2017 Harley Sportster Forty-Eight First Ride Review
Stance. The Harley enigma is predicated by stance. It’s a reason a Harley is often imitated but never duplicated. Many manufacturers have tried to simulate the stance of a Harley and just about all have failed as The Motor Company continues to own the lion’s share in the heavyweight cruiser market.
While the diversity of its lineup ranges from Dynas to Softails to Tourers, none of Harley’s production models have the staying power of the Sportster. The model has been rolling off the production line for 60 consecutive years. 60. And while the Sportster has evolved quite a bit since the release of the 1957 XL, Sportsters are more popular than ever. This year alone the venerable staple of Harley’s production line is offered in six variations.
Among those, the 2017 Sportster Forty-Eight has a distinctive stance due in large part to the meaty Michelins it runs. The smallest Peanut tank of the 2017 bunch rests on its backbone. Slotted heat shields give a glimpse of the blacked-out mufflers beneath. The forward-facing scoop at the bottom of the air cleaner looks primed to force-feed oxygen to the Evolution engine. The Forty-Eight’s got attitude in spades.
The Michelin Scorchers do more than provide a muscular stance. The contact patch is wide and the tires are tacky and provide a solid rapport with the road. The front feels particularly planted thanks to the cartridge damping of the stout 49mm fork. The triple clamp is burly in its own right while the fork brace adds to the front end’s stability. Turn-in is lighter than expected considering the girth of the front wheel, allowing for plenty of hustle when byways twist up.
And while the front end has 3.6 inches of travel serving as a buffer from broken surfaces, the rear emulsion shocks have a scant range of 1.6 inches. The majority of the time the dual coil-over arrangement provides a comfy ride but the pothole-riddled roads of Portland, Oregon, left me wishing for a bit more resistance to bottoming and lengthier travel. The stock Harley shocks do have a screw pre-load adjuster and come from the factory with a spanner for adjusting them tucked under the seat. Granted, at 230 pounds I probably weigh more than Harley’s targeted Sportster rider, but I frequently ride a 1200C outfitted with Progressive 970s so I know the rear can be dialed in to accommodate a rider my size.
Adding to the Forty-Eight’s fun factor is a 1200cc Evolution engine with a generous low-end. Stoplight-to-stoplight, the first wave of torque hits almost immediately when the throttle is cracked. We found peak claims of 70.8 ft-lbs. of torque at 3500 rpm which lines up pretty much with our throttle-hand impressions as the Forty-Eight feels peppiest in its mid-range. The premium shift point is in the 5000 rpm range because there’s not much over-rev on the top end.
Though the rear suspension sometimes gets taxed for a guy my size, the rider’s triangle suits a six-foot-tall rider just fine. The forward-mounted foot controls allow for plenty of stretch with my thighs pert near parallel to the imaginary plane of the bike. The bars aren’t overly wide and the reach for me is down but relaxed. An analog speedo is mounted on top of the bars, the four-inch face requiring me to lower my gaze to read in motion. A small digital window in the face of the speedo can be toggled to display basic info including an odometer, clock, dual tripmeters, gear indicator and rpm. The bike’s mirrors are mounted underneath the drag-style handlebars and getting a clear view of what’s happening behind me is a challenge. And though the forward controls leave me plenty of room to stretch my legs, I did find myself sitting all the way back on the seat, the slight curl at the rear of the saddle pressing noticeably on the base of my back after about an hour in the saddle. But cross-country trips isn’t what the Forty-Eight’s built for. It’s a bar hopper, an about-town bike, and to those ends the ergonomics and seat padding are aptly suited.
The 2017 Sportster Forty-Eight we tested was equipped with ABS, a $795 option, and the system is dialed in properly as it takes an aggressive push on the rear brake pedal to activate. When it engages, the pedal pulses in the ball of a rider’s foot without being disconcerting. The front of the bike has a healthy 300mm rotor, its caliper equipped with dual 34mm pistons. The initial bite is adequate and could be a bit stronger for our tastes but stopping power does get progressively stronger. At 260mm, the rear disc has a dual piston caliper and comes with the added benefit of ABS when you get on it hard.
The Sportster Forty-Eight definitely isn’t hard on the eyes. The split 9-Spoke cast aluminum wheels are machined just enough to make the otherwise gloss black hoops really stand out. Both fenders have been trimmed down to match up with the minuscule tank. There’s little details that help give it that edge including the drilled-out fork brace, mounting bracket for the tank and belt guard. We were lucky enough to score one with the “Hard Candy Hot Rod Red Flake” paint that’s deep and rich in sunlight. And while we love the style and the look of the tank, with a capacity of only 2.1 gallons the low fuel light seems like it’s always on. Even if it got the estimated 48 mpg Harley claims there’s no way you’re getting 100 miles out of a tank.
All told though we had a blast rompin’ around on the Sportster Forty-Eight. The engine has pop, you can toss it around in the turns at a respectable clip thanks to solid traction and decent clearance, and then there’s intangibles like its stance. The Forty-Eight’s stance has attitude, one that screams ride hard and have fun. We did both.
2017 Harley-Davidson Sportster Forty-Eight Specs:
Type: Evolution V-twin
Bore x Stroke: 3.5” x 3.81”
Displacement: 73.4 cubic inches
Maximum torque (claimed) : 71 ft-lbs. @ 3500 rpm
Compression ratio: 10:1
Fuel system: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection
Lubrication: Dry sump
Clutch: Wet multi-plate
Primary drive: Chain
Final drive: Belt
Frame: Mild tubular steel
Front suspension: 49mm fork/3.6” of travel
Rear suspension: Preload-adjustable emulsion shocks/1.6” of travel
Front tire: 130/90 x 16; Harley-Davidson Michelin Scorcher 31
Rear tire: 150/80 x 16; Harley-Davidson Michelin Scorcher 31
Front wheel: 16” x 3”; Split 9-spoke cast aluminum
Rear wheel: 16” x 3”; Split 9-spoke cast aluminum
Front brake: 300mm disc w/ dual piston caliper
Rear: 260mm disc w/ dual piston caliper
ABS: Optional ($795)
Seat height: 27.3”
Rake: 30.2 degrees
Fork angle: 28.7 degrees
Trail: 5.3 ”
Right lean angle: 27.1 degrees
Left lean angle: 27.1 degrees
Fuel capacity: 2.1 gal.
Curb weight: 551 lbs.
Estimated EPA fuel consumption: 48 mpg
2017 Harley-Davidson Sportster Forty-Eight Colors:
Vivid Black, Billet Silver, Corona Yellow Pearl, Crushed Ice Denim, Hard Candy Black Gold Flake, Hard Candy Hot Rod Red Flake
2017 Harley-Davidson Sportster Forty-Eight MSRP:
$11,299 (Vivid Black)
$11,649 (solid colors)
$11,749 (Hard Candy colors)