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Bike Review - Posted 24th October 2012
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Harley Davidson Sportster Forty-Eight

Could you feel at home on a Harley? Alan O'Newbie tries standard and custom versions of the urban cruiser that could be the ideal modern complement to a Real Classic motorcycle...

We all love our old bikes, but sometimes life would be simpler if we had a go-to modern machine as well. In recent years this has often meant some kind of Indian Enfield or Hinckley Triumph. But, what about something a little different? Ever considered a ....Harley?

The Sportster models have been around since 1948 and, although often overlooked by the HOG enthusiasts whose beardy heads have been turned by the acres of chrome and excess found on the big twins, the relatively diminutive 883cc and 1202cc unit construction bikes make a realistic choice as a modern machine with classic appeal. Air cooled OHV engines tick most boxes, as does the maintenance free final belt drive. Moreover, Harleys are mostly still built from metal, not plastic; they feel like a RealBike to the touch.

There are several models in the Sporty range, encompassing cruisers, tourers, city bikes and, err...sporty versions. I popped down to the South Coast for a visit to Shaw Harley Davidson to try the latest flavour Sportster, the 48.

Under-bar mirrors work well... Harley Davidson Forty-Eight

The 48, named in tribute to the original model S, released in 1948, is more of an urban cruiser. Described by the dealer as being, wait for it, slammed, it is extraordinarily low. A twelve year old would have no trouble getting their feet down on this. Fat tyres at both ends (150 on the back, 130 at the front) complete the weirdly Sunbeam-esque look that's exacerbated by the bike's extreme narrowness when looking down on it. The model I rode had a beautiful orange gas tank, offering a truly urban range of about 70 miles to empty. The rest of the bike is, of course, black. Only a single seat is fitted as standard, keeping the long and low look going and the mirrors are mounted underneath the bars to further enhance the slammed look (Yo! I'm in d'speak already). This bike also sported stubby exhausts and a few other detail changes, but the fundamentals were all stock, including the forward mounted controls.

Starting was press and go, with the EFI sorting out cold idle and deciding for itself when the motor was sufficiently warm. Easy, creamy power from tickover upwards was the order of the day and the twin, with a claimed 79 ft-lbs of torque was grunt made solid flesh.

I'd not ridden one of the more recent Sportsters and was pleasantly surprised how smooth the engine was. Now rubber-mounted, HD have left in just enough shake and rattle to make it feel like a proper bike, but nowhere near as tooth-loosening as the old machines.

I'd not tried forward controls before and they were a revelation. Imagine sitting in an armchair, if you had a choice would you tuck your legs under the chair or kick them out in front of you? Quite. All that was missing as I cruised the Sussex byways were shop windows to admire my bad-ass reflection in!

Sportsters on

The service manager told me that virtually all their work was either routine servicing or customising, such are the levels of reliability emerging from Milwaukee these days. Even the factory-fitted as standard proximity alarm is reliable, apparently. Quality of finish is stunning, with thick and lustrous paint. It's hard to imagine that the all-black tinware would fare worse than, say, a Hinckley Bonneville over the winter months. Most of the year-round Bonnies I see in London look as if they've been ridden by Poseiden, such is the corrosion.

Le Mans feels neglected, no doubt... Harley Davidson Forty-Eight

Another great feature of the HD experience is the accessory catalogue. Shaw (and probably all the others) have trained staff on hand to discuss fine-tuning every aspect of your ride (yup, right into it now); I was especially impressed by the seat/handlebars/footpeg options that almost guarantee comfort, even for the more unusually shaped rider! Needless to say, a plethora of more traditional HD bolt-on goodies to make your machine slower and heavier are also readily available.

The RRP of 8895 gets you a beautiful and well made machine, with industry leading residual values, with the 883 range starting at an attractive 6695 for the Superlow.

Not just a fancy paintjob...

It would have been rude to have passed up the chance to sample one of the Performance and Custom Shop machines on offer at Shaw. They also offer a ground-up build service, incorporating aspects of your personal life that you'd like to see reflected in your choice of sled (Bro). For example, the Sportster you see here was custom built for a rock star and the paintwork is a tribute to the tattoo artist whose work he both admires and deports. It also features a lot of replacement parts from Roland Sands, a Californian customiser. The wheels alone are nearly four thousand pounds a pair, but my! aren't they a pretty piece of CNC'd billet. It was quite loud as well, although the exhaust heatshields had been finished to precisely match that of the air filter housing, I like this sort of nice touch.

It would be easy to dismiss this as an ordinary bike with a fancy paintjob, but there are many hours of subtle detail work involved in this machine's creation. Like it or loathe it, you can't ignore it. Shaw will happily build you one just like this, perhaps with different tattoo-based artwork, for around 18K. Ouch.

Which would you choose?...

I was really impressed by my Harley experience and, although the initial purchase price is a little higher than some of the competition, the real cost of ownership might prove to be lower than many of the alternatives when you take into account the low depreciation. Get yo'butt down there soon, y'all...

Words Alan O'Newbie
Photos: Paul Miles

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