Harley Sportster H-D1 & Star Accessories Stryker Comparo

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2012 Harley Sportster 1200 Custom H-D1 & Star Accessories Stryker 1300 Review

Story by Kelly Callan and Don Williams

Inextricably linked to the cruiser experience, customization is at the heart of the two motorcycles in this story. Factory accessories have allowed us to transform these very different showroom floor cruisers – badass and classic – into highly competent short-haul solo touring cruisers, making them appealing mounts for weekend excursions.

The Star Stryker 1300 is an all-new machine this year. Undeniably chopper-influenced, we nonetheless found the Stryker to be a comfortable mount on long rides, as well as capable on the highway and back roads.

To modify the Stryker into a local tourer, we turned to Star Accessories. This Stryker already had the optional blacked out trim, and it did accumulate a number of both visually and functionally transformative parts. Most importantly for travel, the Stryker was fitted with a pair of small pod-like Cruiselite Soft Saddlebags, a small Quick Release Touring Windshield, and the Comfort Cruise solo seat (with matching Spartan passenger pillion, backrest, and short luggage rack).

Harley-Davidson brought the Sportster 1200 Custom in for a makeover for 2011, saving it until mid-year for release. The new Custom, which Harley indelicately claims has “Fattitude”, establishes its independence with high profile 16-inch Michelin Scorcher tires, pullback bars, and new front suspension settings.

In a highly innovative move that may have far-reaching consequences in the motorcycle market, the Custom is the first Harley-Davidson to benefit from the Motor Company’s new H-D1 factory customization option. This allows a customer to select from a seven-category menu of options-wheels, bars, foot controls, seat, paint, engine finish, and security-and then have the bike built to order. A significant advantage to the H-D1 program is that you are not left with unused stock parts after replacing them with accessories, though a premium is paid for some of the upgraded parts.

As part of the H-D1 menu, which is available online, we selected the solo seat, mid-mount polished foot controls, chrome laced wheels, and Chrome Yellow/Vivid Black paint scheme. From H-D Accessories we added Rigid Leather Locking Saddlebags and a Quick-Release Compact Windshield. An American tourer is born.

Although we took nearly identical paths to transforming these cruisers into tourers, the final results are markedly different. That is not to say that we didn’t have two successful outcomes. Rather, we have two ways to skin the proverbial cat.

Long and stretched, with a front end raked an astonishing 40 degrees, the Stryker is the choice of the taller rider. The footpegs sit low and forward of the crankshaft. While the bars have a fairly flat blend, they are set far back from the steering stem, so the rider does not have to bend unnaturally forward to the grips.

For riders wanting the forward peg presentation, they could not be better positioned on the Stryker. There is just enough knee bend that the soles of your feet push down slightly on the pegs. This means that you can rest them on the pegs, and don’t have to put in any effort to hold your feet up. Also, your soles are not flat facing into the wind, so high speeds don’t try to lift your feet from the pegs-perfect.

The Sportster has a classic motorcycle seating position. The pegs are back at the exhaust port of the rear cylinder-a neutral spot that upright standard bike riders will find familiar. The bars are wide and low-perhaps a shade too low-and give good leverage at all speeds.

Ergonomics on the Harley are certainly condensed. Riders around 5′ 6″ will like the Sportster much more than those who are 5′ 10″.
For relief, taller riders can opt for the forward foot controls that H-D1 offers. With a wheelbase nine inches shorter than the Stryker and a front end with a 30-degree rake, the Sportster has a compact feel that is confidence inspiring, despite its two-inch taller saddle.

Even the bags show considerably different philosophies. The sleek side-opening clamshell Stryker bags have a double-zipper design for waterproofing, and open to the sides. Harley gives the Sportster locking traditional top-load bags that are much easier to pack. Given a choice, we prefer the top-load, as nothing will ever fall out unexpectedly upon opening (items may have shifted during flight). Either way, the bags are ideal for weekend getaways.

Inspirational machines, we were stirred to take them from shining sea to purple mountains to the fruitless desert plain. Each handled various conditions differently, though always ably.

Thanks to its long wheelbase, raked forks, 210mm rear rubber, and a 21-inch front wheel, the Stryker is quite at home on roads like US Highway 395 in the Mojave Desert. Relatively smooth, and straight as a ruler, the Stryker sets a course and wanders little. Hard crosswinds have little effect on the low, stretched machine.

Fat Michelin Scorcher tires-with Harley-Davidson shields integrated into the tread pattern-plant the Sportster and send it on its way on the highway. Steering is slow but sure with excellent road feedback, making up for the lack of length and more tucked-in forks.

In a straight line, those wide tires give the Sportster an advantage over rain grooves and patched pavement; the higher profile buxom rubber bulldozes through while the Stryker hunts a bit.

Both the Stryker and Sportster have low windscreens that follow the angle of the forks, and are nicely balanced between comfort, protection, and style. It is easy to see over the screens, allowing an unimpeded view of one’s surroundings, while still benefitting from windblast protection of the torso. The screens direct most of the airstream over the rider’s helmet-just right for touring.

Hours at speed on the open highway is certainly a doable prospect as the windscreens deliver more comfort than you might expect. But if totaling up big numbers on the interstate is your primary game plan, you are better off on more substantial machines, regardless of the bikes’ high-speed prowess. Although these bikes will hit 100 mph given enough room, acceleration at highway speeds is limited.

Roll-on from the 65 mph speed limit for the two bikes in 5th gear going up the steep Cajon Pass on Interstate 15 was about equal, if you don’t take into account that the Stryker was carrying 50 pounds more rider. Though both V-twins, the engines are significantly different designs, with the Yamaha-branded Star motor predictably more high-tech.

Where the Sportster has two valves per cylinder, air cooling, and pushrods, the Stryker goes modern with 4vpc, liquid cooling, and overhead cams. Plus, the Stryker has a 104cc advantage, and feels freer revving. Gas consumption is a bit higher on the Stryker, and it has a smaller tank, so you will be pulling in for fuel more often at the behest of the Star.

The issue of vibration is a personal one, and we consistently prefer Harleys over metric cruisers, and this comparison is no exception. As usual, the dual-counterbalancer equipped Stryker has a feel of measured vibration allowance, rather than a natural rumble. In contrast, the Sportster’s rubber-mounted Evolution motor conveys an unmistakably organic feel that is just right. Also, no surprise, the Star starts up almost silently, especially when compared to the explosion of burgeoning kinetic energy that occurs when you thumb the Harley’s start button.

When the road starts twisting, the two personalities emerge. Neither dominates the other, though you will never wonder which bike you are on.

As you set up for a turn, the brakes on either bike will not overly impress you. The Stryker’s single disc does better than you might expect with the narrow 21-inch front tire, so it is preferred over the lackluster rear brake. The front and rear single disc brakes are equally effective on the Sportster, partially due to the balanced tire sizes, and can do quite well when used skillfully in concert. Suffice to say, brake feel on each bike is better than the overall stopping power.

Barging its way through turns, the Sportster lays down impressive rubber onto the road for solid cornering. The Stryker-light at the front and wide-tired in the rear-has a relatively uncertain feel on turn-in to match the lack of effort needed to initiate the turn. The Stryker is more about leaning, while the Sportster has an almost automotive turning feel. Neither bike is thrilled about unexpected direction changes mid-turn-plan wisely and stay steady.

Bumpy or patchy corners are definitely the Sportster’s domain, as it refuses to be sidetracked. The Stryker’s front end deflects easily, upsetting the stability promised by the long chassis. Cornering clearance is adequate, with both bikes touching down at about the same rate. On the Stryker, this means the rider’s boot heels keep tabs on the pavement, while the generous peg feelers of the Sportster noisily scrape their way through turns.

As is standard on modern cruisers, the tires are more than up to the task of taking the bikes to their limits of cornering clearance. The Star’s Metzeler Marathon tires are not as size-matched as the Michelin Scorchers on the Harley, but both sets of tires still deliver 100-percent security in turns.

Pulling out of the corners, the Sportster’s undersquare motor has a torquey, almost lazy, feel that makes the ride a pure joy-maximum torque hits at an early 4000 rpm (claimed by H-D; neither bike has a tach). Although there is plenty of grunt in the decisively oversquare Stryker, it is not as relaxed as the Sportster. Those interested in making some time in the canyons-say you’re late to a marriage or funeral-will prefer the Stryker if they have any sporting pretentions.

At higher speeds, neither bike establishes an advantage. Again, the feel of each machine is unmistakable, and your preferred bike will depend on which style makes you more comfortable-chassis stability vs. tire stability. Suspension performance in these conditions is about equal and more than satisfactory.

With one rider aboard, these machines perform impressively on various backroads, yet they still work in town, which is the natural domain of both bikes in stock trim. Dodging through fast and crowded freeways, the two motorcycles are nimble and effective. Brute force isn’t there on either, though the Stryker has a decided acceleration advantage if you choose to access the gearbox.

Rough city streets are a bit of an Achilles’ heel for the Sportster. With only a touch over two inches of rear wheel travel, potholes are its nemesis. Harley’s shocks do amazingly well with two inches, but it is still not much movement.

Star’s single shock controls nearly twice the travel, and suspension rates are first class. Front suspension performance on the two bikes is closer-the Star has over an inch-longer travel, though the feel of the steeper forks on the Sportster is quite good.

Profiling on the boulevard is the domain of the Stryker. It looks the part of an aggressive cruiser from every angle, and the long wheelbase and forward controls seal the deal, along with the stunning Midnight Custom wheels.

There is a definite traditional charisma to the Sportster-you can see the original 1950s design, to be sure. It is a more understated look, but the outstanding paint, time-honored spoked wheels, and eye-catching chrome create a superb, classic package. And, yes, it’s a Harley.

The two solo seats are supportive and prepared to take you the distance. The Sportster’s central peg position is a bit vexing for shorter inseamed riders, as they are right in the sweet spot for dangling legs at stops. Also, consider the tiny pillion seat on the Stryker to be for local milk runs only, as the passenger sits high and has nowhere to hang on. We see both of these machines as single-user.

The Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom H-D1 and Star Accessories Stryker 1300 are impressive in their ability to transform themselves from urban cruisers to rural tourers by venturing no farther than the two companies’ accessory catalogs. Highly competent as solo machines on weekend outings, it is simply a matter of deciding which package of handling, ergonomics, power, and appearance suits your personal style. The difference could not be more dramatic for a pair of bikes that excel at the same goal.

Story from previous issue of Ultimate MotorCycling…to view the digital edition, click here.

Photography by Don Williams