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.
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."
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!
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
Length 88.6 in. (2250 mm)
Overall Width 32.7 in. (831 mm)
Overall Height 42.0 in. (1067 mm)
- 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)
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
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)
- 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°
(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