1 Dec
Harley's latest Sportster gets the bobber treatment

Harley Davidson had the wisdom of offering us a brand new XL1200X “Forty-Eight” motorcycle for 48 hours, and we decided to take them up on it. This is our review. All photos from gallery below taken exclusively for Lost In a Supermarket by the peerless Robert Kerian. An additional gallery of the Malibu Ride after the Jump photographed by Jason Edwards…

Although running continuously since 1957, Harley Davidson‘s Sportster line received a generous resuscitation in 2007 with the XL1200N Nightster, and then with the smaller XL883L Iron. The idea being that with young men running to cheaper Japanese bikes or more stylish Triumphs and Ducati Monsters, Harley needed to react to attract a younger buyer. While HD’s groceries are clearly bought by older riders who want their larger touring bikes, HD also realized they need to start appealing to a younger crowd or they will get left behind. And thus the Sportster line was reinvigorated, adding the XL1200X “Forty-Eight” this year to even further carve out a niche in this more “stylish” market. While all the Sportsters are great template bikes — built with the assumption they will be customized by the individual buyer — the Forty-Eight takes the development even further, with its modifications carefully chosen to make it look more like a bobber style bike right out of the box. The bike features a fat 130 mm front tire, spoke wheels, peanut tank (first introduced in 1948, giving the bike its namesake), small single seat, undermounted mirrors, chopped mud guards and forward-mounted controls. Sure the Forty-Eight is still made to accommodate a crowded boutique industry of aftermarket products (tanks, handlebars, springer seats, pipes, air filters, etc.), but the idea is to get you closer to your desired look from the starting line. What it does share with its Sportster XL range brethren is the air cooled 1200 CC 45 degree V twin — a beautiful engine that offers plenty of low-end torque. Which we discovered when we mounted our collective Harleys and hit the Pacific Coast Highway on a warm California afternoon.

Hit the Jump to continue reading the LIAS review of the Harley Davidson XL1200X “Forty-Eight”

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“When you rode in what I was most impressed by was the front end. It’s got a wider tire and it looks like a stouter bike. It’s impressive.

Taking the bike up through PCH to classic biker lunch stop Neptune’s Net, the Forty-Eight really hits its stride — the powerful 1200cc engine providing plenty of throttle to overtake vehicles and offering a very smooth ride. This is where the Forty-Eight truly excels: the large front tire provides a nice cushioned experience, while its larger contact patch doesn’t negatively affect its agility on the swooping long turns and straightaways. Then when you park the bike the real advantage of the Forty-Eight comes to light as people — even hardened Harley fans — are drawn to its dramatic looks. “When you rode in what I was most impressed by was the front end; it’s got a wider tire and it looks like a stouter bike. It’s impressive,” says Will, a longtime Harley rider who rode a Sportster for years. He immediately approaches us as we park and starts discussing the bike. “It looks like you have more [traction] to the road, I like that. It makes the bike stand out.” And stand out it does, as all Sportsters are designed to do. With prices for the Forty-Eight starting at under $10,499 (and under $10K for other Sportsters), Harley’s not making nearly as much money as they are from their cash-cow line of touring bikes. So the simple goal is to attract, and so far it’s working — HD can’t keep stock in showrooms.

But the disadvantage of the Forty-Eight is discovered shortly after as we cut inland from the shore and start carving up the canyons. While the Forty-Eight’s many unique features add to the bike’s aesthetics, they also have a negative impact on its utility. While some love the forward controls, I personally am not a fan. The forward mounted foot pegs means your feet are stretched out in front of you, which leaves your entire weight supported squarely on your derrière. While this isn’t a problem on a brisk afternoon ride or short commute, it did start to make my butt sore after 5 hours of riding. In a similar vein, its tiny 2.1 gallon peanut tank (reported 60 mile range) necessitated me stopping twice to refill, which could be a problem if A) you are of the forgetful type, or B) are on a long distance ride. The wide front tire did affect handling too, as I scraped the ground feelers several times on tighter corners. To be fair to the Forty-Eight, however, the bike is clearly not made for 5 hour rides or sportbike handling — it’s made with style and power at a premium, both of which it has in spades. The reason to own a Forty-Eight is not to start carving canyons or riding on a 3-day road trip, the idea is to have a stylish and customizable bike on afternoon rides with your friends. And for that, Harley has achieved its goal. “If you’re in the market for a Sportster and you want the bobber look, this is the bike to buy,” says Allen Edwards who rode a 1970s Suzuki cafe racer that afternoon — one of our unbiased co-riders with 35 years of motorcycle experience. “It’s got great acceleration, great torque, great response, great low end power. I didn’t get it past 100 mph, but it rides beautiful — it rides like a 1200 Sportster should.” And as it should, it does.

Images below of the Malibu Run taken by Jason Edwards

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No Responses to “48 Hours With a Harley Davidson XL1200X “Forty-Eight””

  1. Brett Johns says:

    I’m a first time harley owner and I ended up getting a “48” as my first bike and hot damn you guys hit that nail on the head. She’s awesome to look at and more fun to pin the throttle on but she loves scrapin the ground and even thou she’s in storage for the winter I can still feel the monkey butt from the almost 2000 miles I put on the first year. Ill never get rid of her, its just not normal to get off a bike and not be able to feel the road you were just on.

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