2012 Harley-Davidson 72 Road Test Review


Somehow Harley-Davidson finds tolerance in its black and orange, air-cooled heart to let professional amateurs like me test brand-new motorcycles. I read a few other reviews while working on this feature and man, journalists are just phoning it in, taking cliff notes from the press release and doing a little patronizing copy and paste. Attention mainstream motorcycle media: This is not a chopper. It's also not a sick bobber. It's a good starting point for a custom motorcycle or a fine stocker, but that's it. This debate over semantics is old and tired, so I apologize, but I had to mention it. Anyway, on to the road test.


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 72 Road Test Review 02

Whitewalls and flake? You either like it or you don't. Less overt paint is available


The 72 is an interesting beast. First launched as a 2012 model, it's basically a parts-bin Sportster. Not as bespoke as the 48, and not as Plain Jane as some of the other models. As all home builders know, playing Mr. Potatohead with a bike by adding and subtracting parts is a great way to change its personality. There is nothing revolutionary going on here, but the influence from Harley's own customers is loud and clear.


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 72 Road Test Review 18

Dark grey powdercoat on the engine has a nice, industrial look

2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 72 Road Test Review 10

I could do without the huge decal branding


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 72 Road Test Review 13

Simple air cleaner and engine-turned ignition cover are thoughtful details


The modern Sportster is a great platform for customizing. The mechanicals on the 72 are sorted and the powertrain doesn't differ much from other XL models. It's a fuel injected 1200, so it's got plenty of gumption, though it won't win many light to light dashes against other modern machines. The brakes work fine, shifting is fine, all standard fare, exactly what you expect when you are expecting a Harley-Davidson. Don't take that in a bad way. I understand the factory's conundrum. Change the platform too dramatically and they might lose their core customer. Keep it the same and tech pundits will beat them up for building an overpriced antique. Add all of the requirements EPA, NHTSA and DOT mandate and it's a miracle any factory can build a legal motorcycle at all.


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 72 Road Test Review 01

What? We're done already? We just started...


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 72 Road Test Review 34

Relatively uncluttered speedo/riser combo is tasteful. Machined stem bolt washer is an elegant touch, but would have been nicer polished instead of black


So what does it all mean to the average dude? While some may disregard it as Harley simply cashing in on chop culture, others who saw our test bike seemed interested. Is the XL72 your cheap ticket to chopper nirvana? Can you really get a metal flake, narrow-tank killing machine with apes for a couple hundred bucks a month without showing talent or busting knuckles to build it? Most guys who have built a few bikes will overlook the 72 as a sheep in wolf's clothing, but for the chopper-curious who don't have the capacity to roll their own, the 72 may be the gateway drug that puts you squarely on the path towards wasted paychecks, greasy fingernails and sleeping in rest stops on I-40. Just remember: it's a motorcycle, not a black belt. The 72 won't make you a bad ass, but it could be fun, and it comes with a 24-month unlimited mile warranty. How's that for a safety blanket?


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 72 Road Test Review 16

If you want classic 16/21" spoked wheels, the 72 has 'em


So what does the 72 have other Sporties don't? The obvious stuff is a set of 10-inch chrome apes, a solo seat (thankfully without springs), low shocks, tons of chrome and of course that flake paint on a classic flat-bottom Sportster tank and shorty rear fender. That bass boat green paint and the 72's whitewalls are subjective specs that polarize observers. Not quite as obvious might be the dark grey powder coat on the engine, an unexplained lack of passenger pegs and a regular old top tree and riser set-up which lends itself to owner modifications much more easily than some of the other models with integrated risers. The fork legs and rear shocks are longer than a 48, giving it a hair more ground clearance, a slightly better ride and about an extra inch in seat height. This all adds up to a practical stance and sensible ergonomics. Or so I thought.


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 72 Road Test Review 36

The money shot. The narrow tank, despite it's lack of capacity has style and makes the whole bike feel visually lighter


Even a troll can sit flat-footed on the 72 at a stoplight, always a bonus for the short set. While I prefer mid controls, the forwards were easy enough to reach, and mildly comfortable. The bars might seem outlandish to anyone not used to their high reach, but I found the 72's tall bars naturally comfortable and good looking.


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 72 Road Test Review 14

Not built for speed or comfort


The nicest thing I can say about the '72's seat is that it only takes one screw to remove it and throw it away. You want chopper ergos? You got 'em. Get up over 75 mph and you'll feel like you're sliding off the back of the bike, just like the cool guy with the original Bates seat on his old shovelhead. A solo seat with some kick in the back or a set of mid-mounted foot controls would change everything. I hammered the 72 over SoCal's Ortega Highway and back on a 200-mile errand run. Its slightly taller ride height made for some great leaning in the twisties, but when it came time to jump on the highway and hammer with the Housewives of Orange County, the inadequacy of that backward-angled seat became obvious. The dreaded sliding-off sensation is never confidence-inspiring, and a beginner might find the 72's small seat size and unsupportive shape unnerving on long, fast rides.


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 72 Road Test Review 23

Tail light stalks are plenty strong enough to strap gear to. I guess with no passenger seat you don't get rear pegs either


I don't know this for a fact, but I'd bet the most commonly replaced item on a brand new Harley is the exhaust. In the case of the 72 this must be the case. You can't be all chopper bro, jammin' down the street sounding like steam whistle buried in a mud hole, so save some beans and install an exhaust that lets your freedom machine roar.


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 72 Road Test Review 31

Approximately 3,487.5 miles of wire are creatively hidden under the tank


While I applaud the MoCo for the attractive gas tank, when the light comes on at 55 miles and there is no manual reserve it weirds me out. Now, I know according to the specs it should get right at 100 miles per tank, but I started out full and still lit the light up twice on a pretty normal day of mixed-use riding. It's a bummer, because looking at the relatively uncluttered view from the rider's position, the skinny tank looks just right and is an integral design element on the 72. One idea would be to hide the electric fuel pump outside of the tank somewhere, which would be a challenge since even the horn hangs out in the breeze due to a lack of room in this compact package. Even that wouldn't net much more capacity, so maybe take a hint from our Japanese customizing brethren and make that thing taller. Here's a tip HD, go to the Mooneyes show in Yokohama and see how many narrow, but slightly taller sporty tanks there are. Or talk to Rene at Mercury Moto, I'm sure he'd design one for you. I'd sure be happy with another half gallon gently massaged into this basic shape and wouldn't mind the upward bump at all.


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 72 Road Test Review 19

I tested the flip-in plate on OC's toll roads. If I don't get a ticket, it worked. If not, I don't understand this feature


So, is this the bike for you? Like all decisions, it depends on what you want out of your machine. It's not going to make you a chopper hero among people who build their own stuff, but you'll get lots of compliments from people who don't know much about motorcycles. The extroverted paint, bars and whitewalls might net you more friends than you're looking for, so be careful. I think what the 72 is best at being is a fine starting point for a custom bike. A weekend spent swapping out pipes, ditching all the blinkers, reflectors, horn and superfluous wiring would go a long way. Maybe add a p-pad and some pegs so you can haul the old lady and have something to lean against, or replace the forward foot controls if that suits your style. If you're not so inclined, leave your 72 bone stock and ride the piss out of it for two hard years under that factory warranty, then chop it up when it's broken in.


2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster 72 Road Test Review 40


2012 Harley-Davidson XL1200V Seventy-Two - USA Specifications/Technical Details


Price: Custom Color Option $10,699 USD


 Length 87.4 in. (2220 mm)
Overall Width 33.1 in. (841 mm)
Overall Height 44.9 in. (1140 mm)

Seat Height: • Laden2 26.6 in. (676 mm)
• Unladen 27.9 in. (710 mm)
Ground Clearance 4.4 in. (112 mm)
Rake (steering head) 29.9°
Fork Angle 29.9°
Trail 4.2 in. (107 mm)
Wheelbase 59.9 in. (1521 mm)

Tires (Michelin® Scorcher® “31” front and rear):
• Front – Scorcher® “31” 130/90B16 72H
• Rear – Scorcher® “31” 150/80B16 77H
Fuel Capacity 4.5 gal. (17 L) (warning light at approximately 1.0 gal.)
Oil Capacity (w/filter) 2.8 qts. (2.6 L)
Transmission Capacity 1 qt. (.95 L)

Weight: • As Shipped 553 lbs. (251 kg)
• In Running Order 573 lbs. (260 kg)
• Gross Vehicle Weight Rating 1000 lbs. (454 kg)
• Gross Axle Weight Rating
• Front 335 lbs. (152 kg)
• Rear 665 lbs. (302 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
Wheels4 (Black Contrast Cut 5-Spoke Cast Aluminum; Steel Laced; Black Steel Laced option): Chrome, 5-spoke Cast Aluminum
• Front 16 in. x 3 in. (406.4 mm x 76.2 mm)
• Rear 16 in. x 3 in. (406 mm x 76 mm)

Brakes: • 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 mm x 5 mm)
• Rear 10.24 in. x .28 in. (260 mm x 7 mm)

Suspension Travel: • Front Wheel 4.12 in. (105 mm)
• Rear Wheel 2.12 in. (54 mm)


Engine Torque (per J1349):
• North America 79 ft. lbs. @ 3250 RPM (107 Nm @ 3250 RPM)
Lean Angle (per J1168):
• Right 26.2°
• Left 28.3°

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


24 months (unlimited mileage)

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Comment with Chopcult (39)

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 06:57 am

not a chopper or bobber. i worked in a dealer ship for 10+ yrs now and i laugh all the time when customer's would come in and ask to see that bobber or chopper. it is a good starting point and have see a few that have made them into a bobber.

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 07:23 am

Sick bobber, man!

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 08:28 am

Overall nice looking. I dig sporties. Currently on one since the Pans gone..I just prefer to start with a more blank canvas.. But if your looking turn key and thats what ya dig! Ride it man!

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 08:37 am

Haha, i decided not to renew my subscription to a certain well known bike magazine when they declared the 72 to be something like "THE RETURN OF THE CHOPPER!!!

Sigh. Oh, nice nod to Rene from MercuryMoto!

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 08:41 am

On another note: I fully intend to scoop 1-2 of those tanks in a couple of years when people have moved onto the next big thing. Then, I will put them in the attic for several years and then delight in the cries of "That thing is sick" when I bust out my vintage tanks with original paint on the CC classifieds in 2037.

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 08:44 am

Overall nice looking. I dig sporties. Currently on one since the Pans gone..I just prefer to start with a more blank canvas.. But if your looking turn key and thats what ya dig! Ride it man!

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 08:59 am

I need a mile for reading

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 01:05 pm

Other than someone who just HAS to have a brand new one, I don't understand who buys this stuff. Here in the Midwest you can get a '90's area low-mileage sporty, already with aftermarket exhaust, for less than 3k. Most anyone can fit it with a set of apes and some new lines and cables in an afternoon and voilá! Plus it has a carb in lieu of the evil fuel injection.

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 01:39 pm

if i was going to buy a factory bike and just ride it this would probably be the one. but i can never leave anything alone. and the stealership here has them closer to 13k???? i like the flat paint option better and totally agree on a taller tank to get the extra miles.

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 03:32 pm

if i was looking for a first bike i would rock that.

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 05:20 pm

For an extra hundo, they will take off the turn signals & front fender. Then, you will be a true hardcore!

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 06:38 pm

Ugghh....whitewalls. If HD were shooting for shit, they wouldn't get a whiff.

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 08:34 pm

"I tested the flip-in plate on OC's toll roads. If I don't get a ticket, it worked. If not, I don't understand this feature."

HA! Totally! Why does the plate do that?!

And I can see the "old dude magnet" that's activated when you ride this thing.

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 10:41 pm

what a waste of cash...that was a good article..and i find i

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 10:44 pm

what a waste of cash..and i find it hard to disagree with the article..from harleys standpoint i get it,,but im seein panheads and shovels go for that money, let alone a cool ass sporty with all the cool shit done to it and just as reliable for the half the money...idk,i feel like if ur into this site that bike is most likley a waste of money for you...i love chopcult..its addicting,,thanks for all the hard work

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 11:09 pm

There's a big difference between a lack of skill, and a lack of will. This assumption that some people can and some people cant is lame as shit. acting like mechanical inclination and artistic creativity are gifts from the gods detracts from the hard work that guys like bill put into being good at something. You want a factory bike; buy this. Cool. Ride the balls off of it. You want respect from chopper guys? learn something, and apply it. Ask for help, work hard. that's it. there's nothing wrong with either approach, but don't get all butthurt if some dude with greasy hands teases you about it.

Commented on 10-22-2012 At 11:12 pm

PS fair and well written write up! Thanks!

Commented on 10-23-2012 At 12:11 am

Good write up. To me, no matter what they do to it its still just a stock bike

Commented on 10-23-2012 At 08:23 am

to me that bike is Fuggly.

But, bikes are like women, ......after a couple beers even the ugly ones are fun to ride.

Commented on 10-23-2012 At 08:23 am

As far as stock Harley's go, I think this is a pretty nice looking bike. The article mentions ride it till the warranty is up and start chopping, the paint and bars and engine are all pretty nice starting point. Like most people point out though that is a pricey way to go seeing the used Sportster market is pretty good for buyers right now. I agree that getting an older carb model for 3 to 4k in need of some love may end up being a more meaningful bike in the long run.

I bought a brand new Dyna Super Glide in '07. Did not know anything about motorcycles really and took the easy way out. Then I was busy making payments on it while I could have been putting money into actually making it cool. It pisses me off a little because a guy in my apartment complex had an old Harley tucked away in his garage. Totally should have asked about it.

Commented on 10-23-2012 At 09:04 am

i took one out for a ride nice bike if i had it i would had change the bars .it your $$$ buy what you want .

Commented on 10-23-2012 At 09:47 am

Load of wank.

Commented on 10-23-2012 At 10:19 am

That is a good looking bike and a good honest write up. I just can't see anything wrong with riding a (more or less) stocker and admiring the work of those who have the wherewithal to build bikes even if I don't have that ability. Actually, a lot of builders have a mostly stock bike for their main steed.

Commented on 10-23-2012 At 10:33 am

I'm kind of on the fence about most of the new bikes, I like the tank and a few other odds and ends on the bike but I'm not the customer the factory can market to, I tend to like getting my hands into stuff and doing my own ham fisted work, but after dicking around with a few bikes and having the head and heart aches that come with mechanical difficulties when money is tight there's something to be said about a factory warranty. Course I'm also in the camp of break it till it works, comes from working on old Jeeps and stuff where making things better, stronger are always a good thing. Personally I'd rather get a couple good used bikes for that amount and beat the crap out of them till then need the 6 million dollar treatment.

Commented on 10-23-2012 At 10:42 am

Great article. I agree that this is a bike for the 15/15 group. If you're just looking for an iconic solid american bike, then this is it. Otherwise, find a shovel or pan and build it/chop it/love it.

Commented on 10-23-2012 At 01:25 pm

Nice for a stock bike, needs a hardtail with a little streach. I actuall hope the MoCo sell thousands of thm so I can scoop them up in a couple of years when the posers and wanna be's tire of them.

Commented on 10-23-2012 At 05:17 pm

I think its a good lookin bike cept for the whitewalls...And as the writer said, the tank decals are a little bit too big. For the money,I personally would rather spend it on an older bike,But since Im broke as dick anyway,Im not gonna hate on a guy who can..

Commented on 10-23-2012 At 05:42 pm

I think the bike looks good....but we all know its stock and most of us cant stand stock. I paid less than half of that for my 08 sporty so I couldnt imagine spending that much on a sportster, and yes the tank needs to be taller haha.

Commented on 10-24-2012 At 06:57 am

Yes, accurate write-up for chop cult crowd. Well done. thanks.

Commented on 10-24-2012 At 09:04 am

If it came with a can of flat black krylon and a baseball bat. You may be able to make it look mean when they rolled it into the lot for you to take home

Commented on 10-24-2012 At 07:19 pm

Only thing that people seem to forget is how easy it is to get a new bike. I love the guys that have put 6 grand cash into their shovelhead and look at me like I have money because I can come up with $200 a month for the payment on my 08. Its cheaper to get a new bike and then play with it.

Commented on 10-25-2012 At 06:44 pm

This article is too long! Can someone tell me what it says in 10 or less words!

Commented on 10-25-2012 At 10:32 pm

Chopperzac -- The article said they still make Sporters.

Commented on 10-25-2012 At 10:34 pm

.....and we can chop them.

Commented on 10-26-2012 At 03:23 am

"Green Monster" whoever gave that name is a little harsh.
It's not that monstrous, it's just another stock sporty...

Commented on 10-26-2012 At 08:57 am

fuckin great review! thanks for giving your straight impression and not cow-tailing to the mo-co, an editor, or the views of a few thousand over-opiniated scooter junkies.

Commented on 11-20-2012 At 01:14 pm

Ive noticed lately that the downfall of the harley sportster is the size of the tank, most of them don't hold more than a couple gallons, but still look odd if they are too big

Commented on 12-31-2012 At 07:59 am

I got the red one for the wife, I ride the hell out of it...and love it. I changed the pipes for V&H short shot slip-on's and that did the trick. Next is the seat. I enjoyed Bill Bryant's piece about the 72, The bike is what it is and that's fine, when it's paid off and the wife gets her trike I will strip that sporty down and have some fun with it.

Commented on 5-18-2015 At 11:57 am

Well i never liked sporty`s as they were everywhere over here and everyone had one but this is a nice lookin ride.Great article as well.

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