Road Test Shootout: Harley-Davidson 48 vs 2012 Triumph Bonneville T100


Earlier in the week, we announced this head-to-head shootout between the new 2012 Harley 48 and Triumph T100. We've already been over the Bonne here, and now it's time to look at the Factory's lowest, leanest and meanest Sportster. The Sportster lineup is a favorite among ChopCult members, with nearly 33 percent (ironically) claiming ownership of H-D’s polarizing twin. Often denigrated elsewhere as a “woman’s” bike or entry-level machine, the Sporty is well respected in these parts, and for good reason. You might even say it has a cult following on the old "33". With this in mind, we took a brand-new 2012 Forty-Eight out for a solid thrashing to experience its charms and foibles personally.


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 48 Road Test Review_02


The Harley-Davidson 48 is one good-looking motorcycle. It's got the stance nailed, the chunky front tire, the blackness, with plenty of what the factory would call "attitude". The specs all stand up: 1200cc, the best-looking gas tank in the H-D lineup and lots of small quasi-custom details all wrapped up in a tidy package that comes with factory financing and a two-year, unlimited mileage warranty. Every person who saw this bike during the two weeks it was in our possession said basically the same thing—"Whoa, that thing looks pretty damn cool."


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 48 Road Test Review_01

When I first heard about this bike two years ago, I thought it would have a springer on it since 1948 was the first year of the panhead and the only tin-top to come with a springer front end from the factory. Shows what I know. Come to find out, it's named after a 1948 125cc single-cylinder Model 125 that precluded the Hummer. A German motorcycle company in fact created H-D’s now famous peanut tank prior to WWII for their DKW RT125 and the design was handed over to the allies at the end of the war. Thanks Nazis, I love everything about the tank with the exception of its capacity. If H-D was trying to capture the essence of custom choppers ridden by people like the typical garage builder, they nailed it. 60 miles into a ride and the low fuel idiot light blinks to life. At 2.1 gallons and 48 miles (average) to the gallon, you'll be filling up at least every hundred miles just like your bros with Wassell tanks. One ticket to chopper cool guy land, please!

2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 48 Road Test Review_25

Modern Sportsters are a fine starting point for personal customizing or outright chopping, and there’s plenty of aftermarket support in the form of parts, engine upgrades and accessories for guys who can’t leave well enough alone. From handlebars to exhaust systems, performance enhancements and aesthetic improvements abound. The 48 looks so good out of the box that you might be content to do the basic pipes, power commander, and handlebar swap and call it a day. Unfortunately, H-D hasn't made it easy on aftermarket suppliers with this XL model. Universal fit bars, pegs and risers might prove a challenge – the peg mounts have an extra-long ear on top for no good reason, the risers are built into the top tree and so low that if you want to put a flat-bottomed bar on there it will require dropping the legs down in the trees about 1/8-inch. I much preferred last year's big “Sportster” wordmark graphic compared to the giant “Forty-Eight” text on this year’s tank. Bold New Graphics notwithstanding, the 48 is undeniably a good-looking bike.

2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 48 Road Test Review_19


One reason Sporties get a little grief from certain crowds is because the practical size fits a wide variety of humans, most notably short ones, and short ones with vaginas. I've helped a few old dudes on Road Glides pick up their bikes when they tip over in gravel—not once have I had to help a chick, beginner or short dude pick up their Sporty. That practical size is even more inviting on the 48 compared with other models in the Sportster lineup. With a stand-over height of 26 inches, practically any adult can get both feet flat on the ground. My 6-foot-3 friend Black Rob felt like a monkey doing bad things to a football aboard the 48, but there are plenty of other motorcycles to choose from for basketball players. The 48’s low seat, low bar and forward controls give the bike a purposeful, compact look. Unfortunately, that purpose might be to compact your ass into your shoulders. Hey—you didn't expect a bike this low and good-looking to be comfortable, did you?


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 48 Road Test Review_20

I personally don't believe in “bar hoppers.” I think motorcycles are meant to be ridden long distances to fun places where you do cool shit when you get there. The Harley 48 makes me a believer in the bar hopper philosophy; one hour into my first ride and I needed a drink. For the record, my current daily riders are a rigid shovel and an FXR with a spring rate so high Rosanne Barr couldn't sag it. All kidding aside, this is the most uncomfortable new motorcycle I've ever ridden. The only thing worse was my old Sportster with solid struts on it, but at least it had mids so I could lift my ass out of the seat over rough spots. If you’re hell-bent to buy a 48, I recommend managing your expectations. Sometimes doing things the hard way is more enjoyable, so if looks are important to you (I can't be a chopper hypocrite here—of course they are more important), go for it. If it were all about comfort and practicality we'd all be riding Bimmers and Super Glides, right?

2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 48 Road Test Review_27


Performance on the 48 is about as good as one could expect from a choked-down, leaned-out emissions mobile. It'll be up to the owner to do the required mods to make it faster and more fun to ride, but at least it is a 1200. It's not that the 48 is slow per se, it just lacks the low-end grunt that makes Harleys so fun to ride. It does seem to rev higher with more ease than previous models, but it’s nowhere near as laid back over 80 mph as a new Dyna. Again, a great bar hopper. The brakes worked solidly, and were very forgiving, tuned for ease of use rather than all-out performance. Clearance during cornering was less than ideal, but par for the course on a bike this low. Scraping the pegs in turns isn't hard to do—it's damn near impossible to avoid if you like to push hard in the twisties—and this always spooks me a little with forward controls. Probably best to just slow down and hop to another bar at a moderate pace.


Shifting is typical H-D fare, clunking into gear is loud enough to startle other motorists from texting (actually happened), which might be a good thing. If you are new to Harleys, don't sweat it. If you are an old salt, you'll feel right at home. Clutch action on the 48 was as smooth and light as any machine I've ever ridden born in Milwaukee. In fact, the whole experience of shifting, taking off and braking is so well-tuned and forgiving that I used it to teach a friend to ride in our parking lot. He took off in second, cruised around a while and came back with a "That's all?" expression on his face. This Sportster is certainly not only for new riders but with the low seat and predictable mannerisms, a first-timer couldn't do much better than the 48.

2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 48 Road Test Review_15

Attention to detail isn't something that is immediately obvious to all riders, but it adds up to an overall impression of build quality. The 48 has this matter sussed. It feels solid. Of course the engine shakes around at idle, that's what rubber mounts do. From the cast aluminum foot controls (way better than the stamped steel pieces most big twins get) to the lack of vertical play in the levers, it's almost like H-D looked at Audi interiors for inspiration. The 48 doesn’t feel like a parts-bin bike, thrown together with only an eye for aesthetics. It’s tight. The only rattle that was audible was the annoying clacking of the valve train between your legs during comfortable mid-range cruising. If you've ever switched from a large tank to a small tank on the same bike, you may be familiar with this noise. With the rocker covers out in the breeze, the internals are a bit loud, but nothing a good aftermarket exhaust couldn't drown out. One weird detail: the folding rear license plate. If you fold it in, it hits the rear shocks. WTF? The only thing I could think of is that it might make loading it in a trailer easier, but that seems like an odd feature.

At $10,499 MSRP the price seems steep, but this is sure to be a model that holds its value well compared to other Sportsters. I put a 16-inch front wheel and a set of Midglide trees on a Sporty a few years ago, and it wasn’t a cheap operation—rims, axle spacers, trees, tires, tubes, caliper spacers and other tweaks add up. Throw in the bitchin' tank, murdered-out motor finish and you've got yourself a winner complete with factory financing and warranty. Just manage your expectations for comfort on long rides and you’ll be fine.

2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 48 Road Test Review_14


Length 88.6 in. (2250 mm)

Overall Width 32.7 in. (831 mm)

Overall Height 42.0 in. (1067 mm)

Seat Height:

- Laden2 26.0 in. (660 mm)

- Unladen 26.8 in. (681 mm)

Ground Clearance 3.9 in. (99 mm)

Rake (steering head) 30°

Fork Angle 30°

Trail 4.2 in. (107 mm)

Wheelbase 59.8 in. (1519 mm)

Tires (Michelin® Scorcher® “31” front and rear):

- Front – Scorcher® “31” 130/90B16 73H

- Rear – Scorcher® “31” 150/80B16 77H

Fuel Capacity 2.1 gal. (7.9 L) (warning light at approximately 0.65 gal.)

Oil Capacity (w/filter) 2.8 qts. (2.6 L)

Transmission Capacity 1.0 qt. (.95 L)


- As Shipped 545 lbs. (247.2 kg)

- In Running Order 567 lbs. (257.2 kg)

- Gross Vehicle Weight Rating 1000 lbs. (453.6 kg)

- Gross Axle Weight Rating

- Front 335 lbs. (152.0 kg)

- Rear 665 lbs. (301.6 kg)


Air-cooled, Evolution®

Valves Pushrod-operated, overhead valves with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters; two valves per cylinder

Bore x Stroke 3.5 in. x 3.812 in. (88.9 mm x 96.8 mm)

Displacement 73.3 cu. in. (1200 cc)

Compression Ratio 9.7:1

Fuel System3 Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)

Air Cleaner Paper cartridge type

Lubrication System Dry-sump


Primary Drive Chain, 57/38 ratio

Final Drive Belt, 68/29 ratio

Clutch Multi-plate, wet

Transmission 5-speed

Gear Ratios (overall): U.S.

- 1st 9.315

- 2nd 6.653

- 3rd 4.948

- 4th 4.102

- 5th 3.517


Frame Mild steel, tubular frame; circular sections; cast junctions

Swingarm Mild steel, rectangular tube section, stamped junctions; MIG welded

Front Forks 39 mm

Rear Shocks Coil-over; preload dual-adjustable


Black Steel Laced

- Front 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)

- Rear 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)


- Caliper Type Dual-piston front, single-piston rear

- Rotor Type (diameter x width): Patented, uniform expansion rotors

- Front 11.5 in. x .2 in. (292.1 mm x 5.1 mm)

- Rear 10.24 in. x .28 in. (260.1 mm x 7.1 mm)

Suspension Travel:

- Front Wheel 3.62 in. (92 mm)

- Rear Wheel 1.63 in. (41 mm)


Engine Torque (per J1349):

- North America 79 ft. lbs. @ 4000 RPM (107 Nm @ 4000 RPM)

Lean Angle (per J1168):

- Right 27.8°

- Left 26.1°

Fuel Economy

(EPA urban/highway test) 48 mpg (4.9 L/100 km)


24 months (unlimited mileage)

Service Interval First 1000 miles (1600 km), every 5000 miles (8000 km) thereafter

US MSRP Price: Vivid Black $10,499, Solids $10,789 USD

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Comment with Chopcult (27)

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 03:38 am

Harley has been smart enough to observe what customizers do and copy it. Like Bill, I put a 16" wheel and wider trees on an xl years ago.

I look for Harley to do an xl-based retro café racer soon.

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 04:45 am

sucks...I'll take the Bonne...

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 05:12 am

If I were to buy a new bike (which I'm not). It would be one of these two. I lean more towards the Bonneville because of the ergonomics and it looks cool. Keep in mind I own 6 vintage japanese bikes so I'm biased towards the retro looks of the bonnie.

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 05:19 am

Have one, it's my main ride, love it! Got a race tuner and breather on it and it'll scoot.. exhaust is next but not surewhat I want.... Sporty love forever!!

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 05:27 am

nice write up. i have sat on one of them 48s and it is a compact bike with a tiny tank. looks bitchin though. i havent ridin the 48 or bonnie so i guess i couldnt say which rides better. i would probally take the bonnie since i have a rubbermount sporty now.

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 06:40 am

.....and the winner is.........drum roll please....

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 07:32 am

I love Harleys and plan to save up for a FXR (Shovel Preferably) But between the 48 and bonnie, I would take it because I see less of them out this far in Tx.

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 08:43 am

I'm cautiously optimistic that the Bonneville stands a chance in this shootout.

This was a great review as well. I'm surpised that the bike had horrible rear shocks and lackluster engine performance.

I'm not surprised Harley is not supporting the aftermarket by making controls and moutning points odd.

That fuel light comes on wicked early. My new Bonneville hits reserve at 130 miles. Perhaps the Triumph is meant to be ridden further...

Great job Bill. If I were able to be objective in this shootout, I would go for the Bonneville.

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 09:06 am

All it really needs is a hartail to make it perfect out of the box. I started on a Sportster when I was stationed in England so I like both equally. I'm intreasted to see which one comes out on top.

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 09:25 am

A Modest Proposal to the MoCo re the 2.1 gal tank.

Oil in frame system for the bike, replace the oil tank with an actual 1 gal to 1.5 reserve tank. Certainly some more plumbing an electronics would be required,
but it'd make the bike a far better "daily driver" w/o sacrificing any "pose factor"..

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 09:31 am

I thought my little '05 sportster low was pretty low, but if I've got my numbers right this thing is 2" lower!? I've never ridden one but based on the way I throw mine around corners, you probably have to replace the pegs every 20,000 miles...

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 09:35 am

..I guess the overly-flashy tank gfx goes away when you put the king tank on it.

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 09:41 am

To really complete the shootout you need a side-by-side list of the fixes needed for each bike...1200 kit, power commander,King tank, vs ? ? ?

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 09:53 am

Of course I'm biased being a huge Sporty fan for the last 15 years or so, but I like the 48 just fine. People are going to upgrade them anyway and a new seat can be had used in the CC classifieds for under $100 all day long or a LePera from your favorite local bike shop. I've heard the seats are awful. For a thousand dollars you piece together pipes/air intake/tuner and suddenly the bike is much more fun to ride.

I really like the Trump as well. Looks like fun to ride. Seems to be that you would have compaired the 883 Sporty though in order to have a more equivalent engine size. Curious to see who "wins" this one.

Good stuff Bill!

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 10:40 am

the 48 is the only HD ive ever owned, that being said I ride my 48 all over the country (two up on factory suspension) and I dont find it that uncomfortable... ive had some older honda 400's and xs650's and i would have the say the 48 takes the cake. I could not be happier with my purchase, great write up bill!

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 11:21 am

On looks anyways, it's no contest. No contest at all.

However, as a dyed-in-the-wool cheapskate I don't like the idea of spending almost 10 large on something new that's going to need even more money put into it on "fixes." In the case of the 48. Or "cosmetics" either,in the case of the Bonnie.

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 12:42 pm

Oi! Oi! you said "sussed"

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 02:36 pm

Must come with a trendy matching helmet and flannel shirt.

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 03:16 pm

I am into this one and the 72, any suggestions?

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 03:39 pm

Took a long ride on the 2011 last week, much the same as the '12. As above, these are the main problems i found. I'm 6" and found it very cramped and uncomfortable for daily riding, was a bitch around town with long legs. Cornering was a tense time too with the pegs grinding if you really sink in to a corner. The engine was supprisingly noisey and the pipes are far to quiet standard but I guess that's the emission laws taking over. Self canceling indicators are a nice touch and the small fuel tank is manageable if you plan ahead with gas stops. Found it pretty smooth in terms of power, brakes and clutch and had a nice centre of gravity that makes the bike feel lighter than It is.

Overall I wouldn't buy the bike, would rather go for the trump but that's just me. Would suit smaller guys or girls and is a smooth cool looking ride but needs some mods to make it mint.

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 04:34 pm

Most uncomfortable bike in the world stock. Needs taller bars, mid controls, and a different seat. Other than that I can dig it.

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 07:32 pm

great write up Bill, the quality of these articles and features is what makes Chop Cult one of the best internet motorcycle sites.

thank you Bill and Magoo

Commented on 5-9-2012 At 07:42 pm

I had a 2010 Iron, and traded for a 2011 Fat Bob. I rode the Fat Bob for a few months and sold it for the 48. Couldn’t be happier. It might not be as comfortable as a dyna, but it makes up for it in style points. I put pipes and air cleaner with stage 1 download for now and it hauls ass, so the performance is there for me. Peg scraping is an issue, but I am looking into some options as replacements.
I don’t like all Harley’s, but I dig the 48 pretty good.

My second bike is a Triumph Thruxton.

Commented on 5-10-2012 At 12:55 pm

I thought the write-ups were awesome. Both had good and bads, but based on the write-ups, I'd buy the Triumph. Both look like cool bikes though. I guess it's preference.

Commented on 5-11-2012 At 08:31 am

Are we going to see Harley/Triumph ads on the website now? They obviously know the readership here and are trying to tap into it for profit gain.

Commented on 5-12-2012 At 07:44 pm

The fold in license plate works great for blowing tolls or any other type of shenanigans you get yourself into.

Commented on 5-13-2012 At 07:36 am

Motor Mike, we pursue getting test bikes on our own, and believe me it is a pain in the ass to pull off. The factories definitely do not come to us and I doubt you'll see any ads from either of them. (Though we'd sell them some in a heartbeat.) We do these tests because we think they are relevant to Chop Cult readers, plenty of guys on here are in the market for a new bike and the Bonneville and Sportster lines are two of the top choices. No chicken little hysteria needed, just a couple bike reviews once in a while, that's all.

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