Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight | Review

Harley 48 Review

The Bar and Shield suffered its quota of slings and arrows in 2009. Apart from the flaccid economy and stingy credit markets that have vexed the industry at large, Harley-Davidson is witnessing its baby boomer target demo age and dismount in disheartening numbers.

Add to that the dumping of Buell, several rounds of layoffs, plus the latest in a procession of takeover rumors, and it would seem as though the Chinese curse-“May you live in interesting times”-had applied for resident alien status in Milwaukee.

In this dim light, the unveiling of the 2010 Sportster Forty-Eight could be seen as a corrective measure-a brand-expanding lure to bring young, hip Millennials into the MoCo fold.

Certainly, the Forty-Eight’s lean, elemental Dark Custom styling is aimed squarely at the duct tape wallets of the crustache and PBR generation, with a price point that H-D calculates won’t make hipsters drop a deuce in their Dickies.

The fat-tired Forty-Eight is the third bike in the current Sportster line to receive the Dark Custom treatment.

The raw, bobbed styling begins with a blacked-out Evolution 1200cc engine and radiates to the bulging 16-inch tires, whose visual brawn is enhanced by blacked out rims. With chopped fenders, slammed rear suspension, a 26-inch seat height and low-profile bars with underslung mirrors, the Forty-Eight assumes a crouching delinquent stance, with the swollen 130mm Dunlop hogging center stage at the bike’s muscular front end.

Cantankerous Dark Custom touches such as lightening holes, twin composite stop/turn/tail lamps, and side mount license plate link the Forty-Eight’s DNA to the equally dark Nightster. Polished engine covers and shorty dual pipes are among the bike’s spare flashes of chrome.

The disorderly profile is capped by the revival of the 2.1-gallon Peanut tank, which originally appeared in 1948, hence the bike’s name, although you would be forgiven for assuming that Forty-Eight refers to the number of miles you’d be able to squeeze out of a two-gallon tank.

The Forty-Eight’s low seat height and manageable 567-pound claimed wet weight will no doubt appeal to the type of new riders who also respond to the bike’s out-of-the-box cool.

With its forward controls and low slung bars, the Forty-Eight’s ergos are cruiserly below the belt and quasi-café racer above, casting the rider into a cocky slouch that fits the bike’s pugnacious vibe and torquey low end punch.

While I did not initially care for the lengthy reach to the bars, the funky clamshell position definitely grew on me.

Our test bike sported the standard solo seat which, in addition to looking synthetic and feeling slippery, quickly wore out its welcome atop the one-and-five -eighths inches of rear suspension travel.

Imagine sitting on a mackerel and soaking up potholes at 45 mph and you’ll get the idea. Although we were unable to test it, Harley’s new Solo Spring Saddle seems like the obvious choice for the Forty-Eight’s streetwise profile.

That minimalist rear suspension is a rugged styling cue delivered at the price of comfort. Thanks to the diminished travel, the ride is primal and jarring, just as you would expect-if it were 1948. The bike’s primitive backside was obviously designed for municipalities whose infrastructure benefits from legalized gambling and prostitution.

While the suspension bristles, the engine shines. The rubber-mounted Evo has been almost thoroughly domesticated, offering smooth power delivery via the Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection system and producing only modest feedback, although at times, mechanical noise threatens to overwhelm the exhaust note thumping out of the slash-cut shorty duals.

The Evo mill ladles out an abundance of torque, from the time you put your boots on the pegs through the upper midrange, peaking at a claimed 79 ft/lbs at 4000 rpm.

The engine’s rowdy responsiveness down low makes ripping the Forty-Eight from stoplight to stoplight a burst of dirty fun. The five-speed transmission’s tall gearing takes advantage of the brawny motor and shifting is smooth with average lever response.

In addition to looking cool, the underslung mirrors work surprisingly well in city traffic, especially during lane changes. The dual-piston front and single-piston rear brakes are classic Harley stoppers-just adequate for a middleweight Sportster.

Obviously, the Forty-Eight is not a long-range mount. While the Evo boasts a potent low end, run it up past 70 and it’s practically a rolling blackout. Likewise, with a two-gallon canteen, the low fuel indicator lights up more often than John Daly on the back nine.

The Forty-Eight bears all the hallmarks of a city-bound bar hopper, but unleash it in the twisties and the new Sporty percolates with confidence. The big front tire feels planted through turns, allowing the bike to carve lines with considerable dexterity.

H-D increased the Forty Eight’s lean angle two clicks to 32-degrees on the left side. That additional allowance will no doubt help attract first-timers, and its low cg means some of machine’s self-assurance will rub off on the rider.

Whether or not the moto-hipster brigade Harley-Davidson is courting with the Forty-Eight’s edgy ad campaign will be persuaded to throw a skinny leg over Milwaukee’s latest, rather than resurrecting an old basket case in their own DIY vision of custom cool, will make an interesting proposition bet.

What is certain is that those looking for some abecedarian, fuel-injected, fully warranted, factory-custom grunt should put their money on Forty-Eight black.

Motorcycle Specs

Vivid Black $10,499
Color Option $10,789
Two-Tone Option N/A
Custom Color Option N/A
Special Edition Color Option N/A
Security Option $370
Wheel Option N/A
ABS Option N/A
Reverse Option N/A
Cruise Control Option N/A
California Emissions $100
Freight $305
Power Pak™ (103 engine, Security, and ABS) N/A
Security Package (Security and ABS) N/A
Length 88.6 in.2,250 mm
Seat Height
Laden 26 in.660 mm
Unladen 26.8 in.681 mm
Ground Clearance 3.9 in.99 mm
Rake Steering Head 30 °30 °
Trail 4.2 in.107 mm
Wheelbase 59.8 in.1,519 mm
Fuel Capacity 2.1 gal.7.9 l
Oil Capacity 2.8 qt.2.6 l
Dry Weight 545 lbs.247.2 kg
Running Order 567 lbs.257.2 kg
Luggage Capacity
Volume N/AN/A
Weight N/AN/A
Engine Air-cooled, Evolution®Air-cooled, Evolution®
Displacement 73.3 cu. in.1,200 cc
Bore x Stroke 3.5 in. / 3.812 in.88.9 mm / 96.8 mm
Engine Torque J1349J1349
Engine Torque 79 ft. lbs. @ 4000 rpm107 Nm @ 4000 rpm
Fuel System Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)
Compression Ratio 9.7:19.7:1
Primary Drive Chain, 57/38 ratioChain, 57/38 ratio
Fuel Economy
Fuel Economy City 42 mpg5.6 l/100 km
Fuel Economy Hwy 57 mpg4.13 l/100 km
Gear Ratio (Overall)
1st 9.3159.315
2nd 6.6536.653
3rd 4.9484.948
4th 4.1024.102
5th 3.5173.517
6th N/AN/A
Front Black, Steel LacedBlack, Steel Laced
Wheel Option N/AN/A
Rear Black, Steel LacedBlack, Steel Laced
Tire Size
Front MT90B16 72HMT90B16 72H
Rear 150/80B16 71H150/80B16 71H
Instruments Handlebar-mounted
electronic speedometer with odometer, time-of-day clock on odometer,
dual tripmeter, low fuel warning light, low oil pressure light, engine
diagnostics readout, LED indicator lights
electronic speedometer with odometer, time-of-day clock on odometer,
dual tripmeter, low fuel warning light, low oil pressure light, engine
diagnostics readout, LED indicator lights
Indicator Lamps High
beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low
fuel warning, low battery, security system (optional)
beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low
fuel warning, low battery, security system (optional)
Brakes Dual-piston front, single-piston rearDual-piston front, single-piston rear
Parking Brake N/AN/A
Lean Angle 26.1 / 27.8 °26.1 / 27.8 °
Exhaust System Chrome, staggered shorty exhaust with dual mufflersChrome, staggered shorty exhaust with dual mufflers
Color Options

Vivid Black

Brilliant Silver Pearl

Sedona Orange

Motorcycle Apparel
Helmet: Harley-Davidson Skull
Eyewear: Harley-Davidson Profile
Jacket: Schott Classic Horsehide Racer
Gloves: Shift Stryker
Jeans: Icon Victory Riding
Boots: Harley-Davidson Ransom


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