Stripped-down Sportsters have progressed beyond the days of the “$4,995 Sporty,” into what has become a blank canvas for designers at Harley-Davidson . Each new model seems to gravitate toward a specific design edict be it historical,custom or some combination thereof. The Sportster Forty-Eight is no exception as it reaches back to the 1970s and beyond for inspiration.
I like to see these somewhat-special bikes; they pay homage to their roots, but aren’t slaves to any specific model. So far, the special Sporties have been relevant, and it seems the designers aren’t jumping the shark quite yet so I look forward to the next concept. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at what makes the Forty-Eight so, well, forty-eightish.
The fuel tank serves as the primary design feature and lends the bike its name, sort of. Behold the “Peanut Tank.” We first saw this tank in 1947 and made its production-bike debut on the 1948 Harley S 125 “Hummer,” with appearances throughout the XL family history. In a move that was perhaps a little too authentic, the factory trimmed the tank down to a mere 2.1 gallons. Granted, it does have the right look, but I will stick to my 3.3-gallon, peanut-like tank, thank you very much.
Designers then leaped to the custom culture of the 1970s for the rest of the rolling chassis. Cut-down fenders, lowered suspension and Harley’s Dark Custom touches take this ride right back to the “Death to Disco” era. In fact, the only part of this sled that isn’t either black or chrome would be the badged, or flamed, namesake fuel tank — just a splash of color to draw the eye to the bike’s showpiece feature.
The slammed handlebars and forward foot controls put the rider in an aggressive, forward-leaning, windsock position ready to dip head and shoulder into a turn. This is actually a comfortable riding position, and it shifts your weight forward over the bike’s center-of-mass for surprisingly nimble cornering.
If you are a reader that lives in the more Northern climates where you have to store your bike for months out of the year, you’ll appreciate the battery tender harness added as standard equipment for the 2017 model-year.
A one-piece, engine and transmission unit dictates frame design, so the factory started out with its usual tubular-steel, dual-downtube, dual-cradle skeleton. The steering head is set for 30.2 degrees of rake to give 5.3 inches of trail; perfect for the fat, 16-inch, 130/90 front tire.
Robust 49 mm front forks reinforce the beefiness afforded by the front tire, and the rear shock comes with a screw-adjuster for easy preload adjustment. Suspension at both ends comes slammed to the max for a low, 26.2-inch laden seat height and 3.9 inches of ground clearance. Of course, not only does this lower the overall center-of-gravity, but it also looks really Boss with the fat, 16-inch wheels.
Disc brakes bind the hoops, but the front wheel only gets a single caliper. At 551 pounds soaking wet, it is almost heavy enough to justify going with dual front brakes. ABS is available as an option, just bear in mind that it will lengthen your minimum braking distance; the price you pay for traction protection.
Harley used its time-tested, 1200 cc engine to power the Forty-Eight. Love it or hate it, the Evolution engine has paid its dues and shown itself to be a mill with staying power. The beating heart is based on the original Evo Sporty motor released back in 1986, just with a few added features to keep up with changing regulations and customer demands.
The engine comes blacked out with chrome accents at the rocker boxes and pushrod tubes, and the small, round air cleaner can falls under the ’70s custom category. It ain’t all for show; the air-cooled- fuel-injected, long-stroke engine cranks out 70.8 pound-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm for plenty of grunt out of the hole and brisk acceleration once you get into the powerband.
Power funneled through the five-speed, constant-mesh transmission goes to the rear wheel via a fiber-reinforced belt drive. Overall gearing leaves the rider with fairly comfortable revs on the highway, and a combined mileage of 48 mpg.
As usual, Harley charges a bit more for the really sharp paint, but the price difference is negligible given that the fuel tank represents the entirety of shot sheet-metal on the bike (if you don’t count all the non-optional black). For 2016, get your peanut tank shot in Vivid Black for $11,199, or upgrade to the Olive Gold, Velocity Red Sunglo or Billet Silver for a mere $350 more. Even the top-shelf, Hard Candy Gold Flame and Hard Candy Cancun Blue Flake colors are reasonable at just one more bill for a $11,649 sticker. Add $100 to those prices for the 2017 models. ABS will set you back $795, and the security option another $395. Sorry California, you are on the hook for an additional California Emissions package – another $100 even.
I wanted to stay in the American market, and the Bolt from Star seemed too obvious a target, so I picked the 2016 Scout from Indian Motorcycles for my head-to-head.
Let’s get the engine stuff squared away straight off the bat. The Forty-Eight comes out on top, barely, with a 1200 cc (73.4 cubic-inch) displacement over 1,133 cc (69 cubic-inches) for the Indian. While the Indian cranks out 1.4 pound-feet more for a total of 72.2 pound-feet, you have to wind it up to 5,900 rpm to find it; quite a bit higher than the Sporty at 3,500 rpm.
Both sport fuel injection, but the Indian gains a slight advantage in the drivetrain with an extra gear in the transmixer for a total of six forward gears. Not as good as overdrive, but lots of close-ratio gears to take advantage of the Indian’s high-strung powerband.
The Indian is a bit more capable in the corners with a 31-degree, maximum lean angle, but the Sporty isn’t far behind at 27.1 degrees – not stellar, but not bad as far as Sporties go.
“I always liked Sporties, and this one is just as cute as a bug. The minimal paint leaves this ride looking primal and bare; perfect for a custom project or riding as-is. I can tell you as a rider of a lowered Sporty that the low center of gravity makes the bike just dive into the corners with enthusiasm. Keep the revs up in the powerband and you have yourself a right-lively little ride.”
My wife and fellow writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “I like the Dark Custom influence on the Forty-Eight. It’s a lean-and-mean looking cruiser with that whole ’don’t mess with me’ vibe. I really like the under-mount mirrors. That gives the handlebars a ’bare’ look that just looks meaner than having antennae sticking up in the air.”
|Bore:||3.5 inches (88.9 mm)|
|Stroke:||3.811 inches (96.8 mm)|
|Displacement:||73.4 cubic inches (1,202 cc)|
|Compression Ratio:||10 to 1|
|Fuel System:||Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)|
|Primary Drive:||Chain, 38/57 ratio|
|Gear Ratios (overall) :||1st 9.315, 2nd 6.653, 3rd 4.948 4th 4.102, 5th 3.517|
|Exhaust:||Chrome, staggered shorty exhaust with dual slash-cut mufflers|
|Wheels, Front Type:||Black, Split Nine-Spoke Cast Aluminum w/ Machined Highlights|
|Wheels, Rear Type:||Black, Split Nine-Spoke Cast Aluminum w/ Machined Highlights|
|Brakes, Caliper Type:||Dual-piston front, Dual-piston rear|
|Engine Torque Testing Method:||J1349|
|Engine Torque:||70.8 Pound-Feet at 3,500 rpm|
|Lean Angle, Right:||27.1 degrees|
|Lean Angle, Left:||27.1 degrees|
|Fuel Economy: Combined City/Hwy:||48 mpg|
|Lights (as per country regulation), Indicator Lamps:||High beam, neutral, low oil pressure, turn signals, engine diagnostics, low fuel warning, low battery, security system (optional)|
|Gauges:||Four-inch Speedometer mounted low and integrated into handlebar clamp|
|Seat Height, Laden:||26.2 inches|
|Seat Height, Unladen:||27.3 inches|
|Ground Clearance:||3.9 inches|
|Rake (steering head) :||30.2 degrees|
|Tires, Front Specification:||Michelin Scorcher 130/90B16 73H|
|Tires, Rear Specification:||Michelin Scorcher 150/80B16 77H|
|Fuel Capacity:||2.1 gallons|
|Oil Capacity (w/filter) :||2.8 quarts|
|Weight, As Shipped:||538 pounds|
|Weight, In Running Order:||551 pounds|
|2016:||Vivid Black, Olive Gold, Velocity Red Sunglo, Billet Silver, Hard Candy Cancun Blue Flame, Hard Candy Gold Flake|
|2017:||Vivid Black, Billet Silver, Corona Yellow Pearl, Crushed Ice Denim, Hard Candy Black Gold Flake, Hard Candy Hot Rod Red Flake|
|2016:||Vivid Black $11,199, Color Option $11,549, Hard Candy Color Option $11,649|
|2017:||Vivid Black $11,299, Color Option $11,649, Hard Candy Color Option $11,749|