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The Harley-Davidson Sportster 1000
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1975 Norton Commando 750
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1975 Triumph T140 Bonneville 750
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1981 Harley-Davdison Sportster 1000 XLH with dual discs.
Harley-Davidson Sportster 1000
Years produced: 1972-1985
Claimed power: 61hp @ 6,200rpm (1972)
Top speed: 116mph (1972 test)
Engine type: 998cc air-cooled OHV 45-degree V-twin
Weight: 492lb (wet)
Price then: $2,136 (1972)
Price now: $2,000-$5,000
With an unbroken production run of 53 years, the overhead valve Harley-Davidson Sportster has outlived all of its early rivals, and is still able to raise its middle finger to the vagaries of the motorcycle marketplace. Riding a 2010 model instantly channels the first Sportster of 1957, even though the characteristic engine vibes have now been softened by rubber mountings.
The Sportster was an instant hit in 1957, but by the Seventies it was showing its age. Imports easily outperformed and outsold it. In a Cycle magazine seven-bike shootout in 1973, the XL Sportster ranked dead last overall and propped up the other six bikes in almost every performance category. Even so, reviewers liked its torquey, long-legged highway running and easy in-town traffic manners. They also liked its conservative styling and offbeat engine sound.
The Sportster’s future was being written, not as a competitor to the all-conquering four-across-the-frame Universal Japanese Motorcycle, but as a bastion of American durability and timeless style. So why would you want one now?
Conception and birth
The story goes that after WWII, American GIs in Europe became enamored of the sporty, lightweight parallel twins then coming out of British factories and brought some home. BSA, Triumph and Norton, among others, began shipping 500cc twins and singles to the U.S., but it was the new crop of 650cc twins (especially Triumph’s 1950 Thunderbird) that demanded a response from Milwaukee and Springfield. Indian’s parallel twins bombed in the marketplace (and all over the pavement, too), but rather than copy the parallel twin, Harley-Davidson stuck with what it knew: 45-degree, single crankpin V-twins.
Introduced in 1952, the model K was essentially a WL bottom end in unit construction cases with a dry clutch and 4-speed transmission. On the top end were new alloy, side-valve heads. Cylinders were iron, and displacement was 45ci. The engine featured a right-side foot shifter — a first for H-D — and a new frame with a swingarm rear end. For 1954, the stroke was lengthened to a whopping 4.56 inches (from 3.81 inches) for 887cc, or 54ci, and the new model designated KH. A high performance KHK with hot cams and polished ports came in 1955.
But flathead engines were limited in power, and a change was needed to keep up with the Brits. The 1957 XL Sportster got overhead valve heads while the crank used the model K’s shorter stroke with a larger 3-inch bore for 883cc (54ci). Power was around 40hp at the crank (Triumph’s 1957 Tiger 110 made a claimed 42hp), which propelled the 460-pound machine to over 90mph. Finally, here was an American motorcycle that could compete with the Limeys.
For 1958, the XLCH sports model arrived, basically a stripped-down XL, but with an identical engine specification. To save weight, the XL’s battery was eliminated, with sparks and lighting coming from a magneto/generator. Only minor changes were made up to 1964 when new full-width aluminum hubs arrived, but still with single-leading-shoe drum brakes. Electric starting was added to the XLH in 1967. The XLH lost its kickstarter completely the next year, while the XLCH remained kickstart only. The XLCH also went battery/coil ignition in 1970, and both models switched to a wet clutch in 1971.
1972 was the year of big changes. With AMF now in charge at Juneau Avenue, the Sportster became 998cc, or 61ci, with bore increased to 3.18 inches. A Bendix/Zenith carb replaced the Tillotson, but still lacked a throttle return spring, meaning you had to close the throttle manually. Good for cruising, but trickier in the city. Power was a claimed 61hp at 6,200rpm, enough to propel the 492-pound XLCH to a 13.38-second standing quarter, terminating at 97.7mph, according to Cycle World. (The mag also recorded 12.76-second/102.6mph without the restrictive California mufflers). Cycle Guide managed 13.73-second/95.1mph with the 35-pound heavier XLH, and found a similar improvement with the mufflers replaced by straight pipes. Top speed was 116mph.
It was around this time that the development path for the Harley-Davidson Sportster 1000 separated from the routes being taken in Japan (and in what remained of the European industry). Contemporary reports began to emphasize the Sportster’s touring capabilities rather than outright performance. 1973 brought new Kayaba forks, a front disc brake and turn signals, with a throttle return spring finally being fitted in 1974. 1975 saw a mandated switch to left-side shifting. Showa 35mm forks replaced the Kayabas.
Two new models joined the ranks in 1977: the XLT tourer with a 3.5-gallon gas tank, extra seat padding, hard luggage and a windshield; and Willie G’s iconic Harley XLCR café racer with Morris cast alloy wheels, dual front discs and a claimed 68hp. Just 3,200 were produced, ensuring its collectibility.
Road Rider magazine took an XLT touring that year, and commented on the reduced vibration compared with earlier models (perhaps a result of taller gearing), and improved fuel consumption from the new Keihin CV carb. In the first 1,000 miles, the starter failed because of an incorrectly installed cable and a “sealed” generator bearing seized. Overall, though, the XLT performed well, even if the seat was still too firm and vibration still marred images in the mirrors. “After all, it’s a Sportster,” was the conclusion.
Opinions of the Sportster’s appeal seemed to be polarizing. Cycle Guide’s test of a 1977 XLH concluded that Sportster diehards “would not own or ride anything else. These riders are attracted by the Sportster’s larger-than-life, primitive, macho demeanor,” adding that the MSRP of $3,131 “is too much to pay for an anachronistic, unrefined, functionally awkward motorcycle, even if it is viscerally appealing.” Meanwhile at Cycle World, the reviewer found the 1977 Sportster to be “an endearing bike that grew on one by its very ease of progress and lack of temperament.” Apparently, you either “got” the Sportster or you didn’t.
The Sportster ran on with minor improvements until 1982 when a new all-welded duplex frame arrived, and a stripped-down version, the XLX-61, was sold at a price point of just $3,995. The iron engine’s last year was 1985, with the XLH 883 and 1,100cc “Evolution” alloy Sportsters arriving for 1986.
The iron-head XL was intended to compete head on with the best motorcycles of the day in 1957. Almost 30 years later, it had either become an anachronism or created a market niche for nostalgia. In a rapidly morphing motorcycle marketplace, it was a constant, a known quantity, something you could rely on not to compromise its ideals of simplicity, conservatism and steadfastness. It was, literally, a principle you could hang on to. MC
Two-cylinder rivals to the Harley-Davidson Sportster 1000
1973-1982 Triumph T140 Bonneville 750
• 53hp @ 7,000 rpm, 115mph (1973)
• Air-cooled OHV 744cc parallel twin
• Disc brake front drum rear
• 413lb (dry)
Like many products of the British motorcycle industry, the Bonneville finally came good when it was too late. Like the Sportster, the Bonnie survived being dropped from the Superbike ranks, but it wasn’t clear how — or if — production would continue after 1973, when threatened closure of Triumph’s Meriden factory precipitated a workers’ sit-in. The Bonnie survived. Just.
The 1973/4 model, with its 744cc parallel twin engine, 5-speed transmission and front disc brake was (and is) a reliable, lightly tuned bike with excellent handling and good long-distance comfort. A rear disc arrived for 1975, and shifting went from right to left. New cylinder heads and much improved Amal MkII carbs were fitted in 1978, and 1979 saw the arrival of the T140D Special with Lester alloy wheels, siamesed exhaust and blacked-out engine.
The 1980 ES model was the first with electric start, followed by the Executive (with hard luggage) and the 8-valve TSS in 1982. Final Meriden Bonnies were the TSX and rubber-mounted TSS, both with the 8-valve engine.
The 1970s Bonneville and Sportster make for interesting bedfellows, motorcycles that evoked earlier glories and appealed to an older rider. That the Bonneville defied economic logic and continued in production well beyond its sell-by date underscores the power of the brand: the Sportster likewise.
1968-1975 Norton Commando 750/850
• 56hp @ 6,500 rpm, 115mph (750)
• Air-cooled OHV 745cc parallel twin
• Disc brake front/drum rear
• 398lb (dry)
The 750 Commando hit the U.S. in 1968. It made more power than the “stripped” 61-inch XLCH Sportster and weighed 50 pounds less, though it took until 1975 for the Commando (then 850cc) to acquire electric start like the XLH.
Cycle magazine’s 1973 seven-Superbike shootout included both the 750 Commando and the XLCH. The Commando’s lighter weight helped a lot in the timed tests, but both finished well behind Kawasaki’s 750 2-stroke triple and the new 900 Z1 four. The writing was on the wall in the performance stakes.
In 1973, Commandos came in two basic flavors: Roadster (2.5-gallon gas tank) and Interstate (5-gallon). Interstates are very collectible, so gas tanks are rare, and swaps are common. How can you tell? Interstates came with a trip odometer, Roadsters didn’t. Perhaps the best Commando of all is the 1974 Mk1 850, with the added torque of the bigger engine, but without the extra weight and complexity of the 1975 Electric Start model.
With routine maintenance, Commandos (especially the later 850 models) are reliable and easily keep up with modern traffic. Electrical issues are almost always the result of ham-fisted home repairs, and modern electronic ignition makes for easy starting. Amal carbs need to be re-sleeved or replaced with a modern Mikuni.
Published on Feb 9, 2010
Competitors Hank Scott and Randy Goss lead AMA for the 1980 Class C Grand National Championship, with Scott finishing two spots behind Goss.
Motocross legends Rickman Metisses and Dick Mann bring back memories of racing alongside them and witnessing wins from the past.
Model Production Numbers
XLH 1000 7,500
XLCH 1000 10,650
XR-750 200 1)
XRTT-750 10 2)
Birch White or Hi-Fi Sparkling Blue.
Frame VIN Numbers
Starting in 1970, the only numbers used for the purpose of identification are on the right neck and frame downtube.
The frame is stamped with a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)identification.
There are still other stampings on the different parts of the frame combined with certain features that can be used to date the frame.
But the only numbers used to identify the entire bike for ownership purposes is the VIN number stamped in the right side neck.
In addition to the neck VIN, an identification label is located on the frame giving the VIN and date of manufacture.
This label was required by law for identification.3)
The serial number is the 3rd through the 7th digit. All serial numbers run consecutively regardless of model year. 4)
Click Here to view Ironhead Frame Identification in the Sportsterpedia for more information.
Click Here for more information on serial numbers and VINs in the Sportsterpedia.
|VIN for 1972 Sportsters|
(first 2 digits)
(next 5 digits)
(second to last digit)
|1C = XR-750 |
3A = XLH
4A = XLCH
|10,000 and up||H = Harley Davidson||2 = 1972|
|Example: (3A13675H2) indicates a 1972 XLH and is stamped on the right side engine case and on the frame |
with the addition of a label on the steering head showing the VIN and date of manufacture. 5)
|Example VIN Reads: 3A13675H2|
Engine Serial Numbers
The engine serial numbers were still stamped in the case but longer used for identification purpose of ownership on 1970-up model Sportsters.
The engine VIN is stamped on the right side of the engine crankcase between the cylinders.
Below are some suggestions for manuals for your ride.
You should have, at minimum, a Factory Service Manual (FSM) and a Factory Parts Catalog for your year model.
Factory Service Manuals (FSM);
The FSM will have the most accurate information, procedures and specs.
Clymer and Haynes make service manuals also for Sportsters but some of the information is in error to the factory FSMs.
And some of the information in the aftermarket manuals is vague in information or procedures but they may have more pictures.
So it is generally said you can get use from both an aftermarket manual and the factory service manuals but get the factory manual first.
The Parts Catalog has part numbers of course but it also has exploded parts views.
However, IT IS NOT INTENDED TO BE AN ASSEMBLY MANUAL.
And some of the exploded views are confusing or not related to each other on the same pages.
But, all in all, the exploded views do help finding what goes where.
Most of the fasteners listed in the relevant parts catalog individual pages have thread sizes and lengths also in case you need those.
Note: ALL 1957-1978 PARTS CATALOGS LIST PARTS FOR PREVIOUS YEARS.
Below is a simple list of original and “latest edition parts catalogs. The in-between year books may show different part numbers for the same year model bike.
Click Here to see the Factory Parts Catalog page in the Sportsterpedia for parts catalog uses and a full list of parts catalog numbers from 1957 to present.
(complete list of other parts catalogs and supplement catalogs that pertain to each year model on the bottom of that page)
Some often acquire several year model parts catalogs and that page will help you decide which ones are right for you.
Factory Service Manual (FSM):
Original: 1970-1972 Sportster Service Manual (99484-72) in a loose leaf binder
Latest Edition: 1970-1978 Sportster XL/XLH/XLCH/XLT-1000 Service Manual (99484-78) in book bound form
Factory Parts Catalogs:
Original: 1961-1972 XL/XLCH-1000 Parts Catalog Supplement (99451-72)
Issued October, 1971.
Updates the 1961-1971 full parts catalog (99451-71).
Lists closest to original parts available for 1972 models.
Use With: 1961-1971 XL/XLCH-1000 Parts Catalog (99451-71)
Issued September, 1970. Full parts catalog and lists parts available in 1971 for 1954-1971 models.
Latest Edition: 1954-1978 Sportster XLH/XLCH-1000 Parts Catalog (99451-78B)
Issued in 1989.
Full catalog and lists parts available in 1989 for 1954-1978 models.
Includes some parts that were not available in the -78A catalog.
Factory Owners Manual:
1972 Sportster Owners Manual (99466-72)
Pics of Manual Covers.
Below are pics of used manual covers (original and latest editions) related to 1972 model Sportsters.
See the full list of pertinent catalogs in the link above.
Click on any pic below to enlarge:
| 1970-1972 FSM (99484-72) |
loose leaf outside cover
| 1970-1978 FSM (99484-78) |
|1972 Owners Manual (99466-72)|
| 1961-1971 |
Parts Catalog (99451-71)
| 1961-1972 Parts |
Catalog Supplement (99451-72)
| 1954-1978 |
Parts Catalog (99451-78B)
The Ironhead Multi-Year Parts Catalog Curse
Below is a summary of an article on the Sportsterpedia Parts Catalogs page regarding parts book errors.
You can also read the full article from this link: The Ironhead Multi-Year Parts Catalog Curse.
Due to all of the errors and non corrected editions, it's always a good idea to acquire several year parts catalogs surrounding your year model.
Which year catalogs you'll need will depend on many factors but the main Parts Catalog page in the Sportsterpedia will help you decide which ones you need.
Click Here to see the Parts Catalog page. A full chart of all the parts catalogs made for Ironheads is at the bottom of the page.
Not all multi-year catalogs will list factory installed parts on your bike.
You may need several year catalogs to determine factory installed parts for your year model.
Some parts first appeared or only appeared in Parts Supplements, Service Bulletins or other literature
Later catalogs may show parts for older models that were never factory installed on them.
Some catalogs have missing parts and/or missing models in some parts listings.
Some illustrations do not have a part number listed.
Drawings may or may not look like your part number.
Some exploded parts diagrams show the assembly in the wrong order or missing pieces.
There may be misleading information about parts that fit your year model.
Fastener lengths and thread pitch may change depending on catalog used.
The MoCo knew about and tried to correct at least some of the parts catalog mistakes.
Search the Sportsterpedia
See the Navigation menu on the upper left of this page.
From there you can go to the main Ironhead section menu, the Reference section for general and in-depth procedures, and the Misc Resources for documentation.
The following illustrations are displayed for historic and period specific parts identification only. Refer to the original OEM documents for additional information. 6)
Click on any illustration below to enlarge.
Click Here for the main technical menu in the Sportsterpedia.
Also see the “Misc Resources” section on the bottom of that page for technical docs and information.
XLH, 58-1/2 in / 148.59 cm
XLCH, 58-1/2 in / 148.59 cm
XLH, 87-1/4 in / 221.61 cm
XLCH, 87-1/4 in / 221.61 cm
XLH, 33 in / 83.82 cm
XLCH, 32 in / 81.28 cm
XLH, 40-1/2 in / 103 cm
XLCH, 42 in / 106.7 cm
XLH, 6-3/4 in / 17.14 cm 8)
XLCH, 6-1/2 in / 17.46 cm
Engine type: 4 cycle Overhead Valves, 45 degree V2 9)
Hemi-spherical style heads
Displacement: 60.9 ci / 997.5 cc (1,000 cc advertised)
Compression Ratio: 9:1
Bore: 3.188 in / 81 mm
Stroke: 3.8125 in / 96.8 mm
Horsepower: 61 @ 6,200 RPM 10)
Taxable Horsepower: 7.2
Torque: 52 ft-lb @ 3800 RPM
Gear driven type oil pump.
Oil pump pressure (gauge mounted in place of oil pressure switch):
Minimum: 3-7 psi (idle)
Maximum: 15 psi (60 mph in high gear)
Normal riding conditions: 4-15 psi
XLH/XLCH Ignition: Breaker Point and Coil Ignition System (points are in the nose cone in the cam cover)
Dwell: 140° at 2000 RPM
Advanced: 40° (17/32“) BTDC
Retarded: 10° (1/32”) BTDC
#4 for break-in.
#5 for everyday use and hard service.
Fuel System: Bendix/ Zenith I6P12 carburetor.
Fuel Capacity: 11)
XLH fuel tank 4 gal / 15.14 l
XLCH fuel tank 2.2 gal / 8.328 l
Reserve: .25 gal / .946 l
Oil Capacity: 3 qts. / 2.83 l
Transmission Capacity: 1.5 pints / .71 l
Multi-Disc wet clutch-pack with alternate steel and fiber friction plates.12)
Constant Mesh - right side foot shift 13)
Speeds - 4 Forward
Number of Sprocket Teeth (XLH / XLCH)
Rear Wheel: 51
Standard Gear Ratios (XLH / XLCH)
Starting in 1970, Harley Davidson partnered with Goodyear for a new “special” tires and rims for standard “high ground clearance” Sportster models.
Standard or Low Clearance models did not have the “special” rims and use standard tires.
Click Here for the Ironhead tires and wheels page in the Sportsterpedia for more information.
Tire pressure based on 150 lb rider. When weight is exceeded by 50 lbs or more, increase the rear by 2 lbs and front by 1 lb.
Repeat for each additional 50 lbs of weight. 14)
Tires: (both the Special Goodyear and the Yokohama tire brands are all obsolete now)
Standard Sportster Models;
Front 3.25/3.50 x 19
Rear 4.00 x 18
High Ground Clearance Sportster Models: 15)
Goodyear MM90-19T (3.75×19) Sport Rib (tire pressure 18 psi / 1.24 bar) 16)
Goodyear 4.25×18 All Traction (tire pressure 30 psi / 2.06 bar) 17)
Low Ground Clearance Models:
Front 3.25/3.50 x 19
Rear 3.50 x 18
What is the Current KBB Value? 18)
What is the Current KBB Value? 20)
Davidson sportster 1000 1972 harley
Harley Davidson XLCH 1000 Sportster
|Harley Davidson XLCH 1000 Sportster|
|Four stroke, 45° V-Twin, OHV, 2 valves per cylinder.|
|997 cc / 60.8 cu-in|
|Bore x Stroke||81 x 96.8 mm|
|Cooling System||Air cooled|
38mm Keihin carburetor
|Starting||Kick & Electric optional|
|57 hp / 41.6 kW @ 6200 rpm|
|60 lb ft / 81 Nm @ 3500 rpm|
|Clutch||Wet, multiple discs, cable operated|
|Frame||Steel, Double cradle frame|
|Telescopic forks, 175mm wheel travel|
|Swing arm, 100mm wheel travel|
|Drum, 292mm disc from optional|
|235 kg / 518 lbs|
|9 Litres / 2.3 US gal|
Road Test Cycle Guide 1972
Back in 1957 Harley-Davidson launched the CH model commonly referred to as the Sportster. Its displacement then, and until this year, was 900 cc's. Its reception in '57 (Buddy Holly, I Like Ike, little T-Birds with the spare on the back and Lew Burdette winning three games in the Series) certainly was eager and even idolatrous. At least among Harley fans it was. As one publication in the early 60's noted, "On the motorway one could drive one handed in the 90's while nonchalantly blowing one's nose with the other sitting bolt upright while the opposition were spread-eagled all over their bikes." While we don't admit to being aficionados of nonchalant nose blowing, whether on or off a moving Harley, such statements do give a picture of the praise and applause heaped upon this forebear of the current Sportster. How about "its shattering acceleration almost beggars belief'' or -take a fistful of throttle at 90 and the acceleration hits you in the back—take another fistful at 110 and there's still more to come.- Uh huh.
This only serves to illustrate the tremendous goodwill that the Milwaukee manufacturer has built up over the years since Mr. Harley and Messrs. Davidson got together back in 1901. Owner devotion can be almost maniacal in steadfast faithfulness to the product. This no doubt enabled H-D to weather the adversities all other American manufacturers could not.
Twenty years ago Harley discontinued production of their 61-inch model. The Sportster displacement increase to 1000cc's this year in effect has created a new "61" for Harley. It is a third larger in engine displacement than the six other machines (all 750's) selected for inclusion in our comparative analysis of the big bore tourers and street scorchers.
Its styling, deceptively slim yet simultaneously massive, lends much credence to the suggestion of labeling the Sportster the ultimate muscle machine. It is distinctively masculine. Its tank, seat, handlebars and pipes make it readily noticeable and identifiable. The buckhorn-shaped bars are higher than those on other bikes (with the exception of the '73 Trident). The adjustment to the vertically canted hand grips for a rider new to the Harley presents no problem at all. There's not much you can say about the eye appeal of the Sportster gas tank that hasn't already been waxed prosaic. It is the stock tank for customizing and jumping off point for ultra-stylistic one-of-a-kind designers. The tank's aesthetic requirements limit capacity to two and a quarter gallons. Capacities of other bikes range from Suzuki's and Honda's 4.5 gallons to the Norton's 2 3/4 gallons. The cobra styled seat is another only one of its kind treat for the eyes if not the posterior. The lightly padded seat is poor for long distance riding and highly unsuitable for two up motoring. A passenger, even a slim female type, can just fairly fit on with no room to spare at all. But it sure does look good sloping along the contour of the bike permitting the rider to sit in rather than on his mount. Another visual point of distinctive manner is the routing of both exhaust pipes along the right side of the bike. While some other machines may have two pipes on one side, they do have at least one offsetting or two balancing pipes on the other side. Whatever styling pleasure may be lent the viewer is offset by the rapid and extensive discoloration of the "California special"' pipe fitted to meet the state's tough exhaust noise requirements. We don't know if this discoloration is as pronounced on pipes used on out of state machines.
Harleys have been around for a long time. They are the basic (in fact only) American tourers available. Longevity implants preconceived concepts in the mind of the public. This public consciousness is a desired trait but can be a handicap when an unfavorable image has developed in one or more areas. If improvements are made, those inside the industry may be aware of them, but it often takes longer for word of mouth to circulate and penetrate the psychological barriers built by bad words. The Sportster has an image as a big brutish powerhouse that costs a lot, doesn't have the greatest handling in the world, and minimal inclination toward stopping without literally throwing out the anchor. The opportunity to compare seven different machines in the span of one day verified the validity of some of these preconceptions and altered our views regarding others.
First, it is not so big and heavy after all. We received the kickstarting version of the Sportster, which weighed in at 475 lbs. fully fueled. Although we had already tested the electric starter model, which hit the scales for 525 lbs. dry, we suspect acceleration and handling considerations prompted the distributor to supply the lighter version. At 4 75 lbs. the Sportster was lighter than the Trident, Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki. The electric starter model probably would have just edged out the water-cooled Oriental as heaviest bike.
It is true the H-D costs more than any other comparable bike. It is also true the brakes aren't too hot. Harley brake performance was just opposite of that of the binders on the Norton. The H-D was very easy to control during the panic stop. It just didn't seem all that concerned about the urgency of the situation and took its own time. Full stopping power of the English twin couldn't be utilized since it made the bike very tricky to keep straight.
The non-electric Sportster turned in a 13.35 quarter mile acceleration performance and broke a ton with .44 mph to spare. This slotted the Harley in 4th place for the quarter. Since the 1000cc machine had all others by a third again as much size in engine displacement and ranked as third lightest machine, it is easy to understand why the stock Sportster doesn't have a real hot stoplight steeplechase reputation. The Sportster was the easiest bike off the line at Orange County International Raceway without a doubt. Starting procedure was merely to wind it up and dump the clutch with a smooth powerful take off unmarred by loss of rear end traction or front wheel rear up. The Harley was seven tenths of a second slower than the Kawasaki, which while it was the quickest, was also the trickiest to handle during the quarter mile testing.
The power range of the Sportster is all that could be asked for. In most instances the pilot just dials in more without having to change gears. The torque produces low end tractor-like power from little, more than idle up to 5500 or six grand. This power, coupled with the low center of gravity profile of the big V-twin, makes it quite stable at low speeds. It certainly is an unusual experience to be tooling around town at no more than two grand without the slightest hint of bogging down.
Top speed indicated on the speedometer was 110 mph. While the Harley's speedo was quite accurate at 60 mph (it understated true speed by an average of only 1.4%), it was close to 8% off at 80 mph. Actual speed was again understated with the Sportster measured electronically at an average actual speed of 86 mph. Only the Norton was as accurate at 60 mph, being not quite 1.5% optimistic. The Norton, however, maintained its credibility at 80 also and was less than 1.2% off actual speed.
The handling performance of the Sportster surprised us. High speed roadability drew a rating of good with minimal effort necessary through the curves and esses of the racing course. There was no unexpected clearance problem leaning into the turns, and the riding position was quite satisfactory. The absence of a return spring on the throttle did necessitate extra concentration during high speed cornering. The forks and shocks produce only fair suspension. Rear shocks are not adjustable. We noted no change with a passenger perched over the rear fender. We didn't expect the H-D to handle like a road racer, and it didn't. It does an admirable job for what it was designed to do. It is very stable and confidence inspiring.
Harley's new 61, while massively impressive in profile, is easily the slimmest looking super bike because of the 45 degree placement of the vertically twin cylinders. The offbeat rhythm of the cylinder firings give the Sportster a very distinctive sound, an urgency of power greater than normal equally spaced power pulses. The pulses occur at 405 and then 315 degrees for every two revolutions, giving something like a "'shuffle'' blues beat to the big thumper.
There is nothing to fault on the operation of the four-speed gear box, shift lever or the clutch. The H-D has so much torque that the rider doesn't have to be at all fussy about gear selection. Neutral is easy to find at red lights, and the clutch can be engaged with minimal hand pressure on the hand lever.
The Sportster requires five or six good healthy kicks to get it going cold. It warmed up within two minutes, and generally one kick when hot was all that was necessary. If you get tired of kicking, an electric starter model is available. There were no noticeable traces of leakage and no problem regarding the chain. Throttle response was without delay and fairly smooth. The absence of a return spring on the throttle may be convenience for touring but safety-wise it is a detriment since letting off on the right hand grip or removing the hand does not reduce the throttle setting. One other safety consideration is the front headlight. It could be much brighter. There are no turn signals and no kill switch.
The engine was surprisingly quiet considering its size. Other than a good clunk when shifting from 3rd to 4th we noticed nothing out of the ordinary acoustically. As the red line is reached (7000), the engine does sound noticeably different as though things are starting to float.
We were quite surprised over Harley's much publicized hassle regarding noise after listening to their biggie and then some of the other bikes. Our test machine had the special California pipe installed to satisfy the strict decibel meter reading law enforced by the Golden State. The Harley representative claimed that this was the very same bike that squeaked through at the maximum allowable Db(A) reading of 88. To our ears it produced a subdued, almost mellow note and even when wicked up during the decibel meter testing procedure didn't seem offensive. By both "seat of the pants" reckoning and our Db meter is was quieter than several of the machines. Honda edged out Yamaha and Suzuki as the quietest.
As could be expected, the irregular firing sequence that produces that thumpety-thump sound does contribute to additional vibration which is felt in all rider contact points—the handlebars, seat and footpegs. But considering that we didn't expect the Sportster to be a real smoothy, it surprised us a bit. We would not rate the vibration as excessive considering the machine for what it is.
We discovered that the Sportster's dubious braking reputation is justifiably deserved. In previous testing we didn't fault performance for around town driving but noted marginal capabilities at freeway speeds or higher. In the 35 to 0 panic stop braking test the H-D barely avoided bottom rung on the ladder just edging the Suzuki, which is some 60 pounds heavier than the Milwaukee twin. The two traded places for the freeway speed panic stop from 65. These two bikes were the only tested that were not equipped with front disc brakes. Optional disc brakes will be available with the '73 model. The back binder actually was judged better than the front, which is not all that exciting when you consider the old 30 to 70 braking ratio. After the first panic stop there was considerable drop in performance. All bikes, tested dropped off after the first 65 mph panic stop but not as noticeably as the Harley. The Sportster wasn't difficult to halt to a stop. There was no rear end hop or front end nose diving or rear end coming around probably because there just wasn't enough stopping power there to activate such reacting.
The Harley has long had a reputation genuinely earned as being nearly tank like regarding its indestructability. It is a durable package. It pulls like a tractor and endures like an armored military vehicle. It is readily accessible as far as performing maintenance, and we deem it quite suitable for the purpose it was designed to fulfill.
Priced at $2,120 (suggested retail), Los Angeles, it is a big bundle justifying a large outlay. As long as the public keeps demanding this last American produced, high speed performance machine, why should or even, how can, the price come down faced with current economic conditions? The cheapest bike in the comparison test was the Kawasaki at $1,386. An often little considered item by many purchasers is resale value. A long existing demand for Milwaukee's finest keeps second sale pricing of these units at a premium.
In a way, at least to a certain portion of the populace, the grandiose and massive image of the Harley is as American as the proverbial apple pie or Mom and the flag. It certainly is at least second echelon behind this celebrated trio. Viewing the current demand for the big road burner, prodigious parent of the chopper, it appears it will be with us as long as those persistent old standbys—death and taxes.
Source Cycle Guide 1972
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