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SPORTSTER FUTURES

Re: K, XL, XLA, XLH, XLS, XLCH, XLCR, XR750, XR1000, XR1200

By Bandit, Sam Burns and the bros
4/3/2021


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Earlier this year we heard that Harley was going to cancel the Sportster line. We also started a suggestion box for the factory’s success. Of course, one of our first and most supported recommendations included retaining the Sportster line.





I went so far as to recommend the Sportster line become the builder’s line and make the models user and hands- on friendly. They could work with the aftermarket on custom and performance product lines and teach owners how to work on, service and customize their Sportsters.



The history of the Sportster line is crazy and the longest model line in the history of Harley-Davidson. The Harley-Davidson Sportster is a line of motorcycles produced continuously since 1957 by Harley-Davidson. Sportster models are designated in Harley-Davidson's product code by beginning with "XL".

1958 KR
1958 KR



In 1952, the predecessors to the Sportster, the Model K Sport and Sport Solo motorcycles, were introduced. These models K, KK, KH, and KHK of 1952 to 1956 had a sidevalve ('flat head') engine, whereas the later XL Sportster models use an overhead valve engine. The first Sportster in 1957 had many of the same details of the KH including the frame, fenders, large gas tank and front suspension.

1958 XLH
1958 XLH



During the ‘50s and ‘60s the only entry level Harley became the Sportster. You could buy a dresser or a Sportster. At the time, no one wanted a dresser except old straights. We all started on Sportsters. It wasn’t until ’71 that the factory started to build big twins that weren’t dressers, with the Super Glide.

1963 XLH with Touring tank.
1963 XLH with Touring tank.



Following are some thoughts from some of the bros and an inspirational batch of shots from Sam Burns of iconic Sportsters. Feel free to share your thoughts with us supporting the Sportster Model Line. Send them to KBall945@gmail.com.


1963 Touring XLH
1963 Touring XLH



From Sam Burns:

I was thinking about the possible demise of the venerable Sportster from the Harley lineup. Considering what Triumph, Ducati, Moto Guzzi, BMW, Ford, GM, Chrysler, and others have been doing with all the retro scene it amazes me that a modern but true to the mark Sportster isn't in the making.

1965 XLCH custom rigid.
1965 XLCH custom rigid.



Sixty-five years and the K lineage preceding that. I'm a Texan born and bred, but while up North, it seemed Sportsters were everywhere. The Factory could build something for us old boys to relive when the Sportster ruled the street and writers were calling it our first true superbike.

1965 Factory hydraulic solo.
1965 Factory hydraulic solo.



It has been a great street bike, drag racer, hillclimber, road racer, and touring bike. Affordable and easily customized, it still is a base for many custom bikes.

1968 Ironhead Sportster built by Terminal Speed.
1968 Ironhead Sportster built by Terminal Speed.



Maybe I'm just getting old and going through the memory bin, but I still see the Sportster as a viable platform.

1971 Boattail, ugly.
1971 Boattail, ugly.



—Sam Burns

Leo Payne
Leo Payne



From Micah McCloskey

The Sportster has been around since the 1952 K Model. It outperforms the other models in handling, braking, shifting, and racing.

1963 XLH
1963 XLH



The lightweight design also makes it a great entry level motorcycle for a novice to develop riding skills with. They have been very popular with around town riders, woman, and young riders without a fat wallet.



Indian Scouts won all the races in the ‘40s and ‘50s until the Sportster hit the scene. It took awhile but Sportsters started to win flat track races for Harley-Davidson. When drag racing started to shake neighborhood asphalt ¼ mile tracks the bikes to beat were Sportsters. All the greats built fuel powered Sportster drag bikes.

1973 XLCH
1973 XLCH



--Micah McCloskey



More from Sam Burns

Regarding retro: Dodge kinda kicked it off with the hemi (sweet). Ford came out with the retro-styled Mustang and the streets were full of everything pony car (Camaro, Challenger, Charger). BMW with their new R18 and Ducati with their scramblers. Triumph (the Sportster’s old nemesis) and Guzzi with the 750s new replacement.

1965 with 2-up seat.
1965 with 2-up seat.



The good news is that the old is what's cool with the Sportster style. The 650 Bonneville has grown to 900 and 1200 with a host of new technology but it is unmistakably a Bonnie.

1965 with large solo.
1965 with large solo.



–Sam Burns

1983 XR1000
1983 XR1000



I stepped into the mix:

It’s interesting to note Indian’s recent progress. After the launch of the Chief Classic in 2014 they immediately created the Scout to compete with the Sportster. And this year they redesigned their Chief line to look more like a Sportster and be the cruiser of the Indian line. Retro and classic, the Sportster contains all the winning elements.



--Bandit



From the Stealth:

After hearing that the Sportster line-up would cease to exist after 2021, I was confused and a bit sad. In my opinion this is a huge mistake. How many of us got into Harleys with a Sportster? More than I can count.



My first Harley was a 1979 Sportster. It was called a Hugger back then first 16-inch rear wheel from the factory on a Sportster. It was scarlet red. I had a lot of good times on this bike. For me Sportsters have always been bad ass and I can hear a lot of you sating right now it is a girl's bike, to that I say bullshit! If this were the case why are all Harley race programs based off the Sportster?



Look at Arlen Ness's early bikes, a lot of them were based off the Sportster engine! I would get off work at 11:30 pm back in those days and I could not wait to get to the parking lot to go for a midnight ride. Nothing was cooler than when I let off the throttle and I would look back at the flames dancing out of the drag pipes.



Great times on a great bike! That Sportster attracted a lot of attention from the ladies also! Hey Elvis had a Sportster that says something! To this day the Sportster tank is the cleanest sexiest gas tank ever made!

1992
1992




When I was a kid in the 10th grade I would go to the local dealer after school and sit on a Sportster, I would look at the shiny surface of the tank and see myself looking back at me, telling myself SOMEDAY! I never thought of a Super glide or an Electra Gide I had the Sportster bug!

1999
1999



Sportsters carry a lot of memories for a lot of riders It was always your key to the Biker lifestyle. The Sportster still has one of the best exhaust notes around with those nine cams. Harley needs to re-think the idea of doing away with the Sportster--not everyone wants a touring bike. The Sportster has been with us for years, and it has earned the right to remain in the Harley-Davidson line-up!

2007
2007



In my business, I hear the Sportster tank is not big enough, no luggage space etc. Hey, a Sportster is a thoroughbred not a work horse! LONG LIVE THE SPORSTER!

2008 XR1200
2008 XR1200



Until next time, RIDE
--STEALTH
 

 
Sam is back:

This is my brother Ricko. We started riding together over 50 years ago. Here he is with his brand new 1972 XLCH 1000. With a little help from his friends, he acquired a custom rear fender, struts, seat, and front wheel.



He had a great guy, Bill Drake, who set up the rear fender, paint, and general assembly including the SU carburetor. Bill gave so freely of his time, talent, and knowledge. We lost Bill two years ago and he is missed. Among so many other things, Little John introduced us to the SU. We lost John in 1990.
This bike was quick and Ricko could ride like nobody's business.



My brother Rick says he spoke with the senior salesman at the local Harley dealer and was told that the Sportster line would remain but a couple of Sportster models that weren't selling very well, would be dropped.

–Sam Burns



From the Gearhead:

I had a few friends who owned them. They haul ass with few modifications depending on the year. Fairly easy to work on with basic tools. Make a pretty good red light to red light hot rod. It gave the competition hell on the flat track and speedway. I had a friend that had a rigid chop in florescent pink with thunder header and could pull wheel stands with his 230-pound frame. It was a long chop too.



--Gearhead

Shown is Leo Payne's Turnip Eater, photographed by the author in '93 at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington, Ohio. Courtesy Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum
Shown is Leo Payne's Turnip Eater, photographed by the author in '93 at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington, Ohio. Courtesy Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum



Harley-Davidson's Golden Age of Racing

D. William Denish, Photography by D. William Denish February 24, 2009


Here's the author's street Sportster in early '68 with a 74ci engine, Dytch big-bore cylinders, 12:1 compression pistons, S&S; 4-5/8 inch stroke flywheels, bored Linkert DC carb, Sifton cams, magneto ignition, and kick-start.


In the summer of 1964, I got a hankering to get a Harley. Maybe my rekindled interest in cycles was because my friend Marty, who previously owned the Whizzer Sportsman, had bought a Panhead and was boring and stroking it out to 98 cubic inches.

Cook Nielson's Top Fuel Sportster on the trailer in the pits at Atco Raceway. (Circa 10/26/69)
Cook Nielson's Top Fuel Sportster on the trailer in the pits at Atco Raceway. (Circa 10/26/69)



As it turned out, I ended up buying a '64 Harley. Officially, it was called an XLCH Sportster. The CH stood for Competition Hot. Unofficially, it was the Corvette of the motorcycle world-rugged, super-fast, and bulging with torque. All 55 cubic inches delivered 55 horsepower at 6,300 rpm-good for a 14.75 E.T. and 92 mph in the quarter mile.



Nevertheless, since I hopped up scooters as a kid, it was only natural to soup up the Sporty. As such, I contacted an old high school friend, Mark, who was working as a mechanic at the same Harley dealer my friends and I often visited years ago on Friday nights. Mark and his buddies quickly pointed me in the right direction for Harley performance: Tom Sifton, Doc Dytch, Jerry Branch, C.R. Axtell, Tom Rudd, and S&S, just to name a few.

Bored and stroked AA/Gas Sportys were popular at the Atco drags. (Circa 10/26/69)
Bored and stroked AA/Gas Sportys were popular at the Atco drags. (Circa 10/26/69)



So, during the winter of '64, out came the stock motor parts and in went 4-9/16-inch KH stroker flywheels, Doc Dytch two-ring stroker pistons, Sifton "minus-plus" cams, big XLR valves, bored-out Linkert DC carb and velocity stack, gutted mufflers, and close C-ratio transmission gears.

Some racers ran dual carbs on their Sporty gassers, but almost all ran a magneto ignition. (Circa 10/26/69)
Some racers ran dual carbs on their Sporty gassers, but almost all ran a magneto ignition. (Circa 10/26/69)



The reworked 65-cubic inch motor pushed quarter mile performance to 12.10 E.T. at 110 mph. However, kick-starting the 65-incher was dreadful because it kicked back with such ferocity. When starting, I had to not only precisely position the pistons on the compression stroke, but also depress the ignition kill button until halfway through the kick to minimize kickback. Once the engine kicked back so hard that it sprained my ankle. For over a month, I had to beg my friends to start my bike so I could ride with them. I didn't think it was very funny, but they sure did.

This Custom Cycle Engineering 83ci Sporty took top honors in A/Gas at the Atco race. (Circa 10/26/69)
This Custom Cycle Engineering 83ci Sporty took top honors in A/Gas at the Atco race. (Circa 10/26/69)



The winter of '67 saw the addition of Dytch 3-3/16-inch big bore cylinders, Sifton "minus-minus" cams, stronger 4-5/8-inch stroke forged S&S flywheels and beefed-up crankcases. With 74ci, performance increased to 11.40 E.T. at 117 mph. During the winter of 1968, I replaced the bored-out Linkert with the new big-bore S&S; carb, one of the first 100 made by S&S.; The longer duration "minus-minus" cams made kick-starting the engine easier.

Shown is the author's Sportster in street trim after engine displacement was increased to 86ci with 3-7/16 inch bore cylinders, Big Twin pistons, and 2-inch SU carburetor.
Shown is the author's Sportster in street trim after engine displacement was increased to 86ci with 3-7/16 inch bore cylinders, Big Twin pistons, and 2-inch SU carburetor.



Eventually, I bumped engine displacement to 86 cubic inches by way of 3-7/16-inch Trock cylinders, along with a beefy Trock transmission door, more radical Sifton cams, Baisley modified heads, and a 2-inch SU carb. Performance increased to 11.10 E.T. at 121 mph with narrow street tires and no wheelie bar. At this point, the engine had more power than the short wheelbase frame and 120 rear tire could handle.

Leo Payne's 80ci Top Fuel Sportster sits in the pits at the October 26, '69 Atco, NJ drag race. (Circa 10/26/69)
Leo Payne's 80ci Top Fuel Sportster sits in the pits at the October 26, '69 Atco, NJ drag race. (Circa 10/26/69)



At about the same time, Harley legend and top drag racer Leo Payne was tearing up the racetracks on his 75ci street Sportster, dubbed "Turnip Eater," and 74ci lay-down Top Fueler. Leo was an excellent engine builder and master at modifying and tuning gas and fuel carburetors.

Once he began modifying his Sportsters, Leo quickly earned the reputation of having two of the fastest Harleys in the Midwest, turning 11.08s at 125 mph on Turnip Eater and mid-9s at 150 mph on his fueler.



Turnip Eater started life as a '57 Sportster, and Leo purportedly coined the bike for eating up British imports on the dragstrip. Payne became known for his lightning-quick reaction times, won numerous titles, and set countless records in various sanctioned drag races during the '60s. In '69, Payne's trap speed of 201 mph on Turnip Eater made him the first rider in history to ride a non-streamliner faster than 200 mph.

Click for more info.
Click for more info.



Although I spoke to Leo a few times, I was formally introduced to him only once. It was in '71 or '72 at Jerry Branch's head porting company in Long Beach, California. Jerry had a place on the second floor of the Wixom Brothers Fairing building. One Saturday I stopped by and Jerry introduced me to Leo. At the time, Leo and Mel Disharoon were busy fussing around on the Long Beach hills, playing with an aircraft altimeter that Leo used for tuning his fuel bike.



The summers of '68 and '69 were hotbeds of exciting Harley drag racing activity east of the Mississippi, particularly Atco Raceway in New Jersey where records were made and broken. One of the more exciting races took place at Atco on October 26, 1969, a race I happened to attend.

Larry Welsh's Top Fuel Sportster sits in the Atco Raceway pits between elimination rounds. (Circa 10/26/69)
Larry Welsh's Top Fuel Sportster sits in the Atco Raceway pits between elimination rounds. (Circa 10/26/69)



Many of the top fuel riders were there. The "Top Eight" Top Fuel qualifying positions were as follows: Larry Welsh on Sonny Routts' new twin-engine Triumph was qualified first at 9.12 E.T; Jim De Salvo at 9.23 on his Harley; Larry Welsh at 9.28 on his Sportster; Guy Leaming at 9.30 on his Harley; Leo Payne 9.30 on his Sportster; defending 1968 champion Bob Barker at 9.37 on his Sportster; Walter Yee on his Harley at 9.40; and Gary Ackermans at 9.42 on his Harley.

Marv Jorgenson's 96ci AA/Dragster in the Atco pits. Marv's Sportster engine was very large for the times and was one of the first Harley gassers to break into the 9s. (Circa 10/26/69)
Marv Jorgenson's 96ci AA/Dragster in the Atco pits. Marv's Sportster engine was very large for the times and was one of the first Harley gassers to break into the 9s. (Circa 10/26/69)



Since Larry Welsh was riding two bikes, Routts' Triumph and his own Sportster, after qualifying, he turned over the riding duties of his Sportster to Cook Nielson. When the smoke cleared at the end of the day, Guy Leaming took home all the marbles with a hole-shot 9.61 over Bob Barker's faster but losing 9.51.



For me, the '60s were the golden age of Harley performance and racing. High-dollar, button-start crate engines and rear-wheel dynos were nonexistent, and kick-start was the name of the game.



Performance kits were in their infancy, requiring lots of trial-and-error engine building and testing. And most performance gurus built their own engines. The bikes may not have gone as fast as they do today, or had as much bling, but the times were simpler, the hype was subdued, and the air was filled with a long-lost innocence.

--from the Hot Bike archives

2008 XL1200N Nightster.
2008 XL1200N Nightster.



From Bob T.

Never owned one.

2017 Roadster
2017 Roadster



--Bob T.



Conclusion:

I could pull in thousands of Sportster Reports. Hell, I didn’t touch some of the major custom builders like Dave Perewitz and Cory Ness who grew up around his Dad customizing Sportsters. The Sportster is one of the best-looking motorcycles ever built.






I remember when the motorcycle press hammered Harley about building tractors against Triumphs, BSAs and Royal Enfields. Then Sportsters kicked their asses. The Sportster gas tank style is iconic in all of motorcycledom. No manufacturer has bested the style or shape of the Sportster Gas Tank.

Blitzen Street Tracker
Blitzen Street Tracker



Unlike so many motorcycles in history, the Sportster was the perfect purebred, style wise, performance, handling and size. Hell, that’s why manufacturers all over the world are still trying to capture that balance of art and function.



Hang on for future reports about the New Future of Harley-Davidson and the New Sportster Line. We reached out to Harley, but they told us they were restricted from discussing new models at this juncture.



--Bandit

Sporty by Lowbrow Customs
Sporty by Lowbrow Customs



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Reader Comments


The handwriting was on the wall when the Motor Company ceased offering Sports for sale in Europe due to emissions requirements. The same forces pushing similar restrictions that killed the Sportster in Europe were inevitable to strike here in the USA. Non-water cooled heads cannot easily be made to pass the smog requirements on Sportster-sized engines.

I hope that the future sees the Sportster name applied to a "Make the EPA happy" model with greater performance than the current model as a big FU to the regulators.

Something like say a Sportster-ized version of the PanAmerica with its 1250 that makes a lot more power than the current Sportster powerplant. Some intelligent styling to capture the classic Sportster look, with improved handling and the increased performance the PanAmerica's 1250 offers could easily fill the hole in Harley's lineup the current Sportster will leave.

That or the Motor Company's engineering department needs to reengineer the current Sportster to accept a new engine based on the Milwaukee 8, possibly including water-cooled heads.

Vern Moore
Kingsley, PA
Monday, April 5, 2021
Editor Response Interesting and thanks. It's going to be so interesting when the media realizes that fossil fuels saved life on earth by burning fuel and turning it into much needed CO2, which feeds all life on earth.

Hang on!
--Bandit

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