In 1952, the predecessor to the Sportster was the first Harley-Davidson to utilize a hand clutch, foot-pedal gear shift and rear suspension. The Harley-Davidson K model also featured the company’s first unit construction engine (engine cases and transmission cases cast as one piece). The 45-cubic-inch engine, however, was still a side-valve design and couldn’t compete with the lighter and faster British imports.
In 1953 Harley increased displacement to 54 cu. in. (883cc) to create the KH model, then in 1955 H-D included a Speed Kit comprised of hotter cams, polished ports and a roller-bearing bottom end. The K models never set any speed records but they were lighter, flashier and faster than Harley’s big Twins and laid the groundwork for one of the longest running models in American motorcycle history.
The Harley-Davidson Sportster arrived in 1957 with its now traditional 883cc motor, only at the time it was the Shovelhead engine. The Shovelhead had the same displacement as the Flathead engine in use on the KHK model, but the Shovelhead utilized overhead valves and, along with its bigger bore and shorter stroke, gave the Harley-Davidson Sportster more horsepower. Like the Silent Grey Fellow model from earlier in the century, the name, Sportster, was cast into the gear case cover.
For the next 50-plus years the Harley-Davidson Sportster would undergo changes and upgrades, but Harley’s model line-up would never once omit the Sportster model.
In 1977 Harley-Davidson launched the sportbike-themed XLCR (café racer). The XLCR featured a modified frame with longer frame rails to reposition the rear shocks for better handling, while its bikini fairing, gas tank and tail section were constructed of fiberglass. Traditional Harley riders didn’t understand it, and it sold poorly.
In 1978 Harley-Davidson celebrated its 75th anniversary, and the Sportster Anniversary edition featured midnight black paint, gold trim and limited-edition graphics. The year 1979 marked the last year of the XLCH and the introduction of the XLS, which is the Harley-Davidson Sportster version of the FXS Low Rider and featured a siamese exhaust system.
For 1986 the Harley-Davidson Sportster received Harley’s new Evolution engine in both 883cc and 1100cc sizes, with the 1100 being bumped to 1200cc in ’88. In 1991 the four-speed transmission gave way to a five-speed gearbox, and by ’92 all Harley-Davidson Sportsters were using a belt final-drive instead of chain.
In 2004, the Harley-Davidson Sportster got a stronger but heavier new frame that placed the engine in rubber mounts to suppress the earlier model’s omnipresent vibration. Fuel injection replaced carburetion in 2007. In 2009 Harley-Davidson launched the dirt-track-inspired Harley-Davidson XR1200 Sportster, and in 2010 the American Motorcycle Association introduced a spec racing series for modified Harley-Davidson XR1200s.
Harley-Davidson Sportster Reviews
- The 2010 Harley Davidson CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide – Yahoo Voices…
- 2007 Harley-Davidson VRSCX – Motorcycle Cruiser Magazine
- Motorcycle Maniac: 2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 TwoWheelMania
- 2010 Harley-Davidson FXDWG Dyna Wide Glide motorcycle review @ Top Speed
- The Harley-Davidson CVO Softail Custom – CraveOnline