Harley-Davidson Sportster: Sixty Years by Allan Girdler

Harley-Davidson Sportster: Sixty Years | Rider's Library Review
Harley-Davidson Sportster: Sixty Years

Now in its 60th year of continuous production, the Harley-Davidson Sportster has gone through changes—evolutions, if you will—too numerous to mention, but has never lost its character nor its niche in the motorcycle market.

After six decades, in an industry defined by nearly constant change and technological advancement, how could the Sportster endure, you may ask? Seasoned motorcycle expert, author and sage, Allan Girdler explains in his latest book, Harley-Davidson Sportster: Sixty Years, published by Quarto Publishing Group. This book is an update of Girdler’s 2003 version to mark the Sportster’s 60th Anniversary.

Other examples of Girdler’s work reviewed here include:

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The Harley-Davidson and Indian Wars, Illustrated Buyers Guide Harley-Davidson Since 1965, and he has written at least five other books as well has serving as editor for Cycle World, Car Life and Road & Track. With a resume like that, his latest offering has cred.

As you might expect, Girdler traces the history of the Sportster chronologically through its predecessors, the flathead sidevalve bikes of the post-WWII years, the genetics of the OHV knucklehead, and the K, KH, KHR, KHK, KHRTT and KHRM series until the pushrod OHV Sportster was introduced in model year 1957 and on to the present day.

What you might not expect is the way Girdler writes the story as a vivid and entertaining memoir as well as a fact and detail-filled history. Girdler weaves the technical detail into story-telling using the perspective of some of the interesting personalities whose lives have intersected with the Sportster. The narrative is enlivened by showing what the Sportster has come to mean to some interesting folks.

In some instances, the raucous character of the Sportster seems in perfect harmony with that of its owner.  For example, Cook Neilson, former editor of Cycle magazine, is described as having a 1964 XLCH Sportster as his favorite motorcycle in what may well have been a love/hate relationship:

“He used his XLCH to get suspended from college, demoted in the military, carry on his rounds of door-to-door sales attempts, commute to see his girlfriend, set records at Bonneville and the drags, and get into four serious crashes, ‘only three of which were my fault.

“Through it all, my CH was an indictable co-conspirator and unsavory influence, chuffing happily or exploding enthusiastically…we went everywhere and did everything, and at the end of the day, even though we had put a few dings and scratches on each other, my love for that bike was undiminished.”

Greater love hath no man than this: a man for his Sportster. I can relate; I have two 883s in my shed and though I’ve ridden quite a few bikes that are faster, smoother and more technologically sophisticated, it’ll be a cold day in you know where before I rid myself of them—or Girdler’s book on the breed, for that matter.

For more on the Sportster’s unique contribution to the world of motorcycling, check out our other coverage:

Harley-Davidson Sportster History—Reaching Every Niche

Book Data:

  • Title: Harley-Davidson Sportster Sixty Years
  • Author: Allan Girdler
  • Published: 2017 hardcover, 176 9.25” x 11” pages, 96 color and black & white images.
  • Publisher: Motorbooks, Quarto Publishing Group, 400 First Ave. North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401 USA
  • ISBN: 978-0-7603-5218-2
  • MSRP: U.S. $45; U.K. £30; $59 CAN

Harley-Davidson Sportster: Sixty Years Book Review