2011 Harley Sportster 48 | Review

2011 XL1200X 48

This is hip! Here’s Harley-Davidson, the company famous for being more conservative than The Vatican, but still with the image of a libertine. On paper the Forty-Eight (48) is nothing more than yet another Sportster with different handlebars and wheels taken from the Harley catalog.

So, why is the Forty-Eight so damn cool and makes you feel so good riding it?

The Forty-Eight joins the Harley-Davidson Dark Custom line, adding another affordable Sportster to the range, and it’s a great place for a new rider to start. Lowered suspension, Fat Bob front tire, peanut tank, forward-mounted footpegs and forward-mounted short bars create a riding style without any big twin comfort compromises.

The low 26.8-inch solo seat sags almost an inch if you weigh 180 pounds (official H-D measurements). I weigh 194 pounds and I’m 6-foot nothing, so the result is a front that bottoms out over the smallest bump whilst the rear suspension copes well. Turning the Forty-Eight over that fat Dunlop 16-inch front tire isn’t as hard as you might think.

Riding through small roundabouts, the footpegs scrape and I don’t think it’s necessary to mention how this transfers to corners. It is not the fastest cornering bike and you run out of ground clearance before the fun starts. Adjusting my riding style a little, I was able to enjoy myself by braking late and accelerating early. As long as the tarmac isn’t bumpy, the front suspension copes and the fat front tire helps with suspension duties, as long as the riding style is smooth enough.

The Forty-Eight is one of the most fun motorcycles I have ridden lately in the city, and not only because all the babes loved it. The riding position gives you that “I’m much meaner than you are” posture, and with all that rubber on the road, it brakes well. I used front and rear brake together more than I usually do.

Leaving red lights, I made sure the cars were just getting started by the time I started braking for the next set of lights. It’s those 72 ft/lbs of torque at 3200 rpm that makes sure of the quick progress. The Sportster 1200 motor has an output of around 70 horsepower, so it’s all about the torque. That torque is released as soon as you let out the clutch, and the Forty-Eight storms away. The torque delivery is never too much and never too little, so the Forty-Eight should suit newbies just as well as old dogs.

The main ingredients to achieving that aggressive riding position is ergonomics, but if your back isn’t quite right and you want to do lots of miles in one go, then this isn’t the bike. The Harley-Davidson’s tiny 1.6-gallon fuel tank won’t take you far either, so the Forty-Eight is a bit of a big city poser. But what a poser the Forty-Eight is!

Doing some of the static photography in my city, everybody wanted a go at posing on the seat. It’s a motorcycle that looks just perfect parked outside a dark nightclub or a café. I see the Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight as a great alternative to bikes such as the Ducati Monster if the main riding is in the city.

The mirrors on this bike are worth a mention, as they are mounted underneath the handlebars. This creates a really clean look and one of the best profiles in motorcycling. Due to that clamshell type riding position the mirrors work as they should, so they’re not there just to make the bike look good.

I really liked my time in the saddle of the 2011 Harley-Davidson Sportster Forty-Eight. I just couldn’t help myself from cruising into the city center each evening when the weather permitted. I spent lots of time on country roads as well, and in an old fashioned way the bike looks good here but can’t really cope with lots of technical corners without losing face.

I still enjoyed all types of roads, but for short spells at a time. If you haven’t got big biking ambitions and only ride a few miles every day then the Forty-Eight is perfect. An added benefit is a major image boost of being seen on one.

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One of the few moto journalists based on the East Coast, Ron Lieback joined the motorcycle industry as a freelancer in 2007 and is currently Editor at Large at Ultimate Motorcycling. He is also the author of 365 to Vision: Modern Writer's Guide (How to Produce More Quality Writing in Less Time).