There is something special about being a survivor, like the Harley-Davidson Sportster has proven to be in its 55 years of existence. The XL is like a well-weathered and wise old coot who has seen it all along the way. But this Forty-Eight version just could be the coolest of the lot.
Since 1986 (as far back as we could get sales records), Harley has sold over 1 million XLs. This is pretty amazing considering that number doesn’t account for the 30 years of sales prior to ’86 following the release of the iron-head XL in 1957.
The $10,499 Forty-Eight’s direct bloodline to the past makes it as authentic as the original but better in every way. Of all the Sportsters in the lineup, the Forty-Eight has just the right blend of past influences (2.1-gallon “peanut” fuel tank, staggered pipes) and modern interpretation of a “classic” custom (bobbed rear fender, foldaway license plate and undermount mirrors) to make it stand out. Fat, 16-inch tires on spoked wheels look the part and help deliver a cushier ride than the slammed rear end’s 1.6 in. of travel alone can provide (but it is far from cushy).
H-D’s Big Twins can be sweet, but the rubber-mounted 1200cc Evo Sporty conveys a more primal connection to Harley’s simpler past, despite modern niceties like fuel injection. It looks, sounds and feels like an American classic (because it is) and yet performs with a level of refinement and efficiency (45 mpg) that can only be termed modern.
All in a package that has stood the test of time. It’s not fast, it doesn’t rail corners, it doesn’t bristle with the latest technology. It just feels good to ride, which should ensure its staying power for generations to come.