I sold the Sportster. I know, I know…my pride and joy. And I really did like that bike. But it was not the Sportster for me. So I will get another one: The one I really want.
The Harley Davidson Sportster model was introduced in 1957. Since then the bike has stayed pretty much the same, although it has undergone evolutionary changes and improvements. In other words, it still has a V-twin engine, and general overall look of the bike has stayed fairly consistent. Below are some photos of Sportsters. The first is a 1958 model (a fairly ratty '58 at that). The second one is a pretty nice 1968 model. The third one is my red 1986. God, I loved that bike. Finally, it's my blue 2005. You'll see that they all retain the same design elements: bare-bones motorcycle with the staggered-dual exhaust pipes, and a small "peanut" gas tank. (I replaced my front fender with a chrome one, and dear Lord, I wish I had spoke wheels! Next time...next time...)
Over the years, Harley changed the cylinders from cast iron to aluminum alloy. They also added another gear to the four-speed transmission. And they substituted a belt for the final drive chain. That’s about it. At some point they made the gas tank bigger, keeping the same iconic shape but increasing the capacity from 2.2 gallons to 3.3. However over the years the bike has gotten heavier. My 2005 model weighs about 50 pounds more than my 1986. And yes, the rider can tell.
The basic V-twin configuration of the engine doesn’t just lend itself to vibration, it guarantees it! It’s complicated to explain, but it has to do with how it’s difficult to get an even firing order from an engine with two cylinders spaced 45 degrees apart. (Ninety or 180 degrees would be better.) Thus, Sportsters have always vibrated a lot, especially on the highway.
Newer ones (from 2004-on) have engines that are rubber-mounted which quells the vibrations to a degree. But there’s only so much you can do; on the Interstate the thing still pounds like a jackhammer. I’ve taken both of my Sportsters on long trips. Even I’ll admit that Interstate travel is not their forte.
But let’s be fair – the Sportster was designed before the Interstate Highway System was built. On curvy back-roads and secondary roads at 60 mph, all Sportsters are sweet-running machines. You have a lot of highway riding to do? There are bigger, better bikes for that. For me, the Sportster is the best all-around motorcycle.
Although I loved my 2005 Sportster, I actually wanted one of the earlier models – one of the lighter ones. So I decided to sell this one. It was a tough decision, but I’ve found that I’m not riding it as much as I’d like. So I put it on eBay and Craigslist. The response was immediate.
The first person to come look at it was a woman about my age. She’d been a rider a long time ago and was looking to get back into it. But she was a short, skinny little thing, and had trouble putting both feet on the ground while sitting on it. (Harley does make a model they call the Sportster “Low” which is designed for shorter people.) In talking with her, I got the impression that my bike was not the one for her. Although she tried to give me a deposit, I declined to take it. Honestly I just did not want to sell it to her. I told her to go home, think about it overnight and call me the next day.
But the next day I had another appointment scheduled. This guy used to ride as well. On the phone he told me that he would buy it, period. He came to the house on a Thursday with cash, took one look at it and bought it. He didn’t have a trailer, so I volunteered to deliver it to his house.
In his 40’s, this guy had a full disability from the Army. He said he didn’t think he’d ever be able to walk again, much less ride. But now he could, and he wanted a Sportster! I didn’t ask about the particulars. To be honest, he seemed a little PTSD to me (which he eventually sort of admitted to). But hey, maybe the motorcycle was therapy for him? Who knows. He gave me what I was asking for the bike, and I agreed to deliver it on Saturday.
The day was perfect for a ride: One of those crystal clear NW Florida days…just cool enough for the leather jacket and full-face helmet (hey, it is January here). The bike ran flawlessly. It took about forty-five minutes to get to his house, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting the chance to take it for one last spin. I’d like to say I was overcome with remorse at selling the bike…but I wasn’t. It’s not that I disliked the bike – oh no! But it just wasn’t the “perfect” Sportster for me. And that’s the beauty of owning a motorcycle that they’ve been making since the 1950’s: You can find the exact model you want.
Footnote: Oh, and I'm not exactly motorcycle-less. I still have two Kawasaki Z-1's in the garage which I promise to get around to restoring...soon. Here is a picture of a *much* younger me (on the right, with the Z-1R I still have) and my friend Mark Leuthner when we took a trip through the Smokey Mountains back in...could it be?...1990 or so.
Here's a better shot of it...