2011 Sportster 883L SuperLow Motorcycle Review

When I heard of the new Sportster 883L SuperLow, I envisioned a ground-hugging, peg-scraping Sportster, very different from the 883 and 1200 Low already available. Turns out the SuperLow isn’t that much lower in actual seat height. But because of a complete overhaul by Motor Company engineers in steering geometry, wheel and tire sizes, and seat configuration, the SuperLow feels lower to the ground. Knowing the name SuperLow would attract the fastest growing demographic of new riders, namely women, I was asked to test ride the bike. I put on 150 miles riding the canyons, freeways, and coastal roads of Southern California.

On the SuperLow, I feel like I’m sitting in a Sportster as opposed to on top of it. That’s a first, and it gave me the impression of a low center of gravity, which gives the rider the  feeling that he’s one with the motorcycle as opposed to being an appendage of it. That’s an important quality for beginner women and smaller riders. Feeling part of the motorcycle allows a rider to sense input from the bike, immediately creating an interaction with the motorcycle that leads to faster learning of the required skills.

As for seat height, a spec so important to women and shorter riders, the SuperLow is 25.5″, 0.2″ higher than the 2010 883 Low’s 25.3″. But, as I said, the bike feels lower, so let’s not mince fractions of an inch here.

A common sentiment heard about a Sportster, especially among beginning women riders, is that the bike feels top heavy. That feeling is gone thanks to a new bucket-shaped seat that cradles the rider’s butt so he feels like he’s sitting in the bike. Another concern I hear from new riders who choose a Sportster is that they experience the “dropsies” because they’re not used to handling the weight distribution of this top-heavy bike. The new handlebars and front end geometry give the bike’s front end a more solid feel. It also appears to be much better fitted to the bike, giving the rider a feeling of being more in control, and, therefore, less likely to drop the bike. The SuperLow is also 20 pounds lighter than the Low.
In comparing the handlebars on the SuperLow to those on the 883 Low, the SuperLow’s bars are slightly flatter and wider, rendering a more rider-friendly reach. They feel like they are in just the right place to accommodate a variety of rider sizes.

Harley chose to use the larger 4.5-gallon Sportster fuel tank on the SuperLow, the same one as on the 1200 Low, rather than the 883 Low’s peanut 3.3-gallon one. Harley specs say the SuperLow averages 60 mpg on the highway and 45 mpg in the city. Limited time did not give me the luxury to run the fuel to that point.
The most noticeable and pleasing qualities of the SuperLow come when you ride it, as the new front end specs create a completely different Sportster feel, a more linear ride as the marketing notes indicate — and that’s really the best word to describe it. A significant increase in trail on the front end of the SuperLow, 5.7″ worth, means the bike tracks better, rolling forward more precisely. For comparison, trail on the 883 Low is 4.6″, and on the 1200 Low it’s 4.7″.

The bike felt solid, really planted to the pavement, as I cruised down the road. This is due in part to new Michelin Scorcher radial tires, a 120/70 on the front and a 150/60 on the rear, designed specifically to enhance the handling of the SuperLow. Stylish, black Split five-spoke wheels were designed for this bike as well, an 18″ front and 17″ rear.

Another factor contributing to the overall improved ride is the increase in suspension travel. I was riding on the freeway at 70 mph when a sign indicated a steel plate ahead. Then the lane broke off from the regular traffic, preventing me from seeing the “plate,” which was actually a large flattened speed bump, until it was too close for me to react and brake. I braced myself as I rode over the bump at 70 mph. Boomp! The generous 4.26″ of travel in the Showa front forks and the 2.12″ of travel in the rear coil spring shocks gobbled up the bump, leaving my butt in the saddle instead of being jarred out as I was expecting.

All this firm and precise handling gave me confidence to lean the SuperLow over in the corners more than I normally do. However, the little metal tab sticking out from the foldable footpegs came in contact with the pavement sooner than I expected. The tab is there to protect the footpeg and help it fold when it touches the pavement. But to me, the tab touches way too soon, limiting my lean angle. I’d rather just scrape the pegs like in the old days.

Sweeping S turns are where the SuperLow shines. I really enjoyed pushing the countersteer on the bars as I swooped gracefully through them. The smooth, go-right-where-you-point handling is due to the aforementioned new front end geometry, wheel and tire design, and suspension tuning, developments that come out of lessons learned when engineers created the racy, flat track-inspired XR1200X Sportster. The SuperLow’s ride is noticeably improved over existing Sportsters.

The 883cc V-twin Evolution fuel-injected engine and five-speed transmission on the SuperLow are the same as what powers existing 883 Sportsters. I’m pleased at the power this middleweight possesses, both coming off the line, and at cruising speeds. I never felt the bike lag or become underpowered.

I keep envisioning myself touring on the SuperLow. Yes, I’d need a windshield. Yes, I’d need forward-mounted pegs to stretch my legs. Yes, I’d need saddlebags, and, yes … well, that’s about it. Got the bigger fuel tank to accommodate longer distances between fuel-ups. Got a comfy seat. I’d just keep my speed around 70 mph as over 70 is when I feel engine vibration transfer to the footpegs and mirrors. I did not feel it in the handgrips. Over 70, the images in the mirrors resemble a blurry photo. I can make out how far the vehicle is behind me in the next lane, I just can’t decipher what type it is, a car, SUV, or truck. When I back off from 70, the blurriness disappears.

If I were buying a Sportster, this is it. I don’t care that it’s the one with the smaller engine. The comfortable seating position and incredible improvement in handling characteristics make this a downright fun bike to ride and for beginners an easy motorcycle on which to learn. AIM

NEW BIKE TEST By Genevieve Schmitt (Women Riders Now)
Story as seen in American Iron Magazine