Remember when you were little and your parents made you do something you really didn’t want to? For me it was finishing the broccoli on my plate for the first time-my mom wouldn’t let me leave the table until it was gone. Realizing that the sooner I got it over with the sooner I could go play, I rolled my eyes, held my breath and chomped on that little piece of broccoli as fast as I could. Halfway into it, my eyes came back down and I thought, “You know what? This isn’t so bad after all!”
A few decades later I found myself in a similar predicament. Here at Rider we had just received a new 2007 Harley-Davidson XL 1200R Sportster Roadster, and it sat for a while as the editor decided who would quarterback the review. As luck would have it, my name was the one drawn from the hat. In that instant flashbacks of my youth rushed through my mind. I dragged my feet into Tuttle’s office and as he handed me the key and the security fob (more on that later) I rolled my eyes and thought, “Do I haaaave to.”
Will this story have the same happy ending as my first encounter with broccoli? Read on to find out.
To celebrate the 50th year of the Sportster, Harley-Davidson decided to spruce up the line a little by equipping all of the Sportsters with electronic fuel injection. As the XL 1200R is the most sport-oriented of the Sportster line, I decided that instead of drowning in self pity I would make the most of the situation and see what this bike was all about.
The XL 1200R Sportster‘s small dimensions help instill confidence in riders of all shapes and sizes, although at a standstill you can still feel the engine’s heft sitting low in the frame. The low 29.9-inch seat height made it easy for me to reach the ground, while the bike’s narrow proportions and short reach to the bar gave me plenty of leverage to flick it from side to side. Our test bike was fitted with the optional Smart Security System, a hands-free device that’s wired into the bike’s ignition system. If the key fob mentioned earlier is more than 8 feet away from the motorcycle, the bike won’t start and will instead flash all the lights in a show reminiscent of a 1970’s discotheque. Should you lose the key fob you can also disarm the alarm with a code entered through the turn-signal buttons.
The passive security system is not hard to figure out, and thankfully I carried the key fob with me at all times (because I had no idea what the security code was!). When it came time to start her up the Sportster’s 1,200cc Evolution engine purred to life without the slightest hiccup from the new electronic fuel injection, and despite the change to rubber engine mounts in 2004 I still felt that distinctive Harley-Davidson rumble beneath me.
On the road, my “seat-of-the-pants” dyno was telling me that the 1,200cc powerplant had plenty of moxie to get me out of any situation I encountered. According to the Borla Performance dyno, that translates into 58.3 horsepower and 66.5 lb-ft of torque peak, at the rear wheel. All that power is harnessed by a smooth-shifting five-speed transmission with a belt final drive. Harley-Davidson also went so far as to reduce clutch-lever effort by 8 percent across the entire Sportster line. As little as that sounds, real-world experience has convinced me that that 8 percent really is a big help.
As owners of pre-2004 Sportsters can testify, trying to ride one at anything over 70 mph is a teeth-rattling experience, as the pulses from the V-twin engine are intense to say the least. But with the change to rubber mounts, I found the new Sportster to be very smooth off the line and even more so at highway speeds. Kudos, Harley!
During my time with the new Sportster I did plenty of highway miles, some canyon miles and even spent some time on a racetrack (attending the StreetMasters motorcycle workshop). Highway cruising on the Sportster is a breeze as the bar and pedals aren’t too far forward. For reference, my 5-foot, 8-inch frame found the seating position to be very relaxing. The supple suspension soaks up irregularities in the road and provides a smooth ride. I didn’t realize just how bad a particular road was until I saw my shadow and noticed how much the front wheel was bobbing up and down. As with most motorcycles without a windscreen, wind buffeting starts to become an issue at speeds over 70 mph, although I found that tilting my head down slightly helped reduce the strain on my neck. An aftermarket windscreen and saddlebags are available through your Harley-Davidson dealer should you feel the need for them.
Filtering through traffic is easy as the Sportster’s narrow proportions make splitting lanes a breeze. My only gripe about the bike (and this holds true for all Harley-Davidson models), is the turn-signal switches on each bar. Call me a sucker for the foreign way of doing things, but I find it annoying to use my right thumb to press the button-although I did appreciate the self-canceling feature after I completed my turn.
Since the Sportster heritage dates back to the racing bikes of old I found it only fitting that I tested the newest Sportster’s mettle on some local mountain roads, and it impressed. Despite the 39mm front fork’s non-adjustability, the bike was still able to track through turns with ease, although if I were to nitpick I’d like a turn or two more compression in the front for better front-end feel. In the rear, the twin preload adjustable shocks felt plenty capable of handling every turn I threw its way. Stopping duties for the new Sportster are handled by twin discs (available only on the XL 1200R) clamped by dual-piston calipers that provide plenty of stopping power. A single disc sits in the rear and is grabbed by a single-piston caliper. In conjunction with the clutch, brake-lever effort has been reduced by 14 percent. I found this setup to give nice linear feel although I did notice some fade after spirited riding.
Speaking of spirited riding, imagine my surprise when I found myself in Lancaster, California, at the Horse Thief Mile for a day at the StreetMasters Motorcycle Workshop with the Sportster. Granted, the workshop is designed to simulate canyon roads, and the drills we learned were designed to make us better street riders, but I’ll admit that being on an open course without the fear of police or oncoming traffic motivated me to ride differently than I would have in the canyons. Throughout the day I gave the Sportster a thorough flogging, even scraping the right footpeg at times (though not the left, oddly). The gearbox was always positive in its engagement and never missed a beat, while repeated heavy braking for certain turns was never nerve-wracking as the brakes were up to the challenge. The V-twin’s big torque helped carry the Sportster out of turns and got me on my way without any hesitation from the finely tuned electronic fuel injection. For anyone who thinks there’s no more “Sport” in the Sportster line, think again. This thing can get around with the greatest of ease and, as with most motorcycles in this category, the limits are defined by the amount of lean angle before dragging hard parts.
Eventually my time with the Sportster had to come to an end. I must admit that I had my doubts, but kept an open mind toward it and it paid off. Day by day I would discover something new that surprised me, and each time I rode it my biases slipped further away. My eyes weren’t rolling very long after I started riding the bike when I said to myself, “You know what, this isn’t so bad after all!” I think it’s safe to say that my reservations about the Sportster (and broccoli) have all but been erased. I’ll admit that a part of me was sad to give Tuttle back the key (and the fob!).
Fifty years is a long time to keep a model range in a lineup, but year after year Sportster sales continue to show strong results and it’s easy to see why. The Sportster is simply a good motorcycle. And as the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
If you’re interested in the 2007 Harley-Davidson XL 1200R Sportster Roadster, you might also be interested in these other Sportster Harley-Davidson models: