2021 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Review: Elemental Motorcycle

It will be a sad day when the Harley-Davidsons powered by the air-cooled Evolution V-twin are gone. They’re certainly being eased out, as there are only three choices left in 2021—the Iron 1200, Iron 883, and the subject of this review, the Forty-Eight. Harley-Davidson doesn’t even call them Sportsters any longer. The trio is categorized as Cruisers alongside the motorcycles built on the Softail platform. Riding the 2021 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight is a reminder of just how enjoyable it is to ride a bike that provides an undeniably elemental experience.

2022 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Review: MSRP

The simple act of pushing the start switch ignites a rider’s passion. If it doesn’t, perhaps the LiveWire One will be more to your liking. The air/fuel mixture charges into the 601cc cylinders, and the unruly explosions begin. The entire motorcycle shakes, with the unbalanced, rubber-mounted Evolution powerplant unambiguously showing its enthusiasm for the task at hand. I’ll never tire of starting this motor.

The 2021 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight isn’t about long-distance riding or sporting performance. It’s about looking cool and enjoying your local surroundings. With a 28-inch seat height, feet-forward controls, and a narrow handlebar with precious little sweep back, the point of the Forty-Eight is to present yourself as a confident person going about the day’s riding business with a solid dash of rugged individualism. Yeah, the air cleaner housing is in the way of my right leg—so what? The mixture of black and chrome, plus the high-profile Michelin Scorcher 31 tires on identically sized blacked-out cast-aluminum wheels, adds to the purposefulness projected by the Forty-Eight and its rider.

2022 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Review: Price

The Forty-Eight’s fat Michelins do more than simply look good. The Scorcher 31s provide a solid footprint on whatever pavement you’re traversing, instilling confidence in the chassis when cornering and tooling down the freeway. With limited suspended wheel travel—3.6 inches in the front, and less than half of that in the rear—the tires assist the suspension when it comes time to smooth out unruly asphalt. Form meets function when discussing the Forty-Eight’s rubber.

If you find yourself spending a lot of time on the freeway, either urban or rural, you have likely chosen the wrong motorcycle. Although it handles fine, the windblast from the seating position and the vibrations sent the rider’s way by the 45-degree V-twin will convince you that slower roads are the Forty-Eight’s preferred habitat. Besides, when you’re looking good, you want to stop at lights now and then so people can admire your ride and express that sentiment to you. Yes, it happens with a predictable frequency with the easy-on-the-eyes Billiard Teal. If you don’t like a steady stream of people telling you how cool your bike is, any number of highly competent Japanese cruisers will fit the bill.

The view from the Forty-Eight’s cockpit is a good one. The underslung mirrors are out of your field of vision, until you’re interested in what’s going on behind you. As it turns out, the view presented by the mirrors is pretty good—not always the case with under-grip mirrors. There’s an analog-style round-housing speedometer, which adds to the simplicity. Really, though, I never think about how fast I’m riding the Forty-Eight. I ride it at the speed I choose, and the rest of the world will have to deal with that—defunding the police has its benefits.

The 45-degree motor is perfect for moving around town. There’s plenty of torque, with the peak of 73 ft-lbs coming at an easily attainable 3500 rpm. The five-speed gearbox could use an extra cog if you were touring, but other motorcycles fulfill that role. The Forty-Eight begs me to haul down the Sunset Strip when there’s no traffic (it happens) or scrape the pegs and my bootheels on Mulholland Drive.

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Letting the exhaust tone from the 2021 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight bounce off the streets of downtown Los Angeles is always a treat, too. If you go down there late enough and ride down the wrong street, it evokes flashbacks of The Omega Man, with the homeless standing in for The Family. Paul Koslo rides a Panhead-powered chopper in the 1971 apocalyptic sci-fi classic, while Charlton Heston makes use of a Honda SL350—not a bad choice. The Forty-Eight suits me fine in COVID-scarred DTLA. Sadly, I can’t ride down the stairs of the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, as the mid-century classic designed by Welton Becket is no longer standing for this pandemic.

When the urge to hit the local urban twisties hits me, Forty-Eight indulges me, while constantly reminding me of its limitations. While the bulbous tires aren’t exacting, they are reassuring. You run out of cornering clearance long before the Michelins protest. Still, it’s a fun ride on low-speed, less demanding runs through Griffith or Elysian Parks, where I find out the brakes are adequate for the job at hand—get ABS if you ride in the wet, even though H-D demands you hand over $795 for it.

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A run from downtown west to the Pacific Ocean on any one of several Boulevards—Sunset, Wilshire, Olympic, Pico, Venice, and Washington—is tailor-made to the strengths of the Forty-Eight. Just listing them makes me want to go for a ride and experience the wonderfully varied neighborhoods of the sprawling moto-friendly metropolis. Anywhere I park the Forty-Eight, I’ll be welcomed with open arms—it’s that kind of motorcycle.

The world needs all kinds of motorcycles—supersports, adventure, touring, off-road, standard, cruiser, and any permutation you care to name. Central to them all is a bike such as the 2021 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight. It takes a basic motor and no-frills chassis, and makes it accessible and enjoyable for all. It lives and breathes as certainly as its rider, and with the solo seat, the Forty-eight is your only companion as you experience your city and the people in it.

Photography by Kelly Callan 

RIDING STYLE

2021 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Specs

ENGINE

  • Type: Air-cooled Evolution V-twin
  • Displacement: 73.4ci (1202cc)
  • Bore x stroke: 3.5 x 3.8” (88.9 x 96.8mm)
  • Maximum torque: 73 ft-lbs @ 3500 rpm
  • Compression ratio: 10:1
  • Valvetrain: Pushrods, 2vpc
  • Cooling: Air
  • Lubrication: Dry sump
  • Transmission: 5-speed

    Primary drive: Chain
  • Final drive: Belt

CHASSIS

  • Frame: Tubular mild steel
  • Front suspension; travel: Non-adjustable 49mm cartridge-style fork; 3.6 inches
  • Rear suspension; travel: Adjustable-preload variable rate spring w/ nitrogen-charged emulsion-style shock; 1.6 inches of travel
  • Wheels: Black split 9-spoke cast aluminum w/ machined highlights
  • Front wheel: 16 x 3.00
  • Rear wheel: 16 x 3.00
  • Tires: Michelin Scorcher 31
  • Front tire: 130/90 x 16
  • Rear tire: 150/80 x 16
  • Front brake: 300mm disc w/ dual-piston caliper
  • Rear brake: 260mm disc w/ dual-piston caliper
  • ABS: Optional ($795)

DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES

  • Wheelbase: 58.9 inches
  • Rake: 30.2 degrees
  • Fork angle: 28.7 degrees
  • Trail: 5.3 inches
  • Seat height: 28 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 2.1 gallons
  • Estimated fuel consumption: 48 mpg
  • Curb weight: 556 pounds
  • Colors: Vivid Black; Billiard Teal (+$350); Midnight Crimson (+$350)

2021 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Price: $11,459 MSRP

2021 Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Review Photo Gallery