2 bike covers, gloves. It was a very nice kit. $9500

    2. HD xl1200c ’07 with 15000Kms on the clock, all stock except for pipes and tuning.
    $8500

    I chose the Sporty. At least I wont be to embarrassed to ride it!

  37. Good on you! I have a 2012 883XL, with the 1200 Screaming Eagle kit, so she goes well. We too enjoy good rides, usually anywhere from 300-3000klms depending on our days off! My only issue with my HD Superlow is the seat. It gets a bit challenging after 6 hours or so in the saddle. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the Sporty. Enjoy your riding. PS I’m an Aussie too.

  38. So I pick it up weekend after next. Cant wait, I feel like an expecting father. Cleaned out my garage, set up a new stereo in there, sorted all my tools, paying special attention to the imperial stuff and torx bits. LOL, Thanks for the uplift. Will be a 500km ride home. I am starting to feel complete again knowing I’ll be rollin’ soon. I’m sure this will be the start of the rest of my life and the first of many HD’s. I will never sell another bike I own. I hate myself for every one I have sold. This is the beginning of the rest of my life. Ride on Chick, might see ya on the road.

  39. 500klms is going to be good shakedown ride home. You’ll definitely have time to get used to it. I don’t know what your clearance is, but the Superlow is only about 3-3.5 inches so I scraped a lot! Since purchase we have upgraded to a set of 13″ progressive shocks, they’re good, but Olhins would have been better, just dearer. Also, see my earlier comment regarding Pirelli tyres, a hell of a lot better than the Michelin Scorchers that HD put on them. The rear tyre is a slightly higher profile, which gives me about 1″ more clearance. So now only scrape on the real tight ones! Also got rid of the useless foot pegs that were stock, this also helped on the scraping!! Enjoy the ride sounds great!!

  40. First, he is riding an 03, but listing an 07.
    I bought a used 07 883C, with 3558 miles, 7 months ago from the local dealership.
    In 7 months I’ve put almost 10000 miles on it.
    Turn angles are crap. I’ve put BIG scratches in exhaust from scraping.
    Mirrors do vibrate, BUT far from useless at any speed between 0 and 90.
    As for two up, 5 days a week I strap about 40 pounds of masons tools to the luggage rack, pick up my 25 year old son and run 40 miles (for the last month) to work. It’s a little sluggish but what do you expect, 500 pounds on a 550 pound bike, but even then, 90 isn’t a problem.

  41. I just finished an 1850+ mile ride on my 2015 iron 883. Las Vegas Nevada to bowling green Kentucky. If you can’t do it on a SPORTY your not a real biker. Ride On!

  42. This needs to be retired. It s been in discussion for years. Bored w opinions of Sportsters.

  43. I’m 5’9″ and I never had a problem getting both feet on the ground with a Sportster.

    My biggest problem with the Sportster line is that every bump and vibration from the road is like a kidney punch or forced compression of your spine.

    If Harley could make a more comfortable bike with the Sportster Engine in it, I would ride that bike in a minute.

  44. Very true about the suspension. Many times I have said it is not much shy of a hardtaill. Iron 883..

  45. Mistake number one was checking out this article. His issue number 1 seat height, my Nightster has a factory seat height of 25.3 lower than both of his “better” seat heights.

    Pete’s comment above has got a point though. It’s a pretty stiff ride. I have forward controls too and there’s only so much leg you can get under you like that.

    Still enjoy it though and I like that it’s light I’m using it as a commuter. It’s plenty heavy enough to keep me from getting wind washed from trucks but nimble enough to weave around the 5 and the 91 during rush hour.

  46. Yes, I don’t ride or want a Harley, and I don’t want to be a ” biker”, I am a motorcycle enthusiast, so big deal, sue me, just don’t race me, twist or straight, because I’ll leave your underpowered, over heavy, obsolete piece of antique iron behind me without any effort, oh yeah I’m on a ’97 Cbr1100xx. Look it up harley riders…in fact I call it the harley killer, but you all usually don’t know much about other bikes except harleys


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