The thundering Harley-Davidson XR flat-track racer is the inspiration for the XL Sportster 883R. The Evolution V-Twin powertrain is finished in wrinkle-black powdercoat. The 13-spoke cast-aluminum wheels, handlebars, fork sliders, headlamp eyebrow, air cleaner cover and rear springs are also finished in no-nonsense black. Top it off with dual front disc brakes, chrome shorty dual exhaust and Harley-Davidson racing graphics on the fuel tank. You can almost smell dirt and hear the crowd. A new sidestand reduces the effort required to lift the bike off the stand by 40 percent.
The XL 883 Sportster is the cute baby in this iconic brand’s range of crafted, retro-style motorcycles; a bargain-budget way into a version of motorcycling that can encompass an entire lifestyle – if that is your thing.
But what it lacks in size (and price) is more than made up for in distinctive V-twin charisma. If you long to wear fringed leather jackets and fingerless gloves beneath an open-face helmet and shades, there is no better mount on which to start.
But the little Harley-Davidson is no longer a triumph of style alone. Ten years ago, basic Sportsters were crude machines that looked great but felt like pigs. Modern versions retain the aesthetics, but while the bike still looks as if it might have been ridden to a Doors concert, it is good for more than posing.
The clutch is light and the big, rubber-mounted 883cc engine has been honed by years of modification. The outcome is a power unit that retains the classic silver, powder-coated look of street machines while achieving surprising smoothness and sophistication. It sounds gorgeous, too. Enhancements to a once-heavy gearbox have rendered the bike pleasingly manageable.
The Sportster is huge fun in town, powerful enough to entertain on country lanes and nimble. Looks still matter enormously. With its “peanut” fuel tank, old-school spoked wheels and ample portions of chrome, the Sportster is not a bike to hide away. Nor is it a practical motorway performer, still less a long-distance tourer. Tank range is barely 100 miles, weather protection is non-existent and carrying capacity limited.